© Jose Ortega
I am forty seven years old and love to meet potential new women friends at social and networking events. However, I am constantly surprised and baffled as to why one of the first questions I am still asked is, “Do you have children?” I used to get annoyed and launch into a full scale debate about why I thought it was disrespectful for a woman to be characterised by her state of motherhood, or lack of. Because not being a mother somehow always implied that I lacked something.
During my mid-twenties, I made a conscious choice not to have children. At the time, it was an intuitive decision connected to global overpopulation (the planet definitely did not need more Indians) and the fact that parenthood seemed highly overrated (I had very few memories of my mother being a happy single parent). Twenty years ago, this decision felt daring. Breaking the mould of expectation and taking an active, walk-the-talk approach about such a fundamental question felt progressive and evolutionary. In the intervening two decades, instead of owning our freedom of choice and evolving a dialogue which expanded the quality and contribution of the roles of women, we have piled increasing pressure on ourselves to “have it all”!
For example, we want to have a career, opportunity for promotion and equal pay. We also want to be able to work part-time, or flexible hours, so that we can have children, guide their education and take care of our family. Then, we also hold certain standards around running the home; food shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. And instead of allowing our partners to contribute equally and give them some slack to learn and do it ‘their’ way, we want to control everything. Being an emancipated woman is exhausting!
When Denis and I first got together, we embarked on the process of adoption, as we felt it would be a meaningful contribution to provide a nurturing home in a world where so many children did not have one. During the adoption training sessions we were required to do, while I appreciated the opportunity to question deeply why I wanted to be a ‘mother’, I also realised there was no room in the ‘system’ to tell the truth: that most people have children out of biological automaticity, without really questioning why they want to be parents (the fact of there being so many children needing adoption in the first place); that I had many negative thoughts, as well as positive ones, about the prospect of motherhood; and that being a woman who had chosen not to have my own children meant facing and negotiating how to get beyond the biological function I am designed for.
After two-and-half years, I stopped the adoption process. The system simply had too much bias and pre-determined judgements about the potential adoptive parents and how the future would unfold for the children. The other women I met were desperate to be mothers, ready to jump through all sorts of hoops required by the system just to get to the next stage. I felt heartbroken. We were supposed to be part of an intelligent and evolved society. Why were women still being pressured to feel that something was wrong with them, that they lacked some vital ingredient of humanity if they could not have their own children?
I do not believe it is wrong (or right) to have children. It is a very personal and individual choice. The question of family and motherhood is much wider than biology or genetics, and I feel has more to do with our essential need for a sense of home and belonging. I have the privilege of having several amazing women in my life, who have been my ‘mothers’. At the same time, I know these relationships are complex because I also notice the resistance I experience in them.
There are times, for example, when I feel so emotionally detached from my own mother that I have little interest in what is happening in her life. To admit this is shocking, especially in a society where we are educated, and supposedly genetically programmed, to love our parents regardless of whether they play a part in our upbringing or not. The same is true for the common myth that parents love their children always and forever. Sadly, the consequence is that no one really tells the truth; that we experience all sorts of emotions (anger, frustration, hate, jealousy, unfairness, etc.) for which we must find a way of expression. And just as children want and desire their needs to be met by their parents, so parents have their own agenda of needs.
Every adult is someone's child, and no matter how old they are, every child deserves the true freedom to be who they want to be beyond the intricate, subtle (and not so subtle) pressures received from their parents. The true gift of biology and genetic inheritance is to show us what we must battle with in order to evolve beyond our automaticity. For without gravity, how would we learn to walk?