During their first session, a couple in their early 30s tells me they want to explore, in therapy, whether they should have a baby or not. They are not convinced about having a baby, nor are they against the idea. So they want to make an informed choice about the possibility of parenthood, and what it may entail for them as a couple, while they have time.
Over the last five-six years, more and more couples have been reaching out in therapy to address this concern. Sometimes, they want to explore and understand their needs and reasons for having a child, at other times the decision about whether to have a baby or not is what will determine the future of their shared relationship or marriage. In many situations, one partner is keen to have a child, while the other is neither ready nor keen. All these scenarios, if not explored within a committed relationship, carry the risk of fuelling resentment and unhappiness.
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Couples reaching out in therapy is a mindful first step to acknowledging a concern they are unable to talk through. The reality is that even today most couples do feel the pressure to have a child/ children soon after their wedding. This, along with parental expectations, makes it hard for them to step back and make a choice that sits well with their values, dreams and how they want to navigate life. Couples choose therapy to openly discuss their fears, anxieties, apprehensions, even hopes, dreams, about parenthood.
Very often, either one or both partners are really worried about the world we live in, whether it’s in the context of climate change or violence, lack of safety, and say they don’t want to bring their child into a world where there is so little to be optimistic about. There is a sense of helplessness and even disappointment with how the world is shaping up.
Some clients who grew up in homes where there was neglect, abuse, violence, fear they might not turn out to be good parents since they have never had any role models. This fear can be debilitating, coming in the way of decision-making even if they really want a child. A male client asked me: “Can you learn what it takes to be a good parent? I really want a baby but I fear I will self-sabotage.”
In addition, the hybrid and remote working model has shown young couples they can enjoy greater freedom and flexibility in living life and travelling if it’s just the two of them. As a result, many couples are taking their time to understand whether they want to put down roots in one place. The pandemic has also led to people realising how the absence of healthcare facilities, childcare, creches can make it hard for both partners to work.
In the absence of both community and organisational support, many couples feel their relationship could suffer, and they could be at risk of burnout. Add to this the financial insecurity about jobs, the absence of adequate savings, debt, be it educational or home loans—and the decision becomes even more complicated.
Moreover, the past two years have shown that in several cases, either one or both partners are struggling with mental health issues, even taking psychiatric medication. This leads to couples wondering if they have the inner resources to raise a child.
It has become clear over the last few years that the reasons which impact a couple’s decisions are layered, even emotionally loaded. Maybe organisations, communities and policymakers need to invest in ways to create psychologically safe places that provide systemic support, while couples continue their efforts to make an informed choice.
Sonali Gupta is a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist. She is the author of the book Anxiety: Overcome It And Live Without Fear and has a YouTube channel, Mental Health with Sonali.