Longreads / Point Of View

Hands off my womb!

Nine days ago I turned 34. I’m not one of those women who stopped counting after 29 for fear of getting older, I think you take less crap as you age and that is never a bad thing. I have only feared never fulfilling my heart’s desires and/or losing the will to pursue them.

One thing that is getting more irritating every passing year though is being asked when I am going to reproduce.

Now I am not a hater, I like the tiny humans especially the ones my siblings have made. I live for those weeks over summer when I get to spend time with them; they love for no reason, they’re quick to forget anger and my heart is held gently in those tiny hands – rules to live by. But honestly I have never been one of those women who was just dying to become a mum. I also don’t think it’s a human right to become a mum. Quite frankly there are some women who should not experiment by having the tiny humans.

In addition, I don’t think squeezing out the tiny humans makes you a mum either, it’s in the raising of a child with love and care, surviving the trials and the joys hence I am a big fan of adoption. Ok, so you know where I stand.

Before I met my husband the question was when are you getting a boyfriend? When I met him, it was when are you getting married? Society is intent on rushing us through our own timeline assuming we should all follow the same trajectory.

Now, it’s When are you having a baby? And it gets very personal, people ask things like Are you working on it? It really is one of the few times in life when it seems socially acceptable to openly ask about your sex life, even when you’re not close.

A year after I got married I put on my first few kilos not because of wedded bliss but because moving to Norway for the second time had rendered me unemployed, I got depressed and as The Killers sing ‘my appetite it got no heart.’ When I headed back to Cape Town the place I called home for a long time, I popped by the dry cleaners I’d used for a decade. The lady hadn’t seen me in a year and when she did she was looking straight at my belly, grinning from ear to ear saying ‘so?!!’. That same day I stopped by the Laundromat where I was also a long-term customer to say hi to the sweet old lady. She’d asked me to bring some wedding photos. When she saw me, she immediately asked if I was expecting, I said no, I just got fat. She paused for a while and said ‘no, you really have to take care of that otherwise he’ll leave you.’ To which I replied ‘then he’s not the right guy after all.’

It disappointed me that these women had reduced my value to being a procreator. I had ‘succeeded’ in what women are expected to ‘succeed’ at – get married and work on having a baby.

At the time I was hustling for freelance work, trying to peddle my skills but that did not matter because I was married and was supposed to be working on my higher calling as some women will tell you about motherhood.

A friend of my husband’s once said to me over dinner ‘well why don’t you have a baby now’ seeing as how I had time being unemployed and all. Yes, it’s always nice to tell your offspring when they ask why you had them to say ‘well, I couldn’t find a full-time job and was bored.’ Something in this comment also told me that my unemployment would be more acceptable if there were a tiny human to care for and I resent that. ‘What do you do all day?’ ‘How do you pass the time?’ I am incessantly asked and we call ourselves emancipated. I may as well be living in a time before women had the right to vote.

Several months ago when we moved to Addis Ababa, whilst a driver took me around to try to convert my driver’s licence, to be polite I asked him about his family and he spoke at length of his kids which of course ended in asking if we had any and why not. ‘You must have kids,’ he said as a closing remark ‘It’s important.’

To whom? I ask myself.

On the lighter side, the possible grandparents are the funniest of all with their pleas for grandkids. They act like it’s an assembly line in a factory and all you have to do is place your order. You ever heard grandparents talking? I have six grandkids now or two or I am waiting for so and so to give me my first one. And whenever you’re sick they think it’s because you’re pregnant.

In the beginning we joked when people threw the baby question at us. We’d say things like we were waiting for our nieces and nephews to be old enough to babysit so we can still do grown-up things.

When we lived in Gaza the question I was asked most within minutes of meeting someone was do I have kids? Followed by why not? I’d go to someone’s house and meet some random old ladies who’d rub my belly and say why don’t you have a baby? Or is there a baby in there? At my gym, there was a wonderful woman whose tearful, parting words to me were ‘I pray you have a baby’.
One day I visited a friend for lunch and her mum asked me had I been to the doctor. I didn’t understand as I was well and she said well you’ve been married a few years now and still nothing. I told her we were not trying to have one and she looked at me puzzled, ‘haven’t you had enough honeymoon, time to give your husband a child, he should be stricter on you.’ To her, I was denying my husband his right by not fulfilling my duty.

Now that we’re not living in Gaza we’ve been told by people we know that the ‘conditions’ are probably better to reproduce. And that I should let go of this idea that there is a right time to have a baby. There sure isn’t but I do believe though that there is a wrong time.

Parenting sometimes looks like a combat sport and you’ll be lucky to get off with your hearing intact by the time they leave your home (if they do). I often tell my sister, mother of three, two of whom are 6 and nearly 5 that when I visit it takes a day to tune into their frequency because I am accustomed to my quiet house.

Some of her friends keep telling me to get on the baby wagon, no pun intended. To them we point out the hours we hear parents complaining about lack of sleep, managing the school runs and activities between work and having to make friends with the parents of your kids’ friends even when the chemistry is wrong, because rightly, your child should have the best possible chance to have a positive childhood.

And nothing shrivels up the ovaries like the sound of mutiny in the household of people raising tiny humans. Those little beings are cleverer than grown-ups and our energy levels do not match up most days.

I know that is only an aspect of what parenting is about and that’s not why we haven’t made our own tiny human. I am not making any declarations on the issue of children in our life either way but I don’t want to have to defend what we are right now.

For me it is about choice. Just like it is not my place to tell a mother of seven that maybe an eighth is not the best choice if they are already overrun, it is no one’s place to tell my husband and I if and when to reproduce.

But we’re always told the cautionary tales from older friends who have waited ‘too long’. It is scary when they keep telling you that you don’t have as much time as you think. Or the downright nasty people as an ex-friend (you’ll see why) once cruelly told me ‘you’ll find one day when you want one you can’t have one.’ For it is still considered a punishable offence to even think about not having a child.

And then you have to deal with what people think your life is like if you are not raising kids. Like in an office space when women with children tell those without that they can afford to work longer hours because they don’t have such responsibilities. Whilst I believe mothers should get to work flexible hours it should not be at the expense of those without kids. I have chosen something and my free time is just as valuable even if I am going to ‘waste’ it on watching a marathon of Kiefer Sutherland in 24 or shopping or eating out. Usually it’s a marathon of 24 and not the fancy picture of nights out and late parties during the week that couples without kids are portrayed as living, though the sleeping in on the weekend is true.

Remember the Time article in 2013 saying when having it all means no kids. I think the trouble with it is that we are constantly being told what it means to be a happy woman, that it is somehow a formula that can be replicated. Only a few decades ago to be a happy woman meant being the wholesome housewife who cooks and cleans all day with a tireless smile, then it meant being the ‘ball-busting’ CEO who didn’t need any man let alone anyone because she was super woman and now there’s the glamorous picture of women taking time off from work to raise their kids.

How about we just leave people to define ‘having it all’ better yet happiness for themselves?

That said I would be lying though if I said it didn’t make me a little nervous how people go on about my womb. What if we get to that point and I can’t do it? Will I feel less woman? Because we’re in a crazy situation where being a woman means being a mother.

I’d like to think no because it is a fundamental belief of mine (even if I struggle sometimes and situations test it) that I am valuable just for being me.

I once said to a father of four that I thought people only had kids for themselves and he said for whom else shall we have them? What I meant was that I have seen too many people have kids to fill a void and that doesn’t seem right. I hope that to want a child is to want to add something to an already beautiful living, to commit to helping that person be who they want to be and not just because something is missing.

When people ask me why I got married, I mumble a lot because I’d been hesitant for so long about marriage but usually because we love each other comes out but we could love each other without being married so that’s not really the reason. And I guess perhaps it is much the same when it comes to having kids or not. There isn’t really a single defining reason.

Ultimately is one’s life not about being the one you choose to live in a way that feels right?

So hands off my womb! It is not the measure of me.

screaming

Screaming out loud!

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