I honestly can’t remember a time before I knew that I wanted to be a mother. Up until very recently, it was never even a question of whether I would have kids—rather, it was always a question of when, where, and how many. As a camp counselor, I would watch my campers run to their parents at the end of the day, arts and crafts in hand, practically vibrating with excitement, and think: that will be me someday. No matter how frustrating or difficult my day had been, I always went home with a sense of unshakeable content. Caring for children is something I was just born to do.
Now, with summer camps closed due to the ongoing pandemic, TikToks of cute babies have had to satisfy my maternal instinct. But it isn’t the same. I miss holding a chubby little hand in mine, and being begged for piggyback rides. I miss being a shoulder to cry on, and a protector in whom to confide. But most of all, I miss watching my campers grow and discover themselves—their own unique talents, goals, and personalities. Looking back, it seems plausible that my baby fever is the natural result of nearly a decade of working with children, but something tells me that it’s more innate than that. My soul has always cried out for a baby of my own.
Even before the sudden outbreak of COVID-19, I had begun to worry about the ethics of bringing children into the world. I know that every generation has experienced their own version of an end-of-the-world crisis, whether from the threat of Nazi eugenics or of nuclear annihilation, but something about climate change—and the United States’ stubborn refusal to address the capatilistic root of the issue—seems uniquely irremediable. At my most hopeless, it feels like I would be having kids just to welcome them to a world of famine and disaster, or to force them to face the same moral dilemmas as I did, but with a rapidly increasing sense of urgency. Is it ethical to have kids in this climate? To what degree do I owe myself a decision that will bring me so much joy, and to what degree is that joy morally irresponsible? Now, with a global pandemic to contend with, in addition to impending environmental catastrophe, these questions become even more unanswerable.
Of course, there will always be the possibility of adoption, because there will always be children in need of good homes—especially if our current environmental and epidemiological emergencies are not addressed by means of fossil fuel divestment, universal health care, and commitment to racial justice. But while the thought of giving birth terrifies me, I have always found the idea of pregnancy strangely alluring. When you’re pregnant, you’re never alone. For nine long months, two entities form a hybrid being—a human life harboring the potential for life. Physically inseparable, but psychically completely unique. Pregnancy definitely isn’t for everyone—nor should it be an expectation of anyone, as it too often is—but it is a dream of mine.
Dreaming of a future with a family of my own has helped me struggle through the darkest moments of quarantine; more often than not, it is the picture I paint myself while falling asleep at night, or while my thoughts wander the endless days—a beautiful fantasy of love and contentment. But as the impact of COVID-19 grows more and more alarming, my dream has begun to inspire more dread than tranquility. I can’t help but think—what if this vision is the closest I’ll ever come to being a mom?
Despite this worry, I don’t believe in defeatism—although I am known to occasionally indulge. A life in which I have given up any hope for the future is no life at all, and besides, I am far too privileged to give into despair; I would much rather use my white, abled body to advocate for policies that make the continuation of all members of the human race possible. This entails a wide umbrella of action, such as promoting large-scale environmental and medical reform, but also committing to those practices in everyday life. This is why I have decided that I want to become a doula—a physical and spiritual guide who offers aid to pregnant people throughout their pre- and postpartum journey. It takes a village to raise a child, and whether I have one or not—although I sincerely, desperately hope to—I will always be a part of that village.
I don’t think I will ever change my mind about wanting a baby, but at just 20 years old, I certainly have an ample amount of time to reconsider. Babies enter this world free of negativity, hatred, and anger; it’s terribly cliché, but I think the saying “bundle of joy” holds true. A baby is a perfect thing, as well as a chance to make yourself perfect in their eyes—and by perfect, I mean kind, humble, willing to admit when you are wrong, and to apologize. Whether we like it or not, the systemic failures exposed by this pandemic have also given us a chance: to abandon hope, or to make the world a more perfect place before the next generation arrives.
By Isabelle Robinson
Illustration by Ayumi Takahashi for The New York Times