Choosing Not To Have Children

More than one friend in my age group has told me that their grown children do not intend to have children which will mean no grandchildren for my friends. Even my oldest son has expressed some doubts that he will. What is going on here ? Very real concerns about how climate change will make the future very difficult for today’s children and their children and much sooner than I had previously heard – like by like by 2050.

Because I think daily about issues at least tangential to adoption, that is the first place my thought goes and in an article in The Guardian titled Should I have children? Weighing parenthood amid the climate crisis by Megan Mayhew Bergman I read – Ellie at age 23 wrote the author, “While I don’t believe the changes we’re seeing have to signify end-of-days, I do believe there are incredibly thoughtful solutions at hand which – if we can pull them off – would bring about a world I’d very much want to have children in. But I also think my generation may have found itself at a unique moment in which more people isn’t the answer, and alternatives like adoption represent more eco- and ultimately, human-conscious choices.” And to be certain, more than 100,000 children have been born in refugee camps in Myanmar and in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar, the largest refugee settlement in the world, which is vulnerable to extreme flooding and landslides.

Recent polling reveals that four in 10 young people are “hesitant to have children as a result of the climate crisis” and “fear that governments are doing too little to prevent climate catastrophe”.

An article in Vanity Fair last year by Tatiana Schlossberg titled How Should a Climate Change Reporter Think About Having Children? She goes on to say – Reproduction is a fundamental feature of life on earth, but a morally fraught decision for anyone who has the choice. And there’s not even a right answer. She mentions a drive through a scenic passage in Colorado but that “I felt so angry at our species. Angry because we are willing to destroy all of this and to do so knowingly, because we seem to value no life other than human life, and I’m not even sure how much we value that.” I would have to agree with that last bit somewhat.

She goes on to share – when you are a married straight woman in your 20s and everyone wants to know when you’re going to have a kid, it turns out to be almost impossible to avoid thinking about the future.

In answer to that, she shares – There are two familiar arguments about not having a kid when it comes to climate change. The first one is that it is unkind and irresponsible to bring a child into a world whose future is uncertain at best and apocalyptic at worst. The second one is that, as a privileged, white American with a sizable carbon footprint, any child of mine would be another person with a similar environmental impact, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions and resource consumption. According to those two lines of thinking, having a child is unethical, both because of what it would do to the child and because of what that child would do to the world.

Realistically, she goes on to admit – As both a reporter and a person in her child-bearing years, I don’t know what the right thing to do is—and I don’t think that there is a right thing to do. I find myself feeling much the same way. I do believe humanity will continue to exist and on some level I feel that raising a reasonable number (like 1 or 2) of children to be highly aware and ethical will be valuable to whatever the future will bring.

She also acknowledges that – not having a child is not the same as becoming a vegetarian or buying an electric car. Having a child, becoming a parent, can be a defining feature of life on earth—the reproduction of aspen trees is not necessarily parenthood, but it is part of the same drive to pass on genetic material; it is hardwired in us, and we share it with all other lifeforms.

A dear friend of mine is involved with Project Drawdown, a climate-advocacy organization, that has ranked the 100 most effective solutions to climate change, and found that together, education and family planning for women and girls is the second-most effective way to reduce emissions (after reducing food waste, which includes shifting to a plant-rich diet and preventing deforestation), because when women are more educated, they generally have fewer children, and also add to the economic and cultural success of their communities.

The Vanity Fair article author notes – The birth rate in the United States and much of the developed world is declining. When people express concern to me about there being too many people on earth, they don’t seem to be saying there are too many Americans; they are, knowingly or not, talking about limiting the growing and increasingly young nonwhite populations in the global south. Throughout American history, anxiety about population is almost always linked to race or national origin, so what I always want to say in response is, “Who are you talking about when you ask me that question?”

I do feel lucky to have the female freedoms I do because of the time in which I have lived. I acknowledge that I am indebted to the work of so many women which has given me choice (and currently, that is highly under threat). Support for reproductive freedom is a core part of my own political identity, as is support for climate action as an environmentalist. We try to raise our sons to value the same things as well.

I will also admit to a certain degree of arrogance in that kind of thinking. That my having kids is okay because my kids will be a good persons and who knows ? One of them might solve climate change. OK, so the latter idea is probably not the most likely outcome, nor is it the most powerful argument in defense of my having children. Any person could say as much. True, I di think that my children are special, geniuses, perfect in their own ways, but I also realize that my children doesn’t necessarily have a greater right to be born than anyone else’s. I am sad for the youth of today. Even back around the 2000s when my husband and I decided to have these two boys, the concern was not as urgent as it seems today (and I say seems because it should have been more urgent then and even in the early 1970s when I had my daughter).

Infertility and Adoption

Erin Brockovich has an op-ed in The Guardian about this book by Shanna Swan with the alarming prediction that by 2045 her research suggests sperm counts could reach zero. Though I have known for a very long time what an awful influence the chemical industry has and that the pervasive chemicals in our environment are not good for reproduction in general, my thoughts after reading this article, went in the direction of this blog where I consider issues related to adoption.

I realized that increasing infertility will put increasing pressure on the availability of adoptable babies. This is not a happy thought for me. From personal experience, I know that medical science has the ability of offset fertility deficiencies with assisted reproductive techniques, so there is that as a natural counter for decreasing reproduction among humans without tearing babies away from the mothers who conceive easily.

I remember my own science experiment with our aquarium. The snail population had spiraled into filling the entire space with snails. I didn’t take any actions but to my utter surprise, the snails quit reproducing and eventually there were none, their dying bodies happily goggled up by our albino catfish who yet lives solitarily now in our aquarium. So could a major die-off of humanity simply be a natural event, much like there are no dinosaurs left on the earth today ?

Of course, we do need to care about our environment !! The truth of the matter is – the Earth does not need saving but humanity might. However, I also happen to believe there are more than enough people, as regards sustainability and resources, and that is why I am in favor of allowing any woman who does not want to commit herself to 9 months of pregnancy to have an abortion. Not that women should be coerced to have abortions and any woman who wants to carry, birth and then give her baby up for adoption will find an eager and more the willing market to accommodate her. Not that I am in favor of adoption as I have expressed in this blog many many times.

Swan’s book includes statistics such as these – “In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35.” and “A man today will have half of the sperm his grandfather had.” Swan’s research finds that these chemicals are also shrinking penis size and volume in the testes.

And of course, aggressive regulation is lacking in the United States in no small part due to lobbying by chemical industry giants. Chemicals are killing us, literally, but also by harming and attacking the very source of life: our reproductive capacities. And not only are they doing that but this will likely guarantee there will be more couples looking for that baby to love that they can’t birth themselves. So that is the relationship between chemicals, infertility and ultimately adoption.

Life

This is an annual event and I have done a lot of thinking about it.  I am in favor of access to abortion being safe and legal.  I believe it is always an unfortunate choice but I continue to believe the choice should be there.  As a spiritual person, I do not believe we can make a mistake.  I believe that the Divine knows what we will do before we do it and uses that.  I also believe that every life is precious, should be valued and cared for.  I believe this makes me pro-Life but does not make me anti-abortion.  Many pro-lifers are simply pro-birth but not concerned about the quality of the life they insist needs to be born after it emerges from the womb.  They also seem to be totally unconcerned with the impacts of an explosive population growth on our environmental quality.  This is just how I see it and I do not need for anyone else to see it the same way I do.

In 1956, economists Christopher Cundell and Carlos McCartney designed the quality-adjusted life year, also know as QALY.  Health-care systems have used it extensively ever since to evaluate the costs and benefits of various medical interventions. It takes the number of remaining years someone would be expected to live, and, if that person is expected to live in perfect health, multiplies it by one—and by a smaller number if the person will be, for example, paralyzed.

Quality of life is certainly an important issue with me.  If I were to be diagnosed with a cancer that would likely end in death, no matter how it is treated, I would prefer to make the most of my remaining time and forego treatment.  I would prefer not to torture myself with medical interventions if the result will be the same and my quality of life will be worse before I die.  That is just the way I see it.  I probably won’t have to face a cancer diagnosis but will probably be fortunate enough to meet an irrevocable end (ie a heart attack as my parents and grandparents did).

Both of my parents were adopted and until recently when I learned about my original grandparents we had no idea what our family health history included.  It appears that all of my grandparents most likely did die of heart attacks, though my paternal grandmother was just being released from the hospital after successful breast cancer surgery when she had her fatal event.

And I am grateful I wasn’t aborted or given up for adoption.  I am grateful I have had a decently good life.  I did have an abortion in the late 70s (I believe that was the time frame).  It was safe and I didn’t have to face a bunch of protesters going in.  It was emotionally traumatic and I struggled with my own personal ethical misgivings.

One day, in my heart’s mind, I heard “I am coming.”  I did believe that was the soul of the child I gave up in the physical sense.  Eventually, my son did arrive and he does not carry my genes but he did grow in my womb and nurse at my breast.  I will ever think of him as my atonement child.  He has also allowed me to prove to myself that I can raise children (as I gave up my daughter to her father when he wouldn’t pay child support and I could not financially provide for us).

I do NOT believe any person should put their values upon other people whose shoes they have not walked in.  Bottom line.

Trauma and Stress

The possibility of trauma passing down through generations as genetic mutations affecting health had reason to re-enter my awareness last night.

My mom was an adoptee.  I know for a fact she suffered because of it.  She told me so.  She died believing she had been stolen.  While her made-up story based upon other stories that were sadly all too real under the reign of the notorious Georgia Tann were not entirely accurate, I do believe deep in her soul “stolen” was not that far off.  She died believing it and now that I have her adoption file from the state of Tennessee, I know that her mother never intended to give her up and was trapped into an impossible situation.

She had left my mom at an orphanage in Memphis (Porter-Leath) for temporary care.  That was a decision point from which there was no return of the mother-child bonding for my mom and her mother.  My grandmother was allowed to see my mom one final time before she was ripped away and placed with strangers.  I have those black and white photos now.  The happiness upon seeing her mother again is evident in my mom’s body language.

The adoption file tells me she screamed all the way from Memphis to Nogales Arizona as my adoptive grandmother carried her home.  No wonder my mom felt stolen.  When they reached Arizona, she was drugged to calm her down.  Eventually, with no other choice, she adapted to her circumstances and coped.

Yet, the health impacts left her a medical basket case all her life and I believe her stress at conceiving me as an unwed high school student impacted my health.  And it may go on down the line to my daughter and granddaughter.  Medical science is discovering through research some truth to these theories on my part but they have a lot of work to do yet.

It does appear that genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.  Some people are born with genetic vulnerabilities and circumstances can then cause those vulnerabilities to manifest as disease.  This is true for every adoptee, regardless of what the manifestations are or how minimally impacted that adoptee may appear.