Updated: August 30, 2015 1:00:22 am
“Can you please ask somebody to come and vouch for your stability before we go into the process?”
I sat perplexed at the doctor’s chamber. It had taken me years of educating my parents to bring them to the same wavelength so that they could understand the journey I was about to embark on. I had scrimped, scrounged, reassessed financial statements and most importantly, looked for answers to questions I couldn’t apprehend myself. Finally, I was ready to become a single mother, biologically, with anonymous donor sperms from a sperm bank. Only the doctor wanted me to get someone to vouch for my “stability”.
I did not blame him. Bringing a child into the world alone cannot be done on a whim. It’s a long journey and pain, frustration and depression are a part of any case of assisted pregnancy. Legally, any single woman in our country can opt to be a mother through ART (Assisted Reproductive Technology). But if you are going to be a single mother, then you are also alone in the rollercoaster ride to motherhood. My doctor only wanted to make sure that I was prepared for it.
It had not been easy reaching here. Growing up in a progressive middle-class Bengali household, I was guided by my parents’ communist convictions. Later, while studying theatre at National School of Drama, New Delhi and Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, I had questioned the restrictive parameters of society. But like all ordinary girls, I believed in love, in meeting the man of my dreams and bringing up children together. As the dreaded thirties approached and I saw no signs of meeting Mr Right, or Maybe-alright, I started making alternative plans. I toyed with the idea of getting naturally pregnant. But it’s a difficult attempt if you do not have a steady partner. How on earth will you get a “safe” partner just around your ovulation period, eh?
People often confront me with this question: “Why not adoption?” I have nothing against adoption, but as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a biological mother. I did not want to give up on the magic of creating a life inside my body. I wanted to feel the heartbeat, the little kicks and flutters in my womb.
A gynaecologist and friend whose brain I picked at every single opportunity fed me with details on assisted pregnancy. My family declared they’d be on my side through it all. My mother even started researching on assisted pregnancy, but what about society and what about the child when he or she grew up? It is one thing to be a maverick and shrug and say, “Who cares about society!” It is quite another thing to bring a life into a world that is not prepared to receive him or her. Would I be able to protect him?
Unfortunately, stories about single mothers and their struggles do not reach us most of the time. I crossed oceans and continents to find courage and answers from single mothers who have been through similar journeys. Finally, after another couple of years, I was sitting in the fertility specialist’s chamber, waiting to embark on the medical journey. When you hold your child in your arms and feel his/her heartbeat next to yours, you do not remember the pain or the failures you have gone through — the countless needles, the hormones being pumped into you, the rollercoaster ride full of hope and despair. The only thing I remember from that time is the loneliness of being alone through it all — every time the blood report came negative to a pregnancy test, every time I drove home alone to build up my resolve and return the next month. I remember driving to the clinic during my first miscarriage, alone, cringing in pain, knowing that I had to live through the pain.
Single motherhood is not a whim. It’s a chronicle of what a woman can survive just to be a mother. I survived. The day the doctor pressed a soft cheek against mine and said, “You have a boy”, I had already thought of a name for him. Agnisnato — one who has bathed in fire.
My parents and I had decided that we would be transparent about the facts of his birth with the world. We did not know how it would be received, but we were ready to go to battle should there be any obstacle. The day news of my pregnancy came out in newspapers, a huge surprise awaited us. I was flooded with love and attention. From the first phone call in the morning to the best wishes and hugs that followed, it was a really humbling experience. Strangers from remote corners of the state called and congratulated me. A septuagenarian wrote, “Your news comes like light at the end of a tunnel.”
My boy is 20 months old now and surrounded by so much warmth and love that I have no fear of any impediments that might come in his way tomorrow. Some may raise their eyebrows and say, “You are a filmmaker. Of course, you had it easy!” Maybe. But then I do not live in newspaper headlines or pages of lifestyle magazines. I live in a world which is just as ordinary as anybody else’s. So when the Supreme Court verdict came out, superseding the Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 and allowing single mothers like me, the sole, unquestioned guardianship of our children, it was like a belief affirmed — it’s not just that our society has moved light years in terms of breaking taboos, but the state also validates this change. Justice Bikramjit Sen and Justice Abhay Manohar Sapre of the Supreme Court are two people I may never get to meet, but I will be eternally indebted to them.
Patriarchy and misogyny will come and stand in our way time and again, like it did in the way of the resolute single mother who fought for five long years in court before getting this verdict. But it will also give people like us courage. My own journey has brought me close to many women who are travelling on similar paths — a girl from a remote village in Burdwan who is a rape survivor and who refused to abort the child, Manika Sarkar, a trafficking survivor whose husband had tried to strangulate her and who was saved by her six-year-old daughter’s cries for help. Now separated, she is fighting trafficking of girls on India-Bangladesh border. Her two daughters proudly claim they are just their mother’s children. Somdatta is a young girl who does not want to be identified by her father’s name, a man whose very existence she wants to forget. She wants to be known as her mother’s child. But she is stumbling at every step. The government officer at the passport office just won’t sanction her passport if she doesn’t put her “biological” father’s name on it, even though all her documents are valid. The funny thing is, that even before this verdict, the Constitution allowed a mother’s identity to be enough for the applicant’s passport.
All these struggles are probably the tip of an iceberg. But I choose to look at the glass half full. There might be roadblocks, but I’ll face them as they come. I answer every question thrown at me by curious friends, neighbours and journalists about the process, the issue of paternity, the sperm bank, the insecurities so that when my son grows up, the answers are already out there and there are hardly any question left for him to tackle. I am preparing the world for him. It might take a lifetime or several lifetimes. Or just a simple conviction, like Jabala’s, a single mother’s story enshrined in the Chandogya Upanishad. Jabala told her son as he went out to the world, “I am Jabala. You are Satyakam. Your identity is Satyakam Jabala.” Someday, I will tell my son the same thing.
Anindita Sarbadhicari is a documentary filmmaker based out of Kolkata
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