By Bandana Upadhya
“Oh no, oh no, oh no,” my frontal lobe repeated, the panic starting to travel from my brain to my throat, heart, and stomach. I escaped to the obvious place, the bathroom. A bathroom holds many secrets for a woman; its four walls can tolerate any truth, any amount of frustration and endless tear-laden and fear-driven moments. My husband shouted from the bed, “are you alright?” I don’t think I said the ‘Oh no’ out loud, or maybe I did. I think he was worried because I ran off, and even the least attentive man would notice their wife run away in the circumstances in which I ran. ‘No I am not alright,’ I wanted to scream. It usually takes me some time to reveal my vulnerabilities, so I pretended not to hear. He asked again. ‘Just leave me alone!’ I wanted to shout this time round. Instead I said, “I am fine”. The “fine” was unhelpful but it gave me a little more time with the mess in my head. You see, I was suddenly realising something I could not quite handle on my own, let alone in the company of someone else. I was not ready to get pregnant. I could not bear the idea of it. After two years of marriage, at age 31, and comfortable in my career, my reaction came as a shock to the system. All my assumptions were being shattered. Bullets of questions unexpectedly fired at me: why was I getting anxious about becoming a mother? Isn’t it meant to be lovely? Isn’t it what I am supposed to want? What was wrong with me?
I can’t remember how I pulled myself together after that, or whether I did at all. I do remember going back to my husband later that evening and sharing my decision to postpone our plans for children. He did not object or ask any questions. He is a lovely man, and he does not have to worry about it as much as I do. You might think I had an overreaction, and perhaps I did. Nonetheless the experience and all the pondering that followed made me realise three new things about myself.
First, I have actually never imagined myself as a mother. Yes, I have thought about someday having children of my own, but it has never been an ambition of mine. For that reason, the desire is not coming naturally or instinctively to me. Instead I am resisting it with all my will. I worry about having to put my career and unfulfilled dreams on hold. I worry about the financial sacrifice. I worry about what I will lose more than what I might potentially gain. However the place I am in my life means the internal and external pressure is becoming very obvious and difficult to tolerate. I am fighting the temptation to call myself selfish, because I don’t want to invalidate my own feelings. I want to give myself permission to feel the way I do.
Secondly, I am afraid. Recently, I have learned, rather painfully so, that I have a severe fear of failing. This is a rather useless and harmful fear to have. It can stop you from seeking, growing and living, and worse you might not even be aware of its influence on your thoughts and behaviours. But I can’t change the fact that I am scared of failing in pregnancy and in motherhood. I imagine this is a fear that a lot of women have, because of the pressure on us to be ‘perfect’. A family member once told me that as a woman I should have 32 positive qualities like Sita and Draupadi (female characters from Hindu mythology). Being the ‘rebel’ that I am, I told him “Is that a joke? That sounds stupid”. The reality is, however, this pressure to be a perfect daughter, wife, mother, friend, etc. is a pressure that is undeniable, and it is reserved for women in ways that is not for men. Men can be scared to death of becoming a father and that can be perceived as funny and acceptable. It is not fair and so I want to put up my hand and claim that I refuse to be ashamed of my imperfections, my complexities and my fears. It is who I am.
Third, I tend to delay making a decision as much as I can. There is of course an element of laziness or fear-driven postponing with procrastination of this sort, which I am admitting to, however if done strategically, it can produce positive outcomes (e.g. creativity, greater resilience, lowered expectations, etc.). I think if your idea or plan is likely to dramatically change your life, it is worth sitting on it and nurturing it for some time before you take any actions. A quote I once read keeps coming to my mind: ‘Think slowly and act fast’. This might be a controversial idea, especially as I have been reminded twice this week (by other women) that you can run out of time when it comes to having babies, and they were right, but for me, it feels appropriate to postpone until I am more confident that I can offer myself to another human being, selflessly and whole-heatedly, and without an intense internal need to please and to be perfect. I would also like to reduce some of my internal chaos and conflict (at least to some degree) before I venture out into one of the most life-changing experience I will face, especially one where there is no going back. Yes, many women might biologically or instinctively feel ready which probably makes things easier for them, but in my case, I am learning that I need to develop a sense of readiness more thoughtfully and carefully.
Each woman has her own story about the period before she decided she wanted or did not want to become a mother. This is my story; it may not be liked but perhaps it can be relatable.