As a radiologist in Miami, working mainly with a lower income population, many of my female ultrasound patients are young women recently arrived from Cuba. It breaks my heart to meet these wonderful women with slightly tortured yet musical names starting with Y, such as Yunisleidys or Yosvaneisis. They have frightening termination histories. Some with over five or six abortions other with as many as 11 or 12.
The main form of “birth control” is abortion, my patients tell me. Condoms and pills are hard to get, and they come and go according to the daily whims of the government.
This, to me, is not just a number, or the evidence of abundant “choice” and women’s liberation in Cuba. It is a sign of material, social, and spiritual poverty. Poverties that are willfully imposed on these women from above, by an oppressive patriarchy. The New York Times, interestingly, doesn't see the connection.
In a recent article, the newspaper describes a demographic nightmare taking place on the little island nation. Watchers of the Pope’s outdoor masses may have noticed the dearth of children in the crowds. The fact is, women in Cuba have almost entirely ceased to give birth. In about 50 years, experts predict that over 40 percent of Cubans will be over 60.
Imagine that, in a country where buying an egg can be a four hour odyssey, most of that time spent standing in the brutal sun. Imagine that, also, where a “nursing home” is a dank and crumbling structure, and a patient’s room holds only a filthy cot and a bucket.
The main form of “birth control” is abortion, my patients tell me. Condoms and pills are hard to get, and they come and go according to the daily whims of the government. Abortion, on the other hand, is free, ubiquitous, and taught aggressively in state education as an action entirely devoid of moral meaning.
The Times mentions the high abortion rate, even referring to a woman who has had 10. In the article this is accompanied by giggles, oddly. This is nothing to giggle about. Strictly from a medical perspective, the number “10” in the abortion column indicates abundant opportunities for pelvic inflammatory disease, resulting infertility, and what has to be a huge (silent) number of potentially lethal complications like uterine perforation.
While the abortions are free, the chances that they are performed with aseptic technique and adequate instruments are nil, on an island devoid of aspirin.
From a human perspective, the high number is even more dismaying. It denotes a complete lack of faith in the future, a dramatic hopelessness. How to marry and raise a family on a combined take-home salary of 40 dollars a month? And where will the children sleep, when the couple already shares a decrepit house with three other families? How to be sure that there will be milk for the children, and cereal?
The Times refers to all these material obstacles with great sympathy, and describes them as the challenges of a developing nation meeting the realities of a world economy. But, of course, this entirely misses the economic point. People in Cuba earn 20 dollars a month because the government has decreed it so. The small entrepreneurship that could help a young couple start a family, like growing mangos in the back yard and selling them on the street corner, is illegal. Becoming the best architect on the island through dint of hard work and study, and finding an employer who will pay you 100 dollars a month, because your work shines above all others, is also illegal.
The natural and lovely desire for children that most women feel, (the rush of tenderness at the sight of a downy newborn head or the sound of an exuberant stumbling toddler trying to catch a butterfly) has been murdered in its cradle by a patriarchal government that decided long ago to keep everyone on the island on a choking economic leash.
Murdered also is a man’s lovely desire to see his children growing around him, living proofs of his love and commitment.
Regular poverty, the kind that comes from mismanagement and corruption, like that of the rest of Latin America, does not lead to childlessness. Visit the Dominican Republic and see a similar topography and people. Poor, but when you drive by the conuco on your way to the fancy resort, you will see what you used to see in Cuba. A sturdy little wooden house, surrounded by waving cane, and children playing in the fresh grass. The land is fertile and the people are also fertile. Like Cuba used to be.
The Times refers to the high abortion rate and the death of children as products of women’s education and liberation. This is absurd. A real life experiment was conducted when a large number of Cubans left soon after the revolution. My generation was raised in the same home culture: cheerful, optimistic, affectionate. We also had “choice,” as in complete abortion license and access to contraception. We were also highly educated. But we are married and we have children—lots of them. I personally have five, and while that is on the high side, it’s nothing strange.
The differences we experienced were not just economic. We were allowed, here in the U.S., to keep our Catholic faith, which teaches with great confidence that children are a blessing and the prettiest form of generosity. We had trust in the laws of our new country, that they would treat us and our children fairly, and we would enjoy the human rights that are indispensable to hope. These intangibles are disregarded by the Times in favor of pure financial reasons.
One solution floated by the Cuban government is that exiled Cubans with children may come back. This is so beyond the bounds of realism that it takes a deliberate blindness to even consider it. Exchange delightful Miami, with its fabulous job opportunities, cheerful Latino ambiance, oh and religious and political freedom, for a life of penury, near slavery, and despair? On purpose?
The real reason for the end of childhood in Cuba escapes The Times, like so many human realities escape progressives in general. Children come from love, yes, but love married to hope. Hope that the children will have enough to eat, and that the future might hold something better than the rotten reality of the moment. Hope that the bad men in charge will take “openness” and somehow use it to find a way to simple fairness. Hope that God wills our good and the good of our children, and that He carries us safely in His hands. Until these hopes flower in Cuba, the bellies will continue flat, and the future bleak.