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The One Reason I Almost Didn't Have Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

Inauguration day is nearly here, and I’m fuming. Shock is over. Rage has arrived. And acceptance? Well, that is a categorical impossibility.

Everything that is true about the state (and fate) of life as we know it on this planet got royally (and I do mean royally, as in an autocracy) shafted on November 8. That day will live in infamy as the day that finally bomb-shelled us into realizing, among many things, it’s not so much the reality of climate change we should confront, rather the darkest human potentials that cause it, allow it and perpetuate it.

See, here’s the thing. Climate change scares the bejeezus out of me. It has for the last 20 years. Back then, when my husband and I were finishing up graduate school in biology and ecology (both of us have advanced degrees and confronted the science of climate change in the early '90s), we sat down and talked about whether to even have kids. We saw what was happening at the data level. We saw what was coming. We’d spent whole years of our lives schooled in the risks of life in what, even then, was a deeply off-kilter planetary system profoundly, maybe irrecoverably, torqued by human activity.

We had to ask ourselves: could we subject a child to any of this?

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We were among the first generation of adults asking themselves whether to procreate in the face of climate change. It’s a question that has only gotten more urgent. We went ahead and did it—we have two sons, a tween and a teen. But these days? More and more American adults are saying no.

That's got me thinking again about the choices my husband and I have made.

Vice ran a piece recently, "Our Planet Is So Fucked Some Women Are Choosing to Not Have Kids," by Linda Yang. She talks to women who say they would not "add another human to this planet" or "bring a child into a world she sees as doomed."

'It's impossible to be hopeless with a newborn'

Then there's this Fusion piece, "Women are breaking the climate taboo and questioning whether to have kids in such a world." Renee Lewis's subjects sound more extreme, more determined. “Women as well as men are consciously deciding not to have children, knowing that their kids could inherit a future that is unlivable,” Lewis writes. These would-be parents are cutting their genetic ties with the future, specifically because of climate change.

I completely understand and support all those who choose not to have kids. All I can tell you about is why my husband and I, now more than 16 years ago, decided to have our first baby despite what we knew about the coming climate chaos. Our reasons revolved around a tender but fierce gratitude for human greatness, and for our collective experience of trust and empathy with other people—and the epic grandeur of the web of life. Some have called it "biophilia." We sort of think of it as biologists’ Achilles heel.

Becoming parents may also have been thanks to our moxie, a razor sharp form of hope. And also, a whale. Once, as a college biology intern at an aquarium, a captive Beluga whale asked me to dance. Her gentle reach for me, a human beyond her confining wall, was an invitation to pay better attention.

One thing is sure: As writers on and scientists of climate change, we're not alone.

Almost two years ago, Eric Holthaus a meteorologist and climate journalist who’d covered Hurricane Sandy and expounded on his decision to give up traveling by plane, wrote "Should Climate Change Stop Us From Having Babies" for Vice.

He and his wife, like me and my husband, debated about whether to have kids. Holthaus very nearly had a vasectomy, in fact. Instead, he writes, “My wife and I just had a baby, and it's quickly becoming the best decision we ever made. Even though his future is uncertain, the knowledge that there's still time left to turn things around has become a tremendously powerful motivating factor in our lives. Our baby has brought us back from the brink. It's impossible to be hopeless with a newborn. Climate change has changed me. And I don't think I'm the only one.”

'Because of my daughter, it’s the only way I can sleep at night.'

So back to Nov. 8: I was burned. The outcome poured fossil-fueled gasoline all over my explosive drive for harmony. Instead of continued progress forward, our near future is forcing me to back up, cool off, look at my one wild and precious life, and ask myself just what am I doing with it?

My immediate answer? My sons. They have been the motivating force of my life.

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Photograph by Amazon

As a science writer for 20 years, I’ve covered myriad aspects of human impact on the environment. I published my first book, "The Blackfish Prophecy:Terra Incognita and the Great Transition"—a YA novel about killer whales, captivity, kids, native shamans and the state of the world—on Earth Day last year. As part of that launch, I met and talked with Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, and one of the most pivotal people on the planet for his work to bring global awareness to the predicament of industrialization and fossil fuel emissions. Actually, it was McKibben’s book "The End of Nature" that helped catalyze my talks with my hubby about whether to have kids all those years ago.

“Bill,” I asked. “How do you keep going? How do you see what you see, know what you know and keep going?”

He looked at me in that pointed, almost disturbed way of his—so penetrating, so fierce. Yet also full of light and love. “I have to,” he replied. “Because of my daughter, it’s the only way I can sleep at night.”

That gaze. That link. That … solidarity.

“It’s true for you too, isn’t it?” he asked, the way a mentor solicits a student’s inner wisdom.

Yes, yes it is.

My kids are the reason I got out of bed on November 9.

Changed not by climate, but by us.

Rachel Clark is a science and environment writer, and author of the YA novel "The Blackfish Prophecy, " Fawkes Press, 2016. She's also the author of the Psychology Today blog Mothering Nature. You can follow her on Twitter @MotherngNature

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