Is it a Good Time to Bring a Child into this World? - MHI




Is it a Good Time to Bring 
a Child into this World?

Motherhood and Climate Change
through a Therapeutic Lens

Jahnabi Mitra


illustrator’s bio

Amreeta Banerjee

Alice A. Barwa completed her MA in Education from Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Univerity, Delhi (AUD), in 2022, and is from the Oraon Adivasi community, a native of Chhotanagpur Plateau, Chhattisgarh. She has been an advocate for Adivasi rights and voices as a member of an Adivasi youth collective @TheAdivasiPost, and has been an Adivasi youth representative at UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, in 2021. Her research interests include education, culture, sociology, and linguistics.

On some days, I close my eyes and imagine a couple seated in my chamber for therapy, talking about how worried they are about their 4-year-old’s access to the city and why she thinks aborting her next child is best for both. The husband looks grimly at the marine reef centre table between us and says, “I feel so guilty for the carbon footprint I have left behind. Had I taken more accountability in my youth, I feel we could’ve kept this child.” 

This fragment of my imagination is part close to reality and part impending future. While technologies of freezing fertility and the extreme emphasis placed on romance among couples have impacted childbearing and family systems across the globe, climate change anxiety has also started to penetrate couples’ psyches in recent times. 

Motherhood as a climate-induced choice

In an article titled “The default question should be: Why do you want to have kids?”, Gayatri Rangachari Shah writes about her change in attitude towards motherhood – from a default and innate position to something based on conscious choice. She talks about a Noida-based couple in the article who has decided against having a child based on the status of the global climate.

As per studies conducted in cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, and Hyderabad, they are already experiencing the phenomenon of Urban Heat Island – urbanization-induced higher temperatures in comparison to its surrounding non-urban areas. Lancet has published a study on pregnancy loss and stillbirths in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh between the years 2000 and 2016. According to this study, 34,197 women had lost a pregnancy, including 27,480 miscarriages and 6,717 stillbirths, in the period. Out of these, 77 percent of pregnancy loss cases were from India, which could have been prevented if our recommended air quality level was as per WHO standards. Pregnant women in the capital city of Delhi are urged not to go out of their homes. Underweight childbirths (2.2 pounds) in Delhi began to be reported in 2019 due to rising air pollution.  

The city of Mumbai is already facing the financial impacts of its sea-level rise. As reported by a documentary on climate change produced by The Quint, the city is highly likely to be submerged in water before the turn of the century, i.e., by 2050. Alauddin, a fisherman featured in the documentary, rhetorically states, “Every man wants their child to succeed and fight against all odds in the journey. But whom do I fight against? Do I fight against climate change?” Although this man is talking about sustenance at one level, this is the narrative of several other underprivileged and middle class communities that are already bearing the brunt of climate change, with no capability of voicing their grievances. 

Who can afford a child in future?

In 2011, Dr. Dorothy and Susan Clayton introduced the novel concept of ‘climate anxiety’. A decade later, ‘eco-anxiety’ and ‘climate aware therapist’ are terms that are floating in our collective consciousness. Mothers are recognising with much regret that they would have to bring their child into a world where breathing clean air is a luxury. Pregnant women are one of the ‘at-risk’ groups during climate change conversations. 

Bearing a child in the future would not just include abiding by climate-conscious laws set for citizens but also being able to grapple with the possibility of stillbirth and miscarriage. While there are several mental health impacts of stillbirth and pregnancy loss, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorders, and agoraphobia, the Indian cultural context adds to it the feelings of shame, guilt, and dishonour due to taboos associated with a woman being considered sterile. Pregnant mothers and nursing mothers are now not only exposed to climate change factors but also to the negative feelings associated with eco-guilt, eco-anxiety, climate change panic attacks, and extreme sense of sadness and loss.

Climate-aware therapist

Climate-aware therapist is a professionally-trained psychotherapist who recognises that the climate crisis is both a global threat to all life on Earth and a deeply personal threat to the mental and physical well-being of each individual, family, and community on the planet.


Eco-anxiety is not a binary of emotion felt equally among people in the Global South and the Global North, and neither does it impact 
the mental health of White people the same way it impacts people who have experienced climate disaster.

From the analysts’ couch

Psychotherapists in many first world countries are already using CBT and Existential Therapy to help people cope with these feelings of hopelessness and pessimism towards the future. On the other hand, psychoanalysts are helping us describe what defences arise within us during climate change conversations. Jungian analyst, Jeffrey Keihl in his book — Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to Future uses the term ‘anticipatory loss’ to explain what makes it so difficult and almost incapacitating to take steps towards the future. He explains that emotions experienced in anticipated loss, i.e., a loss that is about to take place, can be as intense as an experienced loss. While the feelings of inactivity aroused by it may imprison us, we may still be able to do something, as it is about a thing in the future. 

Why it seems most plausible that India’s urban elite are the first ones to approach a therapist with “eco-reproductive concerns” can be explained by psychoanalyst Rosemary Randall’s concept of ‘ecological indebtedness’. She says that if one leads a lifestyle that pushes the ecosystem beyond its ability to renew itself, one runs up an ecological debt. She also states that people who relate material consumption with their sense of identity are more likely to develop ecological indebtedness and are most likely to never get past the disbelief and shock if faced with it.

What are we heading towards?

Perhaps the most jarring cost is faced by marginalised people in society. While on paper these concerns seem to be best verbalised by the elite and privileged, who have both the education as well as the vocabulary to express their experiences, there are people for whom these are realities without a vocabulary. Mothers and children at the intersections of statelessness and refugee identity who are faced with climate change issues represent the complexity of climate change when viewed from the lens of systemic oppression. For instance, the December 2020 shift of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar refugee camp to Bhasan Char was criticised by UNHCR due to the island’s vulnerability to natural disasters. Add to this reality the disproportionate cost of one childbirth in the US creating 168 times more carbon footprint than a child born in Bangladesh.

Pregnant women in the coal mining communities of Jharia, Mettur are either asked to stay away from the coal mines or travel back to their maternal homes in the third trimester. And risks to maternity are not even caused by climate change in particular, but by environmental factors at large in these communities. While coal mining is the biggest factor responsible for environmental degradation, contradictorily, India’s coal production witnessed a record growth of 36.23 percent in May 2022 as per reports by the Ministry of Coal.

Systemic oppression and intersectionality in the realm of climate change and motherhood are not yet addressed well. But both privileged and underprivileged positions, whether verbalised or not, are moving towards a future where we will have to discuss the grief of the unborn child. It is a kind of loss that humans are unprepared to deal with – when the environment would be too hazardous to bring a baby into the world and the choice of maternity would be seized away. 

Cite this Article View all References


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E : Locating Adivasi Self within Environmental Jus...