As I write this, I am 9 days off my due date (38+5 weeks, for those who speak preggo). I have actually been meaning to write this piece since I first became pregnant, but it’s taken me this long to work up the courage to start.
You see, I live and work in the climate movement. For my job, I run workshops about climate change for teams in various companies, for community groups and for schoolchildren. My job is to hammer climate truths home to people and then support them to process this new information so they can find a path to action. Outside ‘work’ (though in this sector, the work/life boundaries tend to blur), the problems of the world rarely slip far from my consciousness.
Although I avoid reading too much about ‘the climate crisis’, it’s on my mind in most situations: whether that’s looking at a billboard and despairing over the amount of human energy that goes into creating and marketing things that seem achingly pointless if you have any awareness of the planetary situation; or feeling that lonely separation from friends and family who, despite good intentions and recycling a-plenty, just don’t want to absorb the global context in a way that would mean they would have to adjust their comfortable lifestyle. (I hope that doesn’t come across too judgemental – I totally get it and often wonder if I would be happier if I had better powers of filtering out the doom.)
Basically, the horrors of the climate crisis – with its degrees warming and its IPCC reports and its threat of mass migration and starvation and catastrophe – are semi-inescapable for me. They’re in my day-to-day, they’re my bread and butter: when running a workshop, out and about, or lounging at home on the sofa. You get the picture.
To the pregnancy, then. My husband and I have always wanted a family and dreamed of being ‘young parents’. Having just celebrated my 28th birthday this week, I’m not sure how ‘young’ we are, though that seems to depend on one’s social circles. We are the first in our close to medium friendship circle to procreate, and she will be the first grandchild on both sides of the family. Many close friends are in the throes of their career, and many on the more ‘climatey’ side are still deciding whether it’s a good idea to have children, ‘given the situation’.
We have gone back and forth on the questions of ‘Is the world too fucked and the future too bleak to call a new life forth? Is it simply too terrifying to be a parent, when you believe (as we do) that there’s a good chance of some sort of civilisational breakdown in the next few decades?’
At one stage, we decided that it was too scary and that we weren’t going to start a family. This was heartbreaking, but on balance not as heartbreaking as watching the tiny person you love the most in the world grow up in a montage of empty supermarket shelves, natural disasters, footage of millions starving on the news, rations and collective panic. Can I handle this reality for myself? Probably, just about. Can I handle this for my children? Ahhhhhhhhh. The fear swells and multiplies inside my chest.
But, you’re thinking, you are pregnant! You did do it! The baby girl rollicking around in my belly right now confirms that you are correct. So, what changed?
I’ll let you into some of my thinking over the years. There are several arguments that I personally find convincing about why it’s ‘okay’ and even important to keep procreating, despite bleak-looking climate science graphs and the devastating real-life consequences we’re already experiencing.
Firstly, if all the ‘environmentally aware’ people stop having and raising children, the next generation of leaders is probably going to lack some pretty crucial input. Any child who grows into a politically-aware, empowered-to-take-a-stand, emotionally-briefed adult would be a damn important asset, if the shit were to hit the fan. Surely we need more of these people around and not fewer.
Some have suggested that not having children is a sign that we’re giving up, throwing in the towel completely on a livable future. And what are we doing in the climate movement if not raising the alarm because we do hope for a better outcome and have faith that humanity can still change course? This ties in closely with my belief that we can’t let fear rule our lives.
I don’t want to spend my time cowering in the corner, too scared to do anything or be anyone because it might go wrong. I might blunder, I might fail; I might (as my friends have started warning me) get cancelled. That fear is powerful and can easily strangle our wildest dreams and ambitions, however potentially world-changing they could be. As a natural worrier, I strive to blast out of that fear, even though I have serious doubts about the future and am terrified of messing up and disappointing people. Climate emergency or not, I have to keep choosing life.
In relation to my pregnancy, this leads me to a deeper question of ‘What does it mean to keep living?’ What does it mean to choose life and be me in all my fullness, when there are so many reasons to give up? Together with my life-partner and rock, I decided that I wanted to participate in life: in its continuation, beautiful blossoming, and unravelling. In shaping the next generation and choosing to have a stake in it. In stepping into the arena rather than gingerly inching backwards.
Yes, given the circumstances, this is scary. You could say that whether this is brave or misguided remains to be seen. The swelling fear that threatens to overwhelm me is still there in moments. I’m not ashamed to admit that I mostly push it down or away, and try to ignore the sickening dread when I imagine what the world will look like when my daughter is 10, or 25, or 45. This is why I have put off writing this piece until the last days of my pregnancy. It’s fucking terrifying; the deepest, most primal fear I’ve ever felt. And I imagine it will get worse.
But, maybe it’s testament to our resilience or to the strength of our biological drive that I can face all that and whatever’s coming next. That I can say, in this moment now, with my tiny baby all a-wriggle with potential and power that I don’t understand: I choose to trust in life.
Okay, now I can go on maternity leave.
Note: This piece represents my experience and my thinking on the subject. I’m not arrogant enough to imagine that everyone will agree with me or reach the same conclusions I did, nor that they should. Everyone is different. You do you. This was my journey on the matter, and I’d love to hear about yours. I’d encourage you to bring up the subject among people you trust – you never know, it might be on more people’s minds than you think. Remember to treat each other with compassion and love – these are scary times.