Sunday, May 8, 2011


Nicholas Kristof writes in the New York Times today that the best way to "save" mothers in the developing world is to ... prevent them from becoming mothers in the first place.

I know, you're thinking: Tari, it's not April 1st. This is not the time for such jokes. But really, I'm not joking. On this of all days in the year someone actually thinks it's a good time to make such a suggestion.

Is maternal mortality a huge problem in developing countries? Hell yes. Do women need more access to pre-natal care, trained assistance during delivery and help developing good mothering habits (like breast-feeding) post-birth? Good Lord, they do. Look at some of the statistics about becoming a mother in Ethiopia. Look at the work that the Livesays and their friends are doing in Haiti. Look just about anywhere in the developing world and you'll see that maternal mortality and infant mortality are huge problems we need to face up to and get to work on. This is a need that must be addressed.

But what is not a "need" is for someone like Mr. Kristof to use this day (or any day of the year, really) to spend time expressing that delightful opinion, described by P.J. O'Rourke as, "just enough of me, way too much of you." Guess what? Many people in the developing world want to be parents. They want to have children because they actually feel the same way about their children as we do about ours. I know: it's surprising, but they really do. They choose to have children for many of the same reasons we choose to, and it's not helpful to tell them they should make a different choice, because we think we know better than they do what's best for them.

If we want to truly help others, we need to start by giving them the dignity of assuming that they want what's best for them. We should do whatever we can to ensure that the choices they make are successful ones, but we don't need to make up their minds for them.

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