May 2013: Like us, more and more Double Income No Kids couples today are choosing to stay that way. Why, and why not?
Shortly after we hit our first wedding anniversary, the questions started. First, it was family, asking us for the euphemistic ‘Good News’. Then, it was ‘just curious’, well-meaning friends: “When are you guys planning kids?” Soon, Facebook too jumped on the bandwagon, and has started targeting me for maternity wear and baby product ads. To its intuitive algorithm and society alike, recently married plus over thirty equals wannabe mommy.
Maybe not. When we tell people that Sahil and I don’t want kids, most are gobsmacked, others are more curious; and all want an explanation. So here’s ours: I don’t really like kids (Sahil does, but others’), and neither of us wants the responsibility. We love our full, chaotic lives; we’re workaholics who socialise like we’re 21 and travel at whim. We’re impatient and self-involved. The idea of a tiffin-school-bus routine at 6 AM makes us baulk. Plus, there’s the daunting expense. We like being Double Income No Kids and involved pet parents.
When I recently spent the day with a childhood friend who is now a full-time mother of two under-fives, I was further convinced. She’s a beautiful, patient parent, catering to their every whim, a high-stress 24x7 job that leaves her with not a minute for herself. As we walked around the park pushing the stroller, one eye on her son playing, she said, “When friends tell me there’s family pressure to have children, I tell them this is something they should do for themselves, no one else. If you’re going to resent your kids for the five-six intense years and a lifetime of responsibility, don’t do it. You’re bringing up human beings.” And I was thinking: being a favourite aunty is one thing, daily parenting is quite another.
There are counter-arguments to every pro-child argument. I don’t buy in to this idealising and romanticising of pregnancy and the motherhood myth, and don’t see parenting as ‘the most important thing you can do with your life’. Unguaranteed eternal love and support in ones old age for a lifetime of responsibility does not seem to be worth it, neither is there undisputed evidence that kids ‘bind’ couples together. Legacy, family name are inconsequential issues (an auto driver I had a long conversation with in Delhi said I was shunning my "duty").
No one is genetically perfect, and eugenics isn’t fool-proof anyway: remember the anecdote, variously attributed to Nobel Prize-winner Anatole France and dancer Isadora Duncan, playwright GB Shaw and Duncan, and even playwright Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe. She, the beauty, apparently said to him, the brain: “Would it not be wonderful if we could have a child who had your brains and my beauty?” His reply was, “Yes, but supposing it had your brains and my beauty!”
One could argue that our sex drives naturally exist for procreation. But I believe we must evolve psychologically and socially beyond biology. We’ve taken the first step: most of the sex we have is for pleasure. The second step is realising that the human race does not need to produce more young; if anything, our race is under greatest threat from an exploding population, and its impact on the planet. Is a desire for ones own young important enough to leave a carbon footprint as large as a life?
To my mind, the only compelling argument is evidence that the woman’s body needs to give birth to fend off certain cancers and other diseases.
These are our reasons. In what could be a sign of impending demographic change, I know three or four other similarly inclined educated, urban couples, whose reasons vary from not liking kids, to not feeling mature or wealthy enough to have them, to a whole combination of arguments listed above. One couple, married over 10 years, talks about how its childlessness is assumed to be a problem, not voluntary. Pushing public-private boundaries, people have asked them if they’re undergoing infertility treatment and put collective social pressure on their personal lives. “They cannot fathom that this is what anyone would choose or that this is a choice we have the right to make.”
We all know people who should never have become parents, whose kids you cross your fingers for. I am reminded of lines from my favourite poem, ‘Right To Life’ by Marge Piercy. It is pro-abortion, and focuses on the wellbeing of both mother and child: "Every baby born has a right to love/ like a seedling to sun. Every baby born/ unloved, unwanted, is a bill that will come/ due in twenty years with interest, an anger/ that must find a target, a pain that will/ beget pain." If there was less pressure and obligation, if saying you don’t like children and want none wasn’t treated like abject blasphemy, if having children was treated as a choice and not an assumption, if childlessness wasn’t presumed to be a medical problem to be treated with pity, perhaps more people would see having children as a lifestyle decision, much like having a pet. They would ask themselves if they’re each ready, emotionally, financially, if child rearing is right for them, not just the indoctrinated, unreasonable, socially ingrained "bacché toh karne hi chahiye" statement I got from my domestic help.
Minds change, mistakes happen, so maybe we’ll end up having an adopted or biological child or two. But I ask Sahil if we’ll wake up one morning, past my childbearing years, and want a child. “We can always adopt then,” he says, matter-of-factly. “Genetics are a funny, unpredictable thing anyway.”
An edited version of this column appeared in Governance Now in May 2013.