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The womb of a woman is the essence of life. Motherhood is the greatest boon a human could have, and this has been accorded especially to women. Giving birth and rearing a child is the most rewarding experience on the planet. Nothing compares to it. After enduring bone-crushing hours of pain, when a new life comes and is handed over to the mother, the joy of holding the infant is so intoxicating that the memory of that intolerable pain soon melts away and the mother falls in love with the new-born. Science testifies that this is the only moment where love, at first sight, can be seen and verified

These are ideas and interpretations of motherhood that have existed since time immemorial. Most of it is from a romanticized perspective and, often of a male. Today runs a parallel thought. Motherhood is a choice. Undoubtedly, a beautiful gift for women, but not all might want to open the package to avail of the present. Rearing a child is a rewarding experience but some might not see it like that.

Today when motherhood is talked about, it encompasses many varied ideas, perspectives, and views. Choice, bodily autonomy, career breaks, expectations of society from either gender, responsibilities of mother, father, and society, modern technology, the decision regarding child-birth and child-rearing, etc. can be some of the ideas. Motherhood and by extension parenthood no more comes under the natural order of business. It is a conscious choice. The notion that parents of Yester generations felt that to have children is to “complete” the family is found unfounded by the present and upcoming generations

So what are the fresh perspectives developing around motherhood? Are all these perspectives a reaction of women against the subtle suppression of society or are they genuine views, developed consciously after rigorous deliberations. What challenges have been won and what continues to breakwaters on our mothers today, and finally where are we headed?

Let’s investigate this in the light of a few fundamental questions:

What if a woman does not wish to be a mother and on the contrary, her husband and her family (maiden and in-laws) want to have kids?

Now, this question has been relevant for eons. It was a common practice to marry off the girl as soon as she reaches a marriageable age, and the first order of business would be to procreate. Not because the girl is eager to, but because the family requires her to do so. In many parts of India, another menstrual cycle was considered a precious wastage of eggs and an erosion of womanhood. This sadly continues in rural parts of India and orthodox urban families.

The young age of the girl, mental preparation of the couple, the financial soundness of the family, and safe environment for the child are things not to be considered. Choice of the woman or the couple, as against the norms of society and wishes of the matriarch of the family are always considered inconsequential and irrelevant. This practice has the most profound impact on a woman, who more often than not is a teenager or a young adult.

It is quite natural that years of this practice culminated in oppression. A Woman was hardly given the time to explore her life, career, hobby, or anything that might need to assume a role different than that of a married woman. And hence the instinct to move out of this model, marry, have children and be a mother forever, is natural. Nectar might not seem as sweet if shoved down a person’s throat.

However, this trend is slowly being put away, at least in urban and modern setups. Today, it is natural for a couple to discuss the expectations of either party from their union. This is no more left as a business-as-usual thing. And this might be a very logical thing to do. Consent of both parties is essential and foreseeable points of conflict and expectations should be discussed before making it legal.

A woman might choose not to be a mother. She might choose her career, or pursue her passion. And to give it up over the remote possibility that someday she might feel unfulfilled without a child to call her own is fairly far-fetched.

Out rightly, such women are branded selfish or too ambitious, or feministic. But, looking deeply, it is difficult to comprehend what a woman goes through to give birth and how many sacrifices she has to make to raise the child. No matter how much we divide the responsibility between the parents, in today’s world, a mother still is primarily responsible for the child. The caregiving model continues to rely heavily on her. Hence, the woman should be given precedent to decide if she wishes to be a mom or not.

Moving on, Another important aspect of motherhood is the bodily autonomy afforded to a woman. For ages, they have been treated as the carrier of life. If we look a little further, we see that the respect the women are given in our culture often has nothing to do with their personhood and more to do with their procreating abilities. So in that context:

” My body, My choice”, what would this mean in the context of surrogacy and abortion?

“My body, my choice”, is an international movement, pioneered by Amnesty International against the criminalization of sexual and reproductive rights. It is interesting to note that India was one of the earliest countries to recognize universal adult suffrage. We gave voting rights to our women in 1947, right at the birth of our nation. America gave it in 1920, after nearly half a century of its formation. Yet we do not trust our women to decide on sexual matters or decisions regarding their bodies aptly.

Until recently, Adultery was a ‘criminal offense’. However, the punishment was only accorded to the man, as the woman was considered an innocent bystander, victim to manipulations, and incapable of making decisions. Marital Rape is still unrecognized as an offense. And the logic of society says that if women are allowed to choose not to cohabit with their husbands, the Indian family system will quite easily collapse. Marriage here is a legal license to nullify and void the consent of a woman. It's difficult to say if this is ghastly or only disgusting.

Pregnancy is not easy on a woman’s body. It is painful and brings about severe changes in the body of a woman. It also can be life-threatening for her. This has to be borne by the woman alone. Hence, it is of moral importance and should be a legal shield to allow women to choose not to go through this. People often present examples of other women, their mothers especially, who did it so easily. This should not be the case, everyone has a different threshold and everyone has a different experience. The autonomy to choose whether the woman wishes to go through it all should categorically remain personal to her. It is her prerogative.

The idea of surrogacy is both, alien and familiar, to us. Women in western India have been known to rent out their wombs to childless couples willing to pay. Hence, we understand the concept. But if a household woman wishes to have a surrogacy child for any reason; to avoid the bodily implication, to avoid the risk emanating from pre-existing conditions, or simply to avoid the pain; it becomes an alien concept. The woman is considered uncomely, a misfit for the family, and a home-breaker.

The idea that a woman might want to exercise this option is so scary that the state has decided to regulate it. One might think, that state regulation is important for the protection of the surrogate mother. But the state doesn’t stop at that. The Indian Bill on surrogacy, still in its formation stages, jots down who has the right to exercise this. And surely, giving this choice to a fertile woman doesn’t figure anywhere on the list.

Society and families need to open their minds that it is not necessary that a woman to give birth for the child to be her own. Or that pain necessarily has to be part of womanhood. It does not have to be. All I say is that the choice needs to be afforded to our women.

Next, comes the more bizarre case of abortion. This is a sensitive issue as aborting means ending a life. Therefore, the right to decide if a woman can become a mother has been kept safe by the state. A woman might not want to be a mother for many reasons. It can be financial, health, career, or her inclination. A woman just by dint of having female genitalia doesn’t necessarily become fit to be a mom. However, none of the reasons stated above are considered legitimate, not even health, unless the state decides otherwise within a period. This idea is bizarre, because, if a mother is single and not financially stable, she risks a substandard future for her child. Would you buy a house on loan without a stable income? Americans did, and the world economy collapsed. If she is financially stable but not mentally prepared, she might not be a very caring mother. Would you want a pilot who is drunk or not mentally stable to pilot your airplane? Or if she just does not incline towards being a mother, would having a child be anything short of incarceration, punishing both, the mother and the child?

Abortion rights need to be more rational and mother-centric. After all, it is a matter of two lives. Even if the mother is not threatened with mortality, it makes no sense to strangle her and her child mentally or financially forever.

Moving a little further let's discuss the family dynamics and parenthood. In Indian families arranged marriages are a common affair, and that necessarily means that two strangers are tied in a union out of which a child is born. India has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world and that seems to indicate that we have a very robust family culture. But that is hardly true.

According to numerous surveys, Indian marriages sticking together is not a sign of a healthy family system but a sign of social oppression and sacrifice for the child.

This brings to the fore our next question:

If a couple is in an unhappy marriage and has pre-teen children, would they wish not to separate to allow their children a more safe and secure environment and future?

Indian society has a very low opinion of divorced women. This taboo not only harms the woman but also shadows the future of the child. Yes, it would be inappropriate to not acknowledge that we have come a long way. But it is necessary to remind that we still have miles to walk. The protection of children often keeps people tied in unhappy, mentally tortuous, and often abusive homes and relationships.

Once, a couple becomes a parent it becomes their moral obligation to think for the safety of the child. The parents must also be open to making compromises if their situation or the child’s situation demands that. Becoming a parent naturally ordains you to make decisions that might not be in your best interest but that suit the child very well.

But this often comes at the altar of their peace of mind and healthy lives. Women being a very small part of the workforce are often dependent on their spouses for the maintenance and upbringing of the child. This is where a state ought to step in. Nevertheless, she keeps up for the sake of her children. And same goes for the father too.

We surely need to expand the idea of what constitutes a complete family and ideal parenting. The idea that parents and children living under one roof is what a household should be like is redundant. A happy household is more about the bond shared between the people living in it, the support and a shelter to emotions and feelings. If two members in the household do not get this out of a union, it is fairly impractical to expect them to create such an environment for others in their surroundings.

Another important dimension that one needs to explore is that: in the garb of feminist ideals and the race to ‘have it all' are we burdening our women with familial, social, and economic responsibilities. The social and familial responsibilities that women had continued to be the same. That has not been lessened to any significant extent. At the same time, they have been given economic opportunities to explore. This often puts them in a dilemma. Pressure also builds up to prove their worth outside of their homes. That, after all, garners more respect. So the next natural question that comes is:

If a woman chooses to be a full-time mother if her situation allows, would it be under the garb of the patriarchal mindset of an ideal mother, or would it be the result of absolutely independent thought?

Women who choose either one are often looked down upon by their peers. If she chooses motherhood or her family, she is branded as ‘haughty’, ‘too ambitious’, ‘selfish’, and other similar names. If she chooses to give up her career for the sake of the child she is seen as ‘incompetent’, ‘unmotivated’, ‘victim of patriarchal mindset’, etc.

So who gets to decide? If a woman becomes empowered enough and enlightened enough she should have the freedom to decide what ‘have it all’ means for her. If she chooses to bring a child into the world, she might want to experience motherhood uninterrupted. She might want to take a break from her job, if her financial situation allows it, and might want to be a stay-at-home mom at least for a few years. Similarly, if a mother decides to pursue her career while rearing a child, she should have that freedom. Every individual works for years to build a career, and the expectation to give it up for a child is quite ruthless. Both aspects of a woman’s life should be treated with equal respect and enthusiasm.

Every woman should be given the rightful freedom to decide how she wants to raise her child. And her family and society should simply concur with her and support her. Labeling a woman based on her choice needs to be put to rest. There is no one size fits all concept in motherhood. Every aspect of a woman’s life is important. Making it all about her child or her career is unfair. She should have the liberty to decide if she wants either or both at the same time.

At the same time, we need to normalize fathers taking a break from their careers if they wish to take care of their careers to take care of the child. The stereotype that a woman is an ideal caregiver needs to be reset. Men can be as caring as a mother and women sometimes can be not as affectionate as expected. Breaking these binary stereotypes can also relieve omen from some of their burdens. They can be given more breathing space while choosing how to lead their lives. Similarly, it will also allow men to take a break from their society-ordained role and soak in the joys of fatherhood.

Our corporate sector is taking a step in the right direction by offering paternity leaves. However, since society is yet to evolve this could not be used optimally.

So, what conclusion can we draw from the above, what would motherhood be like shortly? Will the face of it change drastically? Will our society learn not to stereotype, pressurize and interfere? Or will it continue to be one of the battles in the war for feminism?

The answer cannot be an easy or straight one. The world is changing at different paces. Some areas are more progressive than others, but truly we have come a long way.

Essentially though, one can commit to making motherhood about these broad themes: choice, consensuality, autonomy, and modern science allowing more options.

Finally, we can derive that the crux of the matter is that we all realize that a woman is not a beautiful vessel of life. She has so much cerebral prowess in herself that restricting her to her reproductive prowess is a miscarriage of justice. It is time that women wake up to the choice that they have and exercise it without feeling guilty. There are also options available through modern technology to delay having children or having them through other means, this gives them a huge space to practice bodily autonomy. The opinions of society should be deemed as a background cacophony until they decide to support parents in their choice and respect their boundaries. It is easier said than done. But I hope this is how motherhood turns out to be in 2030.

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