Motherhood and the Future

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on October 10, 2021

“The decision to have children has always struck me as an essentially selfish one: You choose, out of a desire for fulfillment or self-betterment or curiosity or boredom or baby-mania or peer pressure, to bring a new human into this world. And it has never seemed more selfish than today.”

There are a lot of pressures in the world today. But anything that makes a mother wonder if she’s selfish has to be one of the utmost evils. The above quote comes from an essay titled “Giving Birth in the End Times.” The essay’s writer, Emily Holleman, was pregnant during the height of the coronavirus pandemic and living in California at a time of devastating wildfires.

An Environmentally Unsound Decision

In explaining some of what had led her to consider motherhood selfish, she writes: “From a global perspective, having a child in a developed nation is among the most environmentally unsound decisions you can make — a baby born in the United States adds another 58.6 tons of carbon to the atmosphere per year. … On the individual level, as fires rage and hurricanes form, as water grows scarce and fields lie fallow, it’s hard not to wonder: What kind of future can we offer a child?”

Her Inner Turmoil

Mercifully, though, this is not her final take. Hope is within her, clearly. She has an “And yet.” Holleman shares: “On some level we still believe that a baby, our baby, will bring the world, our world, so much more than his carbon footprint.”

Holleman does a beautiful thing in giving voice to her inner turmoil. When I read her words about selfishness, my heart immediately went to mothers of unborn children who frequently think that it would be better to have an abortion than to “give up” a child to adoption. Adoption is not abandonment — it is a remarkable sacrifice and a gift to an adoptive couple and to the child.

Holleman is transparent about her fears for the future, but also acknowledges that disengaging from all the madness of the world is not a “luxury” she has. “I have no choice but to believe that the future — troubled as it will be … is still worth living in and fighting for.” She adds: “To believe not just in destruction, not just in accruing loss after loss after loss, but in counting blessings. Finding those small moments of joy.”

Live Your Faith

Religion does not come up in Holleman’s reflections, so I suspect it is not a big factor in her life. That absence and our own collective experience of COVID-19 highlights for me the necessity for people who do have hope in God to get out there and live their faith in the world. Christians, for instance, have zero reason to be fearful. We believe in the resurrection of the dead, to live with God eternally. Everything else pales in comparison to this.

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Knowing the suffering Jesus endured for us, to annul the finality of death, puts all fear, suffering and injustice in perspective. But in a particular way, we need to make absolutely clear what a gift motherhood is and do everything in our power to make sure that both women and men know that. There is no more important job.

I’m praying that Holleman fully realizes that her motherhood is a beacon of light in the world. And her honesty, too, about how our culture can infect the motherly mind, can do a world of good. We just have to listen, and then help.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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