By Deepthi Nair
So, I have been happily married for over five years — even though I don’t have kids to prove my conjugal bliss. But, increasingly, I have found this lack of proof to have turned into a topic of discussion, something people feel entitled to ask me about, no qualms, no hesitation, no respect for personal space, or even basic courtesy.
There are couples who choose to have a baby right after getting married. Some take longer and some choose to lead a child-free life. Which category do I belong to? Now, that’s up to my husband and I, right?
But from where I come, it’s a free for all. From every ‘well-meaning’ relative to an acquaintance down the steet, to our housemaid — everyone has an opinion on my reproductive health.
During a recent trip to India, I had to yet again dodge questions on why I have not procreated. The usual comparisons were made with peers who have kids. Conclusions were drawn. I was gratuitously informed of the risk of having a baby past my biological prime, complications that come with it.
Then there was the emotional angle. Relatives closer home say they yearn for me to have a baby. They complain they might not live long enough to see me with a child. This ‘concern’ never stops.
Frustratingly, my husband is never at the receiving end of such questions. Why is it always the woman who bears scrutiny?
One time, a few years ago, my relatives visited Dubai and I was gifted — instead of, say, a typical gift of banana chips — ‘fertility ghee’ (!). It was supposed to have medicinal properties and consuming it would miraculously stimulate my uterus to conceive. The ghee remained untouched and was soon relegated to the dustbin.
Going to India has increasingly become a guilt trip — that is, I am made to feel guilt. I am often asked on why I travel alone to India and why my husband does not accompany me. This is not out of any eagerness to see the two of us together but only so that we can have a joint consultation with a doctor.
Defensiveness apart, can people not see how the badgering can cause hurt? It’s not some minor infraction on a woman’s privacy. The assumptions that accompany the nosy-parkerness can hurt in deep and personal ways. The assumptions are relentless: Can she not have children or does she not want them? Is there something wrong with her? Does she not want to carry forward our bloodline? Are they not trying enough?
Such remarks leave me upset. I often conceal my ire and vulnerability by being polite. But sometimes I have to excuse myself, go to the washroom and compose myself. Have I sometimes been so hurt at an offhand remark that tears have stung me? Yes.
How is it that people have little else to do than wish for you to have a baby? They ask reasons. And not that I owe anyone an explanation, but does no one consider that maybe my husband and I are not yet prepared to add a third member to our family? Or maybe parenthood just doesn’t excite us. Maybe we find kids downright irritating. Whatever it is, it’s personal. I don’t see the need to publicise our reason for abstaining from parenthood.
Relatives don’t understand that one can lead a happy married life without being a mother. It’s not the sole means to derive gratification as a woman. I cannot stress the importance of how people need to mind their own business.
In traditional societies, having a child was considered to be a natural progression. Any aberration from the status quo was looked down upon. But things have changed. The world has changed. Yet, I am often told how I need to take a sabbatical from work to prepare to be a mother and to be around in the early years of my baby. But no one understands the toll it would take on my career and how the loss of income would impact our lifestyle and aspirations.
For instance, as a couple, we love travelling. Having a baby would curtail our freedom. At least for the initial few years, we wouldn’t be able to explore new places.
And being a journalist involves long hours. I shudder at the thought of coming back home late and then having to worry about homework, play dates, hobby classes and still cope with the guilt of not being a good parent.
Before deciding to have children, I wonder if all couples think about the kind of childhood they want to provide or how much time they would spend with the child. So many parents rely on helpers and nannies to bring up their children. Or outsource the duty to grandparents.
I am in a happy space. I am in charge of my life and I wouldn’t trade that.
I am happy for friends when they announce their pregnancies. I attend their baby showers. I love to admire the beauty and innocence of babies. But does it arouse my maternal instinct? No.
I want to accomplish specific goals, to have certain experiences, and be financially and emotionally stable before I decide to start a family.
Most girls in India are raised to believe that marriage and consequently motherhood are the ultimate goals in life. Although motherhood is traditionally described to be the most fulfilling phase in a woman’s life, career and professional development open up horizons that can also provide her satisfaction and a bigger purpose in life.
All I seek of my family, friends and acquaintances is a little space, empathy, and acceptance that it’s not for them to ask me about a decision that will have ramifications only on my husband and me. Allow me the right to exercise my choice. Is that too much to ask?
Deepthi writes on Dubai property and loves to be in the thick of all that’s fun in this city