Going child-free: Indian women opting for lives without kids
“To my mind, motherhood feels like a form of bondage, in that there is so much responsibility, guilt and emotion that you are in danger of losing your logical self.” Archana Sethi (name changed), 28, Mumbai-based marketing professional.
“I don’t believe you have to bear a child to give it a mother’s love. We have so many nephews and nieces around that we don’t miss having a child of our own.” Manjuri Hazarika, 37, Delhi-based e-entrepreneur.
In India, where having a child has not traditionally been a matter of choice, there’s a growing number of women agreeing with Archana and Manjuri. And, as Amrita Nandy has found, protecting their careers is often last on the women’s lists of reasons for staying childless.
Nandy, a social scientist and former Fox International Fellow at Yale University, wrote a 2013 paper titled ‘Outliers of Motherhood’, about being childfree in India. She is now in the final stages of a book on the subject. “I have spoken to scores of women, and many think of it more as being ‘childfree’ — or free to not have children,” says Nandy. “Most were driven by concerns about the ecology and cultural environment, put off by high levels of pollution, consumption, materialism and crime. They all wondered why they should bring another human into this mess.”
To varying degrees, there is still shame, stigma, awkwardness or silence around the issue of remaining child-free, Nandy says.“But as we move towards a more individualistic society, with more nuclear families, the decision to have children is no longer made by the extended family, but by the couple,” family counsellor Gouri Dange adds.
“In the past few years, what it takes to raise a child has been defined,” she adds, “and there are enough women who just don’t want to do it.”
In February, the matrimonial profile of Indhuja, a Bangalore-based interaction designer and self-professed ‘tomboy’, went viral. “My parents, concerned that I was ‘still’ unmarried, created a politically correct profile on a matrimonial site. Ticked off, I created a website of my own with the real details,” says the 24-year-old, who goes by only one name.
‘…NOT a womanly woman… Won’t grow long hair, ever. Looking for: A man, preferably bearded, who is passionate about seeing the world. Someone who earns for himself and does NOT hate his job… NOT a family guy…’ her posting went. It has had 7.5 lakh views so far and Indhuja has meanwhile broken it to her parents that while she might marry, she will definitely not be giving them any grandchildren.
“I love biking long-distance, and I don’t want to be tied down by having a child to stay home for. I need to be able to take off for weeks, not knowing when I will come back,” she says. “If I did have a child, it wouldn’t be raised the way it was meant to be, and I don’t want that either.”
Indhuja laughingly adds that her parents, for the most part, understand and support her. “They keep asking if I’ve got any interesting suitors from the website and I tell them that if nothing works out, I can always marry my true love — my bike.”
Incidentally, the website has brought her 200 suitors but none exceptional enough to make her break her rule about not meeting guys online.
Suchismita Dasgupta, 41, is a busy costume designer who loves to travel. “I move around a lot for work, and I enjoy it. I also take at least two holidays a year — one of them at least a month long,” she says. “I socialise a lot, meeting friends for beers after work nearly every day, as I wait for my husband to get home.”
Dasgupta and her husband have been married eight years and been together for ten, and through that time have periodically revisited their discussions about not having children. “It’s a decision we’ve never regretted,” Suchismita says.
They married relatively late — she was 33, he was 39 — so most of their friends and cousins had already had kids, and Suchismita says seeing the sacrifices involved in parenting cemented their decision. “I’ve always loved kids. I’m a favourite aunt. But I don’t fancy the idea of putting my life on hold,” Suchismita says. “Right now I can decide to pack my bags and go away for the weekend, or unwind after a hard day’s work with friends, without having to worry about school, homework or exams; without feeling guilty about doing what I want for myself.”
For the couple, another factor was the rising incidence of crimes against children. “I can’t imagine having to worry all the time that your children might not come home safe,” she says. “In its current form, the world doesn’t feel like a safe place for children.”
Marketing executive Archana Sethi , 28, had always wondered whether she was cut out for motherhood. In early 2015 she married her boyfriend of two years, 32-year-old businessman Aditya, and the idea that she might become a mother suddenly became very real. Too real, she says.
That’s when she decided to admit to herself, her husband and her parents that it was just not something she wanted. “To my mind, motherhood feels like a form of bondage, in that there is so much responsibility, guilt and emotion that you are in danger of losing your logical self,” she says.
Sethi adds that she wouldn’t want to outsource parenting to grandparents. “And I want the freedom to work on myself,” she adds. “I used to sing as a child, and I would like to pursue formal vocal training. I want to learn new things, pursue a PhD in mythology, maybe eventually teach it someday. Knowing me, every time I had to give a passion up for a child, I would probably end up resenting him or her.”
It hasn’t been easy convincing her husband, she admits, but she managed by adding to her own arguments the one that the world is too complicated and dangerous — with its terrorism, sexual crimes and environmental messes — to bring a new life into.
“What really tipped the scales for Aditya was that photo in September of the dead Syrian refugee child washed ashore in Turkey,” she says. “We still haven’t discussed the subject with his parents, and my parents keep trying to coax me to change my mind. But I am clear that I don’t want kids. And my husband now says he cannot imagine bringing a new life into a world like this.”
Two years ago, we were almost bankrupt,” says Manjuri Hazarika, 37, who runs an e-commerce portal in Delhi and married a marketing manager three years ago. “We married late, and we were both still struggling with our careers. The decision to not have children has, for us, been a practical and joint one.”
Most of Manjuri’s relatives and friends are well-settled. She worries that if they had a child, the little one would not have the privileges that other children in their circle do. “We have so many nieces and nephews that we do not miss having children,” she adds. “Also, my work, with a company that is still at the fledgling stage, needs almost as much patience as raising a baby would. Eventually, we plan to sponsor the education of underprivileged children so as to do our bit — but we definitely don’t want to have any of our own.”
While Manjuri’s parents are deceased, her in-laws are not too happy with the decision. “They don’t like the idea, so we don’t discuss it. There’s always been a communication gap with them, because we are from different cultures and schools of thought,” she says. “I may not be able to explain the reasons to them, but I make my own decisions, and have a husband who supports me. My husband and I have faced many hardships together, so we can handle the pressure.”