|Credit Lennart Nilsson|
Lately I have come across a positive deluge of opinionated thinking on several issues related to family life. An extrapolation of one person’s experiences, prejudices and shortcomings onto a blanket generalisation and thrown around the shoulders of the entire world. Often this takes the guise of “golden words” or “30 things that you must do before you are 30” or some such.
Someone writes casually that he hasn’t done this or that particular thing (for his child, for his parents, for his partner) and then goes onto an admonition – “do this now, or you’ll end up regretting it!” Another says women should delay higher education till after their childbearing is done. What? Yet another sermonises about how senior citizens should be cared for, or pontificates on how the family bed and co-sleeping has worked for their family and so should be adopted worldwide. The carving of one person’s experience onto stone and then a moral drawn, and flogged as some sort of commandment for the world to live its life by. It is the last bit that I have issues with.
Pick your regrets
I have lived my life as mindfully as I can under my particular circumstances, and I know what I want to do for all of my family members, thank you very much. In fact, many of my choices have been specifically guided by “if I don’t do it this way, I’ll regret it later.” Of course every choice comes with its set of residual regrets attached, it is just a matter of choosing which regrets I would rather, or rather not, have. And we each choose the ones that we can live with individually.
Ian McEwan, a writer whose books I admire, said some days ago that finding out an unborn baby’s sex is “moral kitsch” and predisposes the child to gender stereotyping, and that’s why his son and his son’s partner have chosen not to find out the sex of the baby they are expecting. Fair enough, it’s a choice that many would-be-parents make, preferring to draw out the surprise till the last minute. But to condemn all parents who might want to know the sex in advance seems quite simplistic and frankly, wrong. There are issues of health and gender related diseases for one thing, and for another - if the parents are the sort of people who would gender stereotype a baby, then how will finding out the sex a few months later morph them into the opposite?
The 11th commandment
In my society, it is illegal for clinics to give out this information anyway, as we haven’t yet managed to overcome the preference for male children and the fact of female foeticide and infanticide and a host of other grave evils resulting from it. It can be done privately and illegally of course. But for many would-be-parents who would simply like to follow the law of the land and also find out the sex of their unborn child without being into foeticide and all that, it is not an option even.
I spent most of my pregnancies outside of India, and in the one that actually progressed as far as the 20-week scan, I answered “yes” to the doctor’s question without even having to think about it. I found out the sex of my child, not because I wanted to gender select/stereotype, but simply because my own experiences made me unsure of how much time I had with this child, and because I wanted to be able to engage as personally, as intimately, as closely as possible with the “foetus” for as long as possible. For all I knew, this would be the nearest I would get to motherhood, and I wanted to be completely aware who it was that I was carrying and mothering and to call them by name as soon as possible, long before I saw their face. Or genitals. Knowing that helped me to be mindful and grateful. I kept my knowledge private at the time, in fact I have not spoken of it to anyone up until now, and only the father knew all along. I cannot equate my motives with “moral kitsch” in any way. I don’t think I deserve blanket condemnation either, and neither do many others with different but equally justifiable motives.
There are many high and unrealistic expectations that society places on women, especially mothers; to add another straw to that particular camel’s back seems wholly unnecessary. Judge not so one-dimensionally that ye be not judged the same. If an additional commandment were really essential, if would be this, it would be this, it would be this.