Monday, 27 April 2015

Why I don't want to be a mother

When I was in love with the person I thought was the man of my dreams, one romantic night I told him, "I want to have your baby. I think he or she will be wonderful. Because you and I are wonderful." Or something to that effect, the crux of the matter being that I wanted to be a mother of his baby. This was when I was in my early 20s. Flash forward to a few months after marriage, in my late 20s, when my husband and I are sleeping on the bed next to each other after a passionate round of love-making, and we make a pact that we'll have kids after two years of married life. That sounded like a good time to give yourself before you think of adding to the family. Two years. A nice, rounded ring to it, I thought.

A year into the marriage, and a few very delayed periods and frantic home pregnancy tests later, I realised that the idea of babies had not yet sunk into my consciousness. I was not yet "ready" to be a mother. A gynaecologist told me that my irregular period and menstrual cycle meant that I should be planning pregnancy "as soon as possible". I nodded frantically at her, all the while just wanting to get out of the room and breathe. It sounded like one of those tests I must take to make through womanhood. And from a gynaecologist's mouth, it comes out all the more clinical, and thus scarier.

My husband was very disappointed of my panic attacks on the subject. "You'll keep giving excuses to not be pregnant, I think. You are merely biding for time, delaying it," he said accusingly. I promised him I'll be ready soon, "just give me another year". He was (and is) very keen on being a father. He is of that stoic, strong kind that can take any trouble in the world in their stride. Even if he was stuck in an island in a thuderstorm with water rising at 1m per minute, he'll be composed and find a rescue measure before the water reaches his neck. He and I are the perfect polar opposites when it comes to action and reaction.

But another year passed, and luckily, despite not taking any precautions, I never conceived, thanks to my irregular menstrual cycle. I have never loved my uterus and ovaries more than at that time, when they were happily unyielding to any sort of fertility calculations based on previous cycles. All through these months, I spent a lot of time observing babies and their mothers and fathers, and thinking hard about what having children actually entails. Finally, my husband, who was steadily losing patience with my reproductive system for not bearing any fruit of his sweat-filled, breath-taking labour, told me that I should see a gynaecologist and see if I need any treatment to conceive. That was when I truly hit the panic button.

"Nonononononono!" I screamed. "I am NOT taking any treatment in order to conceive. I don't mind if it happens as a matter of due course. But there's no way I'm pumping hormones or chemicals into my system in order to reproduce! I REFUSE to make things worse for myself! NO WAY!" He lost his temper and we had an argument that ended in both of us crying and blaming each other for being selfish.

He refused to participate in the discussion on the topic any more. He told me to "do whatever you like". Which is of course his way of telling me that he is upset with my decision, doesn't support it and hence it is an unauthorised, brattish decision.

After this, I spent time thinking this whole child-bearing thing VERY seriously. I went through the pros and cons diligently. I spoke to my best friends about it (and luckily they supported my view. Even the ones that were already pregnant and the one that loves kids herself). I wrote a short story on it hoping that it would give vent to some of my worries and help achieve closure on some points. I made mental notes on every child I came across, every mother, every father. And try what I may, I could not endear the idea of child-bearing to me any more. The girl who wanted to have her lover's child seemed to have committed suicide. The romance of pregnancy - where the husband makes coffee for you in the morning and leans against your tummy to hear your child's heartbeat - and of child-rearing - where the baby smiles in its sleep and the five-year-old tells her class "my mom is the best because she tells me stories every night" - lost its fancy. The stark reality of nine months of creating a human being from scratch and ruining your hormonal make-up in the process, of spending months not sleeping to ensure proper breast-feeding, diaper changing and vaccination, of spending even more years watching out for the child in the playground trying to prevent it from falling off the swing and attending endless PTA meetings, and finally looking at a grown-up who probably thinks you ruined their life, hit me like a hurricane. An unborn child's entire life passed in front of my eyes in parts, depending on which phase of the baby's life I was thinking about on a given day. And that life demanded my complete attention and devotion. There was no two way about it - a child = the biggest responsibility on Earth. And anyone who knows me knows that while I probably don't shirk from taking up responsibilities, I am NO GOOD at handling them.

This thinking and contemplating and considering pros and cons finally ended in me telling myself that I would hate to be a mother. Apart from that BIG responsibility of child-rearing, my personality and character also do not support motherhood. While it's true that I'm a loving, caring, fun, dadeedah kind of person, I'm also attention-seeking, self-centred, lazy, and prefer the social circle to the "domestic" circle. The one mother I know inside out is a self-sacrificing freak, my own. The other mothers I've observed in the two years of my pondering, are all at various levels of awesomeness. They have either sacrificed their own lives, careers and wishes to become traditional, dedicated mothers - some willingly, some out of lack of choice and yet others with a vengeance - or they have achieved that level of perfection in modern motherhood that includes maintaining a size zero figure, wonderfully appearing to maintain work-life balance, and becoming supermommies who attend their children's school events, help them with homework, tell them bedtime stories regularly and cook delectable continental dishes for their children's pajama parties.

Altogether I do not seem to fit either category. I am not beautiful, and nurture no hopes of being a bombshell mother - for the sheer reason that I already have a huge gastrically bloated belly and a disproportionate figure, and do not think that motherhood is going to leave me any chance of improving my shape. I do not think I'd have the patience to host parties for my kids - and if I do, all they'd get is instant mix Tang Orange flavour and bowlfuls of Maggi with green peas and cheese added. I do not think I'd ever be able to maintain my work-life balance, because I already cannot, even without any kids or any huge amounts of house work. Of course I'll rock in telling bedtime stories and helping with homeworks and bonding with my kids' teachers, but that's probably about all my child would be happy to have me around for - for being a social hit in his circles, but then again, perhaps s/he might also worry that I'd embarrass them with my overt social personality. With the next generation, you can never tell which way they'll swing.

The second category - that of of a traditional, dedicated mother, like mine, is totally impossible. I never give up anything I like in favour of anyone else on this planet. I have never done it, and those who think that I'll "get used to doing it once I have that bundle of joy in my arms" are either too optimistic or do not know me at all. That seems to be the primary problem "people", including my husband, have. They think I shall somehow "change" and the milk of human kindness and motherhood will rise in me the moment I find out I am pregnant, or at least the moment I hold my own flesh and blood in my arms. My husband and I thought that I will "improve" (because of course I am a bad girl that needs disciplining, but that is for another day's talk) after marriage, that somehow magically I will become this superwife, taking care of the husband, the house, and the in-laws. And we all know how dramatically I have failed in that. For my husband to still have faith in my "changing", is nothing short of the greatest hope humanity holds for itself.

Another point angrily noted during my wonderings on the topic was the fact that the child is totally and unquestionably the mother's responsibility - always. Those who think that modern urban couples and families do not foster any such sexist role-stereotyped ideas are deluding themselves. I have watched several fathers doing nothing with the child except help carry them while the mothers are shopping or having lunch and dinner, and eventually handing over the babies to the mother or the grandmother or the aunt - a female member anyway - when the child becomes too difficult to control. Because men have convinced themselves that children are just not their cuppatea. You can ask a man to build a study table from the scratch and he'll do it for you in a span of 72 hours, sweaty and smiling, but ask them to take care of your child for a matter of two days while you want to go for a mini vacation with your girlfriends, and they panic. "Ohnonononono, I can't handle the kid. You can't leave it with me. I have work to do! How can you go away just like that! It's your baby!" You get the drill. The underlined point being that the child is "your responsibility". And whatever the husband does to "help you out" during the child-rearing years, he is only going to help, not going to take the responsibility into his hands. And of course, refusing to accept that responsibility will probably end in people doubting whether you are a woman. Women are, by default, supposed to be motherly and take care of ALL needs of the child (and the rest of the family too, of course). And men are, by default, not expected to even know all the needs of a child. My husband does not even live up to my expectations of a house partner, which gives me no confidence that he'd be anything great as a father. And that means we are back to the original argument, that child-bearing and rearing are enormous responsibilities, which I am not ready for.

Another thing about me is that I am quite dedicated to my work. Not only the profession - subbing - but also my writing. Whether I get published every second day or not (not - it's a fact), I am reading and writing all the time. Once a baby comes into my life, at least for the first 12-15 years, I cannot expect to have any energy, creativity, will power or time to write, even if I do manage to finish reading a book a month. I do not think I will ever be a world-renowned writer, but the little fame and self-satisfaction I aim to have for myself will never be achievable. It also probably means that with the baby added to my list of responsibilities, I'm more than likely to botch the results of every single of my responsibility.

In 'How to be a woman', Caitlin Moran says something that completely appealed to me. She says, "Every woman who chooses — joyfully, thoughtfully, calmly, of her own free will and desire — not to have a child does womankind a massive favor in the long term. We need more women who are allowed to prove their worth as people, rather than being assessed merely for their potential to create new people...While motherhood is an incredible vocation, it has no more inherent worth than a childless woman simply being who she is, to the utmost of her capabilities. To think otherwise betrays a belief that being a thinking, creative, productive, and fulfilled woman is, somehow, not enough."

Plainly enough, after threshing out all these thoughts and many more, I arrived at the conclusion that I never want to have a child of my own. That I do not need a child to complete me, that I feel complete in myself. Moran in her book says, "...deciding not to have children is a very, very hard decision for a woman to make: the atmosphere is worryingly inconducive to saying, 'I choose not to,' or 'It all sounds a bit vile, tbh.' We call these women 'selfish'. The inference of the word 'childless' is negative: one of lack, and loss. We think of nonmothers as rangy lone wolves — rattling around, as dangerous as teenage boys or men. We make women feel that their narrative has ground to a halt in their thirties if they don’t 'finish things' properly and have children. Men and women alike have convinced themselves of a dragging belief: that somehow women are incomplete without children. Not the simple biological 'fact' that all living things are supposed to reproduce, and that your legacy on earth is the continuation of your DNA— but something more personal, insidious, and demeaning."

It took me months to gather up the courage to tell my husband this. And when I did, the reaction I got was typical - that I am being selfish, that I do not ever think of what he wants (which is to be a father), and a whole lot of crying and sulking. And as a horrible anti-climax, after getting that decision out in the open, both of us have decided to shelve it for discussion at a later date - perhaps the next time my periods are delayed and I am hormonally charged for a fight - without arriving at a consensus. I secretly think that he expects me to "fall in line eventually" and thinks that my decision is a result of overthinking and overreacting. Like most women, I have a problem getting people to take me seriously. Added to the femininity is my petite body, cute-baby face and bubbliness, which people misunderstand for childishness instead of what it really is - taking sheer pleasure in pleasure. People smile, lose temper, or wave dismissedly when I lose my cool over overuse of plastic among consumers. Or start talking about the various regressive 'isms' that dot our society. But that does not mean that my convictions are not worth a thought. As Moran says, "[It is] As if a woman somehow remains a child herself until she has her own children — that she can only achieve 'elder' status by dint of having produced someone younger. That there are lessons that motherhood can teach you that simply can’t be replicated elsewhere — and every other attempt at this wisdom and self-realization is a poor and shoddy second. Like mothers can graduate with honors from Harvard, while the best the childless can manage is a high school equivalency diploma."

My decision of not wanting to have a child is perhaps as beneficial to my husband as it is to me - considering my volatile nature, I might walk out of the relationship tomorrow and that'll leave either him or me saddled with a baby that we both will have no idea how to answer to. In the end, the fact also remains that he has made no effort to convince me that having a child is a beautiful situation. He has only made me feel more inadequate by the day by pointing out that I am inefficient in everything I do. But when I turn the same phrase around for my benefit in this child argument, I get branded as insensitive and selfish. If knowing myself well and deciding for myself that I have a choice in this child-bearing business, if I have done something wrong, then I say, so be it. I don't mind rotting in the seventh level of hell on duty dereliction charges.