Monday, 28 September 2015

Childfree by Choice- Indrani Mukherjee ((Published in Tehelka Magazine, Volume 12 Issue 40, Dated 3 October 2015))

FOR urban middle class couples, having children is no longer a must. Women are unwilling to carry the burden alone and find happiness without the patter of little feet.

Everybody with a womb doesn’t have to have a child any more than everybody with vocal cords has to be an opera singer.Gloria Steinem | American feminist activist
As A society, we usually function within set milestones, an already charted timeline which we wait for to arrive, whether we are prepared for the events to come or not. A middle class urban woman’s script would read thus: college at 18, job at 22-24, marriage at 26-28 and then the most awaited moment — motherhood. Society — indeed, the whole human race — eagerly awaits this moment which will further our kind, while all responsibility is automatically thrust on the mother. An issue which, in an ideal world, should remain a personal choice is actually dictated by social, ethical and religious constructs in our society. However, women in urban India are increasingly exercising the choice to not have a child. They are seeking to define themselves without treading on the path of motherhood.
Often considered by conservatives to be the ill-suited side-effects of Western culture and lifestyle, the choice of being childless is, as comedian Radhika Vaz puts it, a part of the ‘social change’ that urban India is experiencing with astounding rapidity. Radhika, whose standup acts ‘Unladylike’ and ‘Older, Angrier, Hairier’ have flustered the country, has chosen to not have children.
Purnima, a queer-feminist activist based in New comments, “The decision of not having children liberates women as it allows them to adapt with changing times and break free from constraints.” Like Radhika, Purnima, also in her forties, chose not to have children.
However, to reach the point where a woman can think and act independently, economic freedom is a prerequisite. “Women are in a position where they must be financially solvent in order to be able to take the decision,” says Radhika.
Motherhood has been made out to be a responsibility naturally expected of a woman. The burden of timeless eulogies on the mother figure across history lies heavy on those who choose to steer clear of the path of motherhood. “It takes a lot of courage and maturity to say that I want to do something else with my time. Women have different life-goals as opposed to formulaic standards such as motherhood which are supposed to provide meaning to life,” says Radhika. “That is the beauty of modern society; the ability to make choices on your own,” she adds.
Both Radhika and Purnima emphasise on the kind of rounded introspection it takes to make the choice. While Radhika holds, “The choice was never between career and parenthood. Being a mother is a standalone resolution,” Purnima has another perspective to offer. “I understand the kind of responsibilities motherhood entails and I know my career demands long hours and lots of travelling,” she says. “I may not have been able to take the best care of my children if I had any. The last thing I want is my child to grow up feeling alone, taken care of by nannies,” she reflects.
Piyali Banerjee, a homemaker and part-time tutor in , adds another perspective. Though her schedule is not too hectic, she redefines motherhood by maintaining that her students are no less than biological offspring. “I never felt the urge to have children of my own since I already have my students,” she says. “Motherhood is a matter of personal choice and not what is ‘naturally’ expected of women,” she concludes.
Unfortunately in India, childlessness comes with the sad burden of social stigma which is particularly bitter in rural areas. In a culture that generally glorifies the institution of marriage and eventually motherhood, a childless woman is considered ‘incomplete’. “‘Barren’ women are anomalies in patriarchal structures that want to pass on family legacies through blood relations and transference of property,” says Purnima, who has extensively worked on gender issues in the hinterlands of Uttar Pradesh.
So, are the numbers of women going the childless way concentrated to metropolises? Radhika argues that it is more of an “educated women” phenomenon. Tayana Chatterjee, a professor of English literature in Kolkata, attributes the more lenient social environment in cities to “better standards of education, greater social awareness and the fact that various avenues are open to women through which they can explore themselves.” She points out, “In the past few years, with recession making lives harder for everybody, many have judiciously decided to not having children so as not to compromise with the quality of upbringing.”
Child care is still seen through a gender prism in India. Mothers are automatically expected to make the sacrifices that go with bringing up children. For the father, it is a secondary duty. “But women want to play different roles and seek identities for themselves other than motherhood,” explains Purnima.
However, societal reactions are pointedly hostile towards those who take the leap. It is mostly the women instead of the husbands who have to bear the brunt of discontent from family members and friends. “The societal backlash is unrelenting and ruthless, however sophisticated be its guise,” says Anu Rawat. “Several women in the initial phases lie about being unable to conceive as an explanation for being childless. They continue to grapple with this life-defining decision and simultaneously try to break free from societal expectations,” she adds. Anu maintains a blog ‘Child Free by Choice- India’, a platform for women giving motherhood a miss to share their stories and interact. She regularly receives hatemails for running the blog.
Where are the roots of such lopsided opinions? “Nobody asks a woman if she wants to be a mother. But if you decide not to be one, you face a barrage of questions from all fronts. All those who become mothers are suddenly entitled to heap advice upon us who don’t,” says Radhika.
Yet the pressures of society can at times be the cause of unease for women who choose the road less travelled. Purnima confesses that she sometimes feels insecure when asked about her views on growing old without children.
“One has to have an alternative to family structures in our country,” she says. “Friends are the ones to support you throughout life. Otherwise, the option that remains in old age is a senior living facility,” she says.
However, the picture is not all bleak for Radhika. Advancing age is no cause for her to lose her sense of self-sufficiency and wallow in the regret of having nobody to look after her.
To sum up the complexity of the situation, we are reminded of who ends her essay in Of Mothers and Others: Stories, Essays, Poems with the lines: “So what do we have in the end? The ‘naturalness’ of motherhood? The ‘curse’ of childlessness? The dread of barrenness? A life filled with lack, with loss of what might have been? Or just another way of living? A choice, happenstance, circumstance, call it what you like, but for me, it’s a happy, contented, fulfilled life, despite — or perhaps because of — being what is called ‘childless’.”

Friday, 24 April 2015

Whose Choice is it?- Vidushi Rastogi

I have a womb and I might not want to fill it,
I could have an emotion but I might not want to feel it.
I might seek a path that has no destination,
I might want to live a life that has no obligation.

I have been writing itsy bitsy articles about the repercussions of resting all the rights (or not)  of bearing a child with the woman. I never found it more compelling to be vocal about this, before I read a paparazzi article about Rick Salomon accusing his partner and popular celebrity Pamela Anderson to have undergone abortions without knowledge of her partners. Truth to this allegation seems to be slim as it comes as a backlash after her restraining order against him. However it has reignited the age-old issue – what is the purview of right of a man to father a child?
This question is becoming more and more overt as women are becoming self aware and career oriented. Even in developing South Asian countries like India, there is rise in women deciding to stay childfree at least in metropolitan demographics. Recently an Indian girl, Indhuja made a website for her matrimonial alliance in which she has bluntly stated her choice of staying child free. The webpage went viral and even garnered positive response. And very recently a video filmed by Homi Adjania for Vogue Empower, featuring Indian actress Deepika Padukone asserts that it is a woman’s choice to bear a child or not. The keyword is ‘choice’. It is not a moral or biological obligation anymore and her partner should let her have a say in this.
Ideally bearing a child should be a couple’s decision but in a situation where woman has conceived and doesn’t want to carry it, while her partner wants to father the child, what should be the stance of the woman or the man? It is a paradoxical situation where religious, societal and ethical values govern individual decisions. The woman may argue that it is her body, which has to nurture the fetus and feed the infant. She has to undergo all the physical and emotional changes. The man may argue that nature waiving off all the physical responsibility of bearing a child from him, should not mean that he is the lesser parent. He also undergoes emotional changes and can equally share the responsibility of raising an infant. Since women have a womb and men don’t, it is relatively easy to be biased towards women though it is not fully just.
Staying child free must not be an individual decision. And abortion certainly should not be one. Since conceiving a child requires both the partners, the choice of opting out bringing forth a progeny should also be their mutual decision. The ideal scenario would be to arrive at an understanding at the very beginning of the relationship, but should conflict arise later, the resolution should be arrived at jointly by both  stakeholders. It is however debatable whether religion and/or society are stakeholders or not.
It could not emphasized more that it is time that the choice of a woman to not bear a child should be respected and childless couples should not be biased against in society. The human society as a whole is becoming more accommodative of alternate choices and this how  civilizations thrive.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Childless by Divine Protection! By Kim Menier

Hi everyone!

Anu asked me if I would consider writing on this blog about my own experience as a childless

person. I’m no expert, but I hope that my story might be helpful to some of you who might be thinking

about the possibility of a childless future. While I call myself “childless by choice”, I should be honest

and tell you that I am childless by circumstance/ divine protection and thankful, after-the-fact, that

things worked out this way.

I grew up in a middle class home in the US, primarily raised by a single mother who had never

completed her college degree. I was raised a Catholic and attended Catholic schools but have never

really had an affinity for organized religion. My parents had a bitter divorce, and my mother was

overwhelmed by and unprepared for the task of raising children by herself. I assumed many of the

duties of taking care of my younger siblings (I am the oldest of four) when I was 11 because I wanted to

help, and I somehow knew that my mother was not up to the task. We were tight on money, and I spent

many hours listening to my mother’s problems and often dire concerns about our future. While I didn’t

dislike the role, I wanted to be like other kids my age, and that I wanted a different life when the time

came to go out on my own. No childhood is perfect, but mine seemed to be several standard deviations

from perfect, at least in my mind.

By the time I was in high school, I knew that my “way out” was through education, and I put my energy

towards getting into a good college. I was fortunate; I was offered admittance to a prestigious university

in a different state along with a full academic scholarship, and I accepted. Before I left for school, my

mother and I had a conversation about the future. She told me that I didn’t have to have children. She

also told me that if she had the opportunity to do things over again, she wouldn’t have kids. This was not

meant to be cruel, but rather as a “truth”. In retrospect, I think she realized that she was not properly

prepared for parenthood, and that she had not done a very good job at it. My father was largely absent

from my childhood, but he apparently felt the same way. While visiting him on one occasion, he let slip

that our visit had interfered with his plans for the weekend, but it wasn’t the first time. He went on to

say that I personally had dashed his plans of attending medical school when my mother became

pregnant unexpectedly. The arrival of my siblings had sealed his fate.

After graduation from college, I started into my career, eventually went to graduate school, and for the

most part, did not think about marriage or family. My focus was first on survival. I had no idea if I could

make it on my own, let alone think about caring for children. I also didn’t seem to have that loudly

ticking “biological clock” that my friends talked about, and when I dated, I didn’t think about whether

the guy was good “father material” or not as they did. I was completely absorbed in my career, making

something of myself, being in control of my destiny, and frankly, in enjoying myself for the first time in

my life.

When I was 29, I married a guy that I considered my equal. By then I had established myself as a working

anthropologist with a good understanding of consumer insights and a good reputation. I had moved to

New York and was working as an account planner at a major advertising agency. My husband was a

rising star at a major music label, and things looked bright. We had talked about having children when

we were dating, but it was never a major topic of discussion. We both liked kids, but it was clearly

something we would do “later”. After we married, he began to ease up in his work schedule to the point

that I worried it would affect his employment. It did, and he lost his job. He looked for another job, but

quickly became discouraged. Since I was working, there was no pressure to start working again.  In an

attempt to motivate him, I arranged to take a job in Los Angeles in hopes that the change in scenery

would help him find another job in his industry. Over the next seven years, he was unable to find stable

employment and became more and more dependent upon me. During that time, I had two miscarriages,

both of which I was sad for, but also secretly relieved about due to “timing”. The marriage began to

unravel, and we discussed our options. We decided that, if we were going to stay married and have kids,

we needed a fresh start.

I took a job north of New York City, thinking that my husband being “home” again would inspire him to

get back to work, and that living outside a big city would be a good family atmosphere. A few months

after returning to New York, we experienced the 9/11 attacks. A month later, I found out completely by

accident that my husband was having an affair with a woman in Los Angeles. Oddly, it was a relief.

Because the economy had largely come to a standstill in the weeks following 9/11, I had a good deal of

time to think about things. Ruminating over my criteria for having a child, I realized that I met the most

important criteria for parenthood: I was emotionally stable and financially capable of taking care of

children. I didn’t have the solid relationship I wanted, but I didn’t need it. I was relieved that I did not

have children with this man because I no longer wanted him in my life. But even more importantly, I

realized that had I really wanted kids, the aforementioned criteria wouldn’t have mattered. I would have

found a “work around”.   I was in my mid-thirties, the time women begin to believe they are in the home

stretch of their childbearing years, and I felt no remorse or anxiety about being childless. For me,

parenthood was not the greatest of all life experiences, but rather “checking the box”. Circumstances

had not been working against me; somehow, the universe was looking out for me. I felt relief.

Some people believe that being childless is a selfish act. Furthermore, some individuals believe that our

only true responsibility in life is to bear children. I even had a scientist tell me that, as a woman, I was no

longer biologically relevant after 40 because my ability to bear children is, for the most part, gone. I


I love kids. I also love it when they go home! Being a parent, in my opinion, is a full-time job - if you want

a crack at success. Raising children is the most important undertaking that an individual will experience,

because the result cannot be written off as a bad debt, a failed marketing effort, business bankruptcy or

otherwise. It’s serious shit. I had experience raising kids when I was a kid. Maybe that’s why

motherhood did not call out loudly to me. What did call out loudly and strongly was to make a success

of myself in a different way - through my career.

Today, I run a successful software company that would not have been possible if I was trying to juggle

family and career. Admittedly, I’m not a very successful multitasker! In this role, I provide the means by

which a number of people support their families, many of whom do have children. I offer and support

working conditions that are conducive to families: flexible work hours, job sharing, telecommuting,

extended parental leave, etc. I have the time and resources to support political and philanthropic efforts

that support kids, and I do. My latest effort is to bring a resource to disadvantaged high school

sophomores, juniors and seniors that will help them identify the best college majors, schools and

careers for them based on their interests and experiences. I am a senior fellow at the honors residential

college at a major university. My company provides paid internships for pre-college age kids who are

thinking about a career in software development. You get the picture.

Sometimes people ask me what will happen to me when I get old with no children to take care of me.

It’s a fair question. Sometimes I look at my nieces and nephews, when they’re being good, and wonder

what my life would have been like if I had had children. And then I think about the people I know who

have children that they don’t speak to, or don’t have time for them or only begrudgingly engage out of

duty. If I play my cards right, I hope to have people in my life at that time were there because they want

to be there. Anything can happen; so far, so good.