Much is written and said about motherhood. We see it glorified in ads, movies, literature, art...everywhere. Perhaps rightly so, considering parenting, especially motherhood, truly is one of the toughest jobs in the world. But in all this scrutiny on motherhood and the desperation to paint it as the singularly most rewarding and selfless experience in a woman's life just to be able to sell everything, from washing powder to home loans, we often almost callously forget the women behind the mothers. How does she feel? What does she think? What is it that she needs?
Five Indian women let us in on their innermost thoughts, their darkest fears and deepest desires to show us that there are as many ways of being a mother as there are children in the world.
Zenia Irani, 34, Mumbai. Zenia is single, a corporate lawyer, and unabashedly ready for motherhood
I've reached a point in my life where I'm ready to be a mom, even though I know I want to stay single all my life. When I tell people this, they either assume I'm gay, have some unimaginable trauma lurking in my past or that I'm trying to be cool and contrarian.
I've been in relationships and once I even came close to getting married; but ultimately, I decided it wasn't for me.
I'm healthy, financially and emotionally stable, and mentally prepared; so there's no good reason why I shouldn't be a mom.
I'm yearning to be a mom, but the knowledge of how difficult society will make it for me and my future child is killing me. I'm healthy, financially and emotionally stable, and mentally prepared; so there's no good reason why I shouldn't be a mom, but every time I bring up the subject, I meet a solid wall of opposition from family, relatives, friends. When my own support network is so against the idea, how can I not worry about how the outside world will treat my child?
Whether I choose to adopt, give birth or use another means, every paper that will come my way will demand to know who my child's father is. I worry that it is selfish and wrong to bring a child into a world knowing that they will always be made to feel like an outsider, just so I can feel fulfilled. A part of me knows that by not going through with this, I am caving in to the world's demands of what a family should like, but another part of me worries about having a child who will resent me for a life that's "not normal". Maybe I'm a coward.
I feel like a mother without a baby.
I look at mothers with their babies and the sight feels like a physical ache in my chest. I feel like a mother without a baby.
Prerana L, 32, PR executive, Mumbai. Prerana has been married for three years and is currently in the middle of a heated arguement with her husband on the subject of kids
Right now, I'm in shock. I turned 32 last week and as a birthday gift, my husband decided to have the let's-have-a-baby conversation. We dated for two years before getting married, so I've always known he likes kids but I've also always been upfront about how much I dislike babies, so he had to know that motherhood was not a part of my life plan and was okay with that. Turns out, everyone always just assumed I'd change my mind about babies — that all women change their minds — when it's "time" to have their own. Except, I don't want to have one. Not even "just one". Not now, not ever.
I don't have it in me to love a child the way they deserve to be loved by a parent.
We've argued every night for the past one week. He's tried to cajole me into coming around in every conceivable way: if I don't want to give birth, we can adopt or opt for surrogacy; he's promised to be a hands-on, equal parent; if I'm worried about my career slowing down, we can hire as much help as I need to be able to cope; he's even offered to be a stay-at-home dad. I can see how desperately he wants to be a father, but just the thought of motherhood fills me with dread. I don't have it in me to love a child the way they deserve to be loved by a parent. How do I make him see that?
Does society just work on the assumption that women can be convinced to fall in line, sooner or later?
When I told my mother about this, she got angry. She thinks I am ungrateful and spoilt person for not realising how lucky I am to have a husband who is willing to sacrifice so much for me and our baby. It makes me want to scream in frustration. Does society just work on the assumption that women can be convinced to fall in line, sooner or later?
Ranjini Mahtani*, 50, Home baker, Delhi. Ranjini is a mother of three and is currently contemplating about choosing motherhood
I was 22 when I got married. I had just cleared my MA exams. I wanted to study further and specialise in psychology. But my grandfather pressured my parents to find a boy and get me married. I struggled for a few weeks, but all the emotional blackmailing finally got to me and I gave in. My husband was four years older, handsome and successful. I was relieved that at least I wasn't being married to a boring oaf from a conservative family. We were married within three months of being introduced.
Much like marriage, motherhood wasn't exactly a choice. No one ever asked me whether I wanted to have a baby or not; not even myself. That's what you do: you get married, have babies and spend the better part of your life raising those kids. We have three beautiful daughters. My mother-in-law encouraged me to try one more time, hoping for a grandson but my husband put his foot down: no more kids. I was relieved when he did.
I always told myself that no matter which path you choose, you will always feel buyer's remorse and wonder about what could have been.
I don't regret my life. But lately, I've been thinking a lot about this word "choice". How much of the life we lead is our choice? How much of what we do is not motivated by the desire to avoid conflict and confrontation? I love my girls more than anything in the world, but I'm always aware that I never got to choose motherhood; this identity is mine by default.
I love my girls more than anything in the world, but I'm always aware that I never got to choose motherhood; this identity is mine by default.
These days, I daydream about all the big moments of my life and wonder what I would have chosen if someone had asked me, really asked me, what I wanted. Would I have made the choices I am living with now? Would I love my kids more if I had chosen to have them instead of embracing motherhood as something that was expected of me? Will I love them less if I found out that I may never have picked motherhood if I'd had the choice? Sometimes, I'm scared to answer my own questions because there is no way to unknow the voice in your heart.
I see my daughters and it feels me with fierce pride that they go out, make decisions about their lives and revel in those decisions, even when they go horribly wrong. There is freedom in their faces. It makes me wonder, what does that feel like? Will I ever know?
Preeti Agarwal*, 46, housewife, Chennai. Preeti has been married for 25 years and has a 13-year-old son.
I got married when I was 21 and we were very keen to start a family almost right away. A decade of tests, treatments and failed attempts later, we were ready to adopt. It took my husband and me a whole year to get everyone on board with the plan. Both his and my mother kept insisting we adopt from within the family—his brother's daughter, or my brother's son. The idea might sound ridiculous, but it's not uncommon in our community to literally raise your sibling's child as your own.
I still remember the day we brought Manav* home. When you want a child so badly and it's just not happening for you, when it does, the feeling is indescribable. I thought I'd finally be able to leave 12 years of desperation and disappointment behind. In retrospect, I can see how naive that was.
The number of times I heard snide comments about being baanjh (infertile) and Manav not being our "actual" son, was staggering.
Our society isn't kind. The number of times I heard snide comments about being baanjh (infertile) and Manav not being our "actual" son, was staggering. It made me sick.
We moved to Chennai when Manav* was three. To me, that seemed like a sign. My slate was being wiped clean, so I decided to write a whole new story. I loved it when mothers at the park near our home would tell me he looked a lot like me. I never corrected anyone. With time, we put down roots in Chennai. We were like every other family and no one knew Manav was adopted.
When you want a child so badly and it's just not happening for you, when it does, the feeling is indescribable.
I've read all the literature about the right way and age to tell adopted kids the truth, but I consciously decided to ignore it. My husband wasn't comfortable, but I insisted and he eventually gave in. Up until this year, I hadn't really questioned or regretted my decision, but I'm filled with doubts now. No one in the family would ever bring up the topic around Manav, but what if he overhears something?
Recently, we had a family tiff regarding some property matter and in the heat of the moment, one of his uncles said that Manav isn't even a legitimate heir. Thankfully, he wasn't around at the time but my heart froze when I heard the words. He just turned 13 a few weeks ago. He's going through adolescence and we're anyway his biggest enemies right now. I'm scared to death he'll find out in a way that will shatter him and damage our relationship forever. Half of me wants to just sit him down and tell him so that I can at least control the narrative, and the other half wants to keep protecting my baby. I don't know which half to listen to.
Kritika Singh, 27, Graphic designer, Bangalore. Kritika has been married for a year. She's currently four months pregnant.
I'm excited, but also scared out of my wits. When we got married last year, we knew that someday, we'd want a baby. But we hadn't planned to start our family this soon, so yes, I'm as nervous as I'm excited.
I don't know whether it's my age or all first-time mothers are treated this way, but the amount of unasked for advice I get is overwhelming. Initially, I'd listen to everyone carefully, trying to absorb every piece of advice but soon I realised most unsolicited advice is either rubbish or dangerously unscientific. Now it just annoys me.
As much as I look forward to being a mom, I'm scared of losing myself to motherhood.
I love my baby, of course, and I can't wait to bring her (I'm willing the universe to give me a daughter) into the world, but sometimes, I want to forget I'm pregnant. In the last four months, every conversation I've had has circled back to pregnancy and motherhood. It's like my whole existence has converged into this one identity. As much as I look forward to being a mom, I'm scared of losing myself to motherhood. Are you even allowed to say this?
*Names changed on request