Image credit: Jenni Grover
Call me a cynic, but I've never really understood the idea—promoted or at least implied, in my experience, by many a new parent— that having kids somehow magically wakes you up to the urgency of protecting our environment. Or that if you're already a green minded soul, that parenthood will somehow take you to the next level of green goodness. As was demonstrated by the storm of comments unleashed after my piece on why eco-activists still have kids, or by the continued concern over ever rising global population figures, there are plenty of childless greens who are likely, somewhat justifiably, to call hypocrisy at any breathless diatribes from new parents about protecting the earth for our precious new generation as we evangelize about the wonders of organic onesies and reusable diapers. Yet as I return from paternity leave, and as I adjust to being the father of Lilia Maven Butler Grover (who is of course beautiful. unique, borderline genius etc etc etc), I do find myself looking at the world with fresh eyes. Here's what I've learned...Let's just take it as a given, for now, that parenthood has redoubled my commitment to sustainability. Every parent wants to do what we can to protect our offspring, and it doesn't take a genius to realize that reversing global warming, resource depletion, extinction rates etc is at least as important as saving up for that college fund, or planning strategies for warding off unsuitable boyfriends. As I met my vulnerable, beautiful daughter as she was introduced to this maddening, confusing and often terrifying world, there is no denying that I felt a deep sense of responsibility for her well-being, and consequently the well-being of everything around her. It's not a particularly profound or original observation, and it doesn't make us breeders any greener than anyone else. It's just one more motivation among many. And it's one I was prepared for.
What I wasn't prepared for, however, were the subtler lessons of new parenthood. The lessons that don't just give you a new perspective on sustainability, but on the nature of the world itself.
Despite a commitment to environmentalism from an early age, I've never been a deep ecologist. I've never wanted to run with the wolves, I've never paid much attention to natural healing and herbal medicines, and I've always focused on how human community, technology and ingenuity can lessen our impact on the planet, not on how we can heal our inner rift with Gaia. Yet watching my wife go through nearly 24 hours of excruciating, astounding natural labor, I've never seen a more concrete demonstration that (wo)man and nature are one.
Despite countless hours of preparation—from breathing exercises to visualization to birthing classes— once labor had begun, Jenni was on a different and almost entirely instinctual plain. She knew what to do, and she knew how to do it. From her breathing to her guttural birth voice to baring down, this was not learned behavior—but something that goes way deeper. It's an incredible experience to watch a woman discover her inner strength and intuition as she settles into her role as a mother, a role that goes way back in time.
It's an experience that has me committed to listening not just to reason, intellect and dialogue - but to those older, more instinctual forms of knowledge that exist inside all of us. (Instinct tells me they could be an important source of wisdom in the challenges ahead.)
I'm not going to be running naked in the woods any time soon (not without copious amounts of alcohol at least), but I am going to be more open to the idea that not everything worth learning comes from a book. And I am going to be profoundly grateful for and in awe of all the women in my life - newcomers and old-timers alike.
A huge thank you to friends, family, colleagues and the wonderful folks at the Women's Birth and Wellness Center in Chapel Hill for your love and support!