Jenna Ross, at home in Knowlesville, New Brunswick, never wanted kids. Climate change clinched that decision. photography by chris donovan

Why I Chose Not to Have Kids

Jenna Ross wasn’t sure she wanted to become a parent. The climate crisis clinched her decision.
Jenna Ross

May 9, 2024

When I played with Barbies growing up, I always imagined they were businesswomen wearing power suits and living in a big city. I was eight years old, and this was the only model I’d seen of a woman whose identity wasn’t wrapped up in motherhood. By the time I was 12, I dreamed of travelling, having adventures, owning pets. The common theme in these dreams was actually an absence: there were no kids. There was no epiphany moment. It happened slowly. Growing up, after babysitting other people’s kids, I’d come home and say, “I don’t want this.” The immediate response from people around me was that I’d change my mind. 

I went on to study sociology and environmental studies at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. I spent four years thinking constantly and deeply about the state of the Earth. In 2006, during my third year, I saw the effects of climate change firsthand when I did an exchange program at the University of Western Sydney in Australia. In one of my environmental science classes, we took a field trip to the Pejar Dam in Goulburn, a major water catchment area for Sydney. For the first time in its 25-year history, it was practically empty. It can hold 9,000 megalitres of water, but it was down to just three. 

We walked along the bottom of the dam where water should have been. It was cracked and dry and grey. There was a small puddle in the middle. A water tower loomed over the dam, marked with years of water-level lines. Residents in the area were using buckets of water to shower; hoses and sprinklers were banned. Conceptually and theoretically, I’d understood the climate crisis. But until then I never thought about water conservation. I’d also experienced my first wildfires in Australia. Walking around the university, I’d pass through billows of smoke in the air. I kept expecting class to be cancelled—it was strange walking through the smoky campus—but things was business as usual. These were huge eye openers. 

Without the climate crisis, there’s a small chance I might have still had kids. With it, I know I won’t. It’s too daunting to bring a life into a world that’s warming. It’s not worth the risk. Whenever I make a decision, I draw up a mental pros and cons list. When it comes to having children, as I sift through different scenarios and necessary lifestyle changes I’d have to make, I always dead-end at one thing: the climate crisis. It was one thing I could never justify. 

Nearly 15 years ago, when I was 24, I was working as a ski lift operator in Jasper. I was living the ski bum life—hiking, camping, skiing—when I met a guy and fell in love. Within the first month of dating, I told him, “I’m pretty sure I definitely don’t want kids, so if that’s something you want, I’m not your person.” We’re still together.

My family and friends support my decision. But I’ve heard it all before from others: You’ll change your mind. Who’s going to look after you when you’re old? How will you ever know real love? It’s surprising how many strangers feel they can weigh in on my life choices. At a wedding just a couple of years ago, a man I had just met couldn’t get over the fact that I chose not to get married. And when I told him I didn’t have kids, I basically blew his mind. He spent a lot of time trying to convince me, a person who he had just met, to become a parent. 

Ross lives in an off-grid home in Knowlesville, New Brunswick, with her partner and two dogs

Now, I’m less offended when these conversations pop up. I’m 38, and while I’m increasingly the minority among my peers, I know I’m not alone. New research has found that more people are now basing their decisions not to have children on fears of climate breakdown. A 2023 study found that people with stronger concerns about climate breakdown had a desire for fewer children, or none at all. It’s such an individual thing. If it was somebody’s deep longing to have children, of course I feel sad for them. But my life is rich and meaningful and fulfilled, and I get that without having children.

The population is eight billion people. I don’t need to add another one. I don’t want to throw kids into the gamble of an uncertain world. Displaced communities, years-long droughts, frequent wildfires—it’s hard to think about. And current projections say it’s not getting better. In fact, the planet is currently on track for global average temperatures to rise by up to nearly 3 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, according to a 2023 United Nations report. It’s not surprising to me.

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I’ve also sought out communities online. In 2020, I joined a Facebook group for people who also made the conscious choice not to have kids. I subscribe to a weekly email newsletter called We Are Childfree, a storytelling project that features stories from people who have chosen not to have children. I’ve learned the social pressure to have children is even greater in other countries. I’ve read stories from people in the Middle East or Latin America who describe their cultures as particularly resistant to childfree choices. Some of them are ostracized by their families and communities. It’s heartbreaking, but it feels comforting to not feel so alone in the world with my choice. I like the notion of bringing more visibility to people who make the decision not to have kids.

Ross planted trees near her home and regularly walks through the forest to water and tend them

I’m not a doomsday person who thinks the world is ending. Actually, I am optimistic that we can turn things around, and I made a lot of choices in my life banking on that hope. Over the years, I’ve worked odd jobs: a tramway guide in the Rockies, an organic farmer, a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant. Whatever money I stashed away I used to travel the world. Being able to get up and go with my backpack energized me. I did work exchange programs on farms in Europe and Australia. There, I learned from elders about living sustainably, and I realized how much I love working with my hands and growing plants out of the earth.

These days, I’m a potter in Florenceville-Bristol, N.B., about a 90-minute drive northwest of Fredericton. My partner and live in an off-grid home fitted with renewable solar panels and a compost toilet. I grow as much of my own food as I can and live lightly on the land. When I travel, I take a train rather than fly whenever possible. I’m no means an eco-saint, but I try to be conscious about my choices. I live on nearly 100 acres, and I put a lot of energy into propagating native trees. Part of my climate action is forestry restoration, slowly bringing back the traditional Acadian forest one tree at a time. I doubt that I’d personally be able to maintain this lifestyle if I had children. 

Last year, I went to Italy for three months. I went all along the coast, from Sicily to Rome, and hiking in the Italian Alps. I wanted to learn from other potters and visited Vietri sul Mare in the province of Salerno, a city known for its ceramics. I worked on small homesteads and tried to learn Italian. I’m not sure these experiences would have been possible with children. It can be hard for some people to understand, but I’m just not interested in having a child. It doesn’t appeal to me. It would be a giant drain on my time and energy.

Ross is a potter in Florenceville-Bristol, New Brunswick, about a 90-minute drive northwest of Fredericton, and also works in her own home pottery studio

Everyone always told me I would change my mind. That was in the back of my head as I travelled the world seeking new adventures and planted roots in my homestead. But it didn’t turn out to be the case. When people ask me if I have kids—which happens all the time—I used to just say no. Now, I make a point to say, "No, I’ve chosen not to." That’s my way of trying to normalize the fact that women can make this choice. Growing up, I never had older women in my life make that option clear to me. Having kids was the default setting. I like that young people who are on the fence can see more visibility and options. It’s okay not to have kids.

—As told to Emily Latimer