Friday, February 29, 2008

Beyond the obvious

The married gals in the office were discussing something the other day. The topic veered around having kids and one of them remarked that with the birth of her first child, it felt like the child had taken the best out of her, because she never felt healthy after that. The other girls agreed. They too felt that after the birth of their kids, their health had taken a beating. They all loved their kids to bits by the way. This was general women talk.

So I asked them why they had kids! The answers were interesting. Some had a child because the in laws or parents wanted grand kids, some had a kid because hubby wanted and some because friends advised that delaying kids was not such a good idea. Not a single girl had a child because they wanted one. Of course they all wanted kids, but because it was ingrained in them by upbringing and societal compulsions.

There are two other married girls I know who are in their late twenties and still not ready to have kids. The reason? These girls are beyond social conditioning and are thinking for themselves. They do not want a kid because they do not want one! One is on the verge of a divorce due to this reason! Both are adamant that they will not have a kid till they feel like having one.

A little bit of probing and I was left with some startling results. And I began to understand why some western counties are experiencing declining birthrates. And I anticipate the same in India too, though in the distant future. The trend is already started in the cities.

Most girls acknowledge that pregnancy spoils their figure and health. And most of them acknowledge that this is an area where they have absolutely no control. They can choose who they can marry, what they can wear etc etc. But the choice of having a child is not hers at all. It is almost as if her womb is collective property of her family and society.

This might sound appalling, but many girls think that men need them for procreation and the act of procreation and then...child upbringing. Period. Beyond that they feel they don’t serve any purpose.

This post is not about women’s responsibility and all that blah. It is about women questioning that notion. It is about girls asking why they cannot be looked at beyond the accessory called the womb… and their desire to choose to use their womb OR NOT! They are questioning the generations old notion that a woman/married couple MUST have a kid. That she is of no use to a man if she does not want to have one. It is about women who would like a choice in the matter. This generation of girls will only raise these questions. But the subsequent generation will start exerting their rights, especially the right to their body not being taken for granted.

And all this throws some interesting questions. Will a man marry a gal who does not want to have kids? For men, having kids is a sign of masculinity. For women a sign of fertility. But then both have to work the next day and work equal hours. And when the task of gestating a kid and then giving birth, then the mandatory confinement etc etc is not acknowledged at the work place at least beyond statutory period stated by labor laws, women tend to question the futility of the exercise. The feeling that they are being short changed vis a vis the father of the kid, is always there. It is a silent accepting resentment...for this generation of women.

This post is about “some” women and their choices with their body, and their desire to not be taken for granted because they have a womb and their desire not to use that womb if they chose. And also about men accepting that not having kids is not a sign that they are not masculine, an acceptance that many girls feel will lift a big historical burden from their shoulders :) There will always be more women willing to have kids than those who do not. But the ones who do not, should not be looked upon like deviants.

The last para is to ensure that this does not become a modern woman bashing forum. Comments on the same will not be published. If a “particular group” of Anonymous commenters, who usually slander here [:p] want to contribute to the discussion positively, they are welcome. Those who cannot stomach the post, please don’t bother leaving a comment and giving me the added chore of rejecting it. You are welcome, however to hang around and see how a mature discussion takes place. Of course you will hang around anyways without me telling you all to :p


Rahul said...

Thoughtful post silverine. This explains our population explosion too.

kavi said...

I agree with most of your points. If the girl is not for having children, it has tho be communicated to the man before marriage itself. Parents and in laws have least of a role here. It is not their business. But the spouse has to be taken into confidence before making such a decison. If both are at different poles regarding this decision, it can not do good to the marriage. After the child birth both the parents have equal responisbility in upbringing the child

silverine said...

Rahul: You are right! That must be the reason why we cannot control our population!

kavi: You are right that the spouse must know. But what I was trying to say is that, kids should not be considered an automatic function after marriage because society/tradition dictates so. The couple should have a kid only if they want to.

Kavi said...

Agree with you silverine. Kids shouldn't be considered a biproduct of marriage, within a fixed time period after marriage. Whether to have or when to have is their own choice and convenience.

I had a collegue and her husband who had decided not to have children. But unluckily(or luckily) their contraceptive failed and she got pregnent. She was very upset initially, and was even comptemplating on suing the pharmaceutical company. But some how they decided to go along with the pregnancy. But believe me, now they are one of most loving parents I have seen for their 2 and a half year old girl.

Archie said...

I agree that the woman has the right to decide whether she wants a child or not. But the fact remains that for most people marriage implies a lot of things like companionship, love etc and having kids is just one of them. So if a woman feels strongly about not having children it would always be better to inform the guy, prior to the marriage itself. After all it would be rather unfair to the man also, if it were suddenly foisted upon him that you would not like to have kids.

mathew said...

Quite thoughtful topic...and I assume even more interesting comments.. ;-P

The ability to decide whether to be a mother or father came quite recently. Birth control is a comparatively new phenomenon for which otherwise abstinence was the only way out and obviously birth control gave the freedom for couples to exercise the option of ‘we decide when to have children’. Most people who criticise it are either people from pre-control era or fanatical church followers who don’t happen to see that something like AIDS could be prevented if contra-ceptives are used.

Secondly the idea of test of masculinity is not entirely a man’s creation. It is as much a stigma or a social taboo and would be as much a result of hearsay from woman. And Men love children as much as woman do, which is good enough reason to be a father other than masculinity proof/ mother in law pressures. (Now don’t want to hear reasons that woman have to go through the pain and not men...C’mon we dint decide that)

As much as we hate it, finally we live to consort to societal norms. And exactly why years of conforming to societal norms or in other words to the majority of people have made people in general to look down upon divorcee’s, gays, lesbi-ans... et al for different reasons. Haven’t you seen all sorts of people (including from our generation) talking ill about people who ended up in different realms of society just coz of sheer fate?

If a couple decides that they are not gonna have children so be it. But Ofcoz if either the man or woman didn’t fancy having children would be much better for both to having it as a pre-marriage consensual agreement.

Though find it appalling reason that people don’t want kids because it affects the figure…Give a better reason!!... You are gonna finally end up with...wrinkled skin...fake tooth...and a crooked backbone… in a grave 6 feet down!! ;-P

silverine said...

kavi: It is so nice to hear that the kid was welcomed and loved. So sweet :)

Archie: We are forgetting the guys here. Even guys think it necessary to have kids due to the same compulsions. What I am trying to say is don't look at marriage as a baby making machine. Let the couple have a kid if they want to. Of course you are right that either spouse should declare their intentions before marriage!

Mathew: First of all thanks for the long and well thought out comment :)

"Though find it appalling reason that people don’t want kids because it affects the figure…Give a better reason
" What is todays vice is tomorrows virtue someone said :) Times they are a changing,though slowly. And though we have to live according to the norms of the society, we have to remember that "we" are the society. And we change the rules as we change. There is no governing board that changes the rules of the society. Women today are increasingly doing that :) Besides if you notice, we are changing at a faster pace and in a totally new direction after liberalization. The whole gist of my post was that couples should not be expected to have kids, but have kids because they themselves decide to have one.

shruti said...

nice post . I know of a couple who have decided not to have kids before they got married and I thought it to be a mature rational decision as I am aware of their reasons for doing so . But I do feel such questions should be clearly discussed before jumping into matrimony . Its unfair if even one of the partners doesnt want it solely on the part of the child . I feel the child somehow always gets shortchanged when he / she is brought into this world for the wrong reasons , a soul who knew not why !
I also know of a couple where the girl has a very strong maternal instinct and will feel complete only when she gives birth to a child . She is willing to sacrifice everything , her job , money for that pleasure and solely for the love of having a kid and has the full support of her other half and all this has been discussed before they get married .

Jithesh said...

Quite an intriguing post. It was a sort of revelation to me. All this while I was thinking that it is women who force men to start a family. May be I was always hearing one side of the story. Completely agree with you that the decision to have a kid should solely and squarely rest with the couple. But it is equally important that they let each other know about their intention prior to marriage.

But, however hard I think, I fail to understand the reason/logic behind the decision to not to have kids. To me a child is the result of an endearing desire to create something that is a part of one’s body and soul. The joy of loving one’s own child surpasses any other form emotional attainment.

I must say that the last para was quite intimidating. A lot of hawkish thoughts came to my mind. But I refrained from posting them due to the fear of being told to ………….;-)

Deepti said...

Very thoughtful post...
The society even wants the right to know why a particular couple doesnt have kids after 2-3 years of marriage. Isn't it their choice.. why should it bother the world!!!

Cherubic said...

Quite an interesting post. I have been thinking of it for over a year now and really have found no reason to have kids. Not because of the fear of loosing my figure or health. Just not found a reason good enough to have kids. I find that the need for having kids, a very selfish one.I wonder, if it is to have someone to call yours or to leave the world a contribution from your side? I am actually torn between my own feelings. And have kids or not, all who are born,have to die.Why kids??? If I have a child and 'it' asks me why did you bring me to this world, I would have no answers to give as I don't know the reason for this life of mine( I have not had the courage to ask my parents yet:)). Have not devoted much time on finding a reason/purpose for this life.

SR said...

I totally agree with Deepti. Its almost like we are bound to give explanations why we are not having kids. Truly a personal experience. Although I love kids but can't have any. What an irony!

Anonymous said...

Hey Silverine,

What a thoughtful article. I have friends who firmly believe, not to have kids until they're really willing. Nowadays, I also see a few men who agree with this and it is such a refreshing change of pace. It is about being physically, psychologically and financially ready to support a new life.
But there are those, who are not ready, and are pressurized by society (a.k.a parents,in-laws and extended family)to concieve very well knowing that they're not psychologically ready. They generally get into an overdrive complaining about having had kids. In our country, we have licenses to drive responsibly and what not. I belive there must be an evaluation system of sorts that take into account all factors before a couple decide to start a family (In fact some evaluation systems are in place when a couple adopts a child). After all, it's another life and every life is precious and deserves the best of parental support system to succeed in life.
(I know it sounds weird , license to bring a new life into this world?, but there must be a system in place to honor the sanctity of life and ensure that no life gets wasted.)
P.S: I've been reading your blogs for sometime now and everytime I can't help help but appreciate how observant you are.

silverine said...

shruti: Strong maternal instinct and paternal instinct should be the main if not sole factor in the decisions for having kids!!

Jithesh:"I fail to understand the reason/logic behind the decision to not to have kids."

Not everyone is cut out to be a parent. In our country having a kid is not a choice a couple has. So those opting out are doing themselves and the kid a favor. About the last para, its for some Anon bravehearts who are yet to understand what a civil discussion is all about. :p

deepti: This whole mentality that marriage should be followed by kids should be done away with!

cherubic: A cousin actually asked his mom that when he was fed up of studying some subject and she confessed to feeling guilty that she had thoughtlessly produced a kid :)

SR: Exactly! It is a personal exp, but we are so wired to have kids immediately after marriage! Marriage for us is an institution to produce and bring up kids.

Vidya: If I could I would nominate you to be the PM of this country! :) You are absolutely right!! There should be some law to protect kids and grant them right to good parentage. I have written about it here earlier. Everyone sits on a high horse and talks about having kids. Everyone is bothered about their right to have kid/grandkid. But no one is bothered about the rights of that kid. Like in the US, we should have some laws to ensure that people who bring kids into the world are held responsible for them too.

Anonymous said...

Do you feel this could be discussed pre-marriage in the case of an arranged marriage (predominant in Inia)? Or, in other words, is this ever discussed in an arranged marriage?

But as you say, probably with subsequent generations, the mindset within the community is bound to change.

Aravind said...

Are you suggesting test tube babies will be popular soon?

Jiby said...

it is great to see women taking strong positions for themselves... this is a positive development. i think women who stick to the place of their upbringing wouldn't be able to take such strong decisions or be able to sustain their wishes in the face of a strong society that urges them to submit. you didn't say it but i would like to know if those two married girls were from other towns/cities or were from blore itself...wanted to know this stat just to firm up my thinking on this.

about having kids or not...i am somebody who has come up believing that after marriage, kids will automatically follow...and i am not yet ready for kids...and so i am not yet ready for marriage. i think in the future we will have a lot of live-in relationships in our midst because of men and women who refuse to get married for just this reason.

also i have seen that most indian girls are fascinated about having babies...for them it is like a power they possess and are proud of it...though they have ambitions like career, freedom, etc i know many who are curious to give pregnancy a try for once to know what it is all about. i can see a lot of conservative men and women fuming at your post.

J said...

Lol @ the disclaimer ;)

I guess it should be left to the choice of the person(s) cos well marriage ain't a one person's decision.

That said, for those who say they lose their figure and put on weight post delivery aren't quite right. There are many women who have got back on track and could give a 20 something girl a complex. But then, to each his own.

silverine said...

Anon: If we as a society did not have this notion that kids are inevitable after marriage then such questions as the one you are raising would not be asked would it? Thats what these girls are saying. That it is high time people stopped taking them for granted as willing baby producing machines. Reg your question, if a spouse doesn't want kids then it is better to inform that before marriage I guess.

aravind: I don't think you have read the post properly because you haven't understood a thing about what I was trying to say!

Jiby: These girls are indeed staying away from their families. And you are absolutely I mentioned in a post before, girls living away from families and in laws tend to make such informed and bold decisions. I can see from your comment that the trend is indeed on its way as I am told by senior girls :) Reg babies and power, I agree. "Some women" think, it is a way to anchor their man or revive his interest in her after the first flush of newly wedded days has died down. Just another gimmick to be in the limelight.

J: The disclaimer notwithstanding I did get some colorful comments that I dispatched to the bin with great delight :p You are right marriage aint one persons decision and babies too shouldn't be! Indian women are prone to weight gain after delivery. Some are not, but that is a teeny weeny minority :)

ap said...

We can say a pre-nupital agreement might be the answer.But there are other problems also, like say after sometime one of the partner longs for a kid..what then??

License thing from Vidya is a great idea for population explosion control .... :)

Btw there is a general problem of getting ready...what if the women is ready after 40??This might be another reason for declining birth rates in developed countries...As they get settled into a steady relationship or marriage vey late...

Good post....(Eye opener in one sense as these things are generally taken for granted by guys..)

neermathalam said...

which is the last para the disclaimer or the one before ?

The thought process is so stoic I should say.

Kids are a treasure to have even if it is by missing one appraisal..or getting a bigger waistline...there are certain social norms which is better not to be broken...only because we dont know a better alternative..Whatever redudant..a kid is sometime a binding force, sometime a stress buster, sometime an inspiration to continue the instituition of family...

I wishfully think that the proportion of female population who think that way is not 'alarmingly' high.Because..breaking norms for the sake of breaking is not radical thinking it is rather stupidity...whoever does that...

Watch 'The pursuit of Happyness'..:) more time.. :P

ToOothlEss WOndeR! said...

Now THAT is what I call an eye-opener!
I’ve always been an advocate of “have your kids when you’re ready for them”.
Almost every time we friends have had a conversation about marriage, kids etc, and I say that I’d rather not have kids (by our choice) until at least 5-6 years in the marriage, it is always the women friends that sneer. And they always tell me that no girl will wait that long. Some quote stories of friends that got too old to have kids, and some say Indian women cant stay fit for long enough, and most talk about pressure from family. What I figured from all this is that well, No woman can wait that long: yet another reason I’m petrified of the idea of marriage.
Thank you girl: You make me feel so much better! :0)

Mind Curry said...

They are questioning the generations old notion that a woman/married couple MUST have a kid

i would hope that men and women begin questioning generations old notions a bit earlier.. why MUST we marry? if a man and woman feel there is enough between them to get married, then i'd imagine that having children at some point becomes a conscious and mutual decision, and a symbol of their love and togetherness.

when people marry for the sake of society and achieving milestones, all these turmoils happen..well, its been happening and most people appear to continue with the "show" and pretend all is well. its only a few bold people who can even talk against these things..and much much fewer who can act.

the very fact that this open discussion has ruffled the feathers of a lot of "pretenders" is a sign of how deep these societal conditionings have become.

i often think to myself, what most people here call "west" is actually an equivalent of "choice". these people dont want others to have choices, but should be restricted to some line of thought and life they dictate. sadly, these people form the majority and what we call the society. at least for now.

neermathalam said...


That is indeed a thoughtful comment.
I appreciate that view point... :)

Adorable Pancreas said...

Hell, yeah! Most of my friends are horrified, or worse, give me pitying looks when I tell them I do not want children. Vanity apart, I worry about what kind of a mother I'd make. I am not very fond of babies, I like them, but I can't obsess over having a baby. After my labour room posting, I realised that not all mothers are good ones. Motherhood is not all that it's claimed to be for many. I saw only patient panic when her child did not cry after birth. Most women couldn't care less.

If and when I have a child, I'll want to give it my 100%. At least marriage is not the cards yet. I know people who give sleeping pills to their baby so they can sleep at night, without being disturbed by their 'bundle of joy' crying in the middle of the night.

I could go on and on about the subject, but it will probably end up longer than your post!

Anphy said...

if u wrote about more n more girls postponing their marriage coz they are scared of losing their freedom or coz they havnt met the right guy yet, i wud have agreed with u.
But postponing havng kids coz they are figure conscious -dt sounds silly to me.
They cud very well stay single rt? Along with the rights come the duties :D

arpz said...

I agree. women, are often left without choices.
and in many cases this extends to marriage as well. Many colleagues I know are , well, married because they were asked to.
but if the woman would not like to have children, I think this should be talked about with the spouse, because a family doesnt belong to just one person, it belongs to the both of them. Only I wish more of us (both men and women) understood this fact.

silverine said...

Neermathalam: I am merely conveying what the gals are thinking these days :) Its no point in asking me to chill :p cant stop time and tide from doing their job can we? :)

Toothless wonder: I wish I could say this is the trend...but this the feeling of gals "after"
marriage! Before that they too were under the spell of rosy dreams. But, yes, in the case of having babies, gals have begun to speak up and all my younger married colleagues (some in late 20’s)have deferred having one till they want to have one.

MC: Why do people marry! I guess it is to protect the wife and kids and give them some kind of a legal protection from abandonment. But you are right; if a couple is committed then they will stay together no matter what. And that last para should be rubbed on
the faces of some people :)

AP: You are right! I have noticed that many women fuss over their babies because they are aware that their position in the family is not much than that of baby sitters and often any harm/neglect to the baby however small is reprimanded. And women in vulnerable positions tend to overdo the mothering to show their zeal and hence secure their position in the home. A financially well off woman on the other hand do not have to resort to such tactics due to the big bundle she brings home. And it is this kind that is raising these questions. My punju colleague tells me that drugging kids to sleep is common in Punjab by overworked rural moms :)

Anphy: I am afraid I do not agree that a woman should be deprived of marriage because she doesn't want kids!! Poor girl!!! Doesn't she require companionship? Is that all she is useful for? I am now beginning to realize what these girls were getting at!! I don’t think it is the duty of a woman to produce kids.

Arpz: You are right. But if this whole notion that kids are to be produced automatically after marriage is done away with, then both men and women will not under this pressure.

Pradeep said...

I look at it this way.. Marriage is a more formalised and institutionalised friendship. It's primarily about togetherness and companionship than anything else. Whether to have children and if yes how many is pure a matter of convenience agreed upon by the husband and wife. I don't think anyone else has a right to pass a judgement on whatever decision they have taken. If they decide not to have children so be it. We all need to respect that... As you say, definitely there is a life beyond the womb.

Secondly, before marriage it's not often practical to discuss and decided things like whether to have kids or not and the number etc... It's better no such formality is not brought into a relationship. One of the beauties of married life is working out these tricky things successfully.

Unny said...

Thought provoking. Most of us do not even pause and ask 'are we ready?'. The need for Self-awareness is on low priority. From personal experience I can say that if both the spouses have a common point of view, then social pressures can at best be ignored.

It is not just this entry, most of the others entries in this blog are also equally interesting and engaging for the readers. I ended up spending over 2 hours reading this and then blogged about it!

geet said...

oh this thought is running from weeksin my head ..i agree with you totally..

a couple can have kids only if they want to. my family is keen to get me married and the reason ? i wont be able to conceive if i get married in my thirties.

so when we talk about the babies,marriage is somehow interlinked. i asked many people why they want to get married before 30 ,most of the answers are related to this post.
why can we have babies when we want to... but my mind sometimes does think about the fact that in 30's ,its difficult to have baby. and i get confused . my WANT and the facts does not go in line.

Shanks_P said...

Interesting topic and indeed a good discussion over comments.

First and foremost, I agree to SL on the decision that women can have their say on weather they want a kid or not!

But there is a lot to talk about social conditioning we have been through over centuries. If we look back , people where never given such an option of having or not having kids, but a kid is the next step after marriage and a kid is as essential as breath air in a family. If you look back 50 years in India, you might not even find a hand ful of couples who decided not to have kids because they do not want it! It might be due to health/ social reasons, but not because they do not want to raise a kid.

Taking into consederation of the current population of our country, we can well go on with a stand for family without kids. Our country won't go into a crisis of less young people in the near future as what is happening in Japan where more than 50% of the people belong to 45+ age group.
But in the society where the uusual conversation to any one year old couple will be in the likes of

Planning anno ??
Doctere kannicho ?
(Did you had a check up ?)
XXX or YYY kshethrathil poyo?
(Did you visit this Temple)
Ippozhe nokiyilenghil pinne prasnamakum !
(U better take care of this)

Enthenghilum prasanamudo ?

(Any Problems ?)

and people start to look with a sympethetical eyes for a three year old couple without kids, it will be touh for a couple to stand on 'No Kids policy' as the gal and the boy came to an aggrement of not having kid!

silverine said...

Pradeep: Wow!! that was a totally refreshing viewpoint!! :)

Unny: Thanks for dropping by and you
are right that no even questions if they are ready for a kid or not!

geet: Even here, you can see that people are not looking beyond a baby! People have forgotten the real reason to have a symbol of the couples love...sad situation. p.s There are a growing number of over 30's moms today :)

Shanks: I am merely reporting what I have heard from the girls. hmm from what I see even men are now questioning the notion. I guess, the modern fast paced life is slowly pulling down the old beliefs. But you have rightly depicted the situation as it exists today!

Anonymous said...

My reason to not have kids yet, is I dont want to have one. And thankfully my husband thinks so too.. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey its not a question of man vs women.. Itss more a
Q of the prejudices in the society.
Anf from m y experiience Women themself(as mothers or mother-in-law) are the villans in these situations.

Also dont you think women should change their own attitute about themself before they start blaming everyting on men(ok men are not saints I agree)..You see in a country like ours with abt 50% women voters why dont we have so less MP's and similarly in other fields.

silverine said...

ms taggart: You are lucky that it worked out for you :)

Anon: "its not a question of man vs women"
You are one among the few who understood this post from your statement above. Women are womens worst enemies I agree. But the modern woman is changing faster than the society due to her new found economic freedom.The rural women who make up the bulk of the voters are still stagnating.

Machiavelli said...

I scrolled and scrolled thinking why are they not stating what is so obvious...and suddenly mindcurry said it for me..Why MUST we marry? though i would find reasons that are based more on natural laws than social pressure...As somebody said, some are just not cut out to be parents. But, when two healthy spcimens who are cut out for it (maternal paternal instincts, quote unquote) meet, they inevitably procreate to create another healthy specimen (Survival of the fittest)Marriage is just a social institution a few thousand years old which brings together two not necessarily "cut out" specimens to have a "not so healthy" specimen and then depend on rest of the society to take care of it

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Well said.