On Having a Baby in the Age of Climate Change

On Having a Baby in the Age of Climate Change

by Guest Blogger January 11, 2018 3 Comments

By Caroline Crawford Siegrist

The summer after I had my baby, hurricanes shredded the East coast and left whole islands and cities water-logged, warped and dark. Harvey, Irma, Maria. They spawned in the Atlantic and grew strong on warm water, hovering in the open sea and inching toward the land with a glacier's painstaking urgency.

A weather pundit's dream.

Caring for an infant sucked up all my time, but as busy as my hands were—strolling, comforting, changing diapers—my brain idled like a diesel engine stopped on a steep incline. I scrolled through my newsfeed while nursing and clicked on an article about how our timeline for climate change was all wrong.

The end of the millennium? Try the end of the century.

My breath caught. I read faster, the words going sideways.

The author laid out the weapons and cause of death: flood, famine, geostorms, drought, war.

I looked down at my 14-pound son, who'd gone squishy and limp with the contentment of a full belly. He couldn't sit up or eat solid food. That his feet were connected to the rest of his body astonished him on a daily basis. When I sneezed near him or my husband kissed him with a scratchy 5 o’clock shadow, he startled and cried. How would he survive in a post-apocalyptic Mad Max hell scape?

I pictured him careening through a sun-scorched fever dream of a landscape, clinging to a mechanical steed cobbled together from a lost age of 16-wheelers.

Parts from the same trucks that had carried avocado from Mexico to Tennessee because I felt like making guacamole in January. Or cleaning supplies I'd ordered off of Amazon because I'd been too lazy to drive to the store (a half mile away). Or hundreds of dirty diapers I threw away because I didn't think I'd ever be organized or hardworking enough to keep them washed.

I cried. I thought of him living the chronically ill half-life of the war boys. I cried some more.

I've had climate change anxiety since college, but bringing a baby into the universe intensifies it. My anxiety no longer only extends the length of my lifespan.

I tell my husband Taylor I regret having a child because I can't stand the thought of Jackson in pain.

He holds up our son’s wiggly, plump body.

"You really wish he didn't exist?"

"No," I say. "I just wish I could guarantee he wouldn't be hungry or hot or in danger."

"No one can guarantee that. The safer bet is that hewill suffer."

When my parents arrive at the front door for a visit, Jackson gives them a wide, exuberant grin. They laugh and reach for him, their joy palpable and contagious.

"You might be an angel," says my dad, holding Jackson while he drifts into sleep. "Little fingers, little toes. Are you going to sprout wings and fly away?"

I have never, never heard my father talk this way. And he had three daughters.

But my dad's amazement at Jackson is right. How out of nothing came a person who's half me and half Taylor. As a writer, I know the kind of labor it takes to create anything worthwhile, much less beautiful and fully formed.

Little fingers, little toes.

When I was in my early 20s and soul-searching was my primary vocation, I spent a year at an intentional Christian community outside Boston. Over a dinner of homemade dal and naan, another student opened up the discussion by saying he had no idea what to pray for because he had everything he needed in life. A job, food, family, a home.

Dick, the worker at the meal, put down his fork and gave a gentle lift of his eyebrow.

"Imagine living in an economy in which farmers can’t get loans to buy equipment. Or a landscape where it never rained and the food couldn't grow. Or a place with no highway infrastructure for the truck to transport the food to your supermarket. Imagine if you couldn't get natural gas when you turned on your stove to cook the food."

I broke a half-moon of naan in my hands and stared at it.

Dick took a deep breath. "I think we depend on God for all things, always."

I try to remember that my life—and Jackson’s life—is dependent on a thousand processes wholly beyond my control. Many of them beyond human control.

Our planet hovers in the perfect window of temperature and sunlight and water. And this, too, is a miracle.

Which isn't to say I shouldn't make my own baby food and drive less and make my voice a nuisance in the offices of my state representatives (I'm looking at you, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker). I should. It's just with all the possible disasters, maybe life itself is the most shocking scenario of all.

When my parents were kids they feared nuclear bombs the way I fear overflowing landfills and smog and rising sea levels. The way Native people have feared storms and cold fronts and famines. The way that people in all times have feared for their lives and the lives of their children.

Humanity has always been in the path of the hurricane. All we can do is all we've ever done: fight, wonder, clutch life to our chest like the miracle it is.


Caroline Crawford Siegrist is a writer, blogger and former chaplain. She holds a master's degree from Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia and currently lives in Nashville, TN with her husband, 6-month-old son, and two cats she adopted for reasons that are now unclear to her.


Psst: Why it Takes a Village (Not a City) to Raise a Child



Photo by Tanaphong Toochinda on Unsplash

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3 Responses

Pam Parker
Pam Parker

January 14, 2018

Thank you for this thoughtful post. “It’s just with all the possible disasters, maybe life itself is the most shocking scenario of all.” Amen.

Caroline Crawford Siegrist
Caroline Crawford Siegrist

January 14, 2018

It’s comforting to hear that other people are struggling with the same questions. And congrats on your son!! First few months—and all of it, really—are such a wondrous time.


January 12, 2018

Caroline, thank you for the gentle reminder to breathe and be thankful. I have the same anxieties about the world that I will be birthing my son into in a few short months. But this article reminded me that life is always and has always been tenuous, a miracle in and of itself. Every life from the human to the protozoan. We aren’t unique in our struggles—personal, geopolitical, and historical. Struggle is as much a part of life as the beauties and triumphs are. I will remember this graceful perspective you’ve reminded me of whenever my heart feels crushed under the weight of wondering what my child will live through.

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