“A woman’s job is to produce children.”
That’s what I learned sitting on the tiled floor of my suburban Catholic church’s religious education building in Allen, Texas. Gathered around a white middle-aged woman, we were told that a good Woman of God’s mission was having a family and having children. Women were for nurturing children, they were for raising families, they were for having as many children as possible. Birth control was wrong, because it inhibited the role of a woman. Abortion was godless murder, etc., you get the gist.
Once we were safely ensconced in my mother’s van in the church parking lot, my mom’s snarky response to that messaging was, “If every Catholic family really believed birth control was a mortal sin, all of your friends would have 8 siblings.” I laughed at the time, and silently agreed, thinking about the number of my resolutely Catholic friends whose mothers had happily provided the pill to their daughters by the 10th grade.
Nevertheless, the church thought I should have kids and I tended to agree. Not only was having children what I was indoctrinated to believe was my duty, but I liked children. I’ve always been good with kids. As the oldest and only girl in my large and extended desi family, I was resident babysitter in my house, overrun with little boys who always needed runny noses wiped or to be distracted with games during family parties. I never shied away from it. I loved babies, I loved how amused they were with the smallest things, I knew how to change a diaper, I knew at what age babies could start eating solid food: I knew all the things. When writing a reference for me, a middle school teacher once remarked that at the age of 13, she would have trusted me with her car keys, her house keys, and her two children.
Now, as a twenty year old college student who doubles as a part-time nanny, people really, really expect me to want kids. I don’t blame them, my practical midsize SUV has to be cleared of car seats and coloring books before my friends can pile in for an outing. I have three different types of wipes in my purse (wet wipes and baby wipes have different purposes people!). I am very invested in what is happening with the Descendants franchise on Disney Channel (It’s good and I have no regrets admitting it).
But I don’t want children, as odd as that may seem.
I don’t believe that every woman wants kids. I don’t believe that every woman should want kids. I don’t believe anyone needs to have children. I think every person is different and that our bodies are made for what we believe are our own individual purposes. I have long since shed any import I placed in what the Church believed I should do with my body. But I do want kids, I would love to have children. I have no objections to being pregnant, the act itself doesn’t bother me. I have name possibilities if I ever have the massive responsibility of naming another human person, I know how I would decorate a nursery. I have those stereotypical dreams that little girls playing house grew up having, however problematic they are. And that’s why it’s so much more painful to bury those desires for children deep within myself for one reason that I will never really be able to shake: climate change.
The science has told us that it’s coming, that it’s here. In my lifetime, we will be dealing with cataclysmic weather changes, polluted bodies of water, melting ice caps, and so much more. It’s already hard for kids to go to school in several cities in India where my cousins live because of the unbreathable air, I imagine we’re not too far behind. There are unseen and unpredictable ways our climate will irrevocably change our quality of life. Where I live in Texas, it’s already quite obvious that children can’t breathe as well as they used to. In my home city of Houston, TX, the county hasn’t met federal ozone air quality standards in more than ten years and likely never will again. The air gets worse and the children around those areas suffer.
I don’t see how I can bring biological children into a world that is staring down end times. If I were to get pregnant and have biological children, their lives will be spent dealing with the ramifications of the cowardice of the generations before them. The ones who could have done something to stop this descent into hell. The ones who guaranteed that I would be making this decision.
Recently, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told a roomful of people that young people are wrestling with the decision of whether we should be having kids at all because of climate change. Conservatives went so far as to call her comments a campaign for a child ban, which really made me want to expire on the spot, but she was right. Business Insider polled a substantial number of young people on the issue and compared their sentiments on the matter to people older than us, and young people ages 18–29 are considering climate change a major component in their decision to have children.
And how could we not? We understand the risks. No matter how the older populations of this country are willing to stick their heads in the sand, we understand that we will be living with the dark consequences of climate change, that we are already living with those consequences today if we are being really honest about it. As college students, we question the future value of our degrees in a dystopic apocalypse that doesn’t feel very far away or very fictional. We laugh at the articles condemning our lack of interest in houses and diamonds and other meaningless capitalistic endeavors that assume a future and appreciation of investments. Our lives will look very different from our parents’ and grandparents’. I have no endeavors of the cookie-cutter college, marriage, 2.5 children and a house timeline. What’s the point? Not only is it subscribing to a way of life that I don’t believe in, it’s creating a world that doesn’t exist. Preparing for a future that won’t happen.
People often encourage me to look for hope, to search within myself for an optimism the world hasn’t allowed me. The CO2 levels are so high that there isn’t enough space left on Earth to plant enough trees to save us; the largest polluter on Planet Earth is the US military, an entity which I have no hopes of the powers-at-be curtailing; the sea animals in the deepest depths of the unexplored ocean floor were found to have plastic in their stomachs; our political leaders can’t fall behind the Green New Deal, which to me is basic common sense: where exactly am I supposed to find optimism in that?
I’m cynical. My womb is cynical. And I’m committed to change, but don’t see us reversing this situation. I, and many others my age, are looking at our lives, planning our futures, making our LinkedIn connections, and just living with the knowledge that it could all be for naught.
So, maybe I’ll adopt. In fact, I like the idea a lot. I was always planning to adopt, even before I was forced to confront the reality of climate change and its effect on my life, but what I used to view as a blasé attitude about ever having biological children, I now view as a moral responsibility to never get pregnant and have a child myself. I’m not condemning others who want to have children either, I understand why. I would love to live in a world that allowed me to freely make that decision purely based on my own wishes, but I can’t shake this feeling that I wouldn’t feel right about it. There are lifestyle choices that everyone makes because of obstacles in their lives, and this is just one of them for me. Just as relationship status and financial stability might inform your decision to have children, climate change is informing mine.
The scientists and analysts say we have 12 years to fix climate change. Maybe we do it. Maybe we achieve that and me and my womb can become optimists again. But for right now, I don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I see a train accelerating towards me, I’m tied to the tracks, and no matter what: I don’t want a child to experience that, if I can help it.