Just because a woman can’t or won’t have kids it doesn’t make her “incomplete”

I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.

When I was diagnosed with it, I was told that it was a big possibility that I might never be able to conceive a child. And my first reaction was to hold back tears. I’d always wanted to be a mom, it had been a dream ever since I was young. I’d collect dolls and say they were my babies, cradle them and hold them close.

It was crushing to think that because of something out of my control, I might not be able to become a mother.

I obsessively looked up PCOS and what it meant, what would happen, how people dealt with it. I saw forums of women sharing their PCOS stories as well as listened to the stories of close friends who’d been diagnosed with the same thing, the weight gain, the painful periods, all that. The symptoms these women were describing were things I’d been experiencing, too. And then some women began to share about the judgment that they received from others.

Other people, upon hearing that these women might not be able to have kids, would say “sayang.” Or would imply somehow that being a mother “completes” a woman in this life. And it took me aback. What is it about our biological sex that ties our self-actualization with being mothers? These women shared how they were criticized by people (both strangers and relatives) for “wasting” their opportunities to have kids. Maybe I want to be one, but certainly not every woman.

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I’d noticed it before, how women would be criticized for not wanting children. Incessant titas would insist that “you’ll want them someday” or “eventually it’ll happen” as if we’re all fated for baby fever–or as if we’re all equipped for them. Some of us, like women who have PCOS, may not be able to have a child at all. Some don’t want them because of the financial burden. Others even consider the environmental burden that comes with having kids.

But to those who still believe that a woman’s “completion” is tied to her ability to reproduce, you need to stop and rethink that. We don’t put the same pressure on men to be fathers. Their role in conception is half the work and yet we still don’t expect them to be good fathers like how women are societally pressured to be good mothers. Men are rarely asked, “when are you having kids?” And, if they are, it’s because (if in a heteronormative relationship) their girlfriends or wives are with them, making the question’s target not just him, but the woman, too. If anything, it’s aimed more towards her than him most of the time.

As I read, I felt distraught by the realities of PCOS. That I might not have a kid and there are people out there who are indignantly believing that women with PCOS are “wasting” their womanhood. What eased the stress was the stories of adoption, that women who couldn’t conceive because of it (or even other reproductive-related complications), were able to find love still for kids who are already here, who are looking to be loved, too. And it made me smile to think that maybe I could still be a mother in that way, that I could still love someone with all my heart and it doesn’t have to be the way that majority of narratives and stories like to tell.

Now I don’t know for sure if I’ll be able to carry a child in the future. That is still uncertain. Some women who have PCOS have still been able to conceive and that brings me hope. Adoption is also there for me. But it also eases me to remember that I want this because it’s something want, with my agency, for myself and for my future child. And not because I believe in the societal guilt-tripping of women who won’t want to have kids. I don’t believe my self-actualization and being whole as a woman is tied to my future child. I am whole and complete whatever I decide.

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