No Lisa Haydon, Mine, Your, Or Any Woman's Biggest Talent Is Not Popping Babies

24/05/2016 3:53 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Indian Bollywood actress Lisa Haydon showcases a creation by Monica & Karishma on the third day of the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) summer/resort 2014 in Mumbai on March 13, 2014. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STRDEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Dear Lisa Haydon,

Let me tell you a story. My mother's friend, let's call her P, grew up believing what you emphatically advocated in your recent interview with the Times of India. That women are given "these bodies to produce children."

In a consequent Instagram post, you are believed to have said, "... it's important not to forget, that we are women made for the greatest role ever - bringing life into this world."

A postgraduate in History, P was employed as a teacher in a Kolkata school. She was several years my mother's junior and turned to her frequently for advice - on work, in-laws, tailors, discounts, the right way to steam hilsa and yes, children. She had none in the late nineties and she had been married for over three years.

Initially, she wanted advice on which doctor to visit. She was suffering from several fertility issues. Doctor A put her on one medication. Months later, Doctor B put her on something else. Still no result. Doctor C put her on a medication and asked her to have sex on the most fertile days of her cycle - some of which coincided with school exams, and required her to stay up nights checking answer scripts. No result again.

By then, she was ready to give up. She didn't want children anymore. But hey, like you said, everyone around her believed, what about her 'greatest role ever'? Is she going to give up on being a mother? Good natured advice ('keep trying'), unsolicited concern (who don't you try Dr XYZ too), superstition (pay a visit to ABC temple?), suggestions beyond the couple's means (you've heard about IVF, right) kept pouring in, despite them making it clear that they were okay with not having children.

Soon, even she herself - a smart, caring, economically autonomous woman - started to feel like she had failed an important test. So, despite her husband's protests, she again plunged headlong into another excruciating and frustrating round of treatments. I remember this conversation she had with my mother in our house, before they visited the zillionth doctor.

Mother - "Do you want a child so badly? You looked drained."

P - "No, I don't."

Mother (flabbergasted) - "But then...."

P - "What will people say? I couldn't even have a baby..."

Several trips to doctors later, it was found she had developed a tumour the size of a table tennis ball in her uterus. Her uterus had to be removed. My mother remembers her heaving a sigh of relief when she went to meet her after the operation. She was not burdened by her womb anymore. Literally.

P is among the many, many women, whose lives could have been problematised by fatuous definitions of womanhood like yours. Thank god for feminists - noisemakers in your opinion - otherwise, women wouldn't have realised that having a baby is a choice, not a duty one must not fail to perform. More importantly, that their self worth need not be anchored in motherhood.

Women in India didn't have the legal right to abort if they wanted to as recently as 1971. Imagine having no right over your own body? That's how many women must have felt back then. Still think, 'feminism' is not the 'real issue'?

Motherhood is beautiful for some women - a majority actually. For many others, it's not an priority. And some others would like to have the reassurance of knowing that if and when they choose, they can or not be mothers. And that decision shouldn't make her any less or more of a woman. You may choose the role of becoming a mother as one that is most important to you and no one has the right to question it.

Similarly, you have no right to declare that the choice to be a mother, one which is precious to you, should be of greatest importance to everyone else. Or suggest that that is the only natural choice, and perhaps, everything else is a grotesque aberration.

Yes, women have wombs. But that's not all they have.

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