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‘I’m Grieving The Mother I Will Not Be’: The Conflicts Of Rejecting Motherhood

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Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India

Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for September, 2021 is Parenthood. We invite submissions on the many layers of being parents, having parents and navigating the social norms of parenting throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to sukanya@feminisminindia.com


I never thought I’d be married. Growing up, I couldn’t imagine what my future looked like outside of vague images of me wearing pencil skirts and crisp shirts in a corporate setting. There was no house, husband or wife, let alone rambunctious children in the picture. 

Motherhood has always been taught to me as one of the prerequisites not only of womanhood but adulthood itself. Like marriage, it’s embedded in our social trajectory. Whether it’s been explicitly laid out or it’s something we’ve learnt through what’s been (not so subtly) hinted, we are subject to endless conversations about “when we’re getting married”.

If we do finally get married, people automatically switch to parenthood. Children are an expectation rather than a freely given choice. If we refuse the conversations or assert that we have decided against children, it’s seen as selfish. 

Image: Parents

I was wrong about marriage, but I can almost say with certainty, I don’t plan to have children. I wonder how much of these decisions are led by conscious thought and whether the decision about children is led by fear. For too many of us, we are busy surviving our gendered childhoods, trying to reconcile why we are treated so differently. Unfortunately, for many women, marriage is an escape from their family homes where they are given no freedom. 

For many non-resident Indians, we sugar coat our upbringings, “My parents were strict,” we tell our friends, especially our White friends who don’t understand the intricacies of the culture. We feel pressurised not to paint our communities negatively and many of us are scared to name the abuses we have suffered. 

There are more thoughts inside of me that I know will brand me as selfish. I think about the physical trauma my chronically ill body will need to endure. The time for myself that I relish, which I’ll need to sacrifice. I worry whether parenting will unveil cracks in my relationship

Some women think of marriage as an escape, only to find that they are subject to subjugation from their in-laws. But for many, before they truly have a chance to know themselves, they are burdened with a lifetime of responsibilities. Many people jump from caring for their children to caring for elderly family members, sometimes simultaneously. Our society expects women to self-sacrifice without question.

Now that I am married and living in an entirely different country, motherhood is seen as the next step for me. Yet, I am still tethered to my past. Like many women, motherhood is a choice that is muddied with uncertainties. We grapple with healing from our traumatic pasts and how we can raise children without intergenerational trauma being passed on. 

Image: Shape

Years ago, I had coffee with my now husband’s parents. I watched his mother coo over a stranger’s baby then look over to me. It felt like she was giving me a silent hint. Instead of feeling torn, I felt more defiant. Similarly, my mother used to talk about wanting a grandchild. Her underlying presumption is that I want a child. My rebuttal of the fact that I wasn’t allowed to make decisions about my own body, added fuel to the fire.

Also read: Infertility Advertisements: Reinforcing Gender Roles Through Reproductive Desire

I often wonder if it’s fair for me to bring children into this world. Most of us are aware of the crushing realities like global warming, colonial power structures, wealth inequality, information overload, our bodies being used as fodder to fuel capitalist structures, the list goes on. 

I wonder if the privileges I have are enough to allow a child to succeed. I’m not sure if I have the money to raise a child, another chasm between economic divides – who is allowed to have children? Regardless of gender, I worry about the patriarchal systems in power and how they would affect my children (the ones I’ll likely never have).

There are more thoughts inside of me that I know will brand me as selfish. I think about the physical trauma my chronically ill body will need to endure. The time for myself that I relish, which I’ll need to sacrifice. I worry whether parenting will unveil cracks in my relationship. 

Image: iStock

I worry that they won’t have a chance to explore their culture within the community. I’ve isolated myself to get away from conservative values and sometimes I miss the sense of community. How can I pass on my culture when there’s so much I don’t know myself?

Rationally, I have decided against having children even as my body fights against me. When I’m out and about and I see a pudgy baby with round cheeks in a onesie, I can feel my heart falter. 

People tell me that I’m patient (I’m not) and that I’d be a good mother, even though this is likely just reinforcing the general assumption that I’d sacrifice my sense of self. The fear is not that I wouldn’t be a self-assured, compassionate, loving parent. I’m scared that I would be, I’m grieving who I could be as a mother and I know I’m perhaps not alone

I scroll through the social media feeds of my friends, many of them mothers now, dressing their children up in adorable outfits. They raise and they nourish and they take self-sacrifice in steed. They tell me it’s hard but meaningful and I wonder if those empty spaces in my life could be filled with taking care of a new life. I feel like I’m betraying a part of myself when I’m consciously deciding against motherhood.

I experience this conflict in silence, and I know many women are in the same boat. I experience privilege in being allowed to make a choice. I think about non-cisgender people who are not granted this choice easily. I know cisgender women who are not granted this choice, and those who feel they cannot exercise it because of their layered circumstances.

Image: Dreamstime

I can imagine myself raising my children, in a house I can’t afford. I would listen to parenting podcasts, apologise if I raise my voice, I would comfort them when they are hurting, I would listen to them talk about their days and emotions when they’re willing to talk.

People tell me that I’m patient (I’m not) and that I’d be a good mother, even though this is likely just reinforcing the general assumption that I’d sacrifice my sense of self. The fear is not that I wouldn’t be a self-assured, compassionate, loving parent. I’m scared that I would be, I’m grieving who I could be as a mother and I know I’m perhaps not alone.

Also read: How Representation In Media Shapes The Public Opinion On Abortion


Sushmita Sipraga is a Tokyo-based queer creative exploring feminist issues. She draws from her layered experience as part of the Indian diaspora and is currently studying contemporary art, Hindi and Japanese. You may find her on Instagram

Featured Image: Feminism In India

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