Remember the words—“God bless the couple with children”—that family members and religious heads said and prayed on your wedding day? Remember being told, “Don’t wait too long”? Remember being asked by family, friends, and acquaintances a year or two later, “When are you planning to have a baby?” Well, if these words have not been said to you or uttered by you, I figure you would at least be aware of these statements and questions. We live in a culture in which marriages are considered to be complete only when the couple has a child. Yes, it is true that children are a blessing; I would not say otherwise. Religious texts hold them in high regard as well. But the question we must ask is: Are marriages complete only when couples procreate? Is the bond between two partners real and true only when they have a baby?
My point in writing this piece is to confront forced pregnancy and question the logic that pregnancy is the ultimate determiner of the quality of a relationship. I understand forced pregnancy to mean the practice of forcing a woman to become pregnant. This compulsion can come from one’s parents, in-laws, relatives, religious leaders, friends, and spouses. It is also possible to ‘force’ pregnancy by drawing comparisons between women who are ‘carrying’ and those who are not, women who want to have children and those who do not want to or are delaying the desire to, women who can conceive and those who cannot, seldom having anything positive to say about the latter.
There are times when we step too far into the private lives of individuals, forgetting to regard the boundaries established. I understand the love and care, but listen: we must stop asking a woman if or when she is planning on getting pregnant—it is her body. To have a child or not is the sole prerogative of the couple (which obviously includes the woman’s consent). We must know that beyond a certain point, our concern can easily become embarrassing and humiliating, causing the couple to socially disconnect with those around.
A woman does not need to get pregnant so that her parents and in-laws can become grandparents. She does not need to get pregnant so that her siblings and the siblings of her spouse can become uncles and aunts. She does not need to become pregnant so that her husband can become a father. She does not need to become pregnant to shut the mouths of a few people. And certainly, she does not need to get pregnant in order to become a mother (motherliness is not a by-product of pregnancy). She and her spouse are not obligated to make babies to satisfy the desires of others. We must stop expecting the woman to give birth so that we can assume new roles. Remember we, as outsiders, are only called to share in their happiness, not own it.
It is time, if not already, that we come to respect the woman, her desires, her body, her right, and her time. If we are not careful, it is possible that we end up touching a very sensitive part of the person’s being or crack open the door behind which are kept covert intimations. Above all we must learn to respect and love her for who she is, not for what she can bring forth
By Arvind Theodore
Arvind Theodore is a PhD student at Union Theological Seminary, NYC in the field of Social Ethics. His interests lie in the areas of liberation ethics, Dalit studies, protest and resistance, gender and sexuality studies, and cinema and caste. Arvind is also the author of Church and Human Sexuality and blogs at Reflections.