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General Post-Apocalyptic rambling about some ideas I want to explore in my fiction:

The ugly side of life continues. Abortion and contraception are likely to be highly illegal. We MUST have those babies. There will be more than enough parents who have lost their own (or have received too high a radiation dose to chance the FLK problem) to look after any that are unwanted. Women are enslaved by their reproductive systems again. Don't like that but there is nothing we can do about it. The social pressure on women to have children will be immense in both material and moral senses. Women who can have children get the best of everything, the cleanest and best food, the most comfortable housing, the most careful protection. Women who can have children but refuse to do so will be social outcasts (and in this sort of society to be an outcast is virtually a death sentence). We're likely to see a situation where women of childbearing age are "protected" by severe restrictions ("don't go outside the house, the radiation may harm your babies" gets abbreviated to "don't go outside") . This is a grim and disturbing picture; we take an old woman out of her house and throw her in the snow to provide shelter for a pregnant mother and her children - then lock her in. Newborn babies obviously damaged by radiation are likely to be killed on the spot. That may or may not be justifiable but I think its inevitable.

Source: Nuclear Warfare 103

In the course of goofing off under the pretext of researching nuclear war (my chosen method of ending the world as we know it), I found this article through TV Tropes. It's the last of a series of articles about Nuclear War that cover everything from how possessing nuclear weapons affects a company's policies through to the aftermath of a nuclear war (go here for Nuclear Warfare 101 and Nuclear Warfare 102). The above quote is about the need to repopulate a country (specifically the U.S.) after a nuclear war.

Now, it's not like this essay is the first place I've seen this idea -- it's a pretty common post-apocalyptic trope -- but for some reason reading this article got me thinking. Probably because the dismissiveness of "Don't like that but there is nothing we can do about it" just emphasized that this was yet another post-apocalyptic scenario being envisioned by a man (the name of the author listed on the article is Stuart Slade) without considering the impact or even the input of the women who might survive.

Before I start going through this point by point, I want to start off by saying that I don't think the author was trying to ignore women or to put forth some kind of male fantasy playground where women exist simply as sex toys and brood mares. I think this was just a case of wanting to give a quick and dirty overview of a topic and not thinking about the unfortunate implications of what was being said. Also, please be warned that I'm going to touch on a few trigger-y topics throughout this essay.



For what it's worth, I agree with the idea that a post-apocalyptic society will have to replenish its numbers and that the easiest way to do that is to have lots of babies. What I don't agree with is the idea that because a post-apocalyptic society would have to adopt an earlier era's technology, that they'd also have to adopt that era's social mores.

So, this article got me thinking: how would women plan to repopulate society? While I'm not one of those women who think that all women are sisters and we share some kind of special bond or some crap like that, I'd like to think that we're not likely to blindly screw each other over in the same unthinking way that a man, like our author, might. Particularly since any rules we come up with will affect us directly.

Note: The links scattered throughout are ones I found interesting and/or used for research during this piece or are just ones I don't want to lose.

1. The ugly side of life continues. Abortion and contraception are likely to be highly illegal. We MUST have those babies. Yeah, outlawing contraception and abortions will certainly prevent anyone from terminating a pregnancy! I mean, those kinds of laws worked so well in the past! And it's not like there are any benefits to contraception, like oh, being able to choose when to start repopulating the Earth -- like, oh, once you've got a nice, stable set up with enough resources to support a pregnant woman and/or small children. Or to stop the spread of STDs, which aren't going to go away After The End and will be a potentially bigger threat, since there's not going to be easy access to treatment for the cureable ones.

As for abortions, putting aside the idea that sometimes it might be necessary to abort a fetus to save the mother's life, why outlaw a practice that may simply go by the wayside because you don't have anyone around who can safely perform the procedure? Carrying an unwanted child to term is a lot better than dying of an infection caused by perforated intestines or recovering from being beaten in the abdomen to induce an abortion. And making safe abortions available to those who need or want them is a lot better than having to waste time, resources and personnel watching to make sure any reluctant mothers aren't trying to self-induce.

Of course, there's another option which brings us to point #2

Birth Control in the Post-Apocalyptic World by Ranger Man @ SHTFBlog.
What if You're the Liability? by Char @ In Case of Survival. This is a follow up to anninyn's article on Liabilities also @ In Case of Survival.

2. There will be more than enough parents who have lost their own (or have received too high a radiation dose to chance the FLK problem) to look after any that are unwanted. Near as I can tell "FLK" is medical slang for "Funny Looking Kid" -- i.e. a kid who doesn't look right but it's not obvious what's wrong with them. The term is falling out of use in the medical community because of the risk of being sued for calling someone's kid an FLK since it's a shitty thing to call a kid.

That aside, a post-apocalyptic world is going to have orphans in it. Not just from the women who are pumping out replacements but kids who lost their families when the Shit Hit The Fan. New families will form because humans are social animals and we're hardwired to be suckers for kids. This is a good thing, as far as survival of the species goes.

However, I think it's pretty naive to think that there's going to be a ready supply of adoptive parents out there just itching to replace their lost child with someone else's. You will find willing parents but willing isn't necessarily suitable and you can't just pass kids out like party favors to those who want them. Though I could see this happening simply because in a post-apocalyptic setting you're going to have people doing what seems like the best idea at the time and deal with the consequences later.

What I could see happening, once things become more stable for a post-apocalyptic enclave, is some kind of surrogacy system, particularly for those people who are self-aware enough to admit that they don't want to risk an "FLK". One that either links them with an orphaned child or a pregnant woman who wants to give up her child. At first, it likely wouldn't be anything formal. Adam is a kid looking for a home or Alice doesn't want her baby so, Bob and Carla*,take in Adam/help Alice feed/protect/take care of herself through her pregnancy and take custody of the kid when it arrives.

* Or Bob and Carl. Or Bonnie and Carla. Or Bob, Carla and Denise. Or Bob, Carl and Dennis. Or Bonnie, Carla and Denise and Denise's man Earl. Or any other variation thereof, including just Bob or just Carla.

FEMA: Helping Children Cope with Disaster

Also, I can see the definition of 'family' becoming wider and more akin to the idea of 'ohana (at least as defined by Lilo and Stitch) with the actual makeup of the family group being less important than whether or not the kids being raised are healthy and happy.

3. Women are enslaved by their reproductive systems again. Don't like that but there is nothing we can do about it. At the risk of repeating myself, I'd like to repeat myself: Why the hell isn't there something we can do about it? Like I said earlier, we don't have to go back to the 18th century socially just because we're back there technologically speaking. We're not going to suddenly forget about the Germ Theory of Medicine and the importance of washing your damn hands before delivering a baby, so why do women have to be slaves of their reproductive systems again because we have to repopulate the planet?

I'm more than willing to grant that women are going to be vulnerable in a post-apocalyptic world -- but then, women are vulnerable NOW, so this is not so much of a shocking revelation. What's worse about violence in a post-apocalyptic world is the fact that there isn't likely to be an authority to appeal to for aid. Hell, the people who claim to be there to help might just be rounding women up to create rape camps to help breed up kids of their own.

Did a quick Google search and found the following quote which backhandedly sums up my thinking:

As post-disaster reconstruction progresses, the very women who are pulling their communities back from the brink are often excluded from decision-making. Displacement camps that are set up or managed with little attention to the needs of women and girls exacerbate the violent threats they face. (Source: A Blueprint for Ending Sexual Violence After Disaster @ MADRE.org)

So, working backwards from this: if women have a say in how their post-apocalyptic communities are put back together, their needs are more likely to be addressed and they're more likely to be safer. And, by extention, if you let women have a say in how they will be helping to repopulate the world, you're likely to end up with more kids who are happy, healthy and wanted. No need for reproductive enslavement.

4. The social pressure on women to have children will be immense in both material and moral senses. Women who can have children get the best of everything, the cleanest and best food, the most comfortable housing, the most careful protection.

Of course, the downside of this material benefit is that pregnancy is suddenly extremely risky again. In 1900, maternal deaths happened at a rate of 1 in 100 in the United States; in 2005, the rate was 11 in 100,000. (Source: Maternal Death (Major Causes)) Per that same article, the reasons for the drop in deaths came from improvements in hygenie, fluid management and blood transfusion as well as better prenatal care. In addition, access to health care, family planning and emergency obstetric care are also recommended for reducing the maternal mortality rate.

But death isn't the only risk. The Effects of Pregnancy has a nice, long list of just about everything that can go wrong during a pregnancy. In addition, take a glance through the Risk Factors in Pregnancy and their list of Complications of Pregnancy.

So, yeah, three hots and a cot are gonna be nice but they're going to come at a price even in a society operating with the best of intentions toward its maternal population.

5. Women who can have children but refuse to do so will be social outcasts (and in this sort of society to be an outcast is virtually a death sentence).

The first thought I had on reading this was, if pregnancy is so important and we MUST have those babies, would women even been allowed to refuse to have children? Particularly in a society where women haven't been allowed to have a say in the reconstruction of the society that they're supposed to be helping to repopulate? Call me cynical but I don't think the kind of people who'll enslave women to their reproductive systems are going to give fuck one about whether a woman wants to have kids or not.

The second thought was shouldn't it kind of depend on why a woman is refusing to have kids? Ok, granted that social ostracism isn't the most logical of beasties, but there's lots of reasons not to want kids in a non-post-apocalyptic world. In addition, maybe she's refusing because she doesn't like the guy she's supposed to 'breed' with (sometimes the last man on earth is the LAST Man On Earth). Maybe she's a lesbian or genderqueer or FTM or is otherwise actually a he and doesn't want to have babies? Maybe she's working at some other vital task that she couldn't do if she was pregnant? Maybe she has a genetic disorder that she doesn't want to risk spreading? Maybe she's fifteen and scared shitless of what the adults are asking her to do? Because, again, a society that considers any woman of childbearing age to produce offspring is likely to want to start them as young as possible. Especially since the rate of birth defects and the rate of miscarriage increase the older a woman gets. Though on that end, the risk of birth defects and premature babies is higher among very young mothers.

A society that considers women's input into their fate is, I'm thinking, more likely to consider that even if a woman refuses to have children, she can still help contribute to the health and safety of other women's children, thus helping the survival of the species as a whole. I remember reading, a lonnnng time ago, an editorial in a SF digest magazine that suggested that this was the role that homosexuals played in Stone Age societies (though note that I'm not suggesting that any woman who doesn't want to have kids is gay) and it's easily a role that childfree women could play in a post-apocalyptic one.

6. We're likely to see a situation where women of childbearing age are "protected" by severe restrictions ("don't go outside the house, the radiation may harm your babies" gets abbreviated to "don't go outside") . This is a grim and disturbing picture; we take an old woman out of her house and throw her in the snow to provide shelter for a pregnant mother and her children - then lock her in.

Ok, lemme genderswap this quote... "We're likely to see a situation where men of impregnating age are "protected" by severe restrictions ("don't go outside the house, the radiation may sterlize you" gets abbreviated to "don't go outside")." Because honestly, that scenario is just as likely since women can't just get pregnant by wishing really hard. And while men can and do remain fertile a lot longer than women do, younger men still have healthier sperm. So, why aren't we locking them up? Or hooking them to...er...milking machines (like they did to poor Vic in the film version of "A Boy and His Dog"). Because the case could be made that sperm are delicate things and they need to be protected and since lead codpieces are going to be scarce on the ground, so how about we lock up the guys and let the women get on with rebuilding things?

Or, y'know, let's not do that since it'd be stupid and a waste of resources since somebody's going to have to take care of these confined people, making sure that their home stays safe from contamination and bring them food and water and such like that. Not to mention making sure that they don't go completely stir-crazy from boredom and/or a lack of adult conversation.

Now, a temporary confinement, similar to the ones used historically where a mother might be told to stick to bed rest for the last month of her pregnancy might not be a bad idea. There are some health benefits to it, in terms of preventing premature birth (a good thing, since there are no NICUs anymore). Some societies, particularly in Asia and Greece, have the mother confined for the first month after delivery, which benefits mother and child by giving them time to bond, letting the mother recover from giving birth, etc. In these cases, the woman doesn't go outside but she's not locked up in the house and bereft of company. In fact, Confinement Throughout History makes it sound kinda nice. I mean, I'd like to have someone come and do my laundry and cook me food...though having to poot out a baby first is a bit of a deal-breaker.

As for the whole mess about throwing out old women into the snow, I just have to ask WHY? one more time. And go back to earlier in Nuclear Warfare 103 for another quote, this time about triaging the survivors of the cities to move them to the country.

At this point life gets grim. We triage the population. One triage is condition. Who cannot be saved and will be left to die, who can only be saved with massive (and probably impractical) effort, those who can be saved with the means available now (the ones who get priority) and who will recover without treatment. On top of this is another triage. The population is prioritized according to need for protection. Pregnant women and children are top, young women of childbearing age second. Young men third, older men fourth, old women bottom. This is ruthless and brutal but its essential for survival. Given a choice between saving a young woman who can bear children and an old woman who cannot, we save the potential mother. We do the same with food. Food and water are checked for radioactivity. The clean food goes to the children and young women, the more contaminated food to the lower priority groups. That old woman? She gets the self-frying steaks. [...] The population drops like a stone as disease, radiation and injury take their toll. Then, it should bottom out and start to recover. Teams of older men and infertile women go to the cities to recover what they can.

Triage by condition, sure. It's going to be necessary and it's going to be grim and horrible and I would not want to be the person making those decisions. Triage by need for protection, again, I can live with the idea -- to a point. You're going to want to make sure that the pregnant women and the children are safe and you're going to want to make sure you have people who can have kids. But, as I mentioned earlier, those who cannot have kids can still contribute a lot to the children of others. They're the teachers, the doctors, the protectors, etc. Being old or infertile or childfree by choice does not mean someone is useless in a survival situation. Or that they're best suited to scavenge in contaminated areas.

Sure, it's a cliche that the elderly are valuable resources but it's one of those cliches that are true. Just in terms of child rearing, since that's what this ramble is about, I'd want a few grandmothers around because they've been there and done that when it comes to raising kids. And if those grandmothers happened to have also worked as nurses or doctors or teachers or engineers, so much the better.

My grandmother was a housewife, but the skills she could bring to the table include: cooking, gardening (fruits and vegetables in addition to flowers), preserving food (canning and freezing), sewing, knitting and crochet (useful for making clothes, blankets and other essentials), raising children, running the business side of a small family farm, organizing groups of people for church carry-ins, etc. She was in her mid-60s when she ended up raising a seven year old (me) and she's generally several flavors of awesome, in my opinion (but then again, I'm kinda biased).

A better approach might be to also triage individuals according to abilities. Or maybe triage isn't the right word since you don't get rid of someone who was an English major just 'cause you don't need a feminist deconstruction of Huckleberry Finn. Not when they can help scare crows away from crops or watch children or learn how to make candles and soap. What you'd want to do is find those people who have the skills that will help you recover enough to begin surviving, then help you make yourself more and more comfortable as you go along. And you'd be wanting to look for people who know how to do useful things that aren't necessarily related to their job -- like the guy who works at the local call center whose hobby is Civil War reenacting and who has a great hardtack recipe. Or who knows how to make ramen noodles taste good even after you've all been eating them for three weeks.

7. Newborn babies obviously damaged by radiation are likely to be killed on the spot. That may or may not be justifiable but I think its inevitable.

Sadly, this will likely be the case for kids who are born with severe problems who would be unlikely to live on their own, regardless of whether that damage is caused by radiation or not, at least until society gets back on its feet enough to support NICUs. But I'd like to think that a post-apocalypse society might not be so quick to discard those who can and do thrive and who might be useful one day. In the World War Z, one of the survivors Max Brooks interviews is a man who uses a wheelchair. His job in the post-zombie world? Neighborhood Watch-style security. Plus there's a blind man in Japan who slaughtered zombies with a hoe. And in Jericho, there was a Deaf teenage girl who protected rather than needed protecting. As Leslie Fish points out in her song The Cripple's Shield Wall:

Beware, I implore, all you masters of war
Who prefer to draft healthy young boys
For the blind and the lame can be good at this game
When well-placed, defending the toys


Radiation and Pregnancy: A Fact Sheet for Clinicians from the CDC.
Radiation and Pregnancy: A Fact Sheet for the Public likewise from the CDC.

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