May 28, 2014

Living with the Guilt of Having Children on a Crowded Planet. ~ Ashleigh Hitchcock

birthday party

The environmental crisis has been happening my entire life.

During college, I studied environmental conservation and was a bleeding heart ecologist. I stood perched, high and mighty, on my soapbox and was determined to save the world. Ah, the optimism of youth!

Over population is probably the largest contributing factor to environmental degradation.

Naturally, I was bound and determined not to contribute to the human burden, on the planet. I was hell-bent on not having children.

That was all good and well, until I reached my child bearing years. Suddenly, I fell in love with a man who told me we were going to have a baby together. I believed him with all my heart. After that, all I wanted was motherhood.

And it happened fast. One bouncing baby boy.

I grew up with siblings who have always been my best friends. My baby needed a sister, or two. Before it was all said and done, I was living with three kids, in an overpopulated world.

How does a mother live with the guilt of raising kids on a very crowded planet?

Conserve financial resources. We have always been poor. A long time ago, I made a conscious choice not to use more than my fair share of the Earth’s financial resources. Having less money leads to buying less and using less.

Homebirth. The average cost of a homebirth is ⅓ that of a hospital birth. The benefits of homebirth  are priceless. Having a baby at home is more peaceful for the parents and baby, and the mother is empowered to realize the insights and experience personal growth from an important, life-changing experience. With home birth, breastfeeding is enhanced because the baby stays with the mother and bonding is magnified.

Nursing. Mother’s milk is made for babies. It is nutritious, strengthens the baby’s immune system, is economical, requires no preparation and satisfies the baby’s emotional needs.

Cloth Diapers. The financial savings of using cloth diapers, instead of disposable diapers is $2500 per child. During the diaper years, disposable diapers add up to one ton of solid waste, containing raw sewage. Using cloth diapers decreases the carbon footprint of manufacturing disposable diapers. Cloth diapers also cause less diaper rash because they allow for more breathability and do not contain chlorine and perfumes.

No plastic toys from China. Plastic toys manufactured in China are cheap. But, they usually break right away and become disposable. Shipping toys from halfway around the world is expensive and it puts American manufactures out of work. When my kids were little, I insisted that they play with wooden toys or homemade cloth dolls. Wooden toys are durable and encourage imagination. They are not manufactured in a toxic factory. Wooden toys do not break easily and can be handed down to friends or saved for the grandchildren. I also made sure that the bookshelves were well-stocked and read to my kids often. Books are terrific toys and my kids have continued to be voracious readers and good students.

Bike more/ drive less. We’re a bike and walk commuting family. We are fortunate enough to live in a town where nearly everything is accessible on foot or bike. We also have a great bus system. As soon as my kids reached school age, I insisted that they walk or bike to school everyday, even in the winter. The key to our success was choosing great neighborhood schools and living in close proximity to them. Walking to school is good exercise, a great way to get fresh air and sunshine, a smooth and slow transition from home to school and helps kids brains be ready for learning. There have been many years when we haven’t even owned a car. Driving is expensive, and causes pollution and laziness.

Buy secondhand clothing. Newly manufactured clothes are expensive and an environmental nightmare. Kids grow out of their clothes so fast. We always got hand-me-downs, shopped at thrift stores and yard sales or made our own clothes. There are more than enough clothes in this world, without having buy new ones.

Avoid airplane trips. The environmental cost of aviation is our biggest carbon sin. A round trip flight from New York to San Francisco uses the equivalent of two to three tons of carbon dioxide per person. When I was in college, I studied the environmental effects of various types of travel. I was so appalled at the pollution caused by airplane travel, that I didn’t take an airplane for over 10 years. That being said, I love the beach. I’ve raised my kids in Colorado and have taken them on one beach vacation. We did have the time of our lives. Splurging on an airplane vacation doesn’t feel so bad, having avoided airplane commuting for so long.

Eat less meat. Raising animals for food produces more greenhouse gas emissions than planes, trains, automobiles and all other forms of transportation combined. When I learned how to cook, I was a vegetarian, so all of my best recipes don’t include meat. During my baby having days, my health was rather compromised until I reintroduced meat to my diet.

“You can’t grow flesh on vegetables.”

Or kid’s brains. We do eat a small amount of meat. But, the majority of what we eat, is vegetarian.

Be skinny. Being the optimal weight is efficient and friendly. Being at or slightly underweight, means that we’re not using more than our fare share of the Earth’s food resources. And, we enjoy better health.

Live in small houses. Small houses require less financial and material resources to take care of. Energy costs are minimized and we spend less time cleaning and maintaining a little house. Family dynamics are more intimate.

Plant a vegetable garden. Growing some of our own food is educational and enlivening. Eating homegrown foods improves health and saves money. Gardening is good exercise and is fun to do with the whole family. When kids grow up with a vegetable garden, they have an organic understanding of where food actually comes from.

Raise children to be environmental stewards. I continue to preach and practice the preservation of Mother Earth. I taught my kids to love and take care of the planet. I walk the talk of environmental ethics. The best way to teach is to lead by example. My kids get it. They have grown up to be bleeding heart naturalists. And, they are exceptionally intelligent. I have always believed that manmade problems can be solved by man. My kids will grow up to be leaders in making this world a better place. I’m positive.

Zero population growth. By now, the earth has reached carrying capacity for humans. The idea of zero population growth is that if a man and woman have two children the children will replace them. How did I get around the calamity of overpopulating the world, in having three children? Easy. They all have different fathers. My family actually reflects negative population growth.

Babies are still being born everyday. I marvel at how brave these souls are in choosing to inhabit the planet, in it’s dire environmental state. The kids growing up in today’s world, have a large task at hand. They are change makers and can use their lives make a difference. I would never trade having children for anything.

Because I made careful choices raising them, I don’t have to feel guilty.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Leslie Whiteside

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