Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Is Childfree The Way To Be? Article in the TOI by Sharmila Ganesan

Bad news in this country could refer to a variety of things but 'good news' usually carries just one meaning. Sooner or later, this euphemism for pregnancy sneaks into the lives of every married couple as a question posed by one and all. To be able to answer them in the affirmative, some women fast, go around trees, visit astrologers and plead with doctors. Then, there are women like Anu Santosh.

"We have no desire to become parents as we are very compatible and complete on our own," says Santosh, a 36-year-old entrepreneur from Powai, about her decision to remain child-free after six years of marriage. She dismisses the age-old spiel that a woman is "complete" only after she bears children as the invention of very satisfied mothers. Santosh is also part of Childfree By Choice India, where child-free couples from all over the country have been sharing views in India.

This slowly swelling breed of women who've decided to remain child-free are not just the stereotypical feminists, says Delhi's Amrita Nandy. A doctoral candidate from JNU, she recently spoke to several non-mothers across the country, few of whom were from Mumbai, for her research on 'Motherhood and Choice'. "These are chiefly very successful women who take their identities and purposes of life very seriously," says Nandy whose sample included well-placed bankers, writers, media professionals, lawyers and environmentalists who felt that bringing in a child would add to carbon footprint.

Their reasons could range from the financial shackles of home loans to the desire to travel. Fifty-four-year-old Jyoti, a PR professional born and raised in Mumbai, was so resolute in her decision to be child-free that she went under the knife in her late thirties to negate the possibility. As the eldest of four girls, Shetty, who currently stays in Pune, says she had seen the repercussions of being part of a large family. "The oldest gets ignored and the priorities change and parents have no time to give attention to all," says Jyoti. In the current scenario of inflation, Jyoti feels this is a wise choice to make.

Freedom is the most cherished consequence of their decision. "I can never in my worst nightmare imagine being disturbed with mommy stuff when I'm reading, napping, talking to a friend or having a conversation with my spouse," says Ritu Khabia, a homemaker married to an air force officer. "I mean imagine spending your whole life-energy caring for brats who won't have time for you later when they get engrossed with their own life."

The society, though, does not fail to remind them of the pitfalls. One of Ritu Khabia's friends told her that her marriage wouldn't work in the long run in the absence of children. Another woman almost bullied Khabia into producing children by saying, "if your marriage is strong, you will have children". When Jyoti had approached a gynaecologist to have her "knots tied", the doctor chastised her: "You will regret it as kids are an old age crutch."

Some reactions come in the form of silent judgements. Anu Santosh, who recalls a colleague remarking that women who don't want kids were "off their rockers". Even her family is convinced Santosh and her husband will change their mind eventually. "If we do, I am pretty sure we will adopt and not have our own.Would it then be fair for me to call mothers with biological children selfish for not caring for the helpless?" asks Santosh, adding that she knows that a lot of mothers would find this accusation absurd. "Perhaps then they can learn to mind their business."