Her debut non-fiction title asks: should we become parents?
It’s a question that, on the surface, seems simple to answer yet is layered with the complex realities of our uncertain present and future.
It’s a question that forces us to confront what we love and fear most in ourselves, to assess our relationships, to evaluate a decision that is fraught with societal, political and personal influences.
The book asks questions like: Should we have children in the era of extreme climate change? How do you balance ascending careers with declining fertility? How do we know if we’ve found the right co-parent, or should we go it alone? Does entering motherhood mean entering a lifetime of emotional labour, especially for women?
Rushton set herself the goal to research and write the book in nine months – a time frame she admits “felt very poetic at the time” and one that she wanted to be “symbolic”.
“It is kind of indicative of how people do ultimately make this decision – you don’t make it, and then you make it all at once. The book has a bit of a frenetic and rushed energy, which I think feels right,” she said.
As an award-winning journalist for her coverage of reproductive rights, it’s no surprise to discover that this book tackles the question of whether to become a parent from many analytical angles, some of which may not seem obvious in the decision-making process.
One such angle is abortion, explored in the very first chapter, which demonstrates that sometimes the decision to have children (or not) is out of our hands.
"There are people who think that because a woman has a uterus, she should be utilising it to have children." – Gina Rushton.
“Reporting on reproductive rights for so long taught me a lot about how we think about the decision of whether or not to have kids, and how we think about motherhood. And when I say ‘we’, I mean politicians, lobby groups and law makers,” Rushton said.
“What I learned felt really relevant to this decision because it highlighted for me that there are people who think that because a woman has a uterus, she should be utilising it to have children. It’s reflective of a bigger cultural expectation that the default is to have children and if you don’t abide by that, you’re not only transgressing a social norm… but that there’s something wrong with you.
“I think the reproductive rights chapter is really instructive about how we think about motherhood overall.”
As a reader, I was shocked to discover in the chapter on climate change that scientists, even though faced with the data and the reality of what’s coming in the very near future, still made the decision to have children.
It highlights the complexity of making the choice to have children and that, in some cases, emotional desires outweigh rational decision-making, with one scientist quoted as saying: “While I think people should live responsibly, I don’t think they should be wracked with guilt for choosing to have a child”.
As I read comments like these, I questioned why Rushton didn’t challenge these perspectives more. Can a person truly ‘live responsibly’ while simultaneously choosing to bring children into a decaying world?
To this, Rushton said that the book shows just how much people are “struggling with the reality of it, as any of us are”.
The chapter cites another person stating that “having kids is the single best thing I have and ever will achieve”, to justify their decision to have children despite the fact that we are facing catastrophic climate change.
It’s a common conclusion that many people come to when making this decision, and one reflected in the title of the book, but I questioned whether the accomplishment of having children is too often revered. Why is it that the dialogue always comes back to: life is purposeful when you have children, and meaningless when you don’t?
“I definitely think that there is still a cultural pressure that says that having kids is the default, and that it is the default to having a meaningful life. There’s a mismatch between the societal expectation and the reality of many people who are just living their lives without kids, and obviously finding meaning in that,” Rushton said.
“But I do think there is a shift away from that and I think that eventually the cultural narrative will catch up to the statistics, in that we know people are having children later, or having fewer children, or not having children at all.
“What I tried to challenge in the book is that the narratives we do have aren’t expansive enough – like the idea that if you don’t have kids then you have to have this incredible career, but what if you don’t want either of those things? Why is that the only accepted alternative – that if you’re not producing people then you have to produce profit?”
"Why is that the only accepted alternative – that if you’re not producing people then you have to produce profit?” – Gina Rushton
It’s a question that leads to a chapter about work which highlights the impossible juggle of maintaining a career while having children, because workplace structures are not exactly supportive of both. Then women are burdened with more unpaid labour in the home. Which begs the question: are women destined to a lifetime of labour if they choose to have children?
“We know the data says that women come home [from work] and perform a second shift of unpaid labour. It’s not a very happy story. We all know people that are trying to manage kids and a career, and it’s really hard. And I make the case that if we value the unpaid labour and recognise and compensate it, then that is one step in the right direction,” Rushton said.
Then there’s the emotional labour, a chapter that explores whether a woman wants to manage the feelings and fulfil the emotional requirements of being both a partner and a parent. It’s an important thing to consider how a heterosexual couple, under the pressures and influences of the patriarchy, might equally carry the emotional load of becoming a parent.
“In some ways it [emotional labour] might seem irrelevant in a book about deciding whether to have a kid, but if you have a person in the relationship who feels like they are already mothering, it’s a big decision to consider actually mothering [a child],” Rushton said.
Many other topics are explored in the book, all equally thought-provoking and challenging, and after compiling this body of work, is Rushton herself any more decided on whether to have children?
“I think that I feel less panic about it, which is probably at odds with how you’re supposed to be feeling as you’re getting older and less fertile. But I think I feel a lot calmer because no matter what decision I make, I’ve really thought quite deeply about it,” she said.
It’s a feeling Rushton hopes many of her readers will also experience after reading the book, alongside feeling validated if the question whether to have children is fraught for them.
“I hope that people feel that it’s okay if it’s a complicated question. It’s a book that raises more questions than answers, but I hope that it encourages people to ask better questions of themselves,” she said.