This Baby Business

Why is it so difficult for us Indians to accept that having a baby is not the ultimate goal for every woman out there?

I’ve refrained from ranting about baby business on my blog for so long. I’ve held out for two reasons mainly; I get questioned about my decision to put off babies enough in real life, to not want to bring it up on the blog. My reasons are far too many, and I don’t think anyone would should be interested in them. But today I read an article on Thought Catalog (linked up later) about how one shouldn’t really need a reason not to have babies, I knew I had to get this off my chest. This is going to be a potentially long and painful rant, so be warned.

Recently, when this article did the rounds and everybody got their panties in a bunch, I had mixed feelings. Funnily enough, a couple of people sent it to me dead sure that I would identify with it and probably imagined I’d heave a sigh of relief that someone was finally speaking in favour of not making babies, in a country otherwise very, very obsessed with procreating. But my reaction fell short. Almost instantaneously I was pissed off, because increasingly, Op-Ed sections are filled with the kind of writing that is purely meant to shock and awe and garner reactions. Mostly of the negative kind. The sweeping statements and the high-handed tone in her article aimed to do just that, I think.

I have been a reader of several mommy blogs for way too long now. I read them with varying degrees of interest, but at times I think WOW, that takes courage or sometimes shake my head and wondering why anyone would want to put themselves and the little being they’ve brought into the world through whatever ordeal the post narrated. Sometimes I am filled with awe and respect, especially when I read the stories of people I think are model parents. There have been stories that rushed me to tears, as well as those that made me angry enough to hit unfollow right away. This is because I read have mixed stories. Both sides. The good, the bad, the ugly. It is most certainly not a “hippie trip” and I don’t know what blogs the author has been reading, but they’re clearly not the right kind, and they’re not enough evidence on which base her assumptions.

I’m not a mother, so I don’t have personal experience to pit against the author’s views and challenge them, but I am a human being with enough sensibilities to know that surely the stuff in her article cannot be true for everybody, as she makes it out to be.

But I was also amused by the piece, because somewhere in it was a sentence that I think is puts India’s obsession with babies in a neat little capsule. Sadly it was lost in the noise of her shrill opinions.

“At the end of the day, parenting is merely foisting the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning on to someone else.”

People choose to have/not have babies for a gamut of reasons, but this sentence really struck a chord; because in my personal experience, in the lives of family and friends around me, I have seen this to be the reason at the crux of it all. And I have seen it backfire horribly. It was like seeing in print, something I have witnessed around me and wondered about a lot.

Not all of us have the clarity to consider the idea of having a baby, a decision that needs thought. And I don’t just mean figuring out the finances and a home to accommodate a new family member, which is what people start figuring out first. I mean just the most basic thing; “Do I really want a baby?” and “Why?” I know its hard to expect a document with a rationally-thought 10-point bullet list of whys, but surely there has got to be a reason, an inkling, a gut feeling, just anything more compelling than:

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Because I cannot deal with the pressure anymore.

Because they think I’m wasting too much time. (And getting old in the bargain)

Because I have nothing else to do.

Because I will have something to call my own.

Because it will give me something to look forward to for the rest of my life.

And here’s my problem with this. Procreation is by no means a private, intimate and personal affair in the lives of most people in India. Ask any of the married girls in the husband’s family and they will tell you that from the moment they were blissfully wed, it becomes everybody’s business how, when and why they must make a baby. Preferably two, in quick succession. I have seen this in subtler forms happen in my own family too, in some friends and extended circles as well.

Procreation is by no means a private, intimate and personal affair in the lives of most people in India.

The reasons above are things I have had thrown at me. They are things people really believe, worry themselves about enough to put lives on pause, and usher in a baby. Some people have even gone so far as to tell me things like the younger I am when I have a child, the longer my child’s life will be. Yes, beat that.

I’ve seen enough women for whom it is just that one all-consuming activity to lose themselves in and emerge victorious with every day that passes, with mastering this motherhood thing a little bit more. It’s just another tick mark in life’s list of to-dos. Chalo, marriage done, five years done, do the next thing on the list or run the risk of forever being called a wayward, unsettled, lost soul.

Once the baby is a reality, it’s hard to go back on it when you realise its not something you are cut out for.  There are a fair lot of children I know, that are just growing like weeds, while their parents watch cluelessly not knowing for many years what is going on around them or with their kids. All because they probably rushed into having a child for one of the reasons above. So even though they might have the finances and the roof over their head sorted, the child they have on their hands is giving them a run for their money.

So yes, not all of us have the clarity or freedom to make this choice. Some of us are clear. Some stubborn. Some stupid, even, if you were to listen to the hundreds of opinions flying by. But its a choice we make and stick by. But many women succumb for a variety of reasons, at the root of which is this need to foist the responsibility of finding your life’s meaning onto a little human being. That is really at the centre of this obsession with procreation.

I’m talking about this attitude that runs heavy in the Indian psyche. Is it really that difficult for people to accept that having a baby is not the ultimate goal for every woman out there? That not every woman has a uterus skipping a couple of heartbeats every time youtube throws up a baby video? That when we watch cute babies and smile its usually because we’re glad we can experience the few good moments, from afar, rather than the horrifying bittersweet journey that it can some times be, up close?

Is it really that difficult for people to accept that having a baby is not the ultimate goal for every woman out there? That not every woman has a uterus skipping a couple of heartbeats every time youtube throws up a baby video?

I came across this article today about how we shouldn’t need a reason not to have babies. With every sentence I read, I was gobsmacked at how it felt like I could have written it. More than being agitated by our general obsession with baby making, I am usually more annoyed by having to constantly give reasons. What is it about this business of babies that makes us Indians so inquisitive? Nosy to the point of asking the most intrusive questions and believe we are entitled to sharing a view, or worse, get answers?

Fortunately or unfortunately, I have seen both sides of the parenting story up close and personal — the wonderfully satisfying and joyous (even with its fair share of illnesses, issues, worries, insecurities etc) journey some people have made it out to be. God knows they have set such wonderful examples that if I ever go down this path, they will be responsible for it, in some part. As well as the disaster it can be if the parents involved are unclear, not on the same page and not open to figuring it out together. Because heck, nobody ever knows in advance what its going to be like.

I turn 30 this year and I don’t have baby plans brewing. I am acutely aware of my ticking body clock, and it does not make me want to rush it. I have thought about the possible scenario of waking up at 40 and suddenly wanting babies. I’m aware that there’s a 50% chance I will probably be a miserable mess, if it ever comes to it. But I will deal with it then, if at all. Because not everything in life can be played out with one eye on the future and one looking back, with the present getting butchered in the bargain. And it most certainly can’t be played out that way, with the responsibility of raising a child thrown in.

But there is also a 50% chance things will work out beautifully. That my hunch that I am not a full-time baby person turns out to be true. That I will get my fair share of babies through friends and relatives who will continue to procreate like its going out of style. Maybe I will finally give in and let the husband get us a pair of doggies that we can love, nurture and look after. Or maybe none of this will even matter because beyond a point the family will lose interest, give up on me and my barren uterus that never seems to have any good news to share.

At least I will have the peace of mind that comes from knowing I didn’t thoughtlessly have a child because I couldn’t deal with the pressure, or that I was losing time, or because I needed something to fill my days, something to call my own and look forward to for the rest of my life. God knows, I needed to think this one out because nothing, and I mean nothing, about the way our country, the environment, education, health and everything else in this crazy world is headed, gives me any confidence at all to bring yet another life into it.

Hopefully at 40, I will have written a book or two, traveled to at least 10 new countries, lived outside of India and done the things I really wanted to. And hopefully I will remember that having a baby was never one of them.

Finally, I remembered this wonderful short piece by Urvashi Bhutalia that talks about life beyond being childless. It’s a part of a collection of stories I love and go back to time and again.

This post was originally published here.

Pic credit: Anais (Used under a Creative Commons license)


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