Three years ago, when I first started the research for my recently published book "Eco-Sex: Go Green Between the Sheets and Make Your Love Life Sustainable" (Crown Publishing/Ten Speed Press, 2010), I was still planning to have 2.0 kids, au naturel. As a woman who often cries at the sight of infants and coos at her friends' little ones, having biological babies always seemed like an inevitable step. But once I fully wrapped my brain around the relationship of overpopulation to climate change, especially in the West, I made a big decision: I won't bring more kids into the world. I learned that even if I spent the rest of my life recycling, having even one child would increase my carbon legacy by 9,441 metric tons of carbon dioxide. I still crawl around on the floor with toddlers when given the chance, and go ga-ga for goo-goos, but my uterus is officially closed for business. I'll be adopting kids when the time is right.
I'm a freelance writer who makes her living in New York City, and my life doesn't exactly suck. I've got family, friends and endless culture at my fingertips (and, until recently, a long-term boyfriend, so dating is now in the mix again). I'm in my confident thirties, not my "OMG WTF am I doing?" twenties. I can travel, go to dinner parties and parties that end long after dinner is finished. I can take a yoga class when I want to, dance till the wee hours, or just cuddle up in front of the TV. I have the time to be passionate about my various causes (sexual health, sustainability, social and economic justice). I make my own hours and live a life built on my own needs and inspirations. Ain't bad at all.
But if you hold my life up to the lens of our baby-bump-obsessed culture, there' s a planet-sized chasm in my world: the lack of a child. Some parents seem to hold me simultaneously in contempt and awe, something few are willing to verbalize. One friend with two kids once let it slip that he believes choosing not to have children is "selfish." Even though I'm not a traditional "childless by choice" woman (because I plan to adopt someday), I still get constant questions from people of every age: "But when?" and, "Why wouldn't you want your own kids?" as if adopted children are somehow less lovable than one's "own" kids. "You'll change your mind," is a classic comment, usually from older people with teenagers or grown children.
And what about women who've decided that child-rearing, both biological and otherwise, is not on their agenda at all? Imagine how they they feel every time someone says, "But don't you want kids?" or, "Don't worry, you'll change your mind." People react to the idea of women not having children with total incredulity, shock, and worst of all, pity. They assume it's a case of infertility in disguise, a lack of a relationship, or that women without kids "hate children." In the majority of cases, it's none of the above. I'm in a weird category because I do plan to bring kids into my life one day. Still, I feel like it's incredibly important to defend my sisters who are "childfree" or "childless by choice," depending on your preferred parlance.
Lisa Hymas, Grist writer and coiner of the acronym GINK (green inclinations, no kids) has written an enlightening post: "Say it Loud: I'm Childfree and I'm Proud," one in a series all about living childfree. Laura S. Scott, the author of "Two Is Enough: A Couple's Guide to Living Childless by Choice" (Seal Press, 2009) does a wonderful job of profiling this burgeoning movement of women (and men) who are loud and proud about their childfree status. Especially in a political climate like the current one, where a woman's right to choose is under the most serious threat in history, women who have chosen not to have children need to come out of the child-free closet. Worldwide population will hit the nine-billion mark by the middle of the century, and the GOP wants to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, the organization that does the most to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Hello, outrageous hypocrisy.
It should be acknowledged that there are plenty of people who desperately want kids but can't have them easily -- infertile couples, gay couples, singles who don't want to do it alone, etc. This isn't to diminish their very real emotions about having children. At the same time, we shouldn't be afraid to look at how unhealthy our obsession with children has become. Children are, of course, precious; however, in our society, they are deeply fetishized. Isn't it possible that the massive sadness and mourning that infertile women experience is built, in part, on society's view of them as "barren" women? Why do they think their lives will be empty without kids? It's not all nature, that's for sure.
Take a group of girls between three and five, playing house. Inevitably, one girl will always want to be the mother. Another will dig the "older sister" role. Another will prefer to be the baby. Some even want to be the dad. None of these choices are wrong -- they just are. But as young girls grow into tweens and teens and then young women, our roles are constantly defined in smaller and smaller terms by a society that insists that we're probably not of much value unless we have children. And this socialization is so deeply built into our understanding of our self-worth that it's almost impossible for women to know where they end and being a mother begins.
Plenty of us are probably meant not to have children -- maybe our art is our baby, something to be nurtured and then sent off into the world. Maybe we have a house of rescued pets. Maybe we're off in a developing nation helping people to lead healthy, sustainable lives.
Think about all the abused children whose parents' baggage has become their baggage -- simply because there was no consciousness around having kids. They just did what they thought they were put here to do. Babies and young children are wildly intuitive in ways that we can't even imagine. If they're not exactly treasured -- or worse, seen as a burden -- it's a good bet that they can feel that in their tiny bodies. And even though they can't process it intellectually, just wait until they're grown up.
Imagine, for a moment, if the option of not having kids were talked about in home economics or health classes in high school, just like everything else. If all our children were truly conscious decisions, perhaps we'd have a much happier, psychologically healthier world. And that's not even counting what reducing the population would do for Planet Earth -- making all our lives, the ones we're living right now, safer from the ravages of climate change.