A few weeks ago, as we sat on a bus that would take us down to my nephew’s second birthday party, I turned to my fiancé and said, “What if I got my tubes tied?"
“What?!” he whispered. He was more alarmed than I expected — given the fact that I have been making noises about my disinterest in having children almost since we first started dating two years ago.
“What if you change your mind?” he almost pleaded. "I don’t want you to live with regret."
I wondered if he was right. I’ve been told by the women in my family that my baby-making instincts could kick in at any moment. My mother tells me that at 27 she switched from never wanting children, to really, really wanting a baby. I’m 28 now — perhaps there is still time for me.
But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think this isn’t true. That's because many of my main reasons for not having children aren't an aversion to kids per se — but because I care deeply about the planet:
1. All of our environmental problems could be mitigated if there were fewer people on this planet.
I really take issue with the assertion that the child-free are selfish. When I look at the most alarming environmental problems, they all boil down to the sheer number of people on the planet — consuming, destroying, wasting, poisoning.
When I go hiking and the trail is clogged with tourists trampling flora and using their iPads to take pictures of the waterfall, I shake my head and think, we need fewer people. When I see satellite images of grids of slums, or factory farms, or suburbs, I think, we need fewer people.
When I see what are supposed to be helpful statistics — “If everyone in the United States flushed the toilet just one less time per day, we could save a lake full of water about a mile long, a mile wide, and four feet deep every day!” — I want to shake the author’s shoulders and tell them, “Forget letting it mellow; we just need fewer people!"
People tell me, “But you’re the kind of person who should have a baby!” I see their reasoning. It’s within the realm of possibility that I could have a child with a net positive effect on the environment. Perhaps she will lead an effort to prevent another oil refinery from opening, or invent a more efficient way to store energy created through solar and wind power.
But we all know that children don’t necessarily lead the life you want them to. My child might (probably will) be yet another consumption machine.
Let’s face it: The biggest thing I can do to lessen my impact on the environment is not make another me.
2. I cannot protect my kids from the effects of climate change.
Sometimes I start to panic about what's inevitably coming in the next 10, 20, 50 years. I soothe myself by once again looking up the flood maps of NYC. There my apartment is, in Flood Zone 5, which shouldn’t be inundated until the time I expire.
But if I have a child, then I have to worry about the 25 feet of sea level rise coming in the next 100 years, and then about my grandchildren and what they'll endure.
Where will they live when the East Coast is flooded, the West Coast parched, the plains too leached of nutrients for farming, and the South too hot?
Sure, climate change is most vicious in low-lying countries like Bangladesh — for now. But wells are already running dry in California, and the Gulf still hasn’t recovered from Katrina, a decade later. As the effects of climate change accelerate, refugees stream out of those countries looking for shelter, and our supply chains are impacted, we and especially our children will all feel the effects.
3. There are still parts of the world I want to see before they disappear.
I always knew that children make travel difficult, but actually seeing the contortions my sister goes through to even just take her baby on a stateside trip brought home how impossible travel — meaningful, life-changing, risky travel — is with kids.
I want to see the markets of Morocco, dance until dawn on an Ibiza beach, leave my shoes outside of Taj Majal, observe the endangered species of Madagascar up close, climb a glacier, swallow Ayahuasca in the jungle of Peru, and attend Burning Man at least a couple more times.
I want to travel now, while I'm young and curious and adaptable. I don’t want to wait until I’m a retired empty-nester, when I'll need access to a bathroom at all times and my arthritis will limit my movement.
Given the choice between laying eyes on one of the last remaining rhinos in Africa or watching my child go down a plastic water slide at the local amusement park, I choose the rhino. I will always choose the rhino.
4. I’d rather spend my money on charity, organic foods, and eco-friendly fashion.
In the U.S. the average cost of raising a child is a quarter of a million dollars. What if, instead of helping just one person, all that money were put toward helping a dozen children get an education, or malaria nets, or healthcare?
People think the child-free by choice mainly just want more liberty to be hedonistic and spend money on themselves. That’s probably true for many, and it’s partly true for me. Like I said, I love to travel.
But I also choose to spend my money on organic food, ethically made clothing, Fair Trade goods, and other high-quality items that do as little harm as possible in their production and even help people and the environment. I also put a significant amount towards charities for women and the environment each month.
If I have a child, the money I put toward traveling and going out will surely drop. But so will some of the cash I spend supporting artisans in developing countries, local food, and charity.
5. Because I don't have to.
Being child-free by choice is no longer a shameful, heretical position — and I think that's wonderful.
Most of my friends accept my intention to never have kids with a good-natured, almost disinterested attitude. It helps that I live in New York City, which looks kindly upon women who want to have control over their own bodies, careers, and destinies. I’m in an era and a city where I’m valued for more than just my ability to produce an heir. Plus, I'm lucky enough to have easy access — geographically and financially — to a plethora of birth control options.
I'm grateful for these avenues that have been so hard-won, and intend to take advantage of them for myself, and for the planet.
I only wish women all over the world could do the same.
Photos courtesy of the author