It's Not Easy Being Green
by Emily Rosenbaum
Ethically, I am opposed to reproductive technology. Reproductive endocrinologists spend four years in medical school, four years in residency, and three years in fellowship, just so they can coax bodies that clearly do not want to be pregnant to get with the program. While I am not an expert on how to fix the national health care crisis, it does not take a Senator to figure out that perhaps we could redirect all those doctors, training dollars, and years of education. Then there are the expensive tests, the nurses, the lab technicians, the facilities, and the countless beige couches that could be used elsewhere if they were not required in the waiting rooms of reproductive health centers nationwide.
From an environmental standpoint, it is absurd to use up medical resources simply to create an extra human being, with his or her own little ecological footprint. People who want children could adopt one of the millions of children around the world desperate for a good, loving home, instead of making a new person to eat food supplies, tax waste removal resources, and spew out carbon emissions on endless drives to preschool and soccer games.
Yes, ethically, I am completely opposed to reproductive technology. Personally, however, I appear to be rather a fan.
I have conceived two children with the help of doctors, nurses, and a very obliging pharmaceutical industry. I could list a litany of reasons for going this route: I wanted a newborn; we did not want to deal with the possible collapse of a domestic adoption; my husband was anxious about adoption. In truth, I could have fought a lot harder. I wanted to carry a child. I wanted to be biologically connected to my children. In principle, I could not care less, but in practice, there was a part of me that obviously cared deeply.
This, it turned out, would only be the first of countless ethical conundrums that would come with having children. From the moment I brought my first child home from the hospital, I have been making deals with the devil. Disposable diapers to sink the landfills or cloth diapers to deplete and pollute the water supply? Organic produce flown in from South America or local produce coated in pesticides? Cargo space and safety or fuel efficiency?
We have made a household decision to buy less and put the savings towards trying to ensure that what we do buy is ethically produced and eco-friendly. Sometimes, the choices are easy: fewer toy cars than our sons would like, hand-me down baby gyms that have done the rounds of seven different families, and a shockingly small supply of women's shoes for their mother. We are fortunate to call these choices, and we can put the money that we save towards sturdier toys when we do buy them and fresh, organic produce. Ever since we traded in our paper towels for rags made of the outgrown children's clothing that was too disgusting to foist off on another kid, we can transfer the savings to a rather pricey but green cleaning spray.
If only every choice were such a tidy little equation.
"Mommy," said Zachary, eyeing me cunningly. "I love this book." Normally, I rebuff blatant acquisitiveness on the grounds that my kids cannot have everything they see. Bob the Builder sand toys were all the rage last year at the playground, but I stood my ground and explained the second-hand trucks I bought them work just fine.
But this was different. He was not asking for yet another piece of crap. He was asking for a book. Yes, maybe it was just a desire to have everything his peers had, but it is awfully hard for a writer to deny her children books. And, I'm pretty sure I know where his book-buying habit comes from.
We've had to purchase an extra bookshelf.
This is the same kind of dilemma I face with his younger brother's stuffed animal addiction. Benjamin has not met a plushie he does not love. I do not want to buy unnecessary items that take up resources to make and ship, but I want to encourage his nurturing side. It is hard to say no to a little boy clutching a large stuffed mouse in need of a home.
Then I must clothe them. I want to stick to ethical companies and used clothing, but that makes it an awful lot harder to find clothing that fits Zachary. Most of the clothes seem to be designed for future linebackers. I find it difficult to start arguing ethics when I finally find a pair of jeans that works. When I buy whichever pants actually stay up on Zachary's slim little tushie, am I exploiting a child worker in another country? I believe it is my job as a mother to help protect exploited children; it is also my job to make sure my child has pants that do not fall down.
Some days I suspect I am the only one to struggle with these dilemmas. "You can get them cheap at Costco," other mothers offer with confidence. Yet, we have made a commitment to farmer's markets. "Run the air conditioner all the time," the allergist advises. Yet, open windows require a whole lot less energy and are more pleasant. "Drive the baby around until he falls asleep," they used to urge me. I hear that one in inverse proportion to the price of gas.
Just as I start to feel like the only mother who wakes up each morning wondering how her day's choices will affect the planet and those who live on it, just as I feel like the only mother who constantly weighs the here and now against the far away or the future, I spy a child toddling about in cloth diapers. I wonder whether those parents are confident in their choice, or does each diaper change make them worry about contaminating the water supply?
The modern parenting industry has marketed philosophies and confidence. We are supposed to be grateful for the choices that allow us to parent however we would like. Instead, we have been trained to believe there are right and wrong answers. As a result, we face myriad lose-lose decisions, and we cast about for an expert who can tell us what is the right thing to do. Glass jars of food or homemade but frozen in cancer-causing plastic? The preschool that seems just the right fit or the one in walking distance? Insect infestation or chemical pesticides? And this does not even touch on the larger choices like moving homes and house size, not to mention medical decisions and family size.
In the absence of such a helpful expert, I score my small wins. I pack a cup in my son's lunch bag so he is not using a paper cup at school (but it is a plastic cup…) I teach the kids not to flush regularly. I do not wrap their holiday or birthday gifts, although that is mostly my laziness. I only buy fruit in season, except, of course, when it is the only fruit Zachary will eat, and then maybe it is OK that the apple has been issued its own frequent flier card. I skip the party bags at their birthday parties, but that again may be to save myself some work.
All the while, I know that my husband and I have gone to great lengths to create these little drains on the planet. No matter how carefully we recycle, the planet would have been better off had we accepted the limitations my reproductive system seemed determined to put upon us. We could have found another way to be parents. Yet, having my children is the one choice I never doubt for an instant.
Emily Rosenbaum is a writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and three children. She blogs about parenting, the environment, and anything else that suits her fancy at Wheels on the Bus.
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