Is having children the obvious next step once two people are married? Despite belonging to different cultures and societies, common threads of marriage and children seem to unite people across the globe. But with passing time, society at large has begun to re-evaluate the unnecessary pressure placed on both men and women to become parents at some point in their life. A major point of discussion has been, how important it is to not have children simply because society dictates it.
Different kinds of family structures – heterosexual couples, single parents, LGBTQIA+ couples exist in the modern world we live in. The decision to give birth to a child shouldn’t be a means to save a failing marriage or just a way to gain a sense of ownership by blood. The decision, if made by a couple, should be mutual and organic and not a result of any kind of external pressure. For parents that can’t conceive, choosing to adopt a child or have a child via a surrogate needs to also be normalised. While having a child or choosing to raise one is undoubtedly a transformative experience, it brings with it a huge amount of responsibility and care-giving, something that not everyone is ready for.
We have to distinguish between the right age to have children and the right age to get pregnant. Medically, a woman’s peak reproductive years are between the late teens and late 20s. Fertility begins to decline by the age of 30 and the decline becomes more rapid as your grow older. By the age of 45, getting pregnant is unlikely for women, though there are rare occurrences when it does happen. In such a scenario, medically, the best time to have children would be your early 20s but one must also consider several non-medical factors before deciding if they should get pregnant. Emotional maturity, financial stability, a support system, time and several other factors must work in tandem and impact your decision of having a child. Rushing into having children simply because you are afraid of a ticking biological clock will cause you and your child lasting harm. The taboo attached to conceiving a child post your 20s also forces many women to have children early. Having a child later in life (given that the mother is fit enough to do so) needs to be normalised. As mentioned earlier, the older a woman gets the less likely she is to conceive. Having a child later in life could lead to many health complications both for the mother and child.
Another important thing to keep in mind while deciding to have a child is monitoring the mother’s health much in advance. Any underlying health conditions (diabetes, heart conditions, etc.) could complicate the childbirth process which is why you must get all the necessary tests done before deciding to have a child. A lifestyle change is essential; healthy eating habits, regular exercise, giving up drinking and smoking will all contribute to a healthy child. Research has also shown correlations between the age of a mother and the health of her child. Findings show “the first-born children of adolescent mothers are the most vulnerable to infant mortality and poor child health outcomes. Additionally, first-time mothers up to the age of 27 have a higher risk of having a child who has stunting, diarrhoea and moderate or severe anaemia.”
In many situations, especially in India, women are coerced into having children at a young age even when they are not emotionally ready to raise a child. The stigma attached to abortion makes things incredibly inconvenient for women who wish to terminate their pregnancies. Several children across India are abandoned because of the inability of their parents to raise them. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), India is home to 31 million orphaned children. Many children without parental care have been abandoned by their living parents. In fact, girls are more likely to be abandoned, sex-selectively aborted or killed in instances of infanticide as compared to boys. These figures indicate the importance of having a child at the right time instead of abandoning children when you’re not ready to become parents. The stigma attached to abortion needs to be done away with. Many times, women are not ready to give birth to a child and there may also be medical complications involved that could harm their lives. In all these scenarios, aborting a child if you’re not ready is acceptable and justified. At the end of the day, a woman has complete rights over what she decides to do with her body.
Starting a family at an early age has a range of problems. The emotional maturity attached to raising a child takes time to develop. Financial stability is also a product of time and it is important to have sufficient funds to raise a child. A newly married couple must take time to explore themselves and their relationship before deciding to become parents. Sorting out differences and learning to spend time with each other will help them become better parents. For a single parent, it is important to take time and do the right kind of research before deciding to become a parent, doing this at a young age is never a good idea. Conversely, waiting too long to have children can also pose a problem. Fertility is a major issue later in life, so for people looking to conceive children, waiting too long can pose a problem. Your energy levels decrease as you grow older and taking care of a child is hands-on process one that you may find yourself unable to keep up with if you’re too old. Essentially, having children too early or too late is not the best option.
When a couple is unable to conceive naturally, Indian family structures put undue pressure on them to pursue several other options like IVF and surrogacy. These options are extremely expensive and time-consuming. IVF is not always successful and finding the right surrogate can take a long time. Instead of going through such difficult processes, adoption should be encouraged. When couples are unable to have children of their own, they should seek to adopt a child in need, someone they can give a brighter future to. The emphasis on ‘blood’ relations is excessive and detrimental. In many instances, when a couple can’t conceive, the blame often falls on the woman and her infertility. A lot of divorces are a result of couples not being able to have children. In Indian households, families never question the men and their impotency and the onus always lies on the woman and her inability to conceive. Couples fall apart because of this when instead they could find other means to welcome a child into their lives. Several health factors may impact pregnancy and it is unfair to place the entire blame on a woman.
Further, traditional Indian households place a lot of pressure on the women to be a stay-at-home mother and take care of the child. For many couples, the career takes the forefront, resulting in the decision to not have children. Traditional Indian households often see this as a problem, believing that children should be prioritised over having a career. Such regressive notions can put unnecessary pressure on a couple to have a child when they don’t want to. Focusing on your career and choosing to not have children is a very personal decision, one that should not be influenced by outside forces. Having children is important but it is also important to pursue your dreams and ambitions. When people decide to have children in a hurry and give up their aspirations, they often end up blaming their children for their unfulfilled lives. Such negative emotions will have consequences on the parent-child relationship and might lead to a troubled childhood. Chart out the life and career you want for yourself and only then should you decide to conceive or adopt children.
Once you do decide to have children and want to have more than child you have to keep in mind that there needs to be a sufficient gap between two conceptions. Medically, to reduce the risk of pregnancy complications and other health concerns, waiting 18-24 months before attempting your next pregnancy is ideal. Having consecutive children might negatively impact the health of the mother. When it comes to the health of the child, gene testing has made several advances to help identify diseases when the child is in the womb and find ways to treat them. Geneticist Jennifer Doudna co-invented a ground breaking new technology for editing genes, called CRISPR-Cas9. This tool allows scientists to make precise edits to DNA strands, which could lead to treatments for genetic diseases and help a child lead a healthy life. However, the ethics of gene editing has long since been a topic of discussion because of the many ways it can be misused.
Essentially, deciding to have a child and raising a child is a complicated, drawn-out process that needs to be carefully considered. The age at which you have a child could radically change the outcome of your life and your child’s. Which is why it is crucial to make a rational, logical decision keeping several factors in mind and then decide to have a child.