I guess I am not mother material,” muses Gayatri Sharma*. The senior executive in a publishing firm in New Delhi is 41-years-old, has been married for 14 years and does not have a child. “I don’t think we consciously decided at any point that we would never have a child,” she explains.
“In the beginning, my husband and I were struggling to make a mark at work. We had invested in a house, bought a car and all our money went into EMIs. How could we afford a child, especially since it would mean the loss of one income — mine?”
Over time the money worries receded, but Gayatri did not take the plunge into motherhood. “I don’t want to be encumbered. Now I am free to travel for work or go on an impromptu trip to the hills or to splurge a few lakhs on an expensive camera,” she says.
It has not been easy to stick to her decision. Her husband was keen to have kids and her reluctance to conceive almost led to the marriage breaking down. “I thought he was being unduly swayed by emotions,” says Gayatri. But the couple has overcome these problems.
Sarah Mathew*, a 36-year-old Mumbai-based media professional, says something similar: “I never thought of myself as a maternal person. I prefer to stay focussed on my career and just have fun.” As for her husband, initially he’d wanted a child “because everyone expects you to have one. Sarah and I talked about it and decided a child won’t fit in with the kind of lifestyle that we aspired to have. Today, it’s a non-issue,” says Sarah’s husband, Thomas.
The Matthews may call it a non-issue but their decision to not have a child is a big issue in a culture that looks up at women as mothers and looks down at women who, for whatever reason, don’t have one.
The trend, if one can call it that, of women voluntarily choosing to remain childless is limited to a small segment in India that lives in cities, is highly educated and career-oriented.
It is not as widespread as in the West, where Time devoted its cover story in August to ‘The Childfree Life’. In the US, the magazine reported, one in five women never bore children, up from one in 10 in the 1970s. There is little research into the phenomenon in India, but one district-level household survey by Mumbai-based International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) in 2007 found that 1.4% of women in the 20-49 age group did not have children. Researchers, however, agree that the number of childless women is on the rise here too.
The stress of modern living and having to balance career with home, is responsible most of the time, but there are other reasons such as “the lack of a support system in the form of day care facilities” points out Dr Usha Ram, fellow at the Centre for Global Health Research in Canada and professor at IIPS.
Kids’ safety is another concern. “I don’t think this world, where rapes, kidnappings and murder are so common, is any place to bring new lives into,” says 42-year-old Shradha*, a teacher in Bangalore. Others like Ashika Vyas, 31-year-old Pune based Holistic Healer, say they don’t feel up to handling the demands and tantrums of today’s children. “Not that I dislike children, but raising them is a different ball-game. Kids have changed a lot, it was different a few decades back. Now they are more rebellious and demanding,” she says. Ashika has two dogs and showers motherly love on them. “At least with them, I don’t need to negotiate with them on food — palak khaoge toh icecream hi milegi, or do your homework and I’ll buy you a toy.”
This is not to say, as most of the women went to some pains to emphasise, that they don’t like children. “I love my nieces and nephews,” says Sarah. “I am not one of those people who get angry when a child starts throwing a fit in the movie theatre. Having kids is a wonderful choice. But thank god that is still a choice that you can make!”
A district level household survey by IIPS in 2007 found that 1.4 per cent of women in the 20-49 age category did not have children
*Names have been changed
Inputs from Anu Prabhakar in Mumbai, Navjyoti Dalal, Anjali Shetty and Renuka Deshpande in Pune; Malavika Velayanikal in Bangalore; Gargi Gupta and Amrita Madhukalya in New Delhi