Last year I went to see the gynacologist. I was 35, an age I’d heard was when precautionary tests would need to start being taken. I asked her what were all the things I needed to know from now on. She talked about breast examination, about cervical cancer vaccinations, about calcium supplements, about hormone fluctuations. She pointed out that I was now closer to menopause than I was to the start of my first period. And then she asked me what I thought about freezing my eggs.
I’ve had a lot of complicated thoughts on parenthood since then. I still don’t have a real decision. But writing helps me pull out difficult emotions and examine them. So here it is.
I decided I would not bear children, quite early in my life. I had seen a lot of ways in which parenthood served as a cover-up for monsterliness. I did not have the confidence that I would not succumb to the same monstering. Violence, manipulation, disrespect, deliberate humiliation, bullying, abuse — yes, these are things that parents routinely do to children. In this country, parents, especially mothers are deified to a point where there is no question of holding them accountable for the very important job they do. In addition, the wards (the prisoners? the victims?) are too young to know their rights and are uniquely trapped at the sole mercy of their guardians’ actions. I did not want to even risk being a part of this scenario, in the position of power that I might abuse just like so many other ‘normal’ people I know.
Through the years, the several unhappy and quasi-abusive relationships I’ve been in, have suppressed my right to an opinion on this matter. Social pressures already condemn me for being unmarried at my age. Imagine how horrific they’ll get if I also say I’m voluntarily bowing out of parenthood? So I kept my thoughts to myself. One idea that I have spoken about, to my partner when we were in a close relationship, was adoption. I had an entirely foolproof explanation for this:
- We are a dangerously overpopulated planet. This impacts each of us INDIVIDUALLY. We’re fighting for the same jobs, the same food, the same money, the same space, the same right to power. To add one more is just sheer irresponsibility.
- Many, many thousands of children over the world go hungry, homeless and/or lack education or even a basic safe environment to grow up in. If even one of those lives could be given a better chance, I would feel like I was giving back for the privilege that I’ve received.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve also managed to turn the ticking biological clock into a supporting argument. Why risk a health hazard to me and to the child because of my age, when plenty of readymade human being without homes were available to adopt?
I’ve managed to keep this decision at bay too. I have been single for the better part of my life. I know single parents and their children who have turned out wonderfully. But if possible, I think a child deserves at least a chance at two parents. Parenthood is too great a responsibility and the consequences of going wrong, too grave to bear. I do not want to take this on, without a partner.
Today, I’m in a quandry of sorts. I am coming to realise the full impact of being an Indian woman. In all these years, I have not known ONE single man that I can count on to stay responsible after a length of time. I know plenty of earnest, intelligent men who want to think of themselves as feminists, activists and thought leaders. They probably are. For men, that is. But we live in a culture that meticulously, systematically discourages men from taking responsibility for their actions. They are coddled all their lives, disappointment is kept as far away as possible, their shortcomings are blamed on others (women) or even celebrated. I hesitate to call them overgrown children because children do not have the physical strength and the social influence that adult Indian men do. And more often than not, this strength and influence is used against women, either unconsciously because the man picks his own agenda or deliberately, to please people (his mother or his friends). In sum, I do not trust an Indian man to be an equal, reliable partner for an important undertaking. Parenting? Ha!
How about the egg-freezing then? I’ve grown increasingly independent over the years and it is possible that in some time, I will feel self-reliant enough to not need a partner. This is a logical possibility, not one that I can actually imagine. But hypothetically if that were to happen, it would be good to have the option, wouldn’t it?
This is what I realised. A lot of the times I’ve managed to get my way out of default. I managed to not stay in an abusive relationship because he got bored and ended the engagement. I had no choice or power to voice my dissent. I managed to not be packaged off and sold to the lowest bidder in the marriage market because there weren’t eligible prospects for my particular geography/education/age/ethnic background at that time. These did not happen because I was able to fight all odds and establish my stand.
Given this, I fear that a time will come when other people will decide that they want a baby popping out of me that I will be expected to care for. If the option to have that baby still exists, my opinion will not stand, will be overruled, cajoled, forced and hammered away. I think it’s easier that I just let the eggs die out of their own accord, isn’t it?
And finally, what if I do get pregnant in between now and before my body stops being capable of it? I will have either a boy or a girl or a trans baby.
A trans-baby? I stand for equal rights for every human being. But the world doesn’t. The only human being to be treated worse than a woman is a trans person in this country. Children live danger-fraught, complex lives anyway. I do not want to think about what it must be like for a child born with a body that popular science is unable to categorize.
A girl? You already know the answer to that. I hate being a woman in this country, I hated being a girl. I live my life like I imagine prisoners of war do. With resentment, with fragile strands of hope that is constantly being dashed and with growing despair.
A boy. No. Indian men are mama’s boys. This is that bizarre description that’s cutesy and demented both at once. Mama’s boys are big, burly men who watch quietly as their families ill-treat their wives, then yawn and change the TV channel. Mama’s boys are important executives who cheat, lie and break engagements and marriages at will because their mothers said it was okay. Mama’s boys are monsters and their mothers are the monster-makers. This is probably because most Indian mothers are so deprived of actual respect and true affection that they manipulate the one human being they have control over, to turn him into a perpetual source of their own power. And I am an Indian woman. No. I don’t know how strong I will be once a baby spurts out of me. I will not take the risk of becoming another monster-maker.
So, by a combination of consistently bad experiences, social pressures and depressing observations I come to the default conclusion that I do not want to even consider being a mother.
Once a guy broke my heart. Several years later, I learnt that he had had a daughter. And I thought it served him right. Divine justice, I called it. I’ll be the last person to say it’s a bad thing to have a daughter. But I can’t think of a more fitting serving of justice to a man who has not treated women well.
Men who don’t treat women well, their empathy is an impenetrable fortress for large part. It’s absolutely impossible to get them to see the impact of their actions, to make them own up and take responsibility, much less empathise with women. This even if they have other women in their lives. After all, for most men like this, mother is a divine force above all human considerations, sisters are property to be protected, bartered and girlfriends are pleasure toys. Even a wife may be a socially sanctioned personal attendant. But a daughter, now that’s different.
Note of course, that I’m not talking about the extreme segments that brutalize women (female infanticide, honour killing, dowry burning etc). I’m talking about the more moderate man, the Bystander Chauvinist, if you will. What happens when such a man, having ‘sown his wild oats’ (ah, what quaint expressions we use to write off men’s bad behaviour) settles down to matrimony and fatherhood?
Some of these men go to become, what we call ‘good fathers’. Meaning they proudly carry their babies in slings, post photographs of them on their social networks and drive them to school, when they are older. Yes, they probably are loving, caring dads. I had an interesting conversation with a former classmate, a perfect example of this type. He was the quintessential flirt, the bad boy that most girls were warned away from. He broke rules and hearts with equal abandon. That was nearly two decades ago. Now he’s a respectable banker, married with two kids, both girls. And he sports a teeshirt that says,
“Guns don’t kill people. Dads of daughters do.”
Does that sound familiar? Why is it that men like these usually grow up to become dads like these? The only answer I ever get is,
“Because they know what boys are like.”
Yeah, right, I say. Well, they know what the kind of boys they were and suddenly, they fear the consequences of those actions because it could impact their beloved daughters. I think men like these suffer agonies worse than their counterparts who have been more sensitive towards women. These men usually believe every man is like them. And it must be a scary thought to feel responsible for someone who will bear the consequences of actions like theirs.
As the girls grow out of pigtails and dolls into scary adolescence, the ‘fab dad’ title starts to wear a bit. These are the men who become controlling fathers. Daughters rebel (like all kids do) and a daughter who has been used to pampering from her papa, isn’t likely to take kindly to authoritarian behaviour from the same man. This girl knows how to twist her dad around her finger and it’s going to be a mighty uncomfortable position for him, the older he is.
All that noise and gunfire and the sound of a grown man weeping? That’s just the sound of someone getting his just desserts.
*Image from Roadkill Teeshirts.
I’ll be a mother some day, I said
He said, You’ll need a man for that.
I didn’t say I wanted to be pregnant.
I said I wanted to be a mother.
You don’t need anybody but a child for that.
Fatherhood seems to be the theme for this week, after my Electra-Oedipus discussion last week. After observing the behaviour of emperor penguins, I now discover that fish exhibit loving paternal behaviour as well. Today’s fact tells us that:
“A father sea catfish keeps the eggs of his young in his mouth until they are ready to hatch. He will not eat until his young are born, which may take several weeks.”
Brad retorts to my earlier post with:
“For a male penguin, it is normal basic instinct to share parental responsibility. And basic instinct precedes their lower (relative to humans) intelligence.
When it comes to the male species of humans, most males use their intelligence to be less-caring, lazy, irresponsible, egoistic, chauvinistic and other not-so-fine virtues. Intelligence, after all, is a neutral capacity of thought and reason, and works both ways, for good or for bad.”
The assumption here is that intelligence leads to the ability to monitor and control emotions. Personally I always thought the two of these were seperate. Intelligence only gives you an egoistic sense of control and maybe you do manage to control your behaviour well. But what you feel is just what you feel, isn’t it (even if you don’t act on it)?
I’m sparking off an age-old question of whether men care as much as women do. As my last post muses, perhaps a man is capable of being as good a parent as a mother is, in a different way. I just find it difficult to actually visualize that happening…..not about men being good fathers (I’ve said this after all), but today’s men being capable of deep emotion for any human being but themselves.
I have to add that I saw an ad on TV yesterday that really touched me deep down. It was for a digicam (I think!) showing a father running up and just missing the sight of his baby’s first steps on the beach. Later that evening sees him sitting broodily till wifey calls him in to see the moment captured for posterity on film. The ad ends with the father proudly re-running the clip all night to watch his tot take her first steps.
Yes, very cute. So are today’s men only capable of caring for a human being they’ve helped create? I’m apt to think that even this so fashionable trend now of being a good dad is just a by-product of the media hyped sensitive, metrosexual man. I mean…it just goes so well with the ‘Complete Man’ image, doesn’t it? It’s fashionable to cootchie-coo over the little one so they do. But is it an inherent feeling? Ah, but I’m just an old cynic. Prove me wrong.