It was the first post to drop on my Instagram wall on Saturday morning. I felt a little spike of joy on knowing that Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas were welcoming a baby. Like so many of us, I too am an inveterate consumer of celebrity news and received this information as if it had a bearing on my life.
I am also a compulsive reader of comments and conversation threads and before long, a range of reactions started popping up below the news. Many on social media criticised, condemned, and ridiculed her choice of surrogacy – which they saw as a 'frivolous' decision.
‘Why declare this news and then ask for privacy?’
‘Is it a trend for the rich to opt for this method?’
‘This is a mockery of natural reproduction.’
‘Why couldn’t she adopt? After all she is a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.’
'How do these mothers feel? They just get their 'ready-made babies.'
'You Brought It On Yourself': The Intense Scrutiny Of Women
As a mother who had her child through in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – after a long and complicated encounter with infertility – I have been at the receiving end of some of these questions.
The taboos associated with assisted reproduction, adoption and surrogacy are so intense that most couples guard this secret with their lives. Even among celebrities, it is rarely spoken about or discussed beyond the announcement.
The woman, the mother-to-be, is the subject of scrutiny and censure because the need for such fertility procedures is perceived as the consequence of her and her lifestyle choice alone.
‘You brought it upon yourself by delaying marriage or motherhood’ is repeated multiple times, either directly or insinuated – without caring an iota about what the mother-to-be is going through.
The Invisible 'Hierarchy' Of Women
Very few understand the complexity of the choice, the combination of physiological, genetic, and lifestyle factors at work or the layers of emotions behind it.
There seems to be an invisible pyramid, a hierarchy of mothers.
Right at the pinnacle stands the woman who has conceived spontaneously, within the safe confines of a marriage and possibly before the age of 30.
Then, there are all the others.
Those who have conceived at the so-called 'wrong age', or through the 'wrong means' or have simply chosen not to conceive or have a child at all – all placed in descending orders of approval and credibility.
The Polarities Don't Stop at Conception
In the years since having my son, I have realised that the polarities of ‘natural’ vs ‘artificial’, ‘good’ vs ‘inadequate’ don’t just stop at conception.
That debate rages throughout a mother’s life. Be it the much-debated C-section vs vaginal birth, breastfeeding vs formula, working mothers vs stay-at-home mothers.
In the eyes of this patriarchal world, no matter what choice you make, there’s always a better one to be made.
Somewhere 30,000 feet above all humanity, there exists an ideal of absolute correctness. There is hardly a woman in this world who meets this ideal.
Yet, every woman, whether she chooses to be a mother or not, is relentlessly held accountable and is shamed for any deviation.
'I Saw My Inability to Conceive as A Personal Failure'
The scrutiny and policing of women’s lives is an age-old phenomenon, and the scrutiny of Priyanka Chopra is an example that shows that no one is really exempt from it, no matter how many circles of privilege you are ensconced in.
Someone like her may be able to brush aside the condemnations and continue to focus on her life and actual priorities. But the social media uproar and accusations after her announcement is not just directed towards her, but a reflection of all women who are in the same boat as her. It is time we acknowledge this, instead of brushing it aside as another celebrity gossip.
What about someone who is grappling with similar issues but does not possess the same social or cultural capital? What are we telling them?
I truly believed that I was ‘less’ because I did not get pregnant in the ‘prescribed’ manner.
My belief was the result of generations of conditioning imbibed from family, society, and culture. I saw both – my inability to conceive as well as the use of medical assistance – as personal failures. I had to unlearn that lesson the hard way.
How One Becomes a Mother
There are numerous ways of imagining our family and happiness, and equally numerous ways of bringing these to fruition. These are deeply subjective choices, shaped by our circumstances and resources.
What we often see from outside is the tip of the iceberg.
We have no clue about all the factors and dynamics at play in Priyanka Chopra making that choice, and frankly, we don’t need to either. Every individual has the right to reproduction and how she chooses to go about it is no one else’s business.
What we do owe her, however, is respect for her reproductive choices and her absolute right to privacy.
Becoming a mother may seem like a one-step process that automatically establishes credentials.
In truth, you become a mother by and by, continuously earning your credentials with the investment of love, time and effort – the means, or even how you are related to the child does not matter.
(Rohini Rajagopal is the author of 'What's a Lemon Squeezer Doing in my Vagina.' She can be found on Instagram at @rajagopal.rohini. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)