‘This is a life or death situation’: meet the BirthStrike founder sacrificing motherhood for mother earth

Blythe Pepino, 33, is the woman behind BirthStrike, an environmental campaign group that refuses to have children until governments enact the systemic changes we need for a safe future

‘I first became properly aware the ecological crisis through Extinction Rebellion. I’ve been heavily involved in organising music with them and, during last year’s protest on London’s Waterloo Bridge, I was arrested for civil disobedience after locking myself
to the underside of a lorry.

‘My partner Joshua and I had been talking about having kids as we’d been together two years, I’d turned 33 and a lot of my friends were becoming parents. I was really excited about the idea; I’d fallen in love and I wanted a family. But then I asked myself, ‘Was I going to focus on what I was expected to do – a career, a house and a family – or was I going to face up to what’s going on and recognise that people need to take action?’ Suddenly, the two seemed incompatible and, when I looked into it, the answer was obvious – I couldn’t become a mother.

‘To me, it’s about safety. Because of the impact of the ecological crisis – from food shortages to flooding – I don’t want to have children when I’m not sure they will be able to have a happy, safe and long life.

‘I’m worried about being a mother in this situation and how painful it will be if civilisation collapses. If I was pregnant or had a young child, I’d also find it difficult to run the risk of being arrested and put in prison through my activism and civil disobedience.

‘It wasn’t an easy decision and I spent months feeling grief at the idea of not having children. I think I was also grieving for all kinds of identity attachments – my career and status, having a more individualistic focus. That’s why a lot of people don’t want to plunge down this rabbit hole because it’s so huge. Facing up to the climate crisis requires us to make massive changes.

‘My mum was upset at first because she didn’t realise how severe the crisis is. It’s not until you really understand how much we’re hanging on a cliff edge that it starts to make sense. Now she’s very supportive.

‘Joshua was more concerned about the political angle, as he’s involved in humanitarian aid. He was worried that encouraging people not to have babies could be used in oppressing people of colour, as well as the message being hijacked by racist politicians, who would see it as a way to control populations. His views were really useful, as they showed how it’s so morally problematic.However, I felt my decision was an important symbol and I decided to start BirthStrike.

‘Not having children is the perfect way to get across to others that this is a life or death situation for everyone, and I was aware it would have an electric effect in the media.

‘I began to tell people I knew what I was thinking and, while nearly everyone seemed to be of the same opinion, most felt it was taboo and too depressing to talk about. I set up a Facebook group to test the water and, in two weeks, 140 women, mostly from the UK, said they, too, would not have children because of the state of the planet.

‘Now, we’re just a voluntary organisation; we’re not trying to solve the crisis, we’re spreading information through our strike. I’ve been interviewed in newspapers and on TV, here and in the US.

‘Starting a family is a beautiful thing – procreation is wrapped up in our idea of a hopeful future. But having babies is essential for the economy – it keeps women down and men in power. It’s also something that triggers racism; I receive lots of tweets from people worrying that more black and brown babies are being born.

‘In fact, it’s how I ended up on Fox News this year. While the show’s producers may not have seen it this way, there are many like me who see the right-wing media’s hostility as them feeling distinctly threatened by the idea of middle-class women refusing to have children while brown mothers around the world procreate. It reveals so much about our society.

‘When I’m in my music world, I start thinking, ‘Maybe the world is not that bad.’ So I have to keep reading the latest climate science to remind myself – yes, it is. Of course I have doubts about my decision to remain childless. That’s just totally human, isn’t it? But for me, I know I’m doing the right thing.’

Blythe is also the singer in band Mesadorm and lives between Stroud and London. Interview by Marisa Bate.

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