Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Childfree life by choice. Is it a valid decision?


My best friend is childfree by choice. I always knew that about her, and although she keeps wavering between the two worlds, she is mostly on the childfree side. When my daughter wasn't born, we never really discussed in detail about her reasons for being childfree, but once my daughter arrived, I was over the moon and generally kept insisting to her about having kids. Still my heart was not in it. I think I just wanted my daughter to grow up with her child and I said as much to her. Very selfish, I know.

Truth is, for the longest time, I was quite sure I would not have children. "The whole world is staggering under the population explosion with limited resources to spare, if I must have children, they will be adopted", thought I. Three years into my marriage, all that logic went out of the window. I felt this unrelenting and compelling need to mother a child. Something I couldn't ignore. Since my husband too was ready, soon our daughter was born, making it the happiest day of our lives.

And yet the trend of going childfree by choice is growing in India. The trend is most rampant in Double Income No Kids ( popularly known as DINK) couples. You just have to type childfree in google and you'll see what I mean.We live in such a child friendly country that not having kids by choice is considered a very western concept. I interviewed a few couples who are childfree by choice to get their side of the story.I have included only those who have mutually decided to be childfree for the sake of exploring one category at a time.

Pragya Desai, a 31 year old media professional from Mumbai says, " I don't think I was born with the maternal instinct. I never felt envious of my sister who has one child and is happily pregnant with her second. They have the perfect bustling household full of life and if it should have changed my perception about motherhood, it hasn't till now". Pragya is adamant she will never have children and neither does she think she will regret her decision 20 years from now. She is comfortable in a space where her social circle has single or childfree people and this circle keeps expanding. Her parents and her in-laws have accepted this decision as they already have grand children.

30 year old Neeru Panjabi, a Pre-School Teacher from Indore finds herself in choppy waters. Her parents and in-laws actually don't know about her husband's and her own decision to be childfree. They still battle questions from relatives on why even after 5 years of marriage, there is still no good news. Neeru says she often gets advice on which fertility clinic to visit. Neeru and her husband are a couple struggling to make their name in their respective careers and don't feel they have the time and commitment it takes to invest in a baby. Apart from that they are also not sure if they will be able to bear the financial burden of raising a baby in an increasingly expensive world. They have 2 adorable dogs who are like children to them. " Sure there are vet bills and there are times when we travel and the dogs have to be put into a hostel but it is still cheaper than raising a child", opines Neeru.

Pragya and Neeru represent two sides of the same coin. Both are battling the social stigma attached to not having children post marriage. While Pragya's motivation for remaining childfree is driven by an internal force of an absent maternal instinct, Neeru's motivation is external. Her choice remains centered on their aim to focus on their respective careers and the expense involved in raising a child. But for Neeru, being from a small town has its own downside. Not only has she been unable to communicate her decision to her parents and in-laws but she also has to live with the tag of being called "barren" behind her back.

Nisha Rao, yet another woman in her early thirties who is settled in the US, admits it is not easy to make the older generation understand her decision to be childfree. Her reasons for being childfree are rooted in external factors like the cost of bringing up a child in a very expensive US of A, loss of freedom and internal factors like the inability to feel maternal towards children. But most importantly, after a grueling work day, she doesn't feel she would have the time it takes to bring up a child. The typical reactions that she gets from her relatives on knowing about her voluntary decision to be childfree are 

1. “You’re crazy.
2. “What kind of a woman doesn't want children?”
3. “You’re going to regret this later in life.”
4. “Don’t you want someone to take care of you in your old age?”
5. “Think about all the women who cannot have children. You have the gift of having children; don’t throw it away.”
6. “Have a child, then you’ll know what love is.”

Not once was she asked why she chose to make this decision. 

Some other respondents to my research shared their stories too.

Arpita and Deepak are avid travelers. They simply don't want to interrupt their lives for a baby that they are confident they would not be able to care for, given their lifestyle.

Neha and Amit are happy being around children as long as they are not their own. They enjoy babysitting their siblings' children and return them to their parents when the time is up. Neha insists she would never bring a child into a world that is already battling population issues.

A particularly funny response that I received from Maria D'Souza went something like this. An intrusive aunt would constantly keep asking Maria about why isn't she conceiving even after 6 years into her marriage. Maria stonewalled her for the longest time possible until one day she decided to settle matters once and for all. Maria's aunt called her and here is how the conversation went:
Aunt: "Maria, you must have children now. Remember your clock is ticking!" If there is some problem, you know you can talk to me about it".
Maria: "Aunty, actually I may as well be honest with you. We have been trying to conceive since the last 5 years and still nothing. We try day and night. Sometimes in the afternoon also. But still nothing! Speaking of which, it is now our time to try again, so Bye!"

The older generation automatically assumes that there is a problem in conception if you aren't pregnant after marriage. This perception is so strongly embedded in their minds that when they hear that the decision to not have children is a voluntary one, they are simply stumped. As Nisha Rao aptly summed it up, first comes the confusion what!?, then the disbelief but why would anyone want that?, then the concern problem conceiving? and finally the emotional blackmail don't you care about what we desire? we want to be grandparents"
  • 10% of the couples who participated in this research think they may change their opinion later in life and adopt.
  • Another 10% don't admit their decision to be childfree publicly
  • 65% feel they won't make good parents
  • 90% of the respondents's parents and in-laws haven't been able to accept their decision
  • 100% agreed that their immediate social circle accepted their decision and were genuinely okay with it
I have refrained from giving any personal opinion so far in this post. It is mostly up-to the reader to find his or her own conclusion based on the stories shared. But I do have one thing to add. When people complement me on my beautiful family, I am never asked why I chose to start a family, and in that lies the respect that I receive for making this very personal decision. I wish there would be more respect and acceptance for the CFBC couples, especially among the older generation. 

This post is already too long and I still have a lot more to share. Well, basically my own opinion to add, but it'll have to wait for now. 

PS: Unlike the first two posts, this one took a couple of weeks to write. It involved a fair bit of research. I would like to thank all the couples who answered some very personal questions and helped me gather the information I needed. More power to all of you guys!

1 comment:

  1. This was a great read. I'm not old enough to make these decisions yet (26M) but I'm glad there are people who have started adopting this lifestyle.