I don’t have kids. This statement draws a lot of interest, and sometimes awkwardness. People often don’t know how to respond. It seems that there are no clear etiquette around what do or say when presented with a statement like that. It used to be a statement that I would try to avoid because I was fearful of what was said next. But there is no avoiding it when someone asks you the question “Do you have kids?” A straight up question deserves a straight up response…
I grew up in a traditional family, in a traditional home with my siblings and grandparents. Maternal instincts didn’t come naturally to my mother – as there was the house to clean, night shift to do and food to put on the table. She did the best she could and now that we are all older, she has less sadness in her life, and that has enabled her to be the loving mother she probably always wanted to be. When I was little, I played with dolls, who always had a home, with a husband and children that were taken care of. Dolly cooked and cleaned and looked after her family. That was my view of the world then – I hadn’t known, seen or thought any different.
Growing up, there were clear expectations on me to marry and have children. Our Indian heritage meant that there were never any other options discussed or contemplated. I married with full intentions of having children, I just didn’t want them too early. We didn’t live together before marriage and so, I wanted to enjoy being a couple before building on our foundations. It was a beautiful time of my life. Having someone who loves you completely and unconditionally was not the context I grew up in. I savoured it.
The years ticked past, and there were always excuses for why we were still childless. First it was wanting to pay down the mortgage, then it was travelling, then it was my career and finally, I ran out of reasons. As I have a faith, this instilled a strong focus of social justice for me. I saw poverty, injustice and inequality in the world around me and I wanted to help. So, my husband and I agreed to adopt from overseas, and the process was put into motion. The only caveat was that we weren’t allowed to get pregnant whilst we were on the waiting list. I didn’t mind that – it was another excuse or reason why we couldn’t have our own children.
A few more years passed, I was approaching my mid 30s and the process for international adoption became stagnant, with no hope of progress. Only a handful of children were adopted that year, whilst hundreds of applicants like us waited for their turn. The international adoption system in Australia is no better today than it was then. There was an incident of trafficking, then the government bickered amongst themselves, and there were always excuses for why we were still waiting. In a world filled with millions of orphans, we couldn’t free ourselves from the red tape to reach out to even one of them.
In this time, all eyes looked upon me – and I surrendered to their persistence. I didn’t know the reasons why I didn’t want children of my own, I just knew that I didn’t. But peer pressure triumphed, and I just trusted that whatever happened, it will be for a reason and a purpose.
So we got pregnant. I found myself staring at the pregnancy test, a line that was going to define the rest of my life. I was angry. Angry that it happened….was happening. Angry at all the people who convinced me that it was a good idea. I tried to mask my anger with joy, but telling people and seeing their reaction only made me feel guilty. I knew we had been blessed, and yet I felt cursed. I read baby books, looked at videos, spoke to mums and cuddled babies in an effort to awaken the maternal joy in me. It didn’t come. Our three month scan approached and I felt hope rise in the belief that it was about to become real. I would see my baby on the monitor and the joy will erupt and transform the darkness in my mind into light. I had to hope for that, because the alternative was unthinkable.
The nurse scanned my belly with a bewildered look on her face. She said she couldn’t find the heartbeat, then she told us our baby was dead. That’s all I remember.
I had to go into hospital and have whatever remained inside of me taken out with cold surgical equipment by faceless doctors. But, I remember waking up in the hospital bed and feeling a sense of relief. I felt well, for the first time in a long time. My thoughts were distraught but my heart was calm. It was finished.
The doctor told us to try again immediately. He tried to throw statistics at me to help me feel secure in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone. I only wondered if those other women felt relief like me, too.
That was 6 years ago. We didn’t try again. In that time, I was diagnosed with depression, and hence we got completely taken off the adoption list. We were told that the international governments wouldn’t want a woman who had depression to adopt one of their children. Depression almost destroyed me and it almost destroyed my marriage – But we made it through, with a lot of love and a lot of grace. In that time, we have also travelled the world, worked in an orphanage, raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity, engaged with the poor, served meals to sufferers of mental illness in our community, made wishes come true for sick children and provided hope to asylum seekers. I am a Godmother to three beautiful children and my volunteer work often involves kids. I gravitate towards them and they toward me. I make balloon animals for them and let them eat as much sugar as they want when their parents aren’t looking! I know now that we weren’t meant to be intertwined in a biological way, but that we were meant to love one another. Yet, the beauty of a pregnant woman still amazes me. I imagine the child growing inside of her and my heart bursts with joy – what a miracle that we women have the gift to create a life inside of our bodies. I love it when a baby curls their hands around my fingers, and I adore it when they feel safe enough to fall asleep in my arms.
After a lot of counselling, many conversations and sleepless nights, I still don’t know why I don’t want children. I’m just grateful that I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, and a faith that ensures forgiveness and acceptance. When I die, I hope that I live on in the memories of people whose lives we have touched and who have touched mine. When I die, I want those who love me to remember me as a friend, a daughter and a wife.
I don’t have a title of “Mother,” as I haven’t earnt it, but this Mother’s Day, as with every Mother’s day, I will be celebrating mothers – because they are inherently selfless and ever giving. I will celebrate Mother Teresa who kissed the cheeks of thousands of children and loved them with a full and abundant heart, I will be thinking of those who yearn for children but are unable to have them. I will hold those who have lost children in my heart and my prayers. I will remember what could have been, reconciling that with what is. And I trust that, as every year, I will find peace and absolution.