To be or not to be … a mother

The question of to be or not to be a mother has been with me since the earliest times I can remember, and it is perhaps my most existential question yet. One might think that with the clock ticking at thirty five soon to turn thirty six, my biological instincts would kick in and take over, and the dilemma would be over. But alas, I remain at a cross-roads.

I was born in the US, and when I was very little, my mother found me an amazing life-size black doll (in those days, imagine!). She wanted something closer to my skin color and wanted to also make me conscious of the whole spectrum of racial possibilities. Apparently I went nowhere without my “Bibi,” who, at one point, was pretty much my own size. I have always been very affectionate by nature, and poor Bibi was slobbered over and smothered with hugs and kisses, and dragged along the ground when I was tired. Bibi was so real looking that once, apparently, a plane delayed take-off because the stewardess was counting an extra passenger in the plane, until they discovered Bibi was causing the error!   

Then when I was a little girl, I soaked in everything my mother did. At one point I stuffed my top with rolled-up socks, because that’s how my mother looked. I demanded to know where babies came from and how they were born. At barely sixteen, I was overcome unexpectedly with an image of myself with baby at breast, but with no male partner in sight to engender said baby. I didn’t have expectations of marriage, nor a focus on finding a suitable partner. But my biological clock had somehow awoken already and was dancing to its own tune. I decided that it would be OK if I never found anyone suitable to have a child with; I would adopt! (Wasn’t Sushmita Sen doing it?) And then of course I got immersed in high school board exams, college admissions, and later the all-consuming demands of architecture school.

Then suddenly I fell in love and married, as early as 22, and moved back to my birth country. You would think that such an early start would be perfect foil for motherhood, but it wasn’t. Four years of building through living in different places, finishing our respective graduate school, and coordinating jobs, were followed by another four years of living together and hopeless disintegration. But I hung on; secretly collecting every piece of practical, financial, legal information there was about adopting a little girl from India. I called various agencies from work, and inquired into all the home study requirements. I began making plans to set aside $10,000 for adoption expenses. The blue dossier, growing fat daily, sat hidden under the bed on my side. And then suddenly, as the clock struck 30, one Thanksgiving day, I knew viscerally and mysteriously without doubt – I had to quit. Nowhere to go, no plan, no advance warning, just quit.

Magically, with five plus years of work and many, many people’s love, I have found that growing up is also about growing back … unraveling all the conditioning, all the baggage, all the memories … to the closest possible approximation of that raw, pink, naked, fresh, unscarred, no-memory blank-slate state that we each are divinely gifted with, when we are conceived. And then we emerge from our mothers’ wombs. Today I ask myself – can I be that channel for another soul? Can I be insightful enough to remember that I am only a medium for another being to take form and find its very own unique expression? Will I be generous enough to give the ultimate gift of no expectations? Can I be brave enough to just stand by unconditionally, offering constant, unfettered love through the process that is her very own, so she can discover her own being, express her own potential? Can I refrain from neither molding her with my inclinations, nor stamping her with my values or beliefs; imbuing her with neither my past, nor my future, but only my presence? Can I water and nourish this seedling, tread ever so softly around it, and just enjoy nature’s marvel?

I don’t know. Perhaps I will only know if and when it happens; after all there is no entrance test to motherhood, and there really isn’t a fail grade either: we are each the best mother we can be.

All I know is that what’s always been in my heart is echoed in the amazing words of The Prophet (Kahlil Gibran, 1923) that my little sister showed me recently:

Your children are not your children
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself
They come through you but not from you
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you

You may give them your love but not your thoughts
For they have their own thoughts
You may house their bodies but not their souls
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow,
Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams

You may seek to be like them
But seek not to make them like you
For life goes not backwards nor tarries with yesterday

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable

how to paint a room

Last 5 posts by Shahana Dattagupta


  1. Khushi

    Beautiful piece. I loved it. All the best on your journey, whether you want to adopt or bear a child. I had read the poem and long back, and had forgotten it entirely. It brings back memories of reading the poem in my moms book long time ago. I do think though that parents are the ones that give the values the child carries with him or her. Its the direction of the bow. You have to let go off them, but you also set their direction.

  2. Anonymous

    Tana, go for it. But first decide whether you want to adopt or be pregnant yourself. The two are very different and the bond between the birth mother and the child is one that can never go away. I was adopted my self and have had most wonderful adoptive parents but when I think of them, gratitude comes to mind along with love. I dont think I would have been grateful if I had been with my birth mother. The poem is beatutiful. All in all a great post.

  3. Tana

    Thanks, Khushi! And thank you Anonymous, for your lovely, unique perspective. I cherish it.

  4. Tana

    Khushi, “Let your bending be in the archer’s hand…” 🙂

  5. Khushi

    I saw the bending. LOL. But bending determines the speed. Based on my experience with bows and arrows (made from sticks from the broom ma used to use for brushing our bed) the direction is different from bending.

  6. Asha

    Good writing, Tana. You will knwo when the time is right.

  7. Khushi

    My friend told me that she really liked your last paragraph. She’s just never comments 🙂

  8. Tana

    Thank you for sharing this Khushi, and please thank your friend from me too. As a writer (who shares her writing with others), the biggest gift one can get in return for one’s vulnerability is the knowledge that one’s writing touched another person in some way.

  9. Indrani

    Dear Tana, A beautiful post. I would say a mother is a mother. The child is is yours- natural or adopted. Anonymous could be right with regard to sense of gratitude but don’t we all have a sense of gratitude, not obligation, deep down for our parents, especially if we realise that we were difficult and our parents tackled us with much love and patience.

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