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‘Do You Want Kids?’ Is Not A Yes Or No Question

Motherhood, how do I feel about it? My opinion feels like it’s water. It’s overpowering. It’s cold and uncomfortable sometimes. It has picked off the residue of other people’s being and is heavy with flotsam. It’s a murky, polluted, crowded, many-textured, multi-tempered opinion.

When I was a teenager, a friend picked up the phone and told me that she thought she might be pregnant. Just like that. I had never even met the boyfriend who was responsible. I was not privy to her decision to have sex, unprotected at that. I didn’t even know such things happened to good, middle-class girls in the suburbs of Bombay. Me, I hadn’t even experienced my first kiss.

She sounded panicky, uncharacteristically for her. I had only one question for her.

“Have you eaten anything today?”

She said she hadn’t. I wrote down her address and asked her to hang up, telling her I’d be there in an hour. Then I pulled on my jeans, walked down to a MacDonald’s, packed up her favorite Happy Meal and went to her place. I spent the next hour, waiting outside the bathroom while she peed on yet another stick, looking up the internet for details, writing to an email buddy who was a doctor (he must have thought I was the one who was pregnant) and trying to coax her to eat lunch. Then we went to a pathology lab and handed in her urine sample. We had an hour to kill which we spent walking around the dirty bylanes in the vicinity. And before we went back to collect the report, she squeezed my hand.

“Go”, I told her, “It will be alright.”

The assistant who handed her the envelope smiled as she said,

“Congratulations, you’re pregnant.”

The scene is so clear in my mind even today. What my friend was wearing, where she was standing, the posters in the lobby that I stared at, pretending to read them. In the hours that I had spent with her, I asked her if she had told her best friend, a vivacious girl I’d met a few times. “No”, she replied, “I couldn’t risk her judging me”. What about me, I wanted to say, what about me? As if anticipating the question, she looked back and said,

“I knew you wouldn’t.”

I still don’t know how to feel about that. Proud? Gratified? No. I felt…and I feel slightly resentful. I feel like I was never given a choice, like I was never even given a chance to think about whether I was pro-life or pro-choice. A situation was tossed in my face and all I could do was step up and deal with it. And now that I’ve been a listener, a party at least in some manner to a terminated pregnancy, I don’t have the choice of going back, of becoming pro-life now.

She is married and a mother now. We’ve never talked about it after that. I wonder whether I am the only living person left who remembers, who even thinks of the life that never was. I don’t judge her, I really don’t. I always liked her, admired her, respected her even. And none of those sentiments have subsided. But what happened with her shifted things in my life too and I don’t know how to feel about that, even 14 years later.

Here’s something else. I’ve been close, very close to someone who survived being abused as a child, by a parent. I’ve experienced a polluting touch myself (mercifully not by a family member, but still). It is not a good world to bring a child into. Do I dare bear the responsibility of that? I don’t know, I don’t think so, I don’t think I do.

Then I was almost married to somebody who did not want children. It was a big deal to him. So I decided to forfeit tomorrow’s possible affections for what I had in the present. And I agreed that I would not push to be a parent either. He is no more a part of my life. What happens to my body, my decisions then? This is a major attitudinal shift. Dreams and desires aren’t tangible objects that you can take off the calendar and put back when there’s room for them. I feel like I’ve changed as a person just for having given them up and I don’t know if I can bring them back. How can I ever explain why this is a decision that defines a woman? First to think that being a parent is THE most creative act for any human being, let alone an artist. Then, to come to a point of believing that there is more to me than my body and what it can do. How can I just switch back to how I see myself, how I define me?

I met someone else I liked very much. But it seemed as if having children was very important to him. I do not know where I stand on this anymore. I don’t like the idea of my body becoming a baby-maker or not, purely depending on the man that I’m with. Who am I then, other than what the man in my life wants me to be?

At some point of time, I also thought I might want to adopt. It seemed and still seems like the perfect solution. It poses no health risks to me or to an unborn baby, given I’m over 30. There are 7 billion people on this planet and it gives one of them a chance to have a better life than may have been possible. And it gives me a chance to be a parent even at a later date. But I’m not sure I want to be a single parent. It seems to me like a child deserves two caregivers, if possible at least. I deserve a partner in the tremendous responsibility that bringing up a life is. But at the moment, I don’t even know whether I ever want to be part of a couple again.

How I wish I wasn’t born with a body that had a uterus. Would life have been any simpler, if I had been a man instead?

Settle For To Settle Down

I’m reading a book called Rubbish Boyfriends. But hang on, that’s not all that’s responsible for this mood o’ mine. I’ve been talking (and talking and talking) to the following women:

A has been steadily (as opposed to happily) married to a ‘Who says we get it right the first time?’ pedigree-carrier.

B is married to the man described by Barmaid as the ‘Good On Paper Indian Guy’ a.k.a. GOPIG (also M.C.Pig). She’s also momma to a 3-year-old and a useless daughter-in-law in the eyes of the matriarch who stays with them.

C has been hitched for four years and has to show for it the following:
– 3-year-old adorable coochie-boo
– 4 home addresses
– Career chart resembling a diagram of the universe (spotty) rather than a straight graph.

A says she stops short of being murderous at the sight of her husband, especially on certain days of the month. So she’s gotten herself a dog. Dog answers to ‘Gabbar’ (despite fancy names conceived by A, on account of pesky husband getting there first) but Gabbar loves her every day of the month, PMS regardless. Arre O Sambha, ek hi aadmi tha par chodo…they’re all the same!

B, juggling phone on neck-shoulder, scrambling about for change and yelling at the taxiwalla, bemoans being called a bad mother for working till 2 am. Then she adds that papa dearest sleeps in late right through baby’s sports day preparations. Her tired tirade ends with,

So long as he isn’t alcoholic, abusive or cheating on you, assume he’s Mr.Perfect. That’s as good as it is ever going to get.

I want to wail about committment-phobias, male insensitivity and thoughtlessness. I want to talk about my non-conversations about my non-relationship with my non-boyfriend. But I can see she’s not quite in the state for it so I take my woes elsewhere.

C, straight-faced as always listens to me and offers this sage advice,

Remember I used to say I’d never leave Mumbai. Do you know all the places I’ve lived in in the past four years? Do you know where I’m going to be six months from now? I don’t, either.

That makes me pause and think. So I watch SATC, drink a bottle of wine, laugh with a friend, read Chick Lit, go shopping and write XX Factor instead. Settle for if you want to settle down seems to be the order of the day. While there’s love (for the uncynical ones), sex, children and stability, no one told them about shrinking expectations (and fading dreams), comfort meshed into indifference, dreams replaced by ‘the best way to end the argument once and for all’. They change, they modify, they sigh a bit, wash their faces and carry on. All of them seem to be echoing that men will be men, at the end of it and there’s just this much you can make them care about things outside themselves.

Resignation appears to be every committed woman’s uniform emotion. And inter-twined with the single girl’s need to find someone special is a sense of relief at not having done so yet.

Empowered Little Woman

Meetu’s little girl is learning all about gender roles and what she can use to her advantage.

It makes me wonder whether the gender stereotypes are really learnt or whether women just are smarter. 🙂

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