Written by Donica Walton
It is with no surprise that women, both young and old, have become more vocal about their readiness for parenthood. I have stayed in a university residence for five years. This has given me an opportunity to interact with a vast group of people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds and with different future goals regarding marriage, relationships and having children.
For the most part, residence has been a non-judgmental space where new norms have been created and old ones destroyed, therefore creating a shift in the role women have always had as child bearers. This space has allowed women to engage in discussions they rarely have at home due to various reasons. In casual conversations in our common room, dining hall and during our walks to town, I have noticed similar opinions regarding readiness for parenthood and breaking the cycle of having children despite being ready. Based on these conversations the main reasons that contribute to readiness for parenthood are stability and financial security. Along with these reasons for choosing to have children or not, women have increasingly been sharing personal experiences of the health risks involved in pregnancy. Due to these reasons, conversations have centered on the freedom we now have to avoid pregnancy either permanently or temporarily. Of course, a lot has changed in the 21st century. More particularly, women have continued to exercise their right to make these decisions without being influenced by men, family or societal norms.
I remember walking to town with one of my friends from the residence. We spoke about our experiences, not of parenthood, but of us knowing many women in the communities we live in who were not ready to have children. However, due to their limited access to information regarding contraceptive use and abortion services, they have kept their children. Others have kept their children as they feared the stigma associated with having an abortion in some communities. It is worth noting that despite the advancements in society, many communities still do not have access to such crucial information. This is another main point conversations have centered around. We spoke about how, as women at tertiary institutions who have access to this information it is important to continue sharing and creating safe spaces for other women around us. One of the wardens in our dining hall, being a mother herself, engaged in one of the conversations with us making reference to a religious approach to parenthood. She believes that children should be conceived within the parameter of two loving parents who are married. This sparked a lot of debate, which I associated with the age difference between her and us. She strongly believes in allowing God to guide us in the process of having children. However, she reminded us that having a child outside a marriage context is not the end of the world, while complementing us for choosing to use contraceptives and in her words “protecting the life of a little person being born when you are not ready”. I clearly remember talking about how grateful we are that family planning and the use of contraceptives are made easily accessible for us, especially at Rhodes University where we have access to contraceptive services at the Health Care Center.