When I was 14, I went to a friend’s place. There was a newborn in the house; a four-month-old round cuddly soft little creature with big almond eyes. He looked beautiful.
All my friends waited for their turn to play with him, one even picked him up and put him in her lap. The boy was happy, smiling and making the noises that babies do, while trying to touch her face with his lilliputian fingers.
I, too, waited for my turn anxiously. I had never held a baby this small earlier. When I went near him, and held my arms out, he looked at me and gave a little cry followed by a full-on holler that continued until I walked away from him. It was evident that he hated me. Scared and shocked, I slowly took a step back.
My friend, another 14-year-old, told me with sagely wisdom, “Maybe, it’s your hair.”
Maybe it was. I had a big head of black wild curls.
Except that a decade later, I realised it wasn’t my hair, it was me. Kids and I do not get along well. They hate me, and I don’t either like them particularly.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realised that I do not want a child of my own. I found it odd because growing up, every woman I had met wanted a baby eventually. I almost thought there was something off about me until I came across stories of women who had no maternal instinct. Their feelings immediately resonated with how I felt about kids.
I do not hate them, but I don’t find them cute or adorable either. If you leave me with a baby alone, I will keep him safe, feed him, maybe even change his dirty diaper. I will do what it takes, but almost mechanically, devoid of any emotion on an auto-pilot mode.
It wasn’t long before I knew that motherhood was not for me. I discussed it with my partner and considering all the factors, we decided kids were not for us.
We made an informed, reasoned and conscious decision to not bring another life into the world where too many people are already fighting for too little resources. We are also not palpably excited about the emotional and financial responsibility that comes along with it. Kids are expensive. Far too many people around us are neck-deep in debt because they brought a life into this world that they can’t afford.
For us, there are other dreams and plans which are more important to us than making babies.
And that is the story of how we decided to remain child-free.
The end, right? Except it isn’t.
Turns out, and unsurprisingly so, my womb is everyone’s business. My decision to not have a kid has affected everyone deeply. No, not my partner, but other people, who probably won’t have a thing to do with the responsibilities that come.
You see, in our desi families, (thanks Sooraj Barjatya) the question is never if – but always when and how many?
Kids are considered ‘Bhagwan ki den’ and how dare you say no to the gift of god.
My mother has told me, in no sweet words, that one day I will regret my decision. My in-laws often look at the kids’ section at the shopping malls. I hear a deep sigh of disappointment behind me as I swiftly walk, pretending to not see the flowery skirts with matching bows.
Social gatherings as a married woman with no kids yet (or at all) are a different kind of torment altogether.
Time and again, I find myself surrounded by our homegrown sources of ancient wisdom, distant relatives and neighbourhood aunties. Whispering to me how I will die a lonely old woman without having someone to take care of me, because I am selfish.
If you look at it from where I stand, I think it is far more selfish to bring like a whole human being into the world so that he takes care of me when I am old.
The same aunties who told me not to go out without a dupatta lest the world know I have breasts, will wink at me in a room full of people, asking, “Aur beta, good news kab de rahi ho?” (When are you giving the good news?). Some ‘well-meaning’ relatives have told me assuringly that I should not worry, and one day god will give me everything.
I agree, there are a plethora of credible reasons to have kids, but definitely not because ‘couples must start a family’ – because you know what, a couple is already a family, even without a baby!
People also do not comprehend the difference between being ‘child-free’ and being ‘childless’. Being child-free is a liberating decision to build a life without children. Completely in contrast to being childless, which is a term for couples who do want children, but currently, don’t or can’t have. For many parents, childlessness is a source of acute grief, and I empathise with them.
While my partner and I are completely happy in our own little world with a dog and two cats, I still dream of a day where people do not look at me like a deviant, an emotionless psychopath who hates kids, forcing me to constantly defend my womanhood just because I refuse to bring a child out of my womb.
I dream of a world where people understand that just because I have the parts to make a baby, doesn’t mean I ought to.
Ananya Singh is a former journalist who worked across the spectrum for six years before leaving the city for a quiet, slow life in the hills. When she is not working or travelling, she spends her days in a quaint little town of Northeast India with her partner and two cats, sipping red wine and writing poetry.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty