Once upon a time, there lived a king and a queen, who were in great trouble because they had no children. They were sorrier about it than words can tell. They offered prayers, made vows and went on pilgrimages, moved heaven and earth. And for a long time, it all seemed to be to no avail. The ideology of incompleteness without a descendant exists in every religion, every culture, hence in films of that culture which inform each other which furthers society’s self-perception, and in every storybook. No favourite folk tale is complete without a tot, most mythologies come with offspring in situ. If fiction sees the presence of a minor as a propulsion to the narrative, the absence of a child situates the woman in the book in a bonedry profession and dusty of tongue; the man is largely a loser; neither have a foothold in the future. As couples, there is either no value to their struggles or they are layabouts, sipping wine and spending money.
In most feminist non-fiction, the assumption is that women must have children preferably without men in their lives to prove their womanhood even if only to each other.
History, too offers no redemption without reproduction. It is replete with examples of how single, implying childless, women have been burned at the stake after being branded as witches. History is particularly joyous over the legends of many men, kings and those who went into war to wage them relentlessly and win them. Such noble men showing such exemplary courage would have been devastated, and the entire valorous heredity destroyed, had they not bravely betrayed their loving but barren queen by taking another wife, or many a new nymphet, as royal consort only because they were fertile. Giving credit where it is due, history does suggest that some wives might well have taken on surrogate sperm since the fault was in the king’s stars.
Whichever way, the king wins. Always; and he is thus the role model. Remember a certain princess? Canadian Jan Rehner, who has written among the earliest books on personal infertility, refers to "the battery of gynaecological tests she was forced to endure before she could become [The] Princess". There was derision from some women then, about tests which were the package-deal on virginity and fertility. But the prince who-could-beking wins; the message which went out to an enraptured audience the world over: Women Who Are Fertile Can Enjoy Great Social Status.
Modern-day history documents how a princess giving birth to two healthy male heirs has to nonetheless fight for love from their father. She throws herself down the royal stairs, she turns bulimic, develops attention-seeking behaviour, topples into someone else’s arms, becomes even more skilled in attention-seeking; in due course becomes a car wreck. Her husband, in a taped telephone conversation, reportedly declares he would much rather be his elderly mistress’s tampon, whom he marries after the public perception is altered by ensuring that the sons are seen with her. Message going out: Men Must Marry Publicly If Only For Progeny, It’s Their Passport To Privately Lead A Double Life. Royalty then, is no different from those weak-willed and bisexual men who marry one but mess with the other. In the interim young wives seeking domestic harmony continue to be notified by family and society, "Things will improve after the children come." Permanently in the plural, never in the singular.
Feminist Germaine Greer also thinks reproduction brings resolution. Rehner, expressing pain at the word neurotic, quotes Greer, "People who cannot accept their childlessness are neurotic. Where infertility causes actual hardship, there would seem to be greater justification for the expenditure of considerable effort to reverse it. As it is, western women spend a fortune and masochistically undergo repeated surgical procedures in an attempt to bear a child." Interesting; Greer thinks infertility, or not having a child, causes "actual hardship". To whom? The poverty-stricken?
Men in rural areas who, presumably having shunned agricultural mechanization, need more farmhands? Women who need sons to protect them and daughters to shore up the household income till they can be married off? Alongside, that tedious reiteration of differing standards for women of different countries, classes and colours. Equally tiresome, what is passing as international popular culture acted out by the cheerleaders among the Maybe Baby brigade. Scripts in endless loops of selfpity, fanned by the repro tech industry which sees itself as Infant Production Inc. and which is pleased at such persistent normalization of aggressive Ivf. Versions listing every single thing they went through, cycle upon cycle, blow by body blow, lurching between the horrific and the comic of reality shows. In print, on television, on the Internet, of the patient heroically taking it. Or the "partners" having shared moments of stress. Or the man/woman having a second thought and the woman/man, stung sharply by this betrayal to parenthood-through-partnership, throws a grieffilled glance at the camera, which then plays bonding agent for them to reconcile. Occasionally, a man talks to the camera matter-of-factly, like a workhand in the spermmanufacturing workshop of the great baby-making factory.
Fiction and reality writing for television in places like India, China and Africa will undoubtedly catch up; there shall be cleverly crafted episodes of Ivf ordeals as stage-managed acts. Reality-tube combining with reproductive-telly. The fertility industry prefers that media write it as IVF. Hurrah for IVF! IVF! IVF! This article is extracted, with permission from Penguin Books India, from the author’s upcoming book, Politics of the Womb. Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of this paper.