I often recall the time many years ago when a relative sympathized with the fact that my kittie had been spayed. Pigou was one of five girl cats we had and rather than face the difficult task of having to find homes for all of their offspring, or worse, put their lives in danger for lack of adequate care, we decided to get Mama Cat along with her four daughters fixed. My aunt’s words still resonate in my ears: “That is so sad. After all, every woman nurtures a desire to be a mother.” I remember feeling terrible. My parents and I had just committed the grave sin of severing Pigou (along with her sisters) from her identity – her natural role of mother. As I have gotten older, my views on Pigou and her lack of choice in the whole matter have changed, although I acknowledge that it may remain an ethical issue for some. Much as I empathize, however, Pigou and animal rights are not the center of this post, although a related topic is – that of motherhood.
I don’t have children. It is out of choice. I’m not sure when exactly I consciously decided to forego being a parent, but I suspect the seeds were sown sometime during my teenage years, the result of looking at the world around me. In particular, the memories of my mother turning from the self-assured, even independent woman I knew as a child to someone who was forced to limit herself to home and family later in life and get nothing in return; a picture which probably made me think that was what motherhood was really all about.
I am a woman and I love being one. But what exactly does being a woman entail? Does it only mean I belong to a particular sex? Does it confine me to my reproductive organs? And what happens when I decide not to put those organs to use – do I cease to be a woman? And then, of course, there is the issue of wanting a baby but being incapable of it, thereby raising the question of whether that would designate thousands of unfulfilled women less than female.
But I made the choice of not wanting to be a mother, which, for some would translate to a lack of those supposedly feminine attributes of empathy, gentleness and nourishment, while simultaneously bestowing upon me a certificate declaring I was a bonafide brash, ambitious, all-about myself “manly” woman. In other words, the sympathy reserved for “barren” women could now be replaced with mistrust, resentment and dismissal of a selfish woman like me.
The basic question seems to be, is there a specific way of perceiving the human body – only as male or female? Let me rephrase that. Rather, is the heteronormative understanding of what male and female ought to be, the only way of approaching the human body? And – within the context of this post – only in terms of the cultural directive that procreation is what “naturally” defines a woman?
As I grow older, I am becoming consciously aware of why I chose not to have kids. I have always been full of self doubt – am I strong enough to raise someone who will be utterly dependent on me physically, emotionally and financially? I worry whether I will be a good role model or if I will pass on to my child the fear and insecurity I had growing up and sometimes still find myself battling. I worry I will inadvertently seek to accomplish my own unfulfilled dreams through him or her. On the other hand, perhaps “a child will fix everything” – after all, motherhood is said to be one of the most selfless roles one could ever play, and in that process, I may find my own battles trifling and insignificant. But what if nothing changes? Do I then just say, “Oops, too bad, kiddo, I guess I was wrong”?
I admit there have been times when I have doubted my decision not to have children. That perhaps I am indeed “thinking too much.” But I have always been aware that somewhere those doubts stemmed from a social angle rather than biological instinct, that maybe I am thinking emotionally rather than rationally; I mean, isn’t that what people do – get married and start a family? That, what would happen to me when I got old and found myself alone, without my parents or partner? But eventually I always find myself questioning if these are valid enough reasons to want children.
I hope readers understand I am not saying motherhood has been glorified or over-rated. My decision against having children – something that my husband and I jointly decided – is a deeply personal one, and not out of a lack of love for tiny people; my niece has been a constant source of joy since the day she was born nine years ago. Neither is it out of a lack of respect for or sense of awe towards motherhood – I think being a parent, particularly a mother, is one of the toughest jobs on earth, and even without experiencing it, I can say the words “Mom,” “Mum,” “Maa,” “Amma,” “Ammi,” “Aai” define one of the most potentially selfless kinship titles in the world.
But does the fact that I have not gone through that experience make me deficit in any way? Rather than a defense, this is a plea to acknowledge that I’m no less of a woman just because my womb has always carried a “not occupied” sign on its door instead of a little person within. I don’t know how I’ll feel when I’m say sixty, well past my child-bearing capabilities, but I hope I never regret my decision, that I will always be able to remember why I chose not to have children. I also hope I never feel the need to apologize for being “less” of a woman.
And yes, I want to believe that Pigou, and my other kitties, did not hold any grudges against us; that the sixteen years of Pigou’s life were as joyful for her as they were for us because of her playful and loving presence.
 In case you are curious, my other cats hated the place we later moved to. Fortunately for them, and for us, a kindly elderly couple who had been very attached to the mother and three younger ones, adopted them, after which they led happy lives.
Vibha Shetiya was born in India and raised in Zambia before moving back to India as a teenager. She has been living in the US since 1999. She has degrees in journalism and religion and a Ph.D in Asian Cultures and Languages. Vibha moved to Albuquerque in 2014 from Austin where she completed her dissertation on feminist versions of the “Ramayana,” an ancient Hindu epic. She teaches at the University of New Mexico.