Opting Out of Motherhood



For some people, environmental implications figure into one of life’s biggest decisions—whether or not to have a child.

According to philosopher and poet Henry David Thoreau, “One is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something.” While the idea of making the world a better place is subjective; the salient point in Thoreau’s statement is to do something.

Everyday choices add up to a cumulative impact on the environment; actions such as recycling, using cloth grocery bags, or purchasing items made from sustainable resources that do not further threaten the habitats of animals in the wild. For example, choosing a candy bar made by a company concerned about orangutan conservation and deforestation due to non sustainable palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia can mean the difference between extinction and preservation of these charismatic primates. With education and awareness, we understand how seemingly small, everyday choices add up to big impact. 

Bigger choices we face include: purchasing energy efficient appliances or fuel-efficient cars, taking public transportation, or planting trees that will cleanse the air of pollutants for years to come. For some people, environmental implications figure into one of life’s biggest decisions —whether or not to have a child. 

An article written by Grist’s Senior Editor Lisa Hymas encouraged people to feel good about their choice to opt out of parenthood, thereby reducing their carbon footprint. The more goods we consume, the larger our carbon footprint. Not everyone who opts out of parenthood does so for environmental reasons. Whatever the reason, Hymas and countless other nonparents have something in common —they are targets. Targets of judgment and assumptions about what kind of people they are and the lives they are living. While the parenthood decision applies to both women and men, societal pressure is greatest for women whose lives continue to be viewed through the lens of motherhood. Women’s lives have undergone a complete overhaul in the past few decades; however, something very fundamental has not changed. There are still widely-held assumptions that all women desire motherhood—or that they “should” desire it—and those women who do not want motherhood are viewed as selfish or dysfunctional. 

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