By Aruna Raman
Yes, I am progeny-less. Yes, I have navigated my way through age, patience and politeness barriers. Yes, I haven’t experienced the “thrill of the pain”, or the slithering out of a pumpkin-head through my vagina. Yes, my womb only holds my thoughts, fears, apprehensions, and functions as a receptacle for my monthly blood. Yes, I haven’t created a legacy, or quasi-insurance for my dotage (if I live that long!). And yes, my inscrutability becomes bewildering, irritating and pitiable.
And yet, it annoys me when a venerable elder (usually related by blood) employs the all-important “with child” suffix when mapping out the identity of a quasi-known person. “Oh yes, she is a hedge fund hawk, and her two little ones just won the national level teeth-pulling competition.” “So do you know about so and so? She has a full-time job, manages an ill parent, and a child to boot.” It is as if the suffix catapults one to a gilded realm, while the rest of us self-absorbed denizens are lotus-eating our way through our days.
I am an old hand at this non-procreation set-piece. I have been wafting on the wings of gentle nudging, coercion, emotional blackmail, pity, disbelief, and the veiled “selfish bitch” tag. It is as if I am stubbornly holding the baton in the reproduction relay-race, and not passing it on to the anointed “next generation.” Ejecting progeny is somehow associated with the semantic equivalent of affixing “in bed” to the end of every sentence — it is purported to make things seem/sound much better than they actually are. Existential crisis? No problem, get knocked up! Mid-life heebie jeebies? Don’t get that inner-thigh piercing, heed the clarion call of your inner Earth mother! You get the drill.
Don’t get me wrong (I am sure everyone who chooses to remain childfree inadvertently begins a sentence like so) — I am sure that motherhood, or indeed parenthood, ushers feelings of pure joy in its wake. I have seen friends embrace this new role with exhausting exhilaration. This isn’t a litany-diatribe to diminish their choices. However, I have problems when their choices are cast in sharp relief against mine, and I am viewed as an emotionally opaque being, who spends her days bathing in milk and honey, and scarfs goblets of wine for every meal. It is the elevation of the “with-child” brigade and the gentle dismissal of the “sans-child” one that causes me great anguish.
So, why did I make the choice? A patchwork quilt of reasons, and chief among them is that I suffer from clinical depression, and live in a country where this condition is met with annoying incredulity. I have been dealing with emotional evisceration for most of my life, and my midlife awakening has taught me that I have a lot of self-healing and mending to do. It is after years of struggle that I have discovered this shattering, yet empowering truth about myself. The powerful sense of awareness helps me manage myself. And yet, each day is a mask-wearing kabuki — there are challenges that I relish, people I love, and opportunities I embrace. However, there are times when I feel like impaling myself, and/or the person next to me, on a tuning fork (kids: do not try this at home).
No child I know should suffer through the multiplicities of my personality, especially my own. I have a partner who understands, though we have travelled through an interesting path to get to where we are. While I swiftly employ the “Magna Carta” defence of the childfree — “I don’t want to bring a child into a polluted, unkind world” — I would go so far as to say that I don’t want to bring a child into my world; a tentative, “constructed laughter”, “reluctant subscriber to free will,” “deep down I am just a little girl” kind of world. Children will find better homes where they are meant to find them.
Make no mistake — the equivalent of my maternal urges does meet a match in my work. I spend my time teaching and mentoring young people, and the open-faced trust they place in me is heartening, but also scary. Every smile, every breakthrough, and every word of praise means that I have met with some measure of success in my surrogate, non-womb parent role. My friends take heart in the fact that they can commandeer their errant teens in my direction, and I will be ready for them. There’s also a significant “aunt of honour” vacancy that I can fill, for those who are willing to offer me the role.
So, the next time you upstage me with a pregnant woman story when I complain of “out-of-sorts” ness, know this — my womb, and the contents of it, are my business. They will, or should not, influence my capacity for receiving praise, love and empathy. This is from the mouths of babes. So there.
Aruna Raman is a social innovation professional.