The Freedom to be…Posted on Wednesday, June 29th, 2011 at 4:47 PM
By Arit Okpo
A little while ago, I read an article online. A writer was discussing Mrs Nike Oshinowo – Soleye’s statement that she is not particularly interested in having children yet. What drew my attention however, was the writer’s vitriolic response to Mrs Soleye’s point of view and the fact that the writer of the article was female. She speculated on her fertility and suggested that there was something wrong with a woman who had no desire to have children. It was quite harsh and brought to mind a statement I’ve heard many times, that we women are our own worst enemies.
We make a great deal of noise about being in the 21st century and women’s liberation. We talk about female representation in government, women’s equality, the education of the girl child and so on. But I believe that true liberation starts from giving a woman the right to choose the most basic things, like when she wants to have children, or even whether or not she wants to have children.
In interviews, Mrs Soleye has spoken frankly about suffering from endometriosis, an under-diagnosed problem that affects a good percentage of women. She explained how the condition had traumatised her so badly that she dreaded childbirth. It was an intensely personal story to tell, but it was also extremely brave.
I am fairly confident that there are many women who for one reason or another, would prefer to either defer, or opt out of childbirth, but who have gone on to have children, dreading each labour experience, and having that resentment and fear the unfortunate heritage they have passed on to their children.
We are given the impression that it must be natural for women to want to have children as soon as we are halfway through puberty. And for a great many women, it is. However, just as there are left handed people in a predominantly right handed world, there will always be women who for some reason or the other, feel no direct or immediate urge to have children. It is their choice and their right. It does not make them witches or wicked women. It does not make them any less deserving of the name “woman”
I have often wondered about women who give birth and then abandon their children. And we all know one woman or two who seem a bit too eager to put all their children in boarding school while they travel round the world with their husbands. We know women who would rather have dental surgery without anaesthesia than become stay at home moms and women who almost seem to resent their children for needing to be born. Would it not become simpler if women could decide for themselves when and whether they wanted children, without feeling society’s reproachful glare every time they walked past?
More and more Nigerian women would love to focus on a career before becoming wives and moms, and some would just rather stay focused on their careers. I have a friend who hopes to become a trauma surgeon and fly round the world to emergency sites during natural disasters. When she gets married, she will be expected to get pregnant and have children; in other words, become a “proper woman”. What will happen to her dreams of becoming a world class surgeon if she marries a husband or gets a mother in law who thinks that a woman’s place is solidly in the home with her child? Wouldn’t it be easier if she could make a choice without feeling pressure from everyone to conform to what is socially acceptable?
Another friend of mine, a professional in her chosen field, has chosen to wait till her 40s to have a child. She’s wealthy enough to raise her child herself, and luckily has a support system that did not define her womanhood by the age at which she had her first child. She has been able to fulfil her dreams and make her own choices, at her pace. She says often that she is a better mother for it.
Womanhood is not necessarily defined by how many children a woman has. Some women have never physically birthed a child, yet are mothers, sisters and mentors to younger women. Some other women give birth to children, and then seem to take out the hurt of every unfulfilled wish on their children, stunting their growth and emotional development. Who is the real mother? Who is the real woman?
I’ve got a little over one year till I turn 30. Many of my friends are married with children. And it frequently shocks them when I tell them that I am in no rush to bear children. I like to joke that the batteries in my biological clock have run down. Responses range from horror “It’s just not natural!” to worry “You know time is no longer on your side” to the spiritual “Have you considered deliverance?” to disbelief “But you love children!” Only about 5% of the people I have spoken to see nothing odd in the fact that a woman with no obvious spiritual or mental issues would not be in a hurry to have children. Funny enough, I love children, I have worked with children almost all my life and very strangely, no matter how naturally suspicious a child is, they always come willingly into my arms and burst into tears when I hand them over. I love to read with them, play with them and spoil them silly. I’m a natural auntie, and it’s a title I bear with pride. But I have never gone home, looked into a mirror and wondered when my womb will hold a child. It might happen someday, or it might not, either way, it will not make me less or more of a woman than I am now.
Women’s equality is not just about women in government, or women in traditionally male jobs. It’s about women being able to make choices that will define their futures, and the freedom to make those choices without feeling like they will be any less womanly if they do not take the traditionally accepted route. Not every woman wants to be a wife, not every woman wants to be a mother. Some women have chosen paths for their futures that are not compatible with marriage or childbirth, some women relish their independence and freedom too much, for some others, it’s just not an issue. But in a world where the average woman must struggle against the tide in order to fulfil her potential, it would help if we as women begin that process by liberating ourselves and giving one another the freedom and support we need to live our lives according to our choices. What do you think?
Tags: Arit Okpo