Abbey Heffer

Jan 8, 2020

5 min read

Birth-strikers: A Pregnant Feminist’s Take on Why We Should Support Them

@theopenbookshelf

Birth-strikers are those who decide against having children for the sake of the environment. Predominantly women, these climate activists face down societal judgement, increased work pressure and problems with personal relationships — all because they’ve decided to put the fate of the planet above their own wants and needs.

The logic behind birth-striking is that human consumption is fuelled by the sheer number of consumers that are pushed kicking and screaming into the world each year. By choosing to push one or two less consumers into the world, birth-strikers seek to mitigate their personal impact on the environment.

Environmental Impact

Pregnancy has been terrible for my carbon footprint, and that’s before I’ve even let this little bundle of future consumerism loose on the world’s limited resources.

For two solid months I was throwing up every hour, six hours a day. It is estimated that flushing a modern toilet uses up to 14 litres of water; a water-saving toilet uses around 4 litres. For normal, non-gestating humans, toilet-flushing accounts for a third of our domestic water usage. For a pregnant woman on puking and peeing overdrive, that volume sky-rockets.

Aside from a new and literal attachment to my toilet bowl, my first two trimesters straddled a particularly warm summer and muggy autumn. With a heightened sense of smell and a tendency to throw up when confronted with particularly strong odours, I needed to shower at least twice a day and baby-wipe-wash every few hours. Pregnancy is truly delightful.

You would think that throwing up constantly would at least have reduced my food consumption, forced me to eat lighter, healthier and ultimately less carbon-intensive food products. Nope. Being unable to properly eat left me craving nothing but fatty, calorific foods like chips and Burger King. Before my pregnancy I’d never even tasted a Big King; during my fifth month I ate nothing but for two solid weeks. Luckily, now in my eighth month, I’ve been craving fresh parsley — a significant improvement for both my skin and my conscience.

No two pregnancies are the same, but birth-striking certainly negates the risk of inflicting a pregnancy like mine on your carbon footprint.

Social Impact

Birth-strikers don’t only benefit society in terms of their individual environmental impact, however. Birth-strikers are uniquely positioned to force policy-makers to listen — and to benefit other women and parents-to-be while doing so.

Environmentalists the world over are waking up to the fact that individual choices won’t stop climate change, and that a system-level overhaul is necessary. The individual choices of birth-strikers, however, hit the system where it hurts: on the supply side.

In Europe, government policies are dependent on a steady supply of taxable workers and new consumers. And how do we create new workers and consumers? By birthing them, of course. For each little screamer pushed out within the tax borders of a nation, the government thinks cha-ching.

Nations facing a falling birth-rate, however, like the UK, must deal with the mountain of social issues that arise when the people aren’t pushing out enough costly little love-bugs.

Without parents paying for baby clothes, school supplies, a teenager’s first smartphone — and, importantly, paying VAT on each of these items — the government loses income. Without a steady supply of teenagers turning into students who turn into employees who are taxed based on their income and taxed for each and every purchase they make with their hard-earned cash — got to love VAT — governments struggle to fund pensions for a rapidly ageing population. The elderly are, incidentally, also their most important and active voter-group.

A lack of new babies means lower overall productivity as well as a significant drop in revenues from taxes. Less demand from less consumers for less products means supply drops off too. That translates as less money being made and less tax being paid by companies. The ‘One-Child Policy’ in China shows how devastating a dramatic drop in fertility can be for the health of an economy.

Impact on Gender Equality

Women are in a position of unique control over birth-rates; why else would the United States be so desperately concerned with controlling women’s access to abortions? If eco-feminists like the birth-strikers mass mobilise, they have the power to force governments to the table on climate change.

Importantly, for selfish, already-pregnant women like myself, the squeeze of a falling birth-rate forces governments to offer incentive policies to encourage those individuals not birth-striking to reproduce.

In Germany, a falling birth rate over the last ten years has led to father-friendly parental leave and pay policies, allowing women to comfortably return to work as and how they need. Even the self-employed are entitled to parental pay worth 65% of their earnings before the child’s birth. Germany has also introduced tax refunds for married couples and “child-money” for those responsible for childcare.

The individual impact of birth-strikers on global climate change may be minimal, but the collective potential of their movement on both environment policy and gender equality means that it is more than worthwhile to support them.

We should be thanking birth-strikers, not vilifying them.

Top 3 Books for Pregnant Feminists:

Left to Right: Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism by Kristen R. Ghodsee published by Vintage Penguin Random House, Give Birth Like a Feminist by Milli Hill published by Story HQ, and A Curious History of Sex by Kate Lister published by Unbound. Original photos and reviews can be found @theopenbookshelf.