One of the points in this post struck a nerve and much of the discussion in the post segued into why do people assume everyone is going to have kids, how does anyone know whether I want kids, how do I know whether I want kids, etc.
So I decided to do a post about that.
First let me say that I believe that not everyone wants or should have children. I fully accept that there are people who would be happier without.
I have also come to believe that the number of people that fit the above category are few. Let’s just say that if I were to advise my friends on whether to have kids or not, I’d say have at least one.
It is possible I am saying this because I chose this and now I feel the need to usher everyone else into my corner. But I don’t feel that way about other things, like, ironically, marriage which I think has its good points but could be given a miss , or, say, getting a tattoo, or even full-time work. So I hope I’m not entirely biased by the fact that I have children, though it is the reality of having children that has changed my perspective on this issue.
This post is mainly for the ditherers. And the ones who are ruling kids out on grounds that are not quite clear to even them. And those that declare they don’t want kids ever, but deep down there’s a maybe lurking.
Sid mentioned in the comments on that post that sometimes when people make statements ruling out children, it’s a plea for people to share their own experience.
So I’m sharing mine.
I was quite well-known for never wanting to have kids. Or to get married. I kind of announced that to my family when I was about seven a propos of nothing. And I stuck it consistently thereafter.
I disliked children. I disliked the pressure to like children more than I disliked children, though I didn’t know that then. I liked the odd child but maintained that I disliked children so I didn’t get cornered into cooing over all the other children I didn’t like.
When I was 17 I had my first boyfriend. I still wasn’t hot on the idea of marriage but coupledom made me realise the advantages of partnership. So I wasn’t quite sure I was anti-marriage anymore though I was quite sure I didn’t want to marry my boyfriend (I even told him so) and quite sure he wanted to marry me. After about four years of him, I was almost resigned to the idea that we would probably, eventually, get married. Fortunately, we broke up.
But I stopped saying I was never going to get married. And I figured I should stop saying I was never going to have children also. Because when I was with that boyfriend, I had famously named our future children. I didn’t particularly have any affinity for children then, but the vague idea of little hims and mes running around was cute. Plus it was the dream you’re supposed to dream. Plus I liked naming.
Nevertheless, I realised that if I could get so entrenched in a relationship with a man, then anything would happen. I should stop ruling out things, especially big things. Especially when I was 21.
I remember when I had first met V and he asked me what I thought about marriage and I said: “I don’t particularly want it, but I think it’s inevitable.” I was 23 then. I had realised that rail against it as I did, in the current social set-up, it was probably a good bet. And by then, I had tried coupledom and experienced its benefits. And I also knew that if my position on marriage could shift so dramatically, so too could my position on children. That it very possibly would. All the ideological reasons for not getting married/not having children blur slightly when it’s your own personal decision and your own life stretching ahead of you.
I didn’t have or want children right after I got married. I tend to think that unless you’ve had a long period of living together with loads of interactions with both sides of the family before officially tying the knot, then you might as well sort those things out first before having children. But there are no rules. Some people really want children right away, and why not then? I had married early so I luckily had time on my side and I was in no rush seeing as I didn’t particularly like children.
About a year or two after I moved to Hong Kong, my attitude to children shifted very slightly. Chinese kids are super cute. Even the very little ones. I saw Chinese babies as a different species, actually, separate from other annoying children. I found myself smiling at a couple of them. And then slowly noticing that some other kids were cute too.
All along, I had always got on famously with my cousin’s children. Children actually tend to follow me around like the Pied Piper even as I claim to not want to have anything to do with them. Maybe because of that. Or because I’m the only adult not going coochie coo. And actually saying something halfway interesting to them. I’m a bit of a kid myself also. My three-year-old niece came to Hong Kong and she basically attached herself to me like a tail. My in-laws to whom I had always said I didn’t like kids raised their eyebrows.
V told his boss once that I was happy to keep moving around and she said, oh then she’s not ready to have kids because when you want to have kids, you nest. Righto, I said.
Five years into our marriage, on his 34th birthday, we were coasting along when V raised the subject of children. We weren’t exactly in the best place in our relationship then. But we weren’t in the worst place either. We were both in a good place job-wise. But still, I was taken by surprise and came up with lots of reasons why we shouldn’t do it right then. V pointed out quite reasonably that there was never going to be the perfect time and we should just do it.
My sister at that time had been trying for a child. Her difficulties in getting pregnant may have also galvanised me somewhat. There’s nothing like the thought of not being able to get pregnant to make you want to get pregnant.
Though I didn’t quite want to get pregnant. I was more like, huh, okay fine then. My sister got pregnant and I was all into her baby-making journey. And occasionally I would smile at a baby on TV and V would smirk at me. Because me actually thinking a baby was cute was a huge step.
We didn’t get pregnant right away. I had an ovarian cyst and was warned I would need surgery to have any chance of getting pregnant. I was upset about that, not so much because it hindered my chances of getting pregnant but because I wanted to go to India and surgery meant I wouldn’t be able to. As it happened, my sister-in-law’s mother-in-law who’s a gynac put me on a regiment of yoga and ayurvedic drugs and I tried not to be such a stresshead and one fine day, I was pregnant.
How did a person who doesn’t even like kids decide she’s ready to get pregnant? Well, because there were a few kids I did like. And I had been reassured by people exactly like me that I would like my own kid. There’s also the matter of your husband really wanting kids, even if you don’t. A woman is not obliged to have kids just because her husband wants them, but it’s something to consider. At least once.
I was in love with my child the moment I saw a blob beating on the sonogram, and it’s only gotten better ever since. And I didn’t have pleasant pregnancies, deliveries or post-partum experiences. But my children are worth it. No question.
It is also possible that my positive experience owes to the amount of help I have. I have a husband who does his fair share. I have employed people specifically for the task of helping. This was all deliberate and we made choices to enable this, but yes we were also lucky to have the option. Had I had no help though, I would still have had one child and managed. The really hard bit is the first six months. The slogwork eases off a lot as the child grows.
I have come to believe there is nothing like raising a child; it’s one of those things must-do-if-you-can things. I think giving birth to a biological child that is a mesh of you and your partner is a special experience, and this is not to discount the wonder of adoption.*
It seems like in the past, there was silence around the difficulties involved in raising children. Maybe because it was women’s work and women were silent about everything they did. And now there’s a lot of noise about how hard and how much work and how much it costs to raise a child. It’s productive that this is being acknowledged. But maybe it gives the impression that raising a child is all work and no play.
The reality is that it’s a lot of play. A lot, and in a great way. In a way that makes you stop and smile in joy with all the sounds in the background moaning erased. Okay, my kids are just toddlers and things will definitely change, but I think the playing will go on for a good 10 years. And that’s a reward in itself. It is hard to convey what the reality of raising a child is, but I tried once. That post has a similar discussion to this one and some interested comments so I’d recommend people interested in this topic read that as well.
This very well-written article crystalised something I’ve been sensing for a while in the people around me. The decision about whether to have kids or not has become something like the quest for The One. Stage 2, perhaps. Thus, you spend your early 20s caught up in this idea that the perfect someone is out there waiting and when he appears you’re going to just know it. Admittedly, this did happen in my case, but I’d wager it’s fairly rare. I agree that one should have a good feeling about the person one commits to spending the rest of one’s life with but that feeling might dawn gradually and everything might not settle itself quite so magically.
And then with kids, there has been a huge push from feminist and other circles urging people, but specifically women, not to automatically have children but if and when you really want to. Which is well and good. But it seems to me that amidst all the rhetoric, some of those whose minds the thought of having a child might have crossed seem to be overthinking.
Many people I know seem to be waiting for the right moment and that feeling that will tell one it’s the right moment. Some of the questions Urvashi asks in her piece reminded me of those people. How do I know this is what I really want?
In a discussion related to Urvashi’s piece, Haathi pointed out that there are plenty of people who are not agonising existentially and who decide to have children for quite prosaic reasons. Like their husband wanted them. Or their mother-in-law. Or they were scared by the biological clock. In the circles I move in, these are supposed to be the wrong reasons.
I question what I used to think were the right reasons though. If you’re dead broke, or in a situation that would give you no time to look after kids and you can’t get out of that situation, or your home is a violent and unstable place, then, yeah, probably delay having children. But if things are relatively stable, but all ducks are not in the row, then go for it because the ducks are never all going to be in a row.
* I am not on board with people who casually say, oh just adopt, though. After I had my first child, I realised that I would struggle with adoption. It would work for me as an option if I couldn’t biologically give birth but I would have struggled with it. I need the hormones that fuel you in those early days of childrearing. So I can understand now why many people feel they cannot adopt.