By Joseph Knowles
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And whereas menopause is drawing unprecedented attention in the United States among educated baby boomers who have postponed parenthood, it is hardly discussed at all in The Gambia. The mystery, in sum, is why people who so intensely desire high fertility should display such profound indifference toward the passage of time. It is only when confronted with a jarring case like that of Kaddy Seesay—someone with such a pathetic reproductive history who appears to be blocking off signiﬁcant portions of her fast-shrinking fecund life—that we realize that the entire picture makes no sense.
This English phrase, found most prominently in the vocabulary of disaster planning or military operations, implies taking action to forestall deleterious outcomes. One does not simply sit back and wait for the unknown to occur. Rather, one tries to calibrate a trajectory by assessing the present and reﬂecting on past experience, then laying plans by anticipating the most likely outcomes. Instances of contingency strategies like these appear in chapter 4, in the descriptions of women’s contraceptive decisions.
While women try to ﬁt in as many births as time allows, population planners try to “protect” as much of this same reproductive time as possible through (for example) campaigns to raise the legal age at marriage or by supporting contraceptive programs to persuade women to delay, space, or stop childbearing. As for rural Gambia, with its high fertility level, regular sequence of birth intervals, and meager numbers of current contraceptives users, it is tempting to concur with this depiction: women let biology and traditional norms run their course until time puts an end to their reproductive capacity.