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(Photo credit: Ellie Heartravel / Flickr)

Elizabeth Bechard’s anxiety about climate change began spiking in 2018, when her twin children were still toddlers. Emerging from the fog of early parenthood, she encountered a flurry of increasingly dire news headlines about the warming of the planet. Human health, food security, water supplies, economic growth: All were in danger, according to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released that October.

Bechard’s clients were growing more anxious, too. In her work, the Durham, North Carolina-based fertility coach offers support to people who, like herself, have experienced infertility, helping them to navigate emotionally difficult experiences such as failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycles and adoptions that fall through. Suddenly, her clients were worried about the world in which their hoped-for children might grow up.

It’s a concern that seems to be growing more common. About 38% of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 – and 34% of Americans aged 30-44 – believe climate change should influence a couple’s decision about having children, according to a 2019 Business Insider poll. And 33% of young adults say they’re expecting to have fewer children than their ideal because they’re worried about climate change, a 2018 New York Times poll found.

In this interview conducted by phone, Bechard offers thoughts for prospective parents who are concerned about climate change, plus tips for parents of small children who want to take action on climate change. The interview has been edited and condensed.

YCC: Tell me about the questions or fears that your clients began bringing up in sessions with you in recent years.

Elizabeth Bechard: A lot of what I was hearing were these moments of second-guessing a choice to have kids. If you’re someone for whom it’s been a very difficult journey to get pregnant, then another failed cycle might be a moment to think, “What am I even doing here? Is this really the right choice?” And so there’s more opportunity for rumination and anxiety to creep in.

I was hearing things like, “I don’t know if this is the right choice. I keep seeing all these headlines, and I don’t know if it’s even right to bring a child into this world.” And of course, climate change intersects with a lot of other difficult social realities, like racism and wealth and equity and disparities for the LGBTQ community.

I had a couple of clients say things to the effect of, “Maybe the babies just don’t want to come.”

YCC: What, specifically, are your clients worrying about?

Elizabeth Bechard: My sense is that there’s a geographic element to that. I have a friend out in the Bay Area, California. She has a young child, about a year old now. I remember her noting how scary it was as the mother of an infant to have to think about wildfires and making sure her baby was protected from smoke inhalation. And that was really playing into her thought about having a second child.

Even on a personal level, it affected our feeling about having a third child. Because it isn’t easy for us to conceive, there’s always been this sort of lengthy, “Do we do this? Do we really want to kind of go through all of that?” And I know that for me, climate change and COVID have been part of closing that door, which is painful. I suspect that there are a lot of people out there who have one or more kids who under different circumstances might have had more, who are closing the door to additional children – for reasons that have a lot to do with climate change and uncertainty in the world.

'The fear of what life might be like 30 years down the road if we don't change things is very, very palpable.' Click To Tweet

YCC: Are your clients worrying about contributing to climate change, or is it more about the quality of life their children might have?

Elizabeth Bechard: The latter: fear for their children and not knowing what that quality of life is going to be like. The fear of what life might be like 30 years down the road if we don’t change things is very, very palpable.

YCC: What advice do you offer your clients?

Elizabeth Bechard: My style is not really advice-giving as much as helping people to hold space for their own decisions and their own inner wisdom. I personally have, I guess, a spiritual framework that helps me to trust that there’s more going on than meets the eye, and I believe at a spiritual level that the children who come through are souls that chose to be here.

And so, you know, if someone deeply desires a child, I would say listen to that. And also think about what kind of parent you want to be in this world. Think about what that responsibility means for your responsibility to the world.

One thing that has been on my mind lately that’s related to climate change and parenting is that the experience of parenting dramatically changes your capacity for activism in the way that you might have conceived of it before.

I even did a survey on my friends about climate change and parenting and what kind of resources they might want. They all reported feeling this sense of desperately wanting to do something and feeling so limited by the day-to-day demands of parenting small children.

And so one of the things that I’m working on in my own life is redefining activism in ways that are within the capacity of parenthood, especially early parenthood.

When people can take action, any action, that feels like it’s a meaningful step towards their values, that reduces anxiety. And it doesn’t have to just look like this one kind of image that many of us have of stereotypical activism, right? It can look like things that anybody can engage in, especially parents of small children who are overwhelmed and panicked, and for whom finding ways to define themselves as activists might reduce their anxiety and make them better parents as well.

YCC: What are some examples of actions that parents of young children might take?

Child on flooded roadway ‘How can I prepare my children for climate change?’

Elizabeth Bechard: Well, I think of the things that I have managed to do in my own life in the last two years. One of them has been writing postcards to voters. There’s a website, postcardstovoters.com. You can send off postcards to progressive voters in key elections. And for me, that was something I could do while turning on trashy TV and writing one postcard at a time. I could be interrupted a lot, right? And I could watch “The Bachelor” while doing that and not have to really think too much about it because you just write the same thing over and over again.

I’ve got the names of all of my senators and representatives programmed into my phone on speed dial. And I kind of mentally know which ones never respond. So if I’m feeling exhausted and I don’t want to talk to someone or if my kids are screaming in the background and I just want to leave a voicemail, I’ll know which one of them a real human will never answer.

And even choosing specific books about climate change or environmental activism that are appropriate for children: That’s a form of activism I think that many parents can engage in.

Topics: Health