It’s been a long time since I posted but only because I have been ridiculously busy! I’m moving this weekend and so will be caught up a little longer, but I just had to share some exciting news. In September I entered an essay contest to attend an event in Washington, DC that is right up my alley and addresses, in my opinion, the interrelation of two of our hugest problems: reproductive health and environmental justice. The Amplify: One Voice Summit 2012, held in mid-November, will be a space for youth advocates to come together, discuss these issues, learn methods for activating change, and practice political involvement in the nation’s capital. I am honored and excited to be a recipient of the prize – free attendance to a program that, despite only being in its seventh year, I believe to be an innovative seed for the growing future of sustainability and human rights activism in the 21st century.
Ecological sustainability and family planning (or lack thereof) may not sound related, but they are actually intertwined in a very deep way that, unfortunately, has become something of a knotted tangle.
Food scarcity, water access, CO2 emissions, overpopulation, disease – these are all related issues. They are overwhelming and difficult problems that leave many of us feeling helpless at times. How are we supposed to address everything at once?
The beautiful part of this sad picture is that addressing any one of these issues helps the others improve. When women and families are able to time and space their children as their resources and personal health allow, children grow up in more stable homes, with food and water more equitably shared among community members. When women are not forced into unwanted pregnancies (for any number of reasons), they are better able to take care of their own and their children’s health, while balancing parenthood with their role in the community, be it working, studying, or creating. When sexual health is a topic of pride and curiosity, and not shame and confusion, generations of youth can better develop into responsible, independent adults. When fewer unwanted children are born, there are less state resources put into caring for them, less mouths to feed, and less energy required of households, decreasing financial and fossil fuel burdens. Likewise, when disease and health disparities are addressed with intergenerational training and community works, those same resources are distributed more efficiently, so that those in need have access to care without draining the system of finances and staff.
It isn’t easy. I would never say that. I would also never say that abortion and going childless are the only solutions to overpopulation, although the objective observer might dare to assume so. Indeed, as an aspiring midwife, isn’t it a little hypocritical of me to call myself an environmentalist and dare to point out overpopulation as
a real problem THE problem of our times?
No, it’s not. Because people will never stop having children – if we did, none of these problems would really matter, because we’d all be gone in a hundred years or so. But I DO believe that comprehensive care, including the midwifery model of birth and pregnancy care, as well as the low-intervention/technology methods that come with it, are a boon to healthy family planning, ecological consciousness, and cutting costs. On a more abstract level, I believe that skillful midwifery and natural childbirth encourage families to interact with their bodies and Nature in ways that re-awaken individual appreciation for the world we do have, and inspire lifestyle habits – like organic food consumption (i.e. non-pesticide products), natural and re-usable products (like cloth, non-irritating diapers), and active lifestyles (a walk in your local state park) – that naturally lead to more environmentally sound ways of being. This isn’t to say that every midwife-client relationship results in an organic crunchy momma or a conversion to minimalist lifestyles, but ideally, the health benefits of these activities during pregnancy stick with parents as they raise their children, leading to more globally and ecologically conscious families.*
It’s not a straight shot and I’m still figuring out how to articulate these connections. That is why I am so unbelievably happy to be meeting other like-minded young people in November. Please check out the Summit and it’s organizers and consider attending! Below I have included the essay that became my ticket :)
Young people are passionate advocates when given the guidance and tools to act. Doing HIV/AIDS outreach showed me that teens are extremely dedicated to preserving community health – they share statistics with families, compassionately relate personal stories, and encourage responsible choices among their peers. As a student midwife, I see that young women view their reproductive choices as more than just biological; family planning decisions are reflections of personal values and they realize that their individual lives are an example for others to follow.
As I get more involved in birth work, I sometimes feel hypocritical. I am aware of our ever-growing problems related to overpopulation, from water and food scarcity to rising CO2 levels and increasingly outrageous disparities in education and health. How can I encourage mothers when I know we might be better off with fewer mouths to feed? Because I know that for every person who chooses not to parent, another chooses to, and they need help preparing for the personal and public responsibilities of raising a family in a sustainable way. As ecologist Sandra Steingraber notes, the mother is the “first environment” – our reproductive setting is the basis for our social and ecological realities.
Teens and young adults are powerful voices in demanding change in our local, federal and international policies – we are the engineers, artists, consumers, teachers, and families of today AND tomorrow. We must demand global reproductive justice as a human right, including the education necessary to go forward with informed choices. Having choices about the number and timing of children allows new parents to maintain their own health, consume and use products wisely, and utilize their stability to raise healthy, community-conscious children, often in fewer numbers.
This generation has unique tools for connection and contribution – it’s easier than ever to share the idea that personal health and global health are interrelated. The more voices and stories there are in the public and virtual realms, the more undeniable their message. Young people today are the most actively engaged global community in history – let’s tap into that power and stand as one for the rights to health, choice, and a thriving environment! Youth who create art, participate in media campaigns, get involved in research, or simply feel empowered to lead by example are the first wave of defense against overpopulation, disease and overconsumption.
I hope to come away from the Summit with ways to better articulate the connection between family planning and the environment. What I know intuitively is far from easy for most people to acknowledge. Even many health-conscious people are only just starting to grasp how their physical lifestyle is connected to the vitality of our ecosystem, and how that, in turn, affects communities. I want to bring this environmental consciousness to the pregnancy and birthing community, particularly among younger women, so that those who do choose to start new families go into their journey with an awareness of their relation to the People and Planet that make up the global collective.
*EDIT: Upon publishing this I realized I wanted to add something to the earlier paragraph. The lifestyle changes described may be more realistic for women with resources that likely exceed what many populations around the world experience on a day to day basis. Clearly, certain food items and products, and even leisure time, may not be as available to women working multiple jobs, families suffering from epidemics, etc. Certainly, these realms are not where my experience lies, but I do want to note that in many of these “developing countries” scenarios, more technology and intervention is often needed. It is high-risk and ill patients who receive the most benefits from the mastery of obstetric science. Unfortunately, while many American women receive an over-application of tools like drugs and surgery, it is our counterparts in povertized and overpopulated areas that are severely lacking the skills, materials and staff to provide medicine and surgery to those who need it – obstetric medicine can be more than life-saving in this situations; it is community-saving. Nonetheless, my argument above still applies. It is the equal disbursement of this care that needs to be addressed, and not in terms of similar quantities, but in terms of where it is needed. Resources wasted on largely healthy populations would be much more affective in areas where women and babies are dying in staggering numbers. The World Health Organization reported on fetal and maternal outcomes for areas in South America, Asia and Africa in the last decade, and yet again it was shown that while “developed” nations often receive an over-application of, in this example, Cesarean sections, with questionable reasons for doing so, there are other areas where much more intervention is needed. The playing field is uneven, and lopsided. (There are a number of papers accessible via the link above addressing various outcomes across global regions from 2004-2008).