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(Not) born in the USA: what’s driving America’s baby bust?

At the start of the pandemic, experts predicted a COVID-19 baby boom when we came out the other side. Now, in the US at least, the opposite is turning out to be true: in 2021, the US will see half a million fewer births than the year before, a 13 per cent drop from the 3.8 million babies born in 2019. It’s officially a baby bust.

As someone who had a baby, my second, in America this year, this news makes me feel a little sad.
I don’t want anyone to miss out on the all-absorbing joys of small humans, their gurgles in the bathtub, the sweet smell of their heads. On the other hand, I get it. It is hard to make parenting work in this country, and I say that as one of the lucky ones.

In 2021, the US will see half a million fewer births than the year before.

In 2021, the US will see half a million fewer births than the year before.Credit:iStock

Earlier this year, I found myself on the receiving end of discrimination for the first time in my very privileged life. I was interviewing for a job by Zoom, and the minute I could no longer avoid the fact of my pregnancy, my would-be employer lost all interest. Perhaps it was a coincidence, and after half a dozen interviews they concluded that I was simply an inferior candidate. Or perhaps it was because my need for a few weeks to recover from a major physical ordeal and care for a newborn was inconvenient and didn’t quite fit with their plans.

Smarting from the shock, I did the most American thing possible – I called a lawyer. She told me that I certainly had a case against the employer, but that, in her estimation, “you’d have to be a little crazy to actually pursue something”. This, I knew instinctively. I didn’t want to be dismissed in my industry as difficult. Nor did I feel like shelling out thousands of dollars in legal fees. There was something exquisitely pointless about the whole exercise: yes, what happened to me was likely illegal. No, there was absolutely nothing to be done about it.

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