Is Childfree the new Conscientious Choice?
Experts are urging us to slow down, and confirming I’m not a heartless bitch.
In the mid-eighties rural south I was an anomaly for not wanting a baby. Steeped in Bible verses and evangelical Christendom, I believed I was a sign of the times: having “no natural affection” like it says in second Timothy.
Since I was a small child, I’ve had no interest in playing caregiver to an infant. And since learning where they came out, I’ve had zero desire to create one from my body. Even as a kid, it seemed so strange and unnatural that anyone would want go through that, let alone spend all their play time pretending about it.
I saw commercials with little girls in sheer rapture for pissing, shiting, and crying ‘life-like’ dolls, and recoiled in disgust. I’m going to finally admit something here: I don’t think your babies are cute, and I never have. Not the real ones, not the play ones.
Of course it was explained to me, over and over, that I would change my mind someday. It would hit me and I would suddenly understand, and want a brood of my own.
A good intentioned elderly couple went as far as buying me a baby doll, since I didn’t have any. I reluctantly but graciously accepted the gift, and felt guilty as it collected dust before finding its home at a thrift store (hey, at least somebody who wanted it got a ‘practically brand-new’ doll on the cheap).
Despite the glaring economic and educational disadvantage that so many people around me faced, they continued to encourage and prioritize my interest in reproduction over education or self-improvement.
As someone who has spent most of my life at or below the poverty level, this behavior makes no sense. I was born into a situation where resources were scarce, so how would bringing more helpless, resource-consuming humans in before addressing the existing issues improve my plight?
At thirty-three I can proudly say I am the oldest (female) member of my family that has not reproduced. I haven’t added another life to this unstable, unpredictable, and at times unsafe existence of mine.
I can also say that, so far, there hasn’t been a moment where I just started craving the idea of a baby either. That isn’t to say I can’t see the value in family or investing in our collective future, but the urge to include my personal genetic makeup isn’t involved.
I love my partner and his family. I love my unofficially adoptive family, who introduced me to him. Through them I began to see what those words really meant in action, and what they looked like when passed down for generations.
Part of loving your children, adoptive or traditional, is being able to provide for them, emotionally and financially. Many, if not all, of the difficult or downright abusive situations I found myself in as a child can be traced to one or both of these things.
We, as a species, are now facing the same problem. Human induced climate change is already claiming lives by the thousands, and a growing population means exponentially more humans to impact the environment. We stare down global inequality, taxing the earth too much so some can grow fat, yet we want more. Some literally starve to death while others waste enough food to feed everyone.
As the Bioethics research scholar Travis Rieder from John Hopkins University put it in his recent article, Bioethicist: The climate crisis calls for fewer children, “In fact, it [rising global temperatures] escalates the injustice, as the global wealthy have benefited from and contributed to climate change the most, while the global poor will be hurt the first and worst.”
Given this information, it seems a little selfish to make your own child when there’s so many out there that aren’t having their basic needs met, knowing you’re contributing to that inequality on multiple fronts. Of course, charities and child service agencies are largely broken, and adoption is costly and time consuming. But, then again, so the is world we live in and raising a human.
I’m also not suggesting that abstaining from reproduction or adoption are the only options for the environmentally conscientious, but I think anyone considering bringing a new life into the world should consider the life that already exists in the world and what their choices mean to everyone else living in it.
As Travis explains it, “A radical concern for climate change is precisely motivated by a concern for human life — in particular, the human lives that will be affected by climate disruptions.” No one is suggesting a lack of empathy or family, but a different mindset is clearly necessary if we are to avoid massive scale ecological disruption.
This could mean investing in yourself via education, therapy, and social infrastructure before having a child of your own, so that you can properly provide for them. This could mean waiting longer or having fewer children. This could mean getting involved in your community and volunteering with kids in need. This could simply mean not pushing babies and motherhood on uninterested children, or making them feel like aliens for not finding infants fascinating.
Ultimately, we need to stop thinking of having children as a right or entitlement, and start thinking of it as something that some people choose to do, and not as something everybody just does.