Childbearing vs. Child-Rearing


Madeline Ostrander asks, “How do you decide to have a baby when climate change is remaking life on earth?” and essentially answers, “With hesitation” [April 11/18]. While making a significant personal issue public, and by making a significant public issue personal, she also glosses over an opportunity to do exactly the same for an issue that progressives do not address nearly enough: adoption of waiting children in this country.

Adoption is referenced just once, quoting Paul Ehrlich in 1970 (advocating voluntary sterility in the same sentence). Ostrander cites many examples of child-rearing hopes, fears, thoughts, and emotions, but does not always distinguish between childbearing and child-rearing, just as she melds together concern with the personal welfare of her future offspring on the one hand, and concern about that individual contributing to climate change on the other. The latter pairing is appropriate; the former, not as much.

I was born in 1955, but had little use for Ehrlich and Zero Population Growth when I made a firm decision as a teenager to never procreate. I didn’t know about climate change then, but my own list included a world facing environmental degradation and nuclear annihilation, and full of incessant war, poverty, racism, imperialism, injustice, oppression, and exploitation. I feared that future offspring might be a) victims, b) inadvertent contributors to the problem, or even c) possible perpetrators.

Like Ostrander, my wife (who had her own reasons for deciding against procreation) and I noticed that we weren’t “baby people” when our peers began reproducing. I actually had a “no-children” inclination (for lifestyle reasons), right up there with the more philosophical “no-procreation” rule. But that changed over time: We’ve adopted four kids (arriving at different times, at ages 8, 10, 14, and 21), and our Saturdays with all 10 grandkids are a treasure in our life like no other.

Am I fearful, like Ostrander, that a destabilized world with rising seas and killer storms will eventually ensnare my loved ones? Absolutely! Am I concerned that their own carbon footprints may exacerbate the problem rather than mitigate it? Absolutely! But I also feel I can hold up my hands and say, in effect, “Not my fault!” for either dilemma—existential or environmental. (Of course, that’s not a completely legitimate perspective.)

I apologize if this seems unfair to Ostrander, because I really do feel her pain and appreciate her willingness to lay it out in the pages of The Nation. It’s just that the flip side of this problem—the adoption of waiting, older kids by progressive people who know just how cruel and crazy this world can be to its most vulnerable inhabitants—must not continue to be ignored by the progressive media.

Howard Fain
worcester, mass.


Ostrander Replies


Creating and raising a family involves not one but a series of complex decisions—among them, should you have biological children, and/or should you adopt, foster, or otherwise take responsibility for raising children who are not biologically your own? Each of these choices raises a vast set of personal, emotional, and ethical questions, and families come up with diverse answers. But in any one story, you can answer only a narrow set of questions and offer up a small and incomplete slice of human experience. In this story, I took a sliver of my own experience, along with a bit of historical context, to reflect on what it means to try to conceive a child in a moment when the future seems uncertain and frighteningly dangerous because of climate change. My aim was to illuminate what is at stake and to make it clear that the environmental crisis we face now is jeopardizing both our safety and our basic humanity.

But, of course, our environmental crisis also brings up many other important ethical and emotional questions about how we raise the next generation. We need more stories and voices to tackle those questions, and I hope to see other writers take on these issues.

Madeline Ostrander
seattle


Lost in Translation?


Cynthia Haven’s article “Joseph Brodsky, Darker and Brighter” [March 24] stated, “About two-thirds of his poetry remains untranslated.” This is incorrect. About two-thirds of his mature (published) poetry has been translated.
Ann Kjellberg
Executor, estate of Joseph brodsky
new york city

Haven Replies


Before he left Russia, Joseph Brodsky authorized the writer Vladimir Maramzin, a personal friend, to compile a complete edition of his works. Brodsky signed off on each volume of the samizdat edition, which was carefully researched and annotated, with the poet correcting and selecting the texts. Maramzin was a brave man and put himself at great risk: He was arrested in 1974 and exiled after a year in prison. As Brodsky wrote, “Russia is that country where the name of a writer appears not on the cover of his book, but on the door of his prison cell.”

I’ve leafed through Maramzin’s “first edition” of Brodsky’s work at the Stanford Libraries—nearly 1,500 pages of onion-skin paper (later editions run to 2,000 pages). Maramzin’s publication became the main source for later editions of Brodsky’s pre-exile poems—including his Collected Works, published in St. Petersburg from 1997 to 2001 (in Russian). The first four of the seven volumes are dedicated to Brodsky’s poetry rather than his prose, and total about 1,480 pages. Of course, that includes the poems written after his expulsion from the USSR, many of which already exist in English. It also suggests a great winnowing of the earlier poems. Nevertheless, it is almost a thousand pages longer than the one-volume, 540-page Collected Poems in English.

The relevant phrase in Ann Kjellberg’s letter is, of course, “mature (published) poetry”—adjectives I didn’t use, and for a reason. Perhaps she doesn’t consider samizdat as “published,” yet Brodsky considered it a legitimate edition. What is considered “mature” will, of course, differ from person to person. Although the prolific poet later dismissed many of these early poems as juvenilia, many would not agree. Certainly many Russians don’t; they memorized and recited them. And Maramzin, a gifted writer in his own right who now lives in Paris, obviously valued them highly—and paid a heavy price for them. In any case, some important early poems are not yet in English, and some of them brought Brodsky to fame. “Conversation With an Angel” comes to mind.

I estimated that two-thirds of Brodsky’s poetic oeuvre remains untranslated. That seems pretty accurate to me and, if anything, cautious.

Cynthia Haven
stanford, calif.