Expecting Worse: Giving birth on a planet in crisis is a collaboration between Vox, Grist, and The 19th that examines how climate change impacts reproductive health from menstruation to conception to birth.

Around the world last year, more than 134 million babies were born. During that same 12-month period when so many lives were just beginning, about 6.8 billion people — nearly 80% of the global population — experienced at least 31 days of extreme heat that was made at least two times more likely due to human-caused climate change.

The children being born now will come to know a world that’s not only getting hotter, but also one with a climate that will only become more unpredictable and increasingly at risk of extreme weather and disaster.

Yet while we often talk about climate change with the future of these children in mind, rarely do we consider the impact of the crisis now on the people who are giving birth to the generations who will inherit that world.

At a moment when reproductive autonomy is under political attack in the US, climate change is making it even more dangerous to have a uterus. The full range of climate-related threats to reproductive health is vast, but together these stories, produced in collaboration with Grist and The 19th, will help you understand a few of the profound effects warming has on people who can get pregnant.

International climate change panels have already made clear that women are more vulnerable to climate change than men, with extreme heat, weather, and acute climate disasters aggravating existing gender-based vulnerabilities, like domestic violence, inadequate access to health care, and financial insecurity.

But there is another layer of climate impacts that fall along gendered lines: Research shows that climate change takes a particularly profound physical toll on bodies that can bear children — from menstruation to conception to birth. And it’s only now, after years of neglecting to study the climate-related health conditions that affect people who can get pregnant, the scientific and medical communities are beginning to understand the scope of these threats.

A pregnant person’s immune system ratchets down during those crucial nine months so as not to reject the growing fetus, leaving the parent-to-be more susceptible to infectious diseases like malaria that increasingly have a climate component. Exposure to extreme heat during pregnancy increases the likelihood of preterm birth. Sea level rise can infuse drinking water with salt, which could lead to high blood pressure — a risk factor during pregnancy for premature birth and miscarriage. And for those who have access to fertility treatment, which involves highly time-sensitive procedures, increasingly massive and intense storms are making assisted conception even more unpredictable.

Here, you’ll find a package of four stories — four narratives that follow the lives of women who are facing unexpected risks as they attempt to conceive and give birth to children in a warmer world. Their stories, below, bring important attention to an issue that’s too long been overlooked.

Heat waves increase the number of risky, premature births

Extreme heat is dangerous when you’re pregnant — particularly for those in underrepresented communities. | By Virginia Gewin

An illustration of a woman gazing up, with a worried expression, at a blazing hot sun.

They spent years trying for a baby. Then the hurricane hit.

Climate disasters are threatening access to IVF and other forms of fertility treatment. | By Zoya Teirstein and Jessica Kutz

An illustration of a woman trapped in an hour glass while a storm builds in the background.

Why pregnancy triples your chances of getting severe malaria

How to protect mothers and babies as warming temperatures expand the risk of contracting the disease. | By Zoya Teirstein

An illustration of a pregnant woman sheltering under a mosquito net.

The bizarre link between rising sea levels and complications in pregnancy

Exposure to salty water can rob women of their reproductive organs and pregnancies. | By Zoya Teirstein and Mahadi Al Hasnat

An illustration of a young woman grasping an urn in salty waters.


Vox.com Editorial Lead: Paige Vega | Project Manager: Jaime Buerger | Editors: L.V. Anderson, Paige Vega, Kara Platoni | Reporters: Zoya Teirstein, Virginia Gewin, Jessica Kutz, Mahadi Al Hasnat | Standards/Fact-checkers: Claire Thompson, Joseph Winters, Kate Yoder, Sarah Schweppe, Melissa Hirsch, Caity PenzeyMoog | Partnership Managers: Rachel Glickhouse, Abby Johnston, Megan Kearney | Audience: Myrka Moreno, Justin Ray, Shira Tarlo | Data visualization: Clayton Aldern, Jasmine Mithani | Art Direction: Teresa Chin | Illustrations: Amelia Bates | Design: Mia Torres, Jason Castro, Mignon Khargie | Special thanks: Bryan Walsh, Elbert Ventura, Swati Sharma, Bill Carey

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