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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
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