I first heard the word in my college classroom a few years ago. I was an assistant professor of English at a state university, and, not incidentally, the mother of five children at the time. We were doing the usual around-the-room introductions in this opening class, which served as my forecast and early warning system for the upcoming semester. Several of the women had listed their occupations, their passions, and then mentioned they were also mothers. Then it was Rosalyn's turn. "Hi, I'm Rosalyn, and I've been a truck driver and a commercial fisherman, and I'm not a breeder." Everyone looked at me, silent, eyes wide. I smiled out of reflex, but suddenly it hit my brain like a smart bomb: A breeder? So that's the term now! Like dogs or horses, purely animal-species survival.

When I told an administrator at the college where I taught that I was pregnant and had decided to resign my position, he snorted and said, "This is your, what, ninth or tenth?" So many children, of course, that they are uncountable. The next summer, a neighbor I hadn't seen for awhile came to visit. "How many kids you got now?" he asked, in his usual direct manner.

"Six," I said, smiling bravely.

"Oh! That's too many! What do you have six kids for?" he asked, grimacing. "You gonna have any more?" was his parting shot. This despite the fact that I am nearly 50.

The messages are constant and clear. They are posted throughout the internet, and they descend upon me in my small hometown through almost weekly public accostings. In exceeding the national norm, which currently stands at 2.034 children per household, according to the Population Reference Bureau, I've stepped down the ladder of achievement and broken not one, but several social contracts. First and ...

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August 2006

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