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My choice to remain childfree after marriage was such a deviance from Indian norms, that I became a part of a PhD study on the subject!
Trigger Warning: This deals with shaming of women for being childfree and graphic descriptions of violence, as well as loss of loved ones and grief, and may be triggering for survivors.
I have been called many things in life – selfish, irresponsible, arrogant, inauspicious and a witch. I may or may not be any of these. But what I am is unapologetically me, a deviant, for I chose to stray from societal norms.
My choice to remain childfree after marriage was such a deviance from Indian norms that I became a part of a PhD study on the subject! The study was called “Delaying or Rejecting Parenthood: Decision-making process by childfree couples” conducted by social researcher Chandni Bhambhani. Her research was motivated by the fact that childlessness studies in India focus exclusively on childlessness due to infertility.
Her objective was to study reasons why some Indian couples of healthy reproductive age chose to not have children; to uncover the narratives of couples who deliberately decided to remain childfree.
In her research, Chandni found that couples who chose to remain childfree faced judgments, questions, comments, and disrespect from their friends, families and acquaintances. Many from family and friends could not accept this life decision by the couple.
In her words, “While in my participants’ perception their decisions were a manifestation of their reflections on what their dispositions, priorities and aspirations in life were, and they could reflect on them by the virtue of their higher education, exposure to other lifestyles and cultures, and economic independence, however, to others it marked a deviation from the norms and normative expectations.”
I was one of the subjects of Chandini’s study and this is my story. A first-hand experience of what “deviants” like me and my partner go through.
It was one of the coldest nights of 2007, when my would be life partner and I sat down at one of the fanciest open-air restaurants in Gurgaon called Odyssey to discuss what we felt about having children. We both did not want to start our lives with any ambiguity or suppression of facts. We did not want any surprises later on or have unreasonable expectations of each other. And so began our conversation on the subject, and thankfully we both found out within minutes that neither of us wanted children.
It was 2008, barely two months after we’d tied the knot when our relatives, acquaintances far and wide including our maid began getting worried sick for us! Some were angry and some even threw us out of their social circles. Believe it or not, few even cursed me saying I was a “selfish witch who would die alone.” And that “my neighbours would report a stench coming from my house and only then would people discover my rotting corpse, with my hungry cat gnawing at my face!”
As graphic as that sounds, it does not afflict me. I could not convince myself to bring a soul into the world for a selfish reason, just to have someone to take care of me in my old age and on my deathbed. I find it selfish and furthermore, this is not always true.
Happy as we were with our decision, others were not. They refused to believe that we were childfree by choice. They were more worried about our future than us.
Though the decision was ours jointly, society conveniently assumes it is the woman’s fault for not having children, for it is her duty to give birth. If she does not convince her husband to help her achieve the ‘completeness of motherhood’ then it is also her fault. Few women even felt insulted at my choice. They felt being childfree by choice and not being apologetic about it was a personal attack on them.
While I can quote statistics to prove childfree people are 12% more charitable than their parents of the same age and 42% of charitable foundations were created by childfree people. I would rather share something personal, a heart to heart on why I wear the tag of a ‘witch’ with pride.
I have seen the tradition of being taken care of by one’s children in old age being broken. The so-called insurance for old age, is often cashed out pretty soon.
Here are the stories of a couple of people I know.
Phuphu’s story: Abandoned by her husband, she worked as a maid in the entire society. We call her ‘phuphu’. Her son was educated with us in the best school and in the most expensive in the city. The son did well in his life. Reputed job, nice wife with two sons, and a good amount of money. But his mother died homeless on the road. This story is not from a movie from the 60’s or the 70’s. It actually happened in a small town in the 90’s.
His son never came back: A widower kept on waiting for his only son to return home. His son never did. He had met with an accident. It’s been almost ten years, but his eyes have not dried yet. They well up every evening when he sees youngsters who would be of his son’s age playing cricket.
Left alone: A couple in their twilight years wait endlessly for their son and daughter to return from abroad. They had not seen them in years, for their children had migrated abroad after getting a job and getting married. The son and daughter they raised left them to live their own independent lives.
I know enough such stories to negate my friend’s advice that having children is insurance for old age. That they will take care of us when we are old no matter what.
Besides, I would not like to weigh down anyone with that kind of responsibility. I may be responsible for my parents; but it is my choice. It’s a choice for a child to take care of the parents. It is not an obligation. It should not be thrust on them either by society or by family. It is too heavy a burden for anyone to carry, if coerced.
It all began with an internal strife. The world statistics of unemployment, pollution, inequality all stared me in the face and I wondered – “do I have the moral right to bring a soul in this world when I know for sure that neither is the world perfect, nor do I have the means to ensure that my child won’t suffer on any account?”
Research done by Chandni too reflects that procreation is an expectation rather than a rationally thought out plan.
True, there are success stories too. Inspirational stories of people with limited resources changing the world. Those are the ones we remember. We don’t even know the ones who perished in the world, unloved, and unfulfilled.
I am not looking at the glass half empty or full. I am looking at this as a roll of a dice. And I am not a gambling person. It just did not feel right for me to bring a person in this world to struggle. I know I am no queen whose heir would live a lavish life without having to work or struggle in order to survive.
The second reason was a no brainer for me. I am the only child of my parents, and my mother was often ill. I remember taking care of her since the age of seven. Her health was very difficult to predict. When I was staying at Gurgaon, I could rush to her aid in 2 to 4 hours. And I would always think to myself – “would I be able to rush to mom if I had a child with me? If my mother and child were ill at same time, would I be able to rush to my mother’s side? Who would I choose?”
My mother said, “choose the kid, I will manage. It is normal way of life.” I was not choosing any. No matter, who I would choose, I would be guilty for not choosing one.
I can see a lot of reactions saying, “what absurd reasons you have given. Everyone does that, what’s a big deal. That’s the way world works.” That is where the world is ‘deviant’. I do not put a lot of stock in the ways of the world. I go with what feels right, even though it may be illogical or ridiculous.
To an extent, I do understand the kind of person I am. Responsibilities always take front seat for me. I did not want to create more responsibilities.
I love my job. Data science is a fine balance of art and science, which I love. I want to focus on my career without any guilt. My passion is not limited to my career only. I love writing and being childfree has given me the weekends to pursue my passion. Today, I am a published author, with my books being critically acclaimed. I would not have had the energy or time to balance it and be happy. Happiness is what I would not exchange for anything. Both my profession and my passion make me happy and I would not like to be pulled away from them.
I like my calendar to be unpredictable on weekends. I want to indulge in the moment, enjoying the little things, uninterrupted. I want to binge watch anything I want on Netflix or Amazon Prime from Friday evening to Sunday morning, with a tub of tender coconut and lychee ice-cream and wafers (cheating on the healthy diet plan). I relish this freedom and would not like to be forced to get up just to set an example, or just to give a hungry child breakfast. I do not want my timetable to be dictated by school or by anyone, least of all someone who would be dependent on me.
Being childfree, we are able to take risks like relocating to Hyderabad from Gurgaon in one weeks time. We could not have done the same if there was a child in our lives.
I took a leap of faith, when I started my own work after leaving my job. The experiment was successful, but not to the degree I wanted. Yes, in that way, to an extent, I failed. I came out wiser for it. But if I had a child or children, I could never have taken the risk and learnt from my failures.
Today, I am successful in my career as people I work with trust me. I am dependable professionally. And I have achieved an impossible dream that I had of being a published writer. I have a happening, happy and content life. When people whisper behind my back calling me a witch or other names, it does not bother me. For I am loving every bit of being childfree. There has not been a single day since 2008, when (in some context or the other) we have not exclaimed, ‘Thank God! We chose to be childfree!”
Image source: Monkey Business Images Free for Canva Pro
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