Olivia Barz Pickell
Nine months of planning, weeks and weeks preparing for your arrival. Long, nervous nights thinking about what you might be like, and what I might be like once you arrived. Excitedly watching the pages of the guide books flip past, you’re the size of a banana now, and you have all your fingers and toes! Pure disbelief as I watch you yawn and smile on the ultrasounds. But deep down, an unfettered fear of the future you face. What will the climate look like? Will there be enough food? Do you already have microplastics in your bloodstream? Will you know what a polar bear looks like? Or snow? What right do I have to even bring another human into this world?
I prepared to raise you the best way I knew how. We would use cloth diapers, and hang them to dry. I couldn’t fathom 8–10 dirty diapers a day, sitting in a landfill for eternity (500 years!). We would breastfeed, so no piles of empty formula cans and water wasted washing bottle after bottle. You would be raised vegetarian, understanding the emissions, health hazards, and inhumane treatment inherent in the United States’s capitalistic livestock industry. We would live in a walkable neighborhood, where you would have freedom to explore without relying on a single-occupancy vehicle and the greenhouse gases tied to it. We were going to be okay.
I was warned that things don’t always go as planned, but I held tight to these dreams, I would not be a part of the problem, nor would I raise you to be.
I awoke at 1:00 am, ironically from a dream that I was in labor, and you arrived at 6:15 pm that evening. Immediately, everything I knew about this world, and how to exist in it, shifted. Nothing mattered but you. I lay there, in pain and fatigue, but all I remember was you. All that mattered was that you were healthy, happy, and thriving.
Almost immediately I had to begin reducing my expectations. You weren’t breathing right and had to stay in the NICU. I slowly waddled my way over to feed you every 11/2 hours, but I was exhausted and the walk was excruciating. You had your first taste of formula at hardly 12 hours old, and I was devastated. But we endured.
You were born 9 pounds, 8 ounces, and 22 inches long (such a big boy!). The minute we got home from the hospital we were excited to get you in a cloth diaper. No more disposable diapers for us. But, the newborn size didn’t fit. And the next size up was too big. No worries, we will just wait a while and try again. We tried and tried again. I would struggle for half an hour, trying to get them on correctly, adjusting snaps and buttons, sweating as I leaned over you and you cried. Why don’t these things fit right? The diapers piled up in the garbage bin, and I tried to look away because you were happy.
Fortunately, we were still breastfeeding, despite the small bump in the road at the hospital. It hurt and was exhausting, but we could do it. You started having issues. Your belly would hurt so bad you would arch your back and grunt and cry all night long. You had acid reflux that would make you choke and scream. I stopped eating dairy in case that was the problem. We waited — 1 week. 3 weeks, then 6 weeks. You had blood in your diapers. You were aspirating on reflux. I couldn’t see you hurt anymore. We tried a hypoallergenic formula and that day, you were a new baby. Happy, content. We tried breastfeeding again, and almost immediately, the pain returned. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew the formula helped, and I once again set aside my expectations. This one stung a little more. I always wanted was that bond, nursing my baby. Not to mention, the only formula you could tolerate only came in 32-ounce plastic bottles, and we went through an entire bottle a day. The plastic bottles piled up in the recycling bin, and I tried to look away. You were healthy.
Again and again, faced with these decisions, I chose your health and happiness. My health deteriorated as I ran out of time and motivation to find healthy vegetarian meals to prepare with a newborn, and I turned to the convenience of fish and poultry dishes for the first time in 6 years. We bought a house in a rural area, because we wanted more space and a better room for you. Are these excuses or justifications for jeopardizing the environment you will live in? I don’t know.
Being a mother is hard. Letting go of the demands and expectations you put on yourself is hard. We all need to have more compassion for ourselves, a gentler voice in our heads. We are doing our best. I still show up to work and guide companies through their sustainability journeys every day, while updating your daycare app every 30 minutes, hoping for a new photo of you. You didn’t ride in a gas-powered vehicle until you were 4 months old, and to date, have only ridden in it one time. We buy local and thrift when we can, and you’re already gentle and kind toward animals. We read books about climate change, recycling, and being activist together.
We do what we can. We do our best.
Olivia grew up in the Lehigh Valley and went to Lehigh University for Environmental Science as an undergraduate, and went on to get my Masters in Environmental Policy as well. I completed several internships with the Alliance for Sustainable Communities Lehigh Valley, focused around sustainability impact assessments.
- SLV 2023 Table of Contents
- Voices of the Valley – Alphabetic List of Authors
- Sustainable Lehigh Valley booklet