“Ask Kai: Advice for the Apocalypse” is a column by Kai Cheng Thom to help you survive and thrive in a challenging world.
Have a question for Kai? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m a queer cis woman in my late 30s. My partner (also a queer cis woman) and I finally feel ready to take the leap and have a baby together using in vitro fertilization. We’ve agreed that I should be the one to carry, which has been a lifelong dream for me. The only problem is that I feel both guilty and terrified about bringing a child into this world: Climate change and horrible politics are ruining the planet that our baby would grow up on, and I’ve read that raising a child is one of the worst things you can do when it comes to your carbon footprint. People are always saying that we could adopt a child who already needs a home, and while I think that’s a wonderful idea, part of me also longs to give birth to and raise a kid that is genetically related to me. Am I selfish? What should I do?
Queer & Conflicted About Conception
I feel for you! The questions you are asking speak to the complex, often perverse, times we live in. No one should be forced to question whether the act of bringing new life into this world is a good thing — and yet, here we are, entrenched in capitalism run amok and encroaching climate disaster.
You’re not alone in asking these questions, either. In the past year, a raft of articles have been published on this very topic in various outlets including Vox, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail, though few of them come from a specifically queer perspective. Like you, many people out there are wondering whether child-rearing, like home ownership and company pensions, is a dying dream for those of us born after the relative prosperity and hopefulness of the Baby Boomer–era.
Let’s begin by acknowledging your first question, “Am I selfish?” This question is, I think, essentially about guilt: the guilt of wanting something that you’ve dreamt of your whole life but that you now fear clashes with your ethical values. Psychologists might say that this is a classic double bind, and it mirrors the double bind of our contemporary society: We were raised to believe that good adults, and particularly good women, are “supposed” to have children, yet the choice to have children, we are now told, is no longer a good one in the time of an impending climate apocalypse.
Another consideration is the disturbing resurgence of global fascism, and with it the potential for renewed backlash against LGBTQ2 families. The homophobic stereotype that LGBTQ2 families are inherently harmful to children — indeed, the dangerous and false narrative that queer and trans people are trying to “recruit” children into our supposedly “deviant” lifestyles — have long been barriers for queer potential parents. Queer and trans people are socialized to feel too broken, too monstrous, too “unnatural” to have families. Given all of that, what queer potential parent wouldn’t feel guilty, confused, even terrified?
So let me go ahead and reassure you, Conflicted: it is okay to want what you want. You can conceive a child in a way that is good. You can adopt in a way that is good. In cases like this, goodness lies less in the outcome than it does in the decision-making process.
When it comes to environmental impact, it seems to be true that adopting a child that’s already been born is more “sustainable” than conceiving a totally new human being (though some would argue that it’s possible to raise a baby with zero carbon footprint). I’d like to point out, however, that human lives and relationships aren’t based on the calculation of numbers and data points. When your hypothetical adopted child asks you why you chose them, I imagine the answer isn’t going to be “because it reduced my carbon footprint.”
Rather, Conflicted, if you do choose to adopt, I imagine it will be because that is the kind of parental love that exists within you: the kind of love that exists to be given to a child who needs parents, from parents who need a child. Children above the age of two, in particular, are far less likely to be adopted and therefore are more likely to remain in foster systems — but they all need, and deserve, parents.
Consider as well that there may be ethically compelling reasons for you to conceive a child biologically. Communities historically impacted by genocide, for example, may feel a moral imperative to pass on genes and cultural knowledge. Indigenous people in North America have been subjected to colonial discrimination and violence that have made childbirth and child-rearing both difficult and dangerous, resulting in a powerful and important movement toward decolonizing conception, childbirth and parenting. In such communities, birthing and caring for children is a powerful act of decolonized love and resistance.
In the end, Conflicted, there is no cut-and-dry answer to what the “right thing to do” is when it comes to having — or not having — children. It depends on your specific social context, and on the specific kind of love that you want to bring into the world.
As you continue to walk down this path, I would suggest that you and your partner consider that the journey towards parenthood is also a journey toward knowing yourselves. Specifically, you will need to ask yourselves just what kind of parental love burns inside you, waiting to be realized. Having a child — by any means — is not, in the end, a project of politics or of political correctness: it is a project of love and discovering how best to love a growing human being.
Politics and ecological sustainability are one dimension of this project. So are personal fulfilment, cultural values and spiritual beliefs. You could try mapping out and expanding upon these dimensions, either on paper or in conversation, so that you have a full sense of what loving as a parent means to each of you.
Then you might take the time to think about — deeply, honestly and courageously — what that means for your decision regarding conception or adoption, as well as raising a family. Is your vision of parental love one that you can offer best and fully to a child you conceive and carry? Or is it one that is better suited to adoption? Fostering? Other forms of parenting? Who is the child that will benefit most from your parental love? And how will that love help this child to adapt, survive and thrive in a world that is becoming increasingly unstable, both ecologically and politically?
I have no doubt, Conflicted, that it is indeed possible for a child to thrive in these precarious times, though it may be very challenging and we might need to adjust our definition of “thriving.” If you — understandably — are hoping for a child whose life will be easy, completely safe and free of hardship, well, the world’s impending future makes that unlikely. Then again, across the expanse of human history, lives of ease and privilege have never been achievable for most people.
On the other hand, if your hope for your child is that they live a life full of good relationships, adventure and the kind of growth that comes from facing the challenges of moral integrity and courage that life inevitably brings — I believe that is and will always be possible. There is a difference between a life that is easy and a life that is full of meaning and love. You may not always be able to offer your child ease, Conflicted, but you can always offer them meaning and love.
And I believe in your love.