When two or more married women get together for coffee, conversation often centers around a handful of topics: shopping, gossip and kids.

Inevitably, we get on the last subject a lot of the time, since most of my friends already have children.

We share tips and personal experiences on diaper brands and breastfeeding to behaviour problems and school trips. We talk, we laugh. Many a time, we’ve paused to reflect on how much our lives have changed. Where the meaning of the phrase “a good night’s sleep” is just a distant memory and personal freedom an old friend who is afraid to visit because God Forbid that you should think of yourself once in a while.

sterday, I had the chance to chat with a colleague of mine, who has many times in the past made known to me that she is afraid of having children. However, having been married about three years (she’s only 23!) with nary a bouncing baby, certain people in her family (or more her husband’s) are getting antsy and asking questions.

Her reasons for remaining childless were surprisingly practical for someone of 23. I must admit I’d half-expected her to say that she was afraid of labour pains or something as idiotic as her husband not being able to enjoy sex with her after childbirth (since her vagina would have become a spacial phemonenon – how are people still talking to women who gave birth in the 19th century?).

Instead, my colleague was surprisingly lucid that she would never want to have children. Having come from a big family, she preferred to see the world now that she was all grown up. She had gotten married because she believed – and still does – that her husband is The One. However, kids were an entirely different undertaking, and one she was not prepared for.

Of course, I was really the last person on Earth to advise her on what to do to AVOID having kids. I knew I wanted to be a mother all my life. However, I still remember how much my freedom and independence meant to me when I was 23. In fact, I would never have gotten married at that age, much less get pregnant.

Also, her problem was not so much family planning, as not really planning at all. The rest of you married but childless Malaysian women know how it is. The collective mothers begin the blatant questioning. Relatives begin the noisy, nosey prodding. Your husband, if so inclined, starts making advances without so much as a question, much less a discussion.

Before you know it, you paid RM120,000 for a baby you never really wanted, which then ends up being raised by a 16-year old foreign worker who’s going through puberty herself.

Or worse, by women who gave birth in the 19th century.

It is shocking how many couples actually TALK or THINK long and hard before having kids. They either just have them, or start thinking when the fertility problems occur. And then your whole perspective becomes marred by the fact that you CAN’T have a child, and we know how people can become when they can’t have what they want.

And even if you DO talk, nothing really prepares you for how much your lives will change when the baby arrives. Unless someone invents a brain engram-recording process that lets you watch or live through the memories of other first-time parents, you can never know how it feels to have your freedom stripped from you for the next 20 years, or to fight with your husband everyday about why he has so little time to spend with the family, or to worry about what’s going to happen to your home and kids should you lose your job.

And people think getting a dog would be the same.

Moral of the story? There is a middleground. Talk about it BEFORE you get married. Do a blood compatibility and fertility test while you’re at it. Because after you say those vows, parenthood sort of creeps up on you.

If you’re lucky :).

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