Go out of your way today to thank a young woman for not having children.

Young women feel pressured to have babies. I don’t know whether young men get the same pressure; they will have to address that issue themselves. But I’ve heard from young women that they feel “abnormal” if they don’t have children. And I’ve heard women my age lament if they don’t have grandchildren. Stop it right now.

At age 39, I had achieved the Everything. I had three healthy children. I still had a husband. I had a career with a promotion. I had a house in “horse country.” I had a closet-full of stylish business suits. But something didn’t feel right.

Was it the 80-minute commute time? Was it the babysitter spending summer days with my kids? Was it too many doughnuts and not enough respect at the office? I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought about it driving to work in the dark, relying on my husband to get the kids up. I thought about it driving home at the end of the day, scowling at the traffic skirmishes that impeded my satisfaction. I was told that I was caught in the Mommy-trap, but that seemed too simplistic.

I think I know now what it was. I had failed to notice that the Earth’s population had doubled since I was born. I was feeling uncomfortably crowded.

I should have noticed. You would think that such an extraordinary event would be observable from an airplane window, or going down the escalator looking at the folks going up. Or waiting in line for a table at a restaurant. You would think simple math might have informed me: the two of us had three children, a 50% increase. By that calculation, a lot of new people should have alerted me to a potential problem. But no. Two Point Six Billion people slipped by me unnoticed.

Oh, people talked about it. We argued ad nauseum over glasses of wine whether or not we could grow enough food for five billion people. We shamed each other over global health care priorities. We were morally outraged by wars and the death penalty. But did we see the costs of too many births?

Today the Earth’s population has increased by that amount again, that is to say, it is now triple what it was when I was born. David Attenborough’s documentary “A Life On Our Planet” has exquisitely and simplistically made it very clear: we are Earth’s coronavirus. We are Earth’s Sixth Extinction. And then, bless his 94-year-old heart, he pulls us back from the brink of despair. He tells us what we can do about it: eat vegetarian and use renewables.

I wish to add to that list: thank a young woman you know for not having children. Make her feel appreciated. Remind her that her work is vitally important. Let her know she’s doing the right thing, for herself, for the planet. Assure her that you will find children and grandchildren that you can love unreservedly without your own features mirrored in their faces.