Thursday, 7 May 2015

When The Child You're Meant To Have Is Already Out There( DO READ:))

Swati Thiyagarajan(A columnist, a senior special correspondent with NDTV)
 I never played with dolls. I played house, had little toy vessels and a stove and so on, but no dolls. I liked mixing and making things in that dollhouse's kitchen but never wanted to feed those meals to a doll, a pretend baby. I always had the hugest soft spot for baby animals. To date, there is not one that I see that I don't want to take home - except for the human baby.

When I was 16, a memorable conversation with girlfriends in boarding school went somewhat like this. "Wow, in a month we will all graduate, and not see each other everyday anymore". "So, what do you think you want to do? You know, with life. Imagine who we will be in ten years if we meet then." All the girls said they would have strong careers, definitely get married; everyone said they wanted kids. I was on board with the careers and the marriage, but stuttered to a halt on the kids. "You don't want kids?" "No, I don't". I was told I would change my mind. I never did.

For the record, I like kids. They are great. They are also hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I always had a certain vision of my life. Animals figured predominantly, a husband less predominantly, and a child not at all. Could I have articulated why I didn't want kids at 16? Can I articulate it any better now? All I can say is that I just knew I did not want to have children. For the many zillion times I have been told I will regret it when I am older, all I can say is that, no I won't, and in any case, it's not like my life is without kids. Nieces, nephews, children of friends, they are all in my life, and I love them all dearly. I am a great aunt - really kickass. The kids love me and I love them. I will baby sit happily on holidays for long shifts all in the glorious knowledge that I will eventually be handing them back. Plus, I grew up with friends and family including my own dad who were adopted, and so never saw the difference between a biological child and an adopted one. A parent is a parent when the child is of the heart - that is the only biology that counts.

So there I was firmly in the "No kids, please" column - a pretty good reason for why I did not date much or have too many relationships, as most of the guys wanted marriage and kids. Perhaps if I had met someone I had loved immensely in my early 20s, I might have succumbed and had children. I did not, and at 43, I have no regrets. In fact, I shudder lightly when I think I might have done so, and how different my life as I know it now would be. In my 20s, I had all the time to focus on things I really loved like dance, learning and reporting the environment, travel, living in a foreign country on my own. I enjoyed relationships that did not end in marriage and the fact that I could devote my time to friends and family. In my 30s, I focused so much more on my career, on the environment, on animals and everything else I mentioned above. My time was mine, my decisions, mine. My sleep, my waking, my books, my food, all mine, mine, mine.

I have been told that one has to be entirely selfless to have kids. I think this is true. I don't think one loses one's self-identity with a child, not at all. You can be a strong independent happy person and a parent. Absolutely. That person just was not me. So, yes, you can call it a selfish decision to not produce a child. I would like to think it's a selfish and informed one. Worse to have children and then ignore them. Worst to regret it.

I have in my late 30s been asked politely, but asked all the same, if I had or have a biological problem that keeps me from motherhood. I don't know - I never checked because I didn't care. I have watched all sorts of parenting. These days there seem to be exotic labels like "Tiger Mom", "elephant parenting", "raising the parent not the child" and so on and so forth. I see some of my friends as parents bloom and thrive and others driven to the brink of nervous breakdowns. I know I drove my own parents crazy for a long time (more respect to them).

In the animal kingdom, I have seen mothers struggle with their kids. A tigress with four cubs, trying to feed them all, protect them all. Going hungry herself, having to fight off any male who is not the father. Penguins who have to alternate over which parent goes to sea for food, the other staying behind to look after the eggs, then the chick. The emperor penguin father who stands in sub-zero Antarctic temperatures holding the egg on his feet, settling his warm underbelly feathers over the egg to keep it safe while the mother is off surfing the oceans for food. Elephant mothers who are pregnant for 22 months! Believe me when I say I understand parenting, and don't want anything to do with it.

Then I met Craig who I would marry. I was rather firm on the fact that I did not want children, and he rather firmly agreed, since he already had a child from his first marriage. So off we embarked on our wedded journey.

And there he was, Craig's five-year-old. He climbed his father like a tree, and buried his face in his father's shoulder when I first met him. I am used to baby animals: they like space, are suspicious by nature of anything but their parent because that's just plain survival, and they like to approach you in their own time. So, that logic is the one I applied. I mean that's really what I knew, so I used it. Of course I was not above bribes, so I had come armed with many presents. Like bits of choice food one would hold out to baby animals. That broke the first barrier. The greater step would be in getting him to like me and trust me and I gave him lots of space to do so. I did not step into his special space with his father. Being divorced, Craig got him for the weekends. I waited to be invited into that space by him, not Craig. I always let him know that his father loved him best and most. I also became really good friends with his mother, a lovely woman who helped ease me into my new role in our son's life.

I first stepped in as his friend, then as an aunt, and slowly over the years, as his mother. I can tell you that it helps enormously that I don't 24/7 as a parent. I know his dad and his mom feel the same. 24/7, 365 parenting is exhausting, wonderful and exhilarating, I am sure, but I can get wiped out after a weekend! Plus as he was five when I came into his life - so I also missed those intensely serious years of parenting (when I say missed, I mean physically not emotionally).

Slowly, we got used to each other. I would be the one he would want dinner from, I was the one he would wake up when he had his growing pains so I could run hot water over his legs, I would be the one he would cuddle with and I was the one who taught him to read. Today he is 13, and we both love winter, hot chocolate, a roaring fire and a good book. That's the me in him I like to think. Not DNA, but love. Today he calls me "mum" and "Swati". He freely tells me he loves me and I have an equation with him that has nothing to do with his dad and other mum. He fills my heart and has made me recognize a part of myself that's interesting. I might not have wanted to be a parent, but given this opportunity, I am a good one.

So, sometimes one does not want kids, one does track a biological clock, and one does not give birth, but this is because the kid that one is meant to have is already out there!

So, for those women who always wanted kids and have them, good for you. To those ladies who wanted them and could not for various reasons and adopted, good for you . For those who did not want and do not want kids, good for you too. And for those whose kids are pure serendipity, well, welcome to the club - you just gotta love the universe!

(Swati Thiyagarajan is a senior special correspondent with NDTV)

The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.


1 comment:

  1. This is simply a awesome article !!..:)