I got a vasectomy due to climate grief. Now, I’m compelled to let go of my backup plan

This First Person column is written by Darryl Whetter, who lives in Belliveau Cove, N.S. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

“Darryl,” my then-partner called out from a few rows back on a crowded flight. We’d originally been seated together, but I’d relocated so a mom could sit with her kids. When I looked back over the packed seats, amidst the roar of burning engines, she smiled at me and mimed a scissor-cut with two fingers. “Yes,” she finally said, in a gesture understandable only to me.

For about a year and a half, I’d been offering to get a vasectomy, to do more than just talk about how the world didn’t need any more humans. In and around our old Nova Scotia house, I’d periodically make that horizontal scissor mime to reiterate my offer. News of rising temperatures on the kitchen radio? Finger snip. Atlantic Ocean looking more and more disturbed? Finger snip. Even back then in 2007, the North Atlantic hurricane season was intensifying due to climate change. Snip-snip.

A planet worrier since my early teens, I told each successive romantic partner that I wanted love but not children. How can we bring a child into a world we know doesn’t want it, will have trouble feeding it, and will lose more plant and animal life because we added yet another needy human? 

But to be honest, I may not have volunteered for the procedure in my 30s if I hadn’t first confirmed that I could pre-emptively freeze some sperm at a private clinic. I gave us — or maybe just me — a cryogenic backup plan. Where my ex had needed a while to agree to the potential irrevocability of my snip, I surprised myself by paying for one year of storage after another. What I had thought would be my “hard no” became a “not yet” for 15 years.  

WATCH | How the climate crisis is impacting people’s decision to have children: 

A lot of people are growing anxious about having children amid the climate crisis | The Climate Baby Dilemma

For a growing number of young people, the climate crisis is affecting decisions about whether or not to have kids.

That’s part of why it was so thrilling when my now-wife Gisèle voluntarily mentioned not wanting kids on our first date. Three years later, we got married and moved, in a kind of working honeymoon, to sweaty, equatorial Singapore. Admittedly, our next four years of travel around Asia made us more part of the climate crisis problem than the solution. Every single inch of Vietnam’s 15-kilometre Bãi Trào Beach had a high-water mark of plastic litter: toothpaste caps, tampon applicators and shampoo bottles. Bali was indeed blissful, at least until we swam around drapes of ocean plastic. Given how rarely plastic is recycled even here in Canada, some of the bobbing water bottles we swam around could have been ours.

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A man and a woman pose for a photo outside one of the Buddhist temples around Angkor Wat, Cambodia.
Darryl Whetter, left, with his wife, Gisèle Thériault, spent four years travelling through Asia as part of a working honeymoon. (Submitted by Darryl Whetter)

Our travels were followed by a return home in 2020 to a Nova Scotia increasingly besieged by wildfires. After 15 years of paying to keep my genes on ice, with wildfires and hurricanes brewing, Gisèle and I agreed to cease the payments to store my sperm samples and also any more false hopes or delusions. The world, our world, was never going to be more welcoming to yet another child. 

Many couples learn that grief can be for the unborn, not just the dead. My climate grief is sewn inside my body, more intimate and more indelible than a Greenpeace tattoo. The titanium clips of my child-free vasectomy are both shackles and their opposite — freedom from one set of worries and yet a frank appraisal of others. For so many couples, co-creating children is part of love. For birth-strikers like me and the women I have loved, not having children is a way to love the world and the life already on it.

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