A woman’s lot in life

Be­ing a mother is a hard slog; the de­mands are of­ten re­lent­less.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - Star2@thes­tar.com.my Mother­hood comes with a load of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. — 123rf.com

WHEN my grand­mother was a young girl, she al­ready knew her main pur­pose in life was to find a suit­able hus­band and have chil­dren. My great-grand­mother would have told her, most likely in a no-non­sense man­ner, that no woman was deemed ful­filled un­til she mar­ried and had at least a few ba­bies to ce­ment the re­la­tion­ship.

My grand­mother would also have been told not to leave it too late or be too par­tic­u­lar when de­cid­ing on a hus­band. If she’d ig­nored this ad­vice and had been left on the shelf, like a packet of stale bis­cuits that no one wanted, she might have car­ried the shame with her for the rest of her life. Af­ter all, a spin­ster was viewed by so­ci­ety as a waste of a womb – some­one to be pitied.

Also to be pitied was a mar­ried woman who couldn’t have chil­dren. Of course, way back then (when in­fer­til­ity treat­ments were in their in­fancy) it was as­sumed to be the woman’s fault if she couldn’t con­ceive. Her hus­band’s sper­ma­to­zoa could have had all the motil­ity of a beached whale, but the ac­cus­ing fin­ger would not have been pointed at him.

A lit­tle fur­ther back in time, doc­tors main­tained the idea that a woman’s per­sonal mis­be­haviour caused most cases of in­fer­til­ity. And we’re not just talk­ing about phys­i­cal mis­be­haviour. One Har­vard doc­tor warned that heavy men­tal ac­tiv­ity (school­ing) dur­ing ten­der teenage years might de­stroy a young woman’s re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem: “The re­sults are mon­strous brains and puny bod­ies. If the re­pro­duc­tive ma­chin­ery is not man­u­fac­tured then, it will not be later. The brain can­not take more than its share with­out in­jury to other or­gans.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up, even if I tried. What hap­pened to all these ed­u­cated women with mon­strous brains and re­dun­dant re­pro­duc­tive sys­tems? This sort of alarmist talk was surely de­signed to keep a woman in her place: preg­nant and in the kitchen, with her tiny brain fo­cussed on all things do­mes­tic.

With so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tude to­wards a woman’s role firmly en­trenched, it was al­most un­heard of for a mar­ried woman to choose not to have chil­dren. I mean to say, no sane woman would spurn her main role in life.

These days, mother­hood can be achieved in so many dif­fer­ent ways, even when a woman is in­fer­tile. So, if a woman doesn’t have chil­dren, it’s prob­a­bly be­cause it’s her choice. If she doesn’t have an egg, she can get one of those too. If there are no fresh eggs to be had, she can get a frozen one – all she needs to do is de­frost it in the mi­crowave for a minute, stir in a fresh male do­na­tion, and rent a womb for nine months – if she isn’t quite up to the task.

Al­though things have changed tremen­dously in the “You Too Can Have A Baby” depart­ment since my grand­mother’s days, over in the “I Don’t Want A Baby” depart­ment, old at­ti­tudes linger. Women who choose not to have chil­dren are of­ten viewed as be­ing cold, self­ish, ma­te­ri­al­is­tic, or ex­ces­sively ca­reer-driven.

I don’t see any­thing wrong with not want­ing chil­dren. Some women just don’t feel ma­ter­nal, or maybe they feel they can make a difference with their ca­reers, or they just don’t want to add another hu­man be­ing to the bil­lions al­ready liv­ing on this ail­ing planet. I know a num­ber of women who have cho­sen not to have chil­dren, and they most cer­tainly don’t con­form to the mis­er­able stereo­type that still seems to fol­low them around.

Fi­nally, there’s that group of women who have chil­dren and later re­alise they don’t like be­ing moth­ers. For a long time, such women sucked it up in si­lence, mostly be­cause they were afraid that they would be clas­si­fied as un­car­ing self­ish mon­sters. But now they seem to be pop­ping up here and there on so­cial me­dia as they share their sto­ries. It takes a lot of courage to ad­mit that you haven’t bonded with your child.

Be­ing a mother is a hard slog. The de­mands are of­ten re­lent­less, but bond­ing with her baby will help any mother cope with the end­less night feeds and dirty di­a­pers. Oth­er­wise, she’ll just feel stuck in an end­less cy­cle of drudgery with no es­cape and no re­ward.

I’m aware of the crit­i­cism that these women have ex­pe­ri­enced in re­turn for their open­ness, much of it from other women. I think any woman with a prob­lem with a baby de­serves to be heard as much as all the other women who have ex­er­cised their rights to be heard with re­gard to mother­hood over the years. Surely our mon­strous brains tell us that’s the right thing to do.

Check out Mary on Face­book at www. face­book.com/mary.sch­nei­der.writer

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