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An increasing number of women in India are opting to be childfree by choice; no, they are not anti-social or child-haters.
By Melanie Lobo
“So, when are we going to hear the pitter patter of feet around your house,” is a question often asked of women who have been married for a few years or even newly married women. In India, it is the norm for women to ‘settle down’ and have babies in order to achieve the ‘happily ever after’. However, nowadays, there are also couples choosing to have a life without children and happy about it as well. There are many reasons why people would choose to have a life without children. Some do not particularly feel the need for a child. Others feel that it is too big a responsibility or that they can have a better lifestyle without a child.
Women with no children are sometimes thought of as rebelling against Nature and face a lot of pressure to act ‘before the biological clock ticks’. The decision by any individual or couple to not have a child is a very personal one and should be respected.
In our conversations with women who opted not to have children, some of the reasons cited were:
Career derailment: Some feel that having a child interferes with a career for women. Once the baby is born, it is usually the mother who gives up her job (or cuts back) to bring up her child. Uththra Sridharan, 27, is Director of a company in the oil and gas industry. She is quite sure that she does not ever want to have a child. She says that she is very career oriented and does not want the responsibility of a child. “I’m not born to create life”, she adds, “I’m not cut out to be a mother”. Uththra runs her own company and feels that having a child will mean the loss of her own life. She states that she did not start her company to hand it over to her heirs. She would prefer to hand it over to a competent person. Uththra has felt this way about motherhood since she was a teenager and is sure that she will not change her mind. Although single right now, she is emphatic that she will inform her husband to be of this personal choice before they get married.
Health Issues: Some women or men who have illnesses like autoimmune diseases or other conditions that can be passed on genetically choose not to have a child so that the child will not inherit the illness. Priya Premkumar, 38, a homemaker, suffers from epilepsy and has been on medication since she was 15 years old. This medication has a chance of causing fetal abnormality and it was her husband who insisted that they never have a child. He felt that it would not be wise to risk either her health or the child’s. Priya and her husband do not feel that they are missing out on any aspect in their lives.
We are the fancy babysitters – we do not have to stay 24 hours with them, yet we can experience a few fun hours with them…
On the contrary, they are able to do a lot of things that other couples cannot. “We are able to travel when we want, we can indulge other kids of friends and family members. We are the fancy babysitters – we do not have to stay 24 hours with them, yet we can experience a few fun hours with them,” she says. Priya’s family is progressive and has accepted her decision. Her in-laws are orthodox, completely against adoption and are not aware of the situation at all – it was her husband’s decision not to tell them. Priya feels that as a couple they have become very close. They knew right from the beginning what they wanted and it has not marred their personal happiness in any way. They could have adopted but did not want to isolate the child since once set of grandparents did not want any part of it. “The decision was not made abruptly; it was more progressive, it just became part of us, rather than being forced upon us,” is how she sums it up.
Financial instability is another cause for some couples to stay childfree.
What is new perhaps is the “active choice” to have or not have a child as opposed to earlier generations, where children were a given. Geetali Tare, 43, who is employed in the Civil Services, is single now but was once married. Both she and her ex-husband jointly agreed that they did not want to have kids. Geetali did not want the responsibility of a child and does not believe that “women have to have a maternal instinct”. She did not feel that she had the skills to cope with a child. Looking back now she feels it was the best decision that she could have taken. She had a list of things to do in her life and she has accomplished most of them.
She is emphatic when she says that did not want to resent her child for having had to make certain sacrifices. She says, “Parenthood is a lifestyle responsibility and one should not go into it unknowingly. There are many adjustments and it is not fair to blame the child for the decisions you take after motherhood.” Geetali also feels that motherhood is not restricted to the biological production of a child. She (and her ex-husband) looked after their nieces, one from the time she was a baby, another when she was a college going girl. She is not a person who dislikes children. She just does not want them ‘full time’. She would much rather be the ‘fun aunt’.
Parenthood is a lifestyle responsibility and one should not go into it unknowingly. There are many adjustments and it is not fair to blame the child for the decisions you take after motherhood.
Her in-laws and her own mother, with whom this decision has not gone down well, told her that they would bring up the child. She feels this is not correct and will not change her mind. She has met with opposition from other family members and friends. So much so, that she now claims she has medical problems which prevents her from having a child.
Geetali, Uththra, Aditi and Priya are all women with no children, yet they are not women who dislike children. They just do not want to have a child of their own. If you are in a similar situation, it is important to accept your decision and to move on with your life. Trust your instincts if you find that you keep second guessing yourself.
Do not give into pressure by family or friends – you don’t owe anyone else a child! The worse mistake you could make is to have a child to please other people. Becoming a parent is a life altering decision and one that should be made by a couple who genuinely desire to have a child in their lives.
Melanie Lobo is a freelance writer. She grew up in cities across India but now
I was touched to read this story. I grew up in Philadelphia and knew many Indian women and girls who grappled with the narrative that they were expected to breed children even when they felt it was not for them, and that they had other great gifts to offer the world.
Two of these friends of my youth went on to become respected scientists, one in a biomedical field. Another became a surgeon. One became a musician, another a fabric artist. My favorite is the friend who became a stay at home child free wife. Her “radical homemaking” skills are a model for rethinking what home life can be in the 21st century.
Two of these women have no men in their lives; the others have found male partners who share these values and goals. It is one of the joys of my life to see how they have been able to make the choices that are right for them and so enriching of society, rather than doing what was expected, whether or not it was the best use of their energies and skills.
Great job on this story!
it is true that today’s generation is very career oriented in this competitive world.But wherefrom this attitude would have come into existence,had the previous generation thought the same way.people should for a joint family concept to avoid this undigestive situation.
In every generation there will be people who desire to be parents and people who don’t. Those who choose to have kids will happily create the next generation and the child-free ones can be happy with their choice. Everyone happy if personal choices are respected; nothing ‘undigestive’ about it 🙂
Thanks for sharing this story with me. It is wonderful to hear the voices of these young women from India on this deeply personal topic. Often, such candor, particularly in the western world can come across as negative or defensive. This strikes me as so very positive. May the approach catch on!
Its been 4 years of marriage, none of us feel up to the responsibilty that having a child brings. I want to know and make friends with such couples as life is getting boring when all my friends are too busy with their kids.
Hi Shallu ,can we be friends.?..Im happily chikdfree too…:)
You are so right. We do not owe it to anyone to have kids. I am 30 and single. Although I adore little babies, I just cannot imagine myself having one. Having kids has never been on my agenda. When I told this to my Mom, she said I must be the ONLY woman in the world to feel like this. I told her that’s not true and showed her this article 🙂 There is a myth, not only in the Indian society, that EVERY woman has a strong natural desire to reproduce and hold a baby in her arms, and that she feels unfulfilled/incomplete without this. But the truth is that some women are just not that into it !
I like what you wrote..I have a spouse n we are childfree..can we be friends? 🙂
I respect your choice..But if women feel so, they should communicate it clear and loud well before marriage, rather than keeping it a secret and declaring it after marriage and screwing the dreams of many men..
Please marry only men who consent to your wish
I too agree with you Shreela, individual traits or circumstances whatsoever may be the reason, one should learn to move ahead with their lives without bothering about others. Me and my husband love kids but achieving motherhood has been a really difficult task for me ,as I have suffered repeated miscarriages and went through severe medications of high dosages and consulted top physicians.Popping 100’s of pills and injecting myself ‘n’ no. Of times deteriorated my health. At this point of time we decided to stop and never thought back. Many people suggested us to go for adoption, but we both were deeply doubtful about the psychological impacts it may have on us as being called “adoptive parents” and the acceptance of the adopted child within our extended family, their support , the background of the adopted child might keep on haunting me through out my life and I may not do justice with his or her upbringing. Further more when the child grows up and knows reality it surely will be psychogically stressful. Hence, our conclusion was to be happy with what we have and be thankful to God for it rather than cribbing for things we dont have.
My story resembles yours Namita
i hate kids.
Married for 11 years, childree and loving it!
Hi….Reshma, can we be friends..?.Im childfree too, my friends are so much preoccupied with their children..i feel bored./I guess we think alike..:)
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