Bethany Wilcox has always wanted to have kids.
“Seeing my parents and how much satisfaction and fulfillment they seemed to have from raising my sister and me, I always wanted that," Wilcox said. "I always thought that was an amazing thing.”
It was something she pictured herself doing once she settled down with a partner. She’s in that stage of life right now, but the thought of having kids scares her. She says she's afraid climate change would take away her children’s ability to live their best life.
“I am not confident that that happy future can exist for anyone anymore.”
Wilcox is not alone in her feelings. Dr. Sabrina Helm, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, has studied the role climate change plays in reproductive decision-making.
“I am generally very interested in the mental health impacts that climate change has on people in general, particularly in the United States,” Dr. Helm said.
Dr. Helm says overconsumption, overpopulation, and an uncertain future were the three major concerns that emerged in her research.
“What is the earth going to look like? Dr. Helm said. "What is the environment going to look like? And if we expose children to this new world which we all assume may not be as pretty as the world we see today, what does that mean? And it is fair to bring children into a world that might be bleaker.”
Dr. Helm says these thoughts are taking a toll on the mental health of adults in the child-rearing stage of life. Wilcox says she’s often hesitant to share her feelings on the topic because people can be very judgmental.
“The anonymity of the internet makes people terrible sometimes,” Wilcox said.
There’s also societal pressure to have kids.
“In history, the vast majority of history, the main thing that women contributed to society was their ability to have children,” Wilcox said.
Dr. Helm says many of the people she interviewed in her research said they didn’t feel validated in their fears and concerns.
“The answer is always ‘you’ll change your mind’ or ‘you’re going to regret that later’ or ‘who’s going to take care of you when you’re older,’” Wilcox said.
Wilcox says it makes it that much more difficult every time she thinks about having kids.
“It’s definitely a sad thought to think that I wouldn’t be able to have kids,” Wilcox said.
However, the idea of having kids is still on the table.
“Even if we do decide that we don’t want to have a kid on our own, we’ve talked a lot about adopting because even if I am questioning about whether or not I want to bring a child into the world, I have no qualms about loving one that’s already here,” Wilcox said.
Dr. Helm says many people with these concerns do have hope that their children could be the change-makers. She also says there are ways to cope if you are feeling this way.
“Just talking with others about what’s going on in the environment and trying to find ways to help be it on a political level, a community level, a grassroots level, all those are ways to make a difference proactively and that usually helps with our mental state.”