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.
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?
I said I’d be a mother someday.
He said I needed a man.
I didn’t say I’d be pregnant.
I said I’d be a mother.
You don’t need anyone
But a child for that.
*Earlier posted here.
I wonder if, at some point in the relationship, a woman feels more like a single mother than a girlfriend/wife. I know I certainly do. And I have one of the good ones. He’s not abusive, he doesn’t cheat, he’s not a male chauvinist. And yet, here I am.
I’ve refrained from talking about my relationship, except in very general terms on this blog. It is after all, a source (and showcase) of my work. It doesn’t feel very professional to do that. But then, my profession as a blogger/writer, is to talk about my personal life and what I draw from the events in it.
Here’s me saying, I’m exhausted. I wasn’t prepared for this. I went through my childhood being groomed to be a good wife and even an adarsh daughter-in-law some day. Along the way, education & exposure added their double-edged knives of modern thought and also high expectations of the opposite sex. I signed up to be a modern girlfriend, an equal partner. Nothing was said about the duties of a babysitter/complaint register/personal secretary/housekeeper/nurse.
There is the kind of pressure that’s obvious, that rams at you like a megaton truck, flattening you in its sheer force. That’s what we ‘modern’ types speak out against, the social stigma attached to a woman’s deviation from the norm, the enforced stereotypes and the over harsh punishment to those who stand out.
Then there’s the kind of pressure that the West has labelled passive-aggressiveness. There are only two people in a relationship. If one shies away from issues, it automatically falls to the other person to handle them. If one partner refuses to acknowledge that there is an issue, it still means that the other person has to deal with it, on top of carrying the elephant in the room.
There is more to life and indeed, a relationship, than having a good time. And when it comes to those routine, mundane realities, a relationship is supposed to feel like a team. Chores are nobody’s idea of fun. But lapses in performing them signify a bigger problem than is obvious. There’s the chore itself that has to be performed by the other person, in addition to their own. There’s constantly having to look over one’s shoulder, the niggling back-of-mind concern over whether it gets done. And more often than not, when things are not done when they’re supposed to, they get harder. How is all of this not a problem??
If I have to hear, “I’ve had a hard day at work!” one more time, I swear I’m going to scream. Because my day begins the minute I wake up and doesn’t end till I’m ready to drop dead. Most days, even with that, there are things left undone. I don’t get weekends off from managing the house, monitoring the service staff. There are no sick days off from being the subject of everyone’s scrutiny on my dressing, my life choices, my career, my looks and anything else possible. My family and friends don’t recognize ‘I am tired’ as a valid excuse for not being a daughter & friend. Hell, I can barely get away with that even when I’m flowing blood & the hormones are having a party in my head. I’m a woman and that’s my job. It comes with no perks, no respite, no bonuses and no accolades from anybody at all.
The temptation to chuck career, dreams and everything else that it’s possible to, simply to let up the pressure, is overwhelming. But that’s a lose-lose situation. Quit all these things and I lose the right to a strong opinion, the voice of a ‘Modern Woman’.
There are days when I feel like the only way I can stay sane is to assume that I’m with someone who is less than me. That’s the only way I can justify having to take more responsibility, worry more and do more and still care about someone who is neither touched by the same sense of responsibility nor emphatic to my stress. It’s easiest to believe that I’m dealing with a child.
Imagine that. I’m a single mom without ever having been pregnant.
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.