Marriage And Children
( Originally Published 1931 )
I am for you, and you are for me,
THE Mystic in his moment of enlightenment attains through the flux of his personality the realization of oneness with the divine forces of the Universe.
To ordinary men and women, however, this mystical ecstasy is unknown, and the ordinary human consciousness is far more aware of its separateness than of its oneness with the vital forces of creation. Yet the glow of half-swooning rapture in which the mystic's whole being melts and floats in the light of the divine force is paralleled in the rapture of lovers.
When two who are mated in every respect burn with the fire of the innumerable forces within them, which set their bodies longing towards each other with the desire to interpenetrate and to encompass one another, the fusion of joy and rapture is not purely physical. The half-swooning sense of flux which overtakes the spirit in their eternal moment at the apex of rapture sweeps into its flaming tides the whole essence of the man and woman, and as it were, the heat of the contact vaporizes their consciousness so that it fills the whole of cosmic space. For the moment they are identified with the divine thoughts, the waves of eternal force, which to the Mystic often appear in terms of golden light.
From their mutual penetration into the realms of supreme joy the two lovers bring back with them a spark of that light which we call life.
And unto them a child is born.
This is the supreme purpose of nature in all her enticing weft of complex factors, luring the two lovers into each other's arms. Only by the fusion of two can the new human life come into being, and only by creating a new life in this way can we hand on the torch which lights our consciousness in the sphere of matter.
This mystical and wonderful fact has never yet found the poet to sing its full glory. But in the hearts of all who have known true love lies the realization of the sacredness that is theirs when they are in the very act of creation.
Were our bodies specifically organized for this supreme purpose, two human beings would only pass through the sacred fire of mutual fusion in order to create a new life. But, however far our spirits have evolved, our bodies are composed of matter which bears the imprint of the many past phases through which we have reached our present position. And because in the world of the lower animals there is an immense wastage of all the young lives created, and it is necessary that myriads should be conceived in order that a small number should reach maturity, so in our bodies (specialized though they are in comparison with the lower animals) both sexes still produce a far larger number of germs awaiting fertilization than can be actually fructified and imbued with individual life. So profoundly has the course of our history been stamped upon us that each germ, unaware of its own futility if it reaches maturity at an unpropitious moment, is just as insistent in its development as the favored one which follows out the full natural course of its career and gives rise to a new individual.
It is utterly impossible, organized as our bodies are at present, for us to obey the dictates of theologians and refrain from the destruction of potential life. The germ-cells of the woman, though immeasurably less numerous than the male germ-cells (the sperm), yet develop uselessly over and over again in every celibate as well as in every married woman; while myriads of sperm-cells are destroyed even in the process of the act which does ensure fertilization of the woman by the single favored sperm. If the theologians really mean what they say, and demand the voluntary effort of complete celibacy from all men, save for the purpose of procreation, this will not achieve their end of preventing the destruction of all potential life; and the monthly loss of unfertilized egg-cell by women is beyond all the efforts of the will to curb. Nature, not man, arranged the destruction of potential life against which ascetic Bishops rage.
If then, throughout the greater part of their lives the germinal cells of both sexes inevitably disintegrate without creating an embryo, there can be nothing wrong in selecting the most favorable moment possible for the conception of the first of these germinal cells to be endowed with the supreme privilege of creating a new life.
For many reasons it is more ideal to have the children spontaneously and early; but if economic conditions are hard, as they so often are in "civilized" life, it may be better to marry and defer the children rather than not to marry.
If the pair married very young, and before they could afford to support children, they might wait several years with advantage. An exceptional case is one of the happiest marriages I know. The pair married while they were young students in the University, and fourteen years later they had their first child, a splendidly healthy boy. Though such a long interval is certainly not to be universally recommended, as it is said that it may result in sterility, in this instance it was triumphantly better for the two to have lived normally satisfied happy lives than to have waited for marriage for fourteen years and risked the man's "fall."
There are many reasons, both for their own and for the child's sake, why the potential parents should take the wise precaution of delay, unless owing to special circumstances they cannot expect to live together uninterruptedly.
The child, conceived in rapture and hope, should be given every material chance which the wisdom and love of the parents can devise. And the first and most vital condition of its health is that the mother should be well and happy and free from anxiety while she bears it.
The tremendous and far-reaching effects of marriage on the woman's whole organism makes her less fitted to bear a child at the very commencement of marriage than later on, when the system will have adjusted itself to its new conditions.
It is generally (though perhaps not always) wise thoroughly to establish their relation to each other before introducing the inevitable dislocation and readjustment necessitated by the wife's pregnancy and the birth of a child.
In this book I am not speaking so much of the universal sex-relation as to those who find them-selves today in the highly civilized, artificial communities of English-speaking people : and in our present society there is little doubt that the early birth of a child demands much self-sacrifice and self-restraint from the man, one of the reflex vibrations of which is his undefinable sense of loss and separation from his bride. This has been confided to me by many men who have been generous enough to trust me with some of the secrets of their lives. Mr. C. is typical of many others of his class.
He was quiet and refined, with a strong strain of romantic love, which was entirely centered in his bride. He was manly and sufficiently virile to feel the need of sex-intercourse, but he was unaware (as are so many men) of the woman's corresponding need; and he did not give his wife any orgasm. She took no pleasure, therefore, in the physical act of union, which for her was so incomplete.
Very shortly after marriage she conceived, and a child was born ten months after the wedding-day.
For two years after the birth of the child her vitality was so lowered that the sex-act was to her so repugnant that she refused her husband any union; and it was thus three years after their marriage before they met in anything like a normal way. By that time the long separation from sex-life and the Strain on the man, coupled with daily familiarity at home, had dimmed, if not completely destroyed, his sense of romance. The natural stimulation each should exert on the other had faded, so that they never experienced the mutual glow of rapture in their sex-union.
Another pair suffered similarly: Mr. and Mrs. D. were prevented for several years by the wife's real and fancied ill-health from having any intercourse.
When, after that time, she recovered and passionately desired the true marriage relation, the husband felt it to be impossible. To him it would have been, as he expressed it, "like raping his sister."
Once such a thought has grown into a man's mind it is very difficult to "recapture the first fine careless rapture." And with the loss of that early rapture the two lose, for the rest of their lives, the irradiating joy which is priceless, not only for its beauty, but for the vitality with which its wings are laden.
On the other hand, if by waiting some months (or even years if they are young) the mated pair have learnt to adjust themselves to each other and have experienced the full possibilities of complete love-making, the disturbance which is caused by the birth of the child is in no sense a danger to their happiness, but is its crown and completion.
A man once said to me—"One can endure any-thing for the sake of a beloved wife." But the wife is only utterly beloved when she and her married lover have not only entered paradise together, but when she fully realizes, through insight gained by her own experiences, the true nature of that of which she is depriving her husband so long as her bodily condition makes sex-union with him impossible.
Much has been written, and may be found in the innumerable books on the sex-problems, as to whether a man and woman should or should not have relations while the wife is bearing an unborn child.
In this matter experience is very various, so that it is difficult or impossible to give definite advice without knowing the full circumstances of each case.
When, however, we observe the admirable sanctity of the pregnant females of the woodland creatures, and when we consider the extraordinary ignorance and disregard of woman's needs which mark so many of our modern customs, it is easy to think that the safe side of this debatable question must be in the complete continence of the woman for at least six months before the birth of the child. I have heard from a number of women, however, that they desire union urgently at this time; while to others the thought of it is incredible.
It must be remembered that the parallel of the more primitive creatures cannot be pressed too far, because in a thousand ways we highly civilized human beings have developed in fresh directions away from our ancestral habits. This question, of whether or not it is right and wise to have sex-unions during pregnancy, is one on which scientific research should be undertaken. Far too few men and women are clean-minded and frank enough to record their feelings in this connection, and far too few medical men delicately sympathetic enough to elicit the facts, even from those women who are personally conscious of them. The accumulating evidence which I have acquired through direct personal confidences about this subject points in absolutely conflicting directions, and. there is little doubt that in this particular, even more than in so many others, the health, needs, and mental condition of women who are bearing children vary profoundly. From one distinguished medical specialist I have acquired the interesting suggestion that in one or two cases among his own patients, where the prospective mother had desired unions and the husband had denied them thinking it in her interest, the doctor had observed that the children seemed to grow up restless, uncontrollable, and with an unduly marked tendency to self-abuse. On this most suggestive and important idea, I would gladly obtain evidence from parents and the medical profession, for only from a large number of cases can reliable conclusions be drawn. But just as in popular opinion it is good for the child and the woman to gratify any harmless fancy for food which she may develop, so, in my opinion, it seems probable that any desire for moderate and careful sex-union between the prospective mother and the father of the coming child should be gratified in the interests of all three. I have now sufficient evidence to feel sure that some women benefit greatly by union during pregnancy. Immoderate and excessive desire for sex-union must undoubtedly be looked upon as an unfavorable symptom, and a practicing doctor should be consulted about it.
A woman who is bearing a child by the man she deeply loves, has an intense longing that he should share, so far as is possible, in influencing that child while it is coming, and that he should be as near and as close to it and to her as is possible. The basis of this longing, we may well imagine, may be not only a tender sentiment of the brain, but may depend on that fine sensual interchange of ultra-microscopic particles which must take place between skin and skin during physical contact, the idea of which is so beautifully foreshadowed in Carpenter's "Love's Coming of Age."
A woman who is bearing a child should not—indeed, she cannot—have the intensest form of muscular orgasm, but this subtler and deeper sweetening and harmonizing union has not only a romantic justification, but will, I think, be proved by Science, when Science becomes sensitive enough to handle such delicate things, to have a real biochemical basis.
As so many people lack a due visualizing imagination, perhaps I should add that the ordinary position of union is not suitable—indeed, may be most harmful—to a woman during this time; but she and her husband can easily so intertwine themselves that the weight of both is lying upon the bed or upon pillows, and so no pressure falls upon the woman.
Toistoy strongly condemned any sex-contact while the wife was pregnant or nursing, and blames the husband who "puts upon her the unbearable burden of being at one and the same time a mistress, an exhausted mother, and a sickly, irritable, hysterical individual. And the husband loves her as his mistress, ignores her as a mother, and hates her for the irritability and hysteria which he himself has produced and produces." His view is taken by many of our noblest men.
While the wife feels that she cannot allow her husband to enter the portals of her body when it has become the sacred temple of a developing life, she should also consider the perpetual strain which nature imposes upon him ; and the tender and loving wife will readily find some means of giving him that physical relief which his nature needs.
The exquisite, unselfish tenderness which is aroused in a man by the sense of mental and spiritual harmony with a wife who sympathizes with, because she understands, his needs is one of the loveliest things in marriage. The wife who knows how to waken this tenderness in a man raises him out of the self-centered slough in which so many men wallow unhappily.
With an ardent man, wholly devoted to his wife and long deprived of her, the time will come when it will be sufficient for him to be near her and caress her for relief to take place without any physical connection.
After the birth of the first child the health of the mother and of the baby both demand that there should be no hurried beginning of a second. At least a year should pass before the second little life is allowed to begin its unfolding, so that a minimum of about two years should elapse before the second child is born.
The importance of this, both for the mother and for the child, is generally adequately recognized by medical specialists, and some distinguished gynecologists advocate as much as three or five years between the births of successive children. While in the whole human relation there is no slavery or torture so horrible as ^ coerced, unwilling motherhood, there is no joy and pride greater than that of a woman who is bearing the developing child of a man she adores. It is a serious reflection on our poisoned "civilization" that a pregnant woman should feel shame to appear in the streets. Never will the race reach true health till it is cured of its prurient sickness, and the prospective mother can carry her sacred burden as a priestess in a triumphal procession.
Although it is out of the province of this book to give advice about the more material and better-known details of the general management of the health of the prospective mother, yet there are one or two very important points generally overlooked which profoundly affect both the woman's health and happiness, and may affect also the child. For instance, leading medical experts are in the habit of considering the "morning sickness" which is so usual in the early months of pregnancy as a "physiological process," and to look upon it complacently as perfectly normal and to be endured as a matter of course. This marks a deplorably low standard of health. Why should this comparatively small but nauseating experience accompany what should be among the most rapturously beautiful months of a woman's life? In my opinion there is no reason for this at all, except that medical men have been blind leaders of the blind; accustomed always to deal with invalids or semi-invalids, they have lost the instinct to demand of humanity a high and buoyant state of health, while women so harried by the undue drains of unregulated sex-experience, with vitality so lowered by "civilized" life, have seen one another suffering on all sides until they too have lost the racial memory of radiant bodily beauty and health.
Here and there an exceptional woman has gone through the months of pregnancy with no handicap, with not even morning sickness. Instead of looking upon her as an enviable exception, as all do now, look upon her as the normal standard which all should attain ! One of the aids to attaining this standard for every prospective mother would be the knowledge by all adult women that, directly they know they are bearing a child, they should instantly discard not only all corsets, but all clothes of every kind which are heavy and close or which have any definite bands or tight fastenings. Specialists are content to say no harm accrues if a woman wears"comfortable" corsets until the third or fourth month. I denounce this as misleading folly. The sensitiveness to pressure, often unconscious, at such a time is extraordinary, and the penalty of even the lightest pressure is the morning sickness. The standard of clothing should be so light, so loose, that a butterfly could walk upon the bare skin beneath the clothes without breaking its wings. This may seem exaggerated to nearly every one, but it is a very pro-found truth.
Another aid to buoyant health during this time is to add to the diet the largest possible amount of uncooked fruit, particularly oranges, plums, and apples.
Various books have been written on the health in pregnancy, though few of these are enlightened. Although one must deplore the many mistakes in elementary chemistry which are made therein, by far the best of the books on this subject known to me is Dr. Alice Stockham's "Tokology." In this book such comparative trifles as the calling of carbonaceous material carbonates, though sufficient to prejudice the scientific mind against the rest of her work, do not really affect the profound truth of the gist of her message—a message which was first given to the public by a wise old Englishman long ago.
Of the innumerable problems which touch upon the qualities transmitted to the children by their parents, the study of which may be covered by the general term Eugenics, I shall here say nothing : nor shall I deal with the problems of birth and child-rearing. Many writers have considered these subjects, and my purpose in this book is to present aspects of sex-life which have been more or less neglected by others.
While throughout I have omitted the consideration of abnormalities, there is one condition which verges on the abnormal but yet touches the lives of some married people who are individually both normal and healthy, about which a few words need to be said.
It not infrequently happens that two healthy, loving people, for no apparent reason, seem unable to have a child.
Owing partly to the incredible ignorance of our bodily structure in which it is possible for a grown man or woman not only to enter marriage but to be married for years, sometimes apparently childless unions are not in any sense due to the incapacity of either partner for parenthood, but are due some-times to trifling impediments which can easily be removed, or to trifling peculiarities of construction which can very simply be overcome.
While the great majority of married couples are actually suffering, or would suffer, without the exertion of definite control, from too many pregnancies, there are still—particularly in the middle and upper classes—many would-be parents who long for children but seem to be mysteriously deprived of them. Doctors may have examined both the man and the woman, and pronounced them perfectly normal, perfectly healthy, and perfectly capable of having children together, and yet children do not come.
Sometimes this is caused by an undue activity of a slightly acid secretion on the part of the woman, a secretion doing her no harm and of which she is quite unconscious, but which may be sufficient to render the active sperm impotent. Sometimes, there-fore, it is sufficient to ensure conception for the woman to syringe the vagina with a little weak neutralizing solution such as sodium carbonate shortly before sex-union. Another cause which sometimes operates against the vital sperm penetrating to the waiting ovum is an excess of mucus at the mouth of the womb. In such a case it is important that a really complete and muscularly energetic orgasm should be achieved by the woman, not before but coincident with or after the sperm has been ejaculated. It is often argued that it makes no difference whether or not the woman has a complete orgasm for so many cases are recorded in which women who have never experienced an orgasm have had many children ; but it is generally forgotten that women are of many different types, and while one type of woman, the very fruitful mother with a wide vagina and but slight internal mucus, may conceive a dozen times without an orgasm, the more highly nervous, equally perfect, woman may only conceive on the occasion when she experiences an orgasm while the sperm is actually in the vagina.
Another slight obstacle to conception on the part of a woman which is not infrequent is the position of the mouth of the womb and the relation of the vaginal canal, which may be such that the spermatic fluid tends to be lost without any of it penetrating the orifice of the womb itself. To overcome this it is often sufficient for the woman to turn over directly the act of union is complete and lie face downwards for a few hours.
Without any question, all women have times of greater or less reproductive vitality, but in some women this is less marked than in others, and with some, conception may take place at almost any date in the menstrual month; but with other women there is a group of days ranging from three or four to a dozen or more, in which conception seems to be impossible; while, on the other side of this group of neutral days, the days grade upwards towards a date of greater reproductive potency. Therefore, a woman and her husband who desire children, but have not after some years of marriage had the good fortune to attain parenthood, should choose for their acts of union those days on which conception is most likely.
On the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the effect on the whole nervous system of the desire to conceive is very great. A too frantic desire, which leads to too frequently repeated unions, will probably defeat itself, because it is not the mere coalescence of the sperm with the ovum which completes conception, it is also the attachment of that impregnated ovum to the wall of the womb, and intense nervous excitement may prevent that. Indeed, it has been stated by a medical man of considerable weight in the last century that there are women among those races to whom sex-knowledge is not taboo who can voluntarily control conception at will and consciously expel an impregnated ovum by mere exercise of nervous force. A woman in modern society who is in a highly nervous condition, which may find expression in her constant need of cigarettes or excitement, may be (though this is by no means universally true) frequently impregnated and at the same time continually throwing off the impregnated ovum before the settling down of that ovum, which results in true conception, can take place. If, therefore, the woman who urgently desires to be a mother finds herself continuously smoking, or notes in herself any other indication of a lack of placidity in her nerves, she would do well—not merely to restrict her smoking, which is nothing but a symptom of a deeper need—but she would do well to restore so far as possible a calm poise to her whole system by longer sleep, more country air, plenty of fresh butter, or what-ever simple remedy it may be that will supply her nerves with something lacking, and for which she is unconsciously craving.
Although to many it may seem incredible, yet it is not so rare as might be supposed, that the adult pair may be married for years, and the wife still remain physically a virgin owing to neither of the pair knowing that penetration must be effected.
Amazing as it may seem, four or five such cases, all of intelligent apparently average people, have come to my direct knowledge in the course of one year alone. Another cause, less extreme, is due to the woman making full entry difficult or impossible by not taking up a proper position during union. To such people a knowledge of the true details involved may speedily bring the de-sired conception.
These very simple suggestions are of the kind often overlooked by the medical specialist, to whom a woman goes tremblingly asking if she is abnormally formed in any way, because she does not get the children she so much longs for. Such advice, of course, will apply only to people who are essentially normal and without deformity. For more serious obstructions to parenthood, the pair, and not the woman only, should seek medical advice.
The old-fashioned view was that the fault lay with the woman, and the reproach of being a barren woman is one which brought untold anguish to many hearts. It is now beginning to be recognized, however, that in a childless union the "fault," if fault it be, is as often the man's as the woman's, particularly where the husband is a brain-worker in a city.
Though it is natural that there should not be the same joy for the pair in a child which had not arisen from their own supreme fusion, nevertheless, the man who is generous and broad-minded might find much joy in a child of his wife's were the obtaining of this child not coupled with the yielding of her body to the embrace of another man, which is so generally and so naturally repugnant to a husband. The future possibilities of science here come in. There are the experiments by the famous Dr. Hunter at the end of the eighteenth century, and more recent work. See, for instance, Heape, in the "Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1897," and Marshall's text-book of "The Physiology of Reproduction, 1910."
The husband of every pregnant woman plays every day an important part in the heritage of the child, and in the creation of its spirit he could play a profound part, the potentialities of which appear to be almost unrecognized by humanity.
The idea that the soul and character of the child can be in any degree influenced by the mental status of the mother during the months of its development as an embryo within her body, is apt to be greeted with pure scepticism—for it is difficult of proof, and repugnant to the male intellect, now accustomed to explain life in terms of chemistry.
Yet all the wisest mothers whom I know vary only in the degree of their belief in this power of the mother. All are agreed in believing that the spiritual and mental condition and environment of the mother does profoundly affect the character and the mental and spiritual powers of the child.
An interesting fact which strengthens the woman's point of view is quoted (though not in this connection) by Marshall,* who says : "It has been found that immunity from disease may be acquired by young animals being suckled by a female which had previously become immune, the antibody to the disease being absorbed in the ingested milk." This particular fact is explainable in terms of chemistry; but it seems to me more than rash for any one in these days of hormones from ductless glands, to deny the possibility of mental states in the mother generating "chemical messengers," which may impress permanent characters in the physiological re-actions of the developing child. Ellis says (Vol. 6, "Sex and Society," 1913) : "The mother is the child's supreme parent, and during the period from conception to birth the hygiene of the future man can only be affected by influences which work through her."
And Alfred Russel Wallace, the great naturalist, thought the transmission of mental influence neither impossible nor even very improbable. I am convinced that it takes place all the time, molding and influencing the hereditary factors.
Many people whose ideas are very noble are yet strangely incapable of adapting the material acts of life to the real fulfilment of their ideals. Thus there is a section of our community which insists that there should be no restriction whatever of the number of children born to married people. They think any control of conception immoral. They take their stand upon the statement that we have no right to destroy potential life. But if they would study a little human or animal physiology they would find that not only every celibate, but also every married man incessantly and inevitably wastes myriads of germs which had the potentiality of fusion with an ovum, and consequently could have produced a child had opportunity been given them. For the supposed sake of one or two of these myriad sperms which must naturally and inevitably die, they encourage the production of babies in rapid succession which are weakened by their proximity while they might have been sturdy and healthy had they been conceived further apart from each other.
Such people, while awake to the claims of the unborn, nay, even of the unconceived, are blind to the claims of the one who should be dearest of all to the husband, and for whose health and happiness he is responsible. A man swayed by archaic dogma will allow, even coerce, his wife to bear and bring forth an infant annually. Save where the woman is exceptional, each child following so rapidly on its predecessor, saps and divides the vital strength which is available for the making of the offspring. This generally lowers the vitality of each succeeding child, and surely even if slowly, may murder the woman who bears them.
Of course, the effects of this strain upon the woman vary greatly according to her original health and vitality, the conditions of her surroundings and the intensity of the family's struggle for food. A half-starved mother trying to bring up children in the foul air of city slums, loses, as a rule, far more of her family than a comfortable and well-fed woman in the country. Nevertheless, conditions are not everything; under the best conditions, the chances of death of the later children of a large family, which comes rapidly, are far greater than for the earlier children.
Dr. Ploetz found that while the death-rate of first-born infants is about 220 per thousand, the death-rate of the seventh-born is about 330, and of the twelfth-born is 597 per thousand. So that when "nature" has its way, and twelve children come to sap a woman's vitality, so little strength has she that nearly 6o per cent. of these later ones die. What a waste of vitality ! What a hideous orgy of agony for the mothers to produce in anguish death-doomed, suffering infants!
Forel ("The Sexual Question," 1908) says: "It seems almost incredible that in some countries medical men who are not ashamed to throw young men into the arms of prostitution, blush when mention is made of anti-conceptional methods. This false modesty, created by custom and prejudice, waxes indignant at innocent things while it encourages the greatest infamies."
It is important to observe that Holland, the country which takes most care that children shall be well and voluntarily conceived, has increased its survival-rate, and has thereby, not diminished, but increased its population, and has the lowest infant mortality in Europe. While in America, where the outrageous "Comstock Laws" confuse wise scientific prevention with illegal abortion and label them both as "obscene," thus preventing people from obtaining decent hygienic knowledge, horrible and criminal abortion is more frequent than in any other country.
To those who protest that we have no right to interfere with the course of nature, one must point out that the whole of civilization, everything which separates man from animals, is an interference with what such people commonly call "nature." Nothing in the cosmos can be against nature, for it all forms part of the great processes of the universe.
Actions differ, however, in their relative positions in the scale of things. Only those actions are worthy which lead the race onwards to a higher and fuller completion and the perfecting of its power, which steer the race into the main current of that stream of life and vitality which courses through us and impels us forward.
It is a sacred duty of all who dare to hand on the awe-inspiring gift of life, to hand it on in a vessel as fit and perfect as they can fashion, so that the body may be the strongest and most beautiful instrument possible in the service of the soul they summon to play its part in the mystery of material being.