The Infertility Apocalypse
Let me count the ways in which society could end and the world fall apart. There are aliens. There’s zombies. There’s nuclear war. There’s plague. There are super volcanoes. There’s hurtling into the sun at a million miles an hour. Then of course, there’s the rapture.
Zombies are getting to be old-hat. We’ve talked nuclear war to death and lived several decades in fear that it might actually happen. There are just so many ways the world could fall apart, but very few think about the world falling apart due to infertility. There are three female authors who have thought of this though. The three authors I want to speak about are Megan McCafferty, author of the Bumped series, P.D. James, author of The Children of Men, and Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale. Each of these women has written a dystopian story about a world in which infertility is the driving factor in how people behave. Society as we know it has fallen apart due to a lack of fertility.
Of course it would be a woman who wrote about an apocalypse by infertility. Men are more apt to think about hordes of zombies destroying their lives over the inability to get pregnant or get someone pregnant destroying their lives. Although, if you happen to know of a book or a short story written by a man which is along the lines of the mentioned books, I would be happy to know about it.
I would like to start off by giving a short summary of each book so we have something to reference back to.
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
Bumped, and its sequel Thumped, are set in a future world, approximately 2025 or thereabouts. The problem with the world is that there is a virus that limits the reproductive abilities of everyone. For the most part the fertility window of a person is from puberty to eighteen to twenty years old and that’s it. It affects both men and women; there is no cure.
Society has degraded into an all-encompassing need for teenagers to procreate. Babies are sold like candy bars. Sex isn’t for pleasure or because you like someone; it’s purely to make a baby. Everything revolves around pregnant teenage girls like they’re some sort of weird celebrities.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Nuclear war and religious zealism has changed society. Because of the effects of nuclear fallout many women are not able to become pregnant anymore. The few who are, are trained in a special manner. Their destiny is to be handmaids unto a married couple, just as Hagar was a handmaiden to Sarah and Abraham in the Bible.
The handmaid’s job is to produce an heir for a couple. The handmaids themselves are not eligible for marriage because of classified past transgressions. Sex has become ritualized in a strange manner involving not only the handmaid and the man, but also his wife. Paternities are often faked due to infertility of husbands.
The Children of Men by P.D. James
For some unknown reason, no one is fertile anymore. No one noticed it at first, but soon appointment registers at clinics and hospitals were bereft of pregnant women coming in for checkups and deliveries. It’s been about twenty-five years since the last babies were born. There is mandatory fertility testing for everyone deemed eligible. So far there has not been any luck.
People are often at war and at religious upheaval because the hope of society is doomed. There is no one to continue on afterwards, so what’s the point? One baby would give the world hope. One baby would put the world on a path in the right direction, but it would also create chaos in the uproar that it would cause when everyone found out.
Why an Infertility Apocalypse is Clever
Why is this such a neat idea? Why am I writing about it? What makes this type of apocalypse so much more special than say, zombies?
I already touched on why this was a great idea in my review of the book Bumped, but I’ll recap here. An infertility apocalypse is a great thing to write about because it’s plausible. There are scientific leanings that could possibly point to something like this actually happening. It’s also something we wouldn’t expect. Even though zombies aren’t real, we would probably expect society to have its downfall from them before we would expect society to have its downfall from the inability to have babies. Why? Well, because we’ve always been able to have babies. It’s something we take for granted. We’ve always been able to do it, so why shouldn’t we be able to keep doing it? We so often think our society will change through great measures, war, zombies, aliens, and natural disasters, that we forget that little things could destroy us.
In truth, we’re actually having a bit of an infertility crisis these days. I know it doesn’t appear that way since we have over seven billion people on the Earth, but hear me out. In developed countries, there is getting to be a bit of a problem with fertility and we’re not talking about fifty-year old women wanting babies, we’re talking about women of normal child-bearing ages, twenty to forty, having lots of problems having babies. Infertility is becoming an issue. It’s not simply a manner of more people talking about it, but more people are actually talking about it; it’s a matter of the whole thing becoming more common.
We can attribute this partly to an autoimmune disease called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS. Nobody knows what causes this disease or really why it came about. PCOS accounts for seventy percent of infertility cases in The United States, again, don’t quote me on that exactly, those were statistics from a while back. It’s estimated that about ten percent of women of child-bearing ages have PCOS in The United States, but it’s also becoming a big problem in other developed countries, the UK and Australia just to name a couple. PCOS does not mean a woman will be infertile, but women with PCOS have at least some problems conceiving and carrying to term. When we speak of PCOS, we’re talking about a disease that has sky-rocketing rates. Women are being diagnosed right and left; it doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all.
We don’t know what causes PCOS. We have theories. It’s BPA, it’s hormone mimickers like soy, it’s the fact that your mother smoked while she was pregnant, it’s the fact that your father was exposed to Agent Orange, it’s the fact that you live by a Teflon plant, it’s the fact that you took hormonal birth control pills, it’s the fact that it could be genetic, or maybe it’s even GMOs. We don’t know what it is. There are so many things it cold be, that we haven’t been able to pin anything down. The longer it takes us to figure it out the more women will develop PCOS. We don’t have any idea how some of these things in our lives affect us long-term or even if USDA and FDA rulings are even true or accurate. It’s a mystery.
Now, PCOS while being the biggest spoke in the wheel of infertility among women, is definitely not the only problem. We also have unexplained infertility to look to, which as you guessed cannot be explained. Doctors throw their hands up in the air and say, “Beats me.” They can’t tell you why you can’t get pregnant. Let’s not forget about the men though. Men are having some fertility issues as well. Some people are even theorizing that men have become a lot more feminine in recent years because of all the fake hormones, specifically estrogen-like substances, that we find in our food, our clothes, and our chemicals.
We may be shooting ourselves in the foot. We’re paying attention to immediate side-effects of some of these things, but we’re not paying attention to long-terms and effects on fertility. If no one can have babies, we’re screwed. We don’t think about it, probably because it’s not a pleasant thought and it just seems so far-fetched that it would never be, but I’ve just given you evidence that it could be. We have a basis for an infertility apocalypse.
Theoretically, you could sit down and “what if” yourself to death over the possibility of an infertility apocalypse. There are just so many things we could attribute it to. We may know a lot about the human body these days, but we can’t explain everything. We don’t know what certain things will do to a person. Who knows, maybe WiFi decreases our fertility? That’s an awful thought, is it not?
We think it’s always going to be there. We think we’re always going to be able to reproduce. Women are probably more attuned to the idea that an infertility apocalypse could be a thing because women actually stop being fertile after a certain point in life, menopause. Women deal with the fact that they will reach a certain point and no longer be able to have babies. Men never reach that point; that’s probably why a man hasn’t written a dystopian novel about an infertility apocalypse(again, I’m glad to know if there actually is).
Margaret, Megan, and P.D. were very clever when they wrote their dystopian novels dealing with this very thing. It was just so smart because you expect the big things to get you, not the little things.
Common Threads in Infertility Apocalypse Stories
We’ve discussed why the idea of an infertility apocalypse is so clever, but let’s discuss the stories themselves. All three books mentioned deal with fertility problems, but they have other commonalities besides that. There are two ideas that jump out a me when thinking of these three books: A short time frame for things to fall apart and extreme religion.
In each book Bumped, A Handmaid’s Tale and The Children of Men, the world has fallen apart pretty fast after the news that everyone’s fertility was impaired. A Handmaid’s Tale has the shortest time frame, being only a few years, while Bumped and The Children of Men are about twenty-five years into the whole process. In the latter two books, it didn’t take twenty-five years to get that bad, it’s just been twenty-five years since things happened. Things got bad right away. People freaked out immediately when they knew what was going on. The latter two books are just further along into the apocalypse. In Margaret’s book, people are still trying to figure out how to cope with the infertility of society.
Why did it happen so fast? It happened so fast because we’re human and we freak out over the littlest things and let the smallest things in life buffet us around from one decision to the other. Have you ever seen a toddler break into tears over some insignificant thing? We’re all like that, even though we don’t like to admit it. Sure, we would all like the say that if we found out the world couldn’t have any more babies that we would live out the rest of our lives normally, but we can’t say that. Our lives, our normal lives, are built upon the idea that someone is coming after us. Our entire existence revolves around the idea that there will be someone to continue on your name, your project, your business, or even your legislation. Our lives lose a lot of meaning if there is no one to follow. So, yes, our lives would be turned completely upside down if we suddenly found out that we couldn’t reproduce anymore.
The other similarity in all three books is religion. As I have mentioned before, people often turn to a power higher than themselves in times of trouble. They may not call that thing God, but they have something they look to. They have something they want to give their lives meaning. A lot of us would wonder if we were being punished for something we had done if we found out we were all infertile. We would wonder what our sins were that caused this thing to happen.
Some of us would turn to religion simply as a means to cope, but others would turn to religion as a means to seek forgiveness. They feel that they’ve done something wrong to cause this awful thing to happen and now they must atone for it. The religions in all three books are extreme. In Bumped, religion turns into girls getting married at thirteen and having babies and wearing clothing that covers up their entire bodies, which sounds an awful lot like something you’d read about the FLDS church under Warren Jeffs. In A Handmaid’s Tale, religion has become incorporated with the government. People have gone back to fundamentals, way back, as in the Old Testament. In The Children of Men, there are strange religious cults that do things on the beaches and out in the woods. Organized religion as we know it, still kind of exists in that world, but things have lost a lot of meaning.
In truth, we would wonder. When science couldn’t give us the answer to why we all went infertile, we would likely turn to religion for an answer or even a semblance of an answer. Some of us would believe it was punishment. Some of us would use religion to give our lives purpose because now there’s nothing that’s going to come behind us.
In The End
Megan, P.D., and Margaret were all so very clever for writing a story about an infertility apocalypse. It’s a brilliant idea. It has a plausibility that zombies will never have.