I was reading an essay, “Childless, naturally – Reflections on not being a mother” by Urvashi Butalia yesterday and it brought back memories.
I’ve been childless for the longest time – my daughter was born 10 years after my marriage. During her rice eating ceremony at 5 months, a friend asked, “how did it happen?” This friend has been married for almost 6 years now and I understood where she was coming from.
In fact I’d been toying with that question myself for some time.
We were married in 2002 and had been actively trying to have a baby till 2006. There was nothing physically wrong with either of us – we just couldn’t become parents. I visited doctors, went through numerous IUIs (intrauterine insemination), had a laparoscopy done for polycystic ovary syndrome. I even had a miscarriage.
I felt violated at every visit having to spread my legs while the doctors prodded and poked. There was no sympathy or empathy. Some doctors were nice while others were businesslike. The statement ‘have relations’ made love making sound mindlessly mechanical. Sometimes I believed that this was what I really wanted, sometimes I just went with it while at other times I desperately wanted someone to stop and listen or let me cry my heart out.
Then there were the never ending questions and look of unwarranted sympathy from family, friends and complete strangers! Once my husband’s cousin, 11 years younger asked me why we didn’t have children. I was aghast not only because he was actually questioning me directly but because it made me realise the kind of discussions that were happening behind our backs. I told him to back off!
Did we really want children or were we being pressurized to want children? I couldn’t figure it out. Sometimes I accepted that we were fine without children, sometimes I felt incomplete. We had friends with children and it suited us well to ’emote as parents’ with them. Sometimes it felt great that we didn’t have to deal with the crankiness or responsibilities that parenting came with.
Yes, there were also times when I wondered about ‘legacy’ – I felt that life as it is would end with us – there would be no one to carry on our names. It didn’t help matters when relatives assumed we’d have to give up our inheritance to siblings because we didn’t have children! But then again, I questioned myself, how would it matter when we’re dead? I didn’t believe in life after death so it was futile just worrying about it.
But I did – I felt like something was missing. I couldn’t define it. Was it the feeling that ‘I had so much to give but no one to give it to?’ Was it that I felt I had nothing to contribute when friends or family would sit to discuss children – grandchildren and their antics? Was it that sense of discomfort when people ‘allowed’ us to be parents to their children in their effort to help us understand how it feels?
In 2008 I remember discussing with my husband the possibility of adoption. It was a long conversation but in the end we finally decided to close the chapter, once and for all. We would just be happy as DINKs, living and loving every moment of our lives. Whatever residual feels we might have about children would be for us to deal with individually. We wouldn’t bring it up for discussion.
And then ironically end 2011 I suddenly found out that I was pregnant. It had ‘just happened’ without any medical assistance. It was a miracle. I felt blessed. We were happy.
Now how could I explain all this to my friend? It felt weird and sounded hollow when I tried to say, ‘I know what you’re going through – I’ve experienced it. But don’t worry it will happen some day, just don’t loose hope. God works in mysterious ways so keep the faith.’ People had told me the same thing years ago and went on to talk about other couples who had children year’s later.
No matter what I said, they were just words – even to my ears. Perhaps these are emotions, feelings, wants we just have to experience personally and then work our way through them. It was up to us how we dealt with them. No amount of explanation helps.
It was the most uncomfortable conversation – more so because I couldn’t control the feeling of euphoria (or was it accomplishment) when I saw my child in her arms!