Maybe baby?

At this time, I know two women and know of another woman, who are all undergoing the prolonged physical and mental agony of a battery of treatments to have a child. It has led to many interesting conversations with the former two about identity, the role of children and the reasons behind why they are willing to bear all this pain even before an actual child comes along, if one comes along at all. One is prepared and the other is not, for adoption as a possibility.

Two or three make not a statistically significant sample. But the route is familiar. In all cases, the husbands’ turn to be checked comes up very late. The presumption is that something must be wrong with the woman.

Those around me, who have children – careers or no careers – have never been able to tell me why they had them. Perhaps I am a wide-eyed ingénue and ask all sorts of wrong questions of people. But I have in the process heard some interesting ones.

Some of my educated friends have told me that one can never love somebody else’s children as their own. I find it laughable (I have a step mother!) because it is theoretical for them to spout such nonsense.

I think it is all about the capability to love. Period. If a woman could find a man some 25 years into their lives and love him as much as she claims to, then a small, helpless baby or child should surely be more easy to love. No? Especially for someone claiming to be maternal and all that.

Yet another conversation was quite amazing. The woman in question said to me:

Those adults, who want children but are finding it hard to conceive, can try modern technological options such as IVF. But those children, who want parents and are finding life hard without them, have no such technical options open to them”.

Point to ponder, indeed.

Nita has written an interesting post on the surge in the so-far unregulated business of surrogacy in India.

She discusses the estimated size of the business in India (~ £250 M) and the dangers of keeping it unregulated or self-regulated, as the current provision in the form of guidelines would suggest.

She writes:

There are some who feel that if surrogate motherhood becomes a legal ‘business’ then soon educated working women will start hiring wombs to prevent a break in their career!

This, I think, is an understandable fear which may not come to pass.

Yes, it is indeed true that many career women face the conflict between career and children. Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s research found that fully 42% of professional women in corporate America were childless at age 40 and only 14% of them had planned life without children. Her research also found that these women blamed a variety of factors for their “enforced” childlessness, including long working weeks, rigid career structures, unsympathetic bosses and needy partners. Her more recent work discusses how employers put women with children on a sort of career off-ramp.

So the fear that this will become some sort of baby-making outsourcing – perhaps BMO instead of BPO? – is understandable but it may not come to pass. Here is why.

Educated women the world over have fewer children than their uneducated or non-career-oriented counterparts. It is not just about the rationality towards their career, but the gender empowerment that makes that career possible and is in turn, reinforced by career women’s presence. There is the additional factor to consider – the economics of having many children, when even relatively wealthy parents may prefer to divvy up their money and attention amongst fewer children, giving them better opportunities than amongst many, affording them relatively less.

Additionally, here is my hypothesis. Another reason, why despite adoption being a feasible and socially acceptable option – Angelina Jolie has her social utility after all – most people prefer to make their own children, is “genetic vanity“. I wonder if surrogacy – especially with a poor woman serving as the host womb – is something genetically vain people (educated, career-oriented, in a relationship so presumably attractive to someone, so, much to be understandably vain about) would consider with gusto.

Then again, as chance would have it, I came across Ben’s post about a new book. Titled “Why beautiful people have more daughters“, it is two evolutionary psychologists’ explanation of some of the curiosities of life.

An extraordinary view of poverty is expressed by Ryan Holiday in the comments section:

Poor families tend to have more daughters because having a daughter (often an economic asset) helps them move up in status.

In many patriarchal cultures in poor countries, including India, the custom is that marrying a daughter off costs a lot of money (in the form of dowry). On the other hand, keeping her unmarried to contribute economically is a stigma and poor people may not have much, but they have their pride and they care an awful lot about social stigma.

Sons in the same cultures bring dowry in, stay with parents – unlike the daughter who goes to live with or serve the in-laws – and inherit the assets, keeping the wealth in the family. Their sons also carry the family name whereas the woman is often forced to take the husband’s family name. Indeed in some communities in India, the woman’s first name is changed too, so she effectively brings nothing – but her dowry – from her parents’ house. Sons are therefore considered immensely preferable to daughters.

So the argument – if at all there is one – is the other way round. Families do not want daughters because they are seen as harbingers of poverty.

Ben’s post first made me laugh, then quickly look for the book and order it. Then I called my father, a father of well-educated professional girls, who found their own husbands, where applicable, without dowry, to congratulate him on his looks.

Then I began to wonder how wider knowledge of such an evolutionary link might pan out in an illegal abortion clinic in India:

“Oh, doctor, so you think it is a girl?”


“And that means I am beautiful?”

“Well, yes, so evolutionary theorists would say”.

“Ok, thanks for the compliment. Now can you hurry up and complete the abortion?”

End of.

Several million female foetuses and infants are killed every year in India. Indeed Asians, as people from the sub-continent are referred to in the UK, are so notorious for their attitudes in the matter, that in some parts of Britain, the doctor would just not tell the parents the gender of the child. Now if only this argument of vanity could help change some of those attitudes!

This female foeticide and infanticide, of course, carries on in spite of regulatory controls, that have been around a while now.

So what price children then?

I do not think as a society, we have any answers. Baroness Mary Warnock, well-known British philosopher, has argued that people have a right to try to have children, but not an actual right to have children.

Then there is the lure of all that science has seemingly made possible – from egg freezing to sperm-donation to IVF. All this, Hewlett argues lulls women into a false sense of security and into putting off trying to have children till it is too late.

I cannot claim to know the answer of course, and all the discourses with several educated, professional women, both with and without children, provide no wisdom.

If there is a fundamental right to try to have a child, perhaps surrogacy should come out of the shadows, as Nita suggests.

But then again, perhaps adoption should be made easier too so people do not have to go to other countries – richer or poorer – with relatively simpler regulations to find the missing pieces of their family.

And in all this, it is the child, whose rights, to be treated with dignity and compassion from conception to birth and beyond, should be supreme.

Additional Reading: Late additions/ editions:

Interesting discussion at Ben Casnocha’s blog on Child Free by Choice

Penelope’s controversial advice on Effective Ways to Wrestle your Biological Clock

99PPP’s exhaustive argument for A Case Against Having Any Or More Children

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