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Childlessness and culture

By Nina Steele 

As a person of African descent I knew from the beginning that many of my relatives would not understand the fact that we as a couple do not have any children. Indeed to many Africans, childlessness is not just a taboo subject but also a curse. Having children is seen as a gift from God and so being unable to conceive is often considered a sign that one is being punished for past sins. Having children is expected of every adult regardless of their personal circumstances.

One of my cousins lives in a bedsit with his wife and at the last count his 5 children. He struggles to make ends meet and the children are left to their own devices, yet the last time we spoke, he talked about having more children. I have been offered magic potions to help me conceive and although I have made it clear on many occasions that we are happy being childless, it is still difficult for some of them to understand.

Whenever a couple is unable to conceive, the finger of blame is always firmly pointed at the woman, because a man’s virility is taken for granted. There are many stories of women choosing to cheat on their husbands in order to become pregnant, rather than risk becoming a pariah in the community and inevitably either being unceremoniously dumped or grudgingly agreeing to the equally humiliating compromise of allowing the husband to take another wife, in the hope that she will bear him children.

I must admit that I was expecting childlessness to be much less of a taboo in the West, after all this part of the world is considered far more civilized and tolerant of differences than Africa. Yet if truth be told, the stigma attached to childlessness here, although not as steep, is equally damaging. For example, the constant reference in derogatory terms to Jennifer Aniston’s childlessness in certain sections of the media is not only shocking, it also betrays the image of the West as a tolerant place to live.

By all means, let’s celebrate parenthood, but equally, let’s also recognise and respect those who for whatever reasons, do not have children. The West is by far a better place to live in terms of opportunities, quality of life, respect for the rule of law and overall freedom to name but these few, and the world has rightly come to expect people here to be the ones setting examples. And so by vilifying those who are childless, I believe that the West is failing in that duty.

Indeed, it seems that even though the West and Africa could not be further apart, common grounds can still be found and the stigma attached to childlessness is unfortunately one of those common grounds. I consider this part of the world to be the best place where minorities can thrive and this has generally been the case, however, this constant obsession with child bearing betrays the very values that make this part of the world great. We have a duty to respect the way people live their lives, so long as they are not a threat to the rest of society and although childlessness could at one time been seen as a threat to society because population growth needed to be kept high, the same cannot be said of the world today. If anything the fear now is that there are far too many people on the planet thus putting pressure on resources.

There therefore needs to be a change in culture toward a more tolerant and inclusive attitude to childlessness. By so doing, the West will prove ones again how great a place to live it is.

Childless and happy

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