What you need to know:
- Some women do not want to have children, some women cannot have children. Others want to wait until they are in a relationship.
- But as there are now more financially independent single women than ever before, not everyone is making that relationship choice.
Do you have children?” she asks.
“No,” I reply and quickly turn my gaze downwards. I might as well have shot her.
Her eyes flick away in panic and there’s an embarrassed laugh.
“You’re probably better off,” she says.
We both know she does not mean it.
Sounds familiar? The society we live in can be so judgmental.
I wasn’t as aware of the power of motherhood as I became when a close friend died in her 30s. One of my relatives asked if she’d had children. When I replied NO, he shrugged and said, “Oh well”, as if she mattered less because she left no children behind. Her impact on earth was lessened because she was not a mother.
Fewer of us are having children but more of us are being judged for it. Labelled ‘career girls’, a somewhat selfish and cold breed of women who often end up sad and lonely for not bagging a man in time.
Some women do not want to have children, some women cannot have children. Others want to wait until they are in a relationship. But as there are now more financially independent single women than ever before, not everyone is making that relationship choice.
Growing up, Carol (not her real name) was surrounded by a large number of aunts, uncles and cousins. Carol imagined she would naturally and effortlessly have children one day. She imagined long holidays, big Christmas gatherings, curling up on the sofa to watch The Wizard of Oz ,digging into bowl of ice cream or playing snakes on the ladder with her children.
What she did not imagine was a rare health condition that was discovered by doctors in her late 20s.
She had a surgery to remove a tumor, followed by radiotherapy. There was a chance that the radiotherapy, in the act of killing all the bad cells, would wipe out quite a few of the good ones as well which would affect her fertility, meaning she would not be able to have children.
“Give birth,” urged her friends before the treatment started.
But did she want to? She was 28 and, for the first time, she had to face up to the reality of becoming a mother.
Carol decided not to be duped by the pressure, clinging to the thought that it might still happen naturally at some point. Years passed. There was a flash of possibility once but just as quickly, it was taken away and then it was too late.
People say you don’t really understand love until you become a parent and experience that soul-crushing, totally absolute love for your child.
The world is full of all kinds of love and Carol felt that fierce love, that compulsion to protect and nurture, to fight for somebody’s best interests, even though she has never been a mother.
‘’So don’t judge me because I am not a mother. I might not have children, but I was the oldest of four in my family, so I have changed diapers, wiped noses and handed out advice that wasn’t asked for. I might not have children, but I do have three nephews and four godchildren, mentor young colleagues at work and volunteer on a helpline for teenagers. I am the person your children can come to when they’re too scared, confused or ashamed to talk to you,” Carol would explain herself to anyone who cared to question her inability to have children.
Because she cannot have her own children, she subjects her nephews to endless walks and ice-creams dates.
‘’I can never look into a child’s eyes and see my own reflected back, but I can see my father’s laughing eye-roll in my brother’s expression, and hear my granny’s voice in my cousin’s conversation, because I’m still part of a family,” she says.
Carol might not find fulfilment in motherhood. But why should there be just one way in life to be fulfilled? And what sort of a world would it be if we all wanted to find fulfilment in the same thing – if we all wanted to be plumbers or dancers or pilots?
“I will not have children to look after me in old age, but what sort of people give birth solely to create carers? I do not know what it is like to give up part of my life for somebody else – just as mothers will never know what it is like not to. And neither of us will ever know what we have missed out on because of it,” she says.
Not having children has taught Carol that “mother” is a verb as well as a noun. She says that she is very happy being childless, although people really wind her up when they say, “Never mind dear”.
“As if I can never be happy without being a mother,”
There is an old African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. Carol says she is proud to be part of that village.