I swore I would never have children. I swore it up and down for years. On my first date with my now-husband, I told him that I did not want kids. I also said I did not believe in the institution of marriage, and, well, you can see how that turned out.
In my twenties, I rolled my eyes at everyone who said, “Oh just give it time, you will eventually change your mind.” And while I would prefer not to let them be right, something has changed. I now look forward to the offer of holding someone’s baby, when I used to look something like this…
Now when I see little children, there is something that happens inside of me and this longing to have my own rises up within me. And if I see a baby with glasses? Oh, forget it! My ovaries start to quiver and I want to make a beeline for my husband.
Maybe you are curious about him. Has something changed for him? Honestly? No. He has always wanted children. However, when he asked me to marry him, I asked him if he could be happy with just a family of two. He thought long and hard, but he said he could. For this reason, my change of heart has been met with only elation from his side.
The story is very different from my side. To use a horribly out-dated expression, while my clock may be ticking ever louder and revving my babymaking engine, my head is pumping the breaks hard.
First and foremost, I am 35 years old. A spring chicken that does not make me, I know. By this age, my mother had two children and two step-children, my oldest sister already had two and was working towards number three. At the same time, I have multiple friends at my age (or older) that are childless. For some, this is their life choice. For others, they just haven’t found the time or the partner or the right moment in their career. Some have even paid to freeze their eggs, but I can’t help but worry we may all be running out of time.
In this vein, I workout, I walk a lot, I upped my vegetable intake, I cut down on the alcohol I drink, in short, I am trying to be ready. Even if I am an old mom, I don’t want to feel like one.
But there is something else. There is something that continues to nag at me and while I may not be the first one to think this, the feeling has only grown more intense this year. I am terrified that this moment, when I finally feel ready, the world is teetering on the edge of a cliff. And if we go over that cliff, I will be raising a child in a world of extreme nationalism and disregard for women, topped off with a pissed off mother earth.
The rise of the extreme
I woke up this week to find out that the racist, homophobic, sexist, military-regime-appreciating, politician Jair Bolsonaro just won the presidential election in Brazil. In the same morning I found out that the far-right AfD party in Germany will be entering the regional parliament of Hesse for the first time, with 12 percent of the vote.
These only compounded the feeling of dread I have had since November 2016 and the election of Trump. Coupled with the rise of figures like Nigel Farage in the UK, Le Pen in France, Rodrigo Dutert in the Philippines, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, and their blatant embrace of nationalism and xenophobia, I am terrified.
The feeling of dread I have with the way the world is going is only increasing. The last time we as a society witnessed this form of unrestrained nationalism was over 70 years ago. And it was at the end of World War II that nationalism gave way to unity. The rise of Europe and Asia from the ashes of war, globalization, countries recently decolonized, and integrated economies gave way to what has been called the Golden Age of Capitalism, running from 1945 to the early 1970s. And the Europe as we know it, a continent at peace, began in earnest on 25 March 1957 with the Treaty of Rome signed by representatives of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. A continent that had been at war with itself for centuries began an unprecedented period of peace.
That, however, is all at risk. As rhetoric around the world becomes more hard-line, we witness the rise of nationalist parties across the world, including across Europe.
I lay up at night playing out conversations with my hypothetical child of how I will explain to them that diversity is something to be celebrated not feared. I think about how I would handle my child repeating a racial slur that they heard at school, just like my friends have to do. I imagine how I will try to encourage my child to love travel, different cultures, learning languages, and being outside of their comfort zone. And then I imagine a child who thinks immigrants are the enemy. I try to picture how I will tell them about their grant-grandparents who were immigrants and how I will explain that their mother is an immigrant and why it is a point of pride, not shame.
No one wants to hear her story.
When I read that Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the United States Supreme Court all I could do to stop myself from screaming and beating my fists against the wall was to cry. He was confirmed for a job where he sits next to my heroes, justices RGB and Sonya Sotomayor.
I did not cry because I worried about the agenda that he will push through — though I do worry about this — nor did I cry for Dr. Christine Blasey Ford — she is too strong of a woman to need my tears. I cried because of the way her story was discarded, how it was seen and treated as a political ploy, and what it means for every other woman who has been in her position.
At 35 years old I have in my life less than a handful of women who have not been sexually harassed or sexually assaulted at some point. I myself have been sexually assaulted, something only my husband, a sister, and two friends know (knew?) about. It was an ex-boyfriend who did it and here’s the thing, it would take me years, nearly a decade, in fact, to come to terms with it and call it by its name.
I had buried it deep inside me not only because of the fear it brought up inside me but for the fact that it ran counter to my personal narrative as a strong woman. How could I be an independent, self-assured, feminist if I admitted to myself that someone had stripped me of my decision-making power, if someone had ignored my refusals and then my pleas, and if I had not been in control of every one of my sexual encounters?
What struck so close to home with Dr. Ford’s testimony is what she remembers as well as what she does not remember. I remember everything my assailant said during the assault, but nothing before or after. I remember the color of my underwear and the skirt I was wearing. I do not remember what he was wearing. I remember how he quietly left and the shame I felt. There is only so much in that moment that we can possibly take in. There is only so much trauma we can be burdened with. I do not believe that any woman who has been sexually assaulted could look at Dr. Ford and think she was doing it for political reasons. No woman could possibly sit down in front of an entire nation and testify to her own horrendous ordeal having made it up.
I now lay awake fearing my hypothetical little girl will experience what I did. Or something far worse. I then fear that when she comes forward, she too will be discarded like Dr. Ford, Ms. Anita Hill, and hundreds of other women. But there is something I fear more than this. What has me silently crying on my husband’s sleeping chest? It is having a boy. And being tasked with the challenge of raising him to never be the man who is on the other side of my nightmares.
The kind of world will they have
Climate change has been deeply concerning me for some time now. When I read the results of a meta-study on the impact of animal food production for our consumption on the environment I was devastated. I would spend too long in the market agonizing over what to buy for dinner until it finally happened. I become a vegetarian. And much to the dismay of my non-vegetarian husband, I am now heading towards veganism.
Then there was the article published in Environmental Research Letters by Seth Wynes and Kimberly A Nicholas which calculated the impact of various lifestyle choices and concluded that having one fewer child has the most impact on CO2 emissions. More than becoming a vegan, more than giving up long-haul flying, more than giving up my car, more than all of that is the impact of not having a child.
And then just a few days after Kavanaugh’s confirmation, another bomb dropped. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) came out with its report, impressively titled “Global Warming of 1.5 °C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.”
If you somehow missed this, it essentially says that we need to cap global warming to 1.5 °C or else we will be in serious trouble. They aren’t even saying that we need to stop global warming — that seems almost impossible at this point. But what they are saying is that even just to keep us under 1.5 °C requires “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.
And it is not that 1.5 °C increase won’t have an impact, it definitely will, it is just won’t be as bad as a 2°C increase. For example, in terms of sea levels rising, by 2100, levels would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. That doesn’t mean they won’t rise, it is now a question of how much. The chances of having the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in the summer would be at least once per decade with a global warming of 2°, as compared to once per century with global warming of only 1.5°C. And while virtually all coral reefs (> 99 percent) would be lost with 2°C of global warming, we would lose less (70–90 percent) with just 1.5°C of global warming.
This is what I wake up every morning to, the concern of how I will live my day in a way that won’t contribute to the decline of our planet. And then it snowballs, even if I recycle, take public transport, and eat a vegan diet what kind of world will they be growing up in? At times I try to be idealistic and think maybe my child would be part of the generation that changes things or the generation that moves to another planet. But then I worry that my child will be part of a lost generation. A generation forced to live with a crippling environment, but without the technology or will to change, improve, or escape.
What to do next?
I still take my birth control, religiously. My plan is(?)…was(?)… to stop taking it in the new year. I don’t know what I will on the 1st of January.
Today I am exactly two months away from that date. Two months to talk about it with my husband, to contemplate its implications, and decide if my evolutionary instinct to procreate is more important to me than everything else that I have written about here.
I’m not the first to struggle with this. I know that. Nor did I even begin to factor in the effects of having a child on my career, my productivity, or my relationship with my husband. I also do not claim that this the greatest struggle of our time. I simply held the hope that writing this all out would help me… Or maybe someone else.