Tomorrow I enter my twentieth week of pregnancy. When I lie in bed at night I feel the small pulses and movements of tiny limbs. My children absent-mindedly caress my growing belly. It’s a sweet and tender time.
Since I shared news of my pregnancy a month ago, a small, vocal minority have been intent on letting me know how much my being pregnant with a third child has upset them. I wish I could say I’ve been able to simply read their words and carry on. The truth has been more complicated and more difficult. In the private moments when I’ve read these emails, and personal messages, and comments made to my blog, I’ve felt a sickening mix of shame, rage, indignation, and deep sadness. I wouldn’t wish public commentary from strangers—virtual or otherwise—upon any pregnant person, and especially not commentary telling them they shouldn’t be carrying the child currently growing inside them. But while I’ve found it personally painful to contend with these comments, I would also like to simply and straightforwardly address the issues at hand.
The message I’ve received from folks who have written is that my decision to carry this baby is antithetical to my hope to steward a healthy planet. That by carrying a third child, I am contradicting my values. For the majority of folks writing to question or criticize my choice, the concern over my pregnancy is framed around concerns about climate change and overpopulation. I share concern about these issues. We’re in the midst of a climate crisis and there are arguably more people living on this planet than it can sustain—certainly if our current rate of consumption is not radically addressed. I wholeheartedly believe this demands our attention and our action.
But the particular brand of attack leveraged against me during this pregnancy demonstrates a prevailing line of thinking that would have us believe that individual actions are both primarily responsible for climate change and overpopulation and primarily responsible for halting them. In truth, the action that we most need is structural and systemic. We need to demand wide-scale, far-reaching, global change from leaders, politicians, and corporations. We need policies and infrastructure put in place that drastically reduce humanity’s reliance on fossil fuels. We need international investment in green technologies. We need world leaders who agree to regulate industry and enforce those regulations, and who value people and environmental health over profit. We need all humans on earth to have access to safe, affordable healthcare, to nourishment and to livelihoods that don’t put them in physical or emotional danger. We need improved access to education and comprehensive reproductive healthcare, including contraceptives.
I also believe individual actions matter. My blog and my book are largely focused on the small, daily changes that each of us might embrace for the sake of ourselves and our planet. But just as I know that using stainless steel straws or eschewing plastic in our individual homes are far from the only actions needed to change the course of climate change, I understand that the baby that I’m currently carrying will neither be responsible for the planet’s collapse, nor its saving.
Finding a way to combat climate change and overpopulation is something that I believe can and must be done—by each of us in our respective homes and by all of us through the politicians we collectively elect, the legislation we do and do not support, and the local and national policies we advocate for.
Likewise, I believe in respecting and supporting the choices and the bodies of those who bear and/or raise children. To shame, bully, or work to legislatively restrict the choices of those who have or are preparing to have children, in the name of environmental sustainability or any other value, is to come perilously close to the kind of thinking that has, historically and now, justified forced or coerced sterilization; eugenics; one-child policies; and infanticide, among other human rights abuses.
We won’t win any of the environmental battles we face by demonizing personal choices. I remain as committed as ever to lightening my personal environmental footprint and I will continue to write about my own efforts on that front. I will also continue to acknowledge that what our planet and our populations most need is to upend the current systems wreaking havoc on the place we all call home. Finally, I will continue to nurture this child—and all of my children—in the very best way I know how.
I have decided to close comments on this post. I have shared my perspective in the essay above and I’m hopeful readers can respect my privacy.