Have you noticed an increase in women choosing childbirth over marriage?

Photo credit: BBC

Hey, Adventurers!

There is a question that has been puzzling me for a week or more, and I can think of no better place to find answers than right here. I’ll be asking you all to put on your Mma Ramotswe power-of-observation-caps, grab a cup of red bush tea and help come to the bottom of this mystery.

It was alleged on a certain radio show in Ghana recently that more women are choosing childbirth over marriage – or at least delaying the latter for longer periods than we’ve seen before. This trend, it seems, is worrying. Personally, there are a number of women in my circle who have made this choice (to have babies on their own) and are much happier for it. However, anecdotally I know that they are the exception and far off from becoming the rule.

Or are they?

The benefits of marriage do and have always largely favored men. Even marriages governed by the rules of feminism are not completely insulated from the rules and affects of patriarchy, with some women succumbing to societal pressure to quit their work in favor of full-time care of dependents (i.e. children or ageing parents); an expectation to take on more housework; delaying self/professional development aspirations; or to hand over total control of the family’s finances to the husband. It’s little wonder that the question, “How do you manage to juggle your career and being a wife and mother?” arises so often. Global culture makes vigorous demands of womanhood.

So, the idea that there are women who are bold enough to eliminate one factor from that equation that never really finds its balance – i.e. opting out of or delaying marriage intrigues me.

I live on the Garden Route in South Africa, and what I have witnessed in Black, white and the small Indian population settled here is that there is indeed a high rate of single motherhood. However, this doesn’t present itself as the empowered woman gallantly choosing her offspring’s features from a database at a sperm bank, but rather as a result of conception before a break up or rendered after a divorce. These come with their own implications, and few of them are positive for the child or the mother.

My personal opinion is that it would be wonderful for more women to be able to choose childbirth in lieu of marriage. In order to make that determination, it would mean that girls/women are given expanded economic opportunities, that work that is generally considered “female” (like retail or caregiving) is being rewarded at a livable wage, and that the stigma against single parenthood has finally met its death. The reality is that fertility has a specific and narrow window, whereas one has a lifetime to search for the perfect mate. In a society where (in this case I refer to Ghana where the radio program was aired) the idea of marriage is one wherein a man is to be cooked for and submitted to – rather than an egalitarian situation in which both parties feel fulfilled – it should come as little surprise that the divorce rate is on an uptick or that women in particular are bowing out of the institution until they can find a compatible mate.

Since biology is at odds with societal norms, it is masterful and bold that women would re-write their rules to make biology work in their favor. My question is, have you noticed an increase in women making this decision consciously where you live, or is the idea just a figment of a social media commenter’s imagination?

Photo credit: BBC

15 comments On Have you noticed an increase in women choosing childbirth over marriage?

  • Voluptuous Voltarian

    I’ve noticed it in Ghana. But it’s a loaded thing because it’s empowering on one hand (men are replaceable, your childbearing years are not) but also rooted in some very patriarchal bullshit (if you don’t born you are not a woman).

    I think the ideal for a lot of women is the husband, 3 kids spaced 2 years apart and nice house with the bougainvillea frontage (our white picket fence, lol). And that is the ideal in society’s eyes as well. But there is definitely also that really deep belief in Ghana that children are everything, everything and more everything. You can be (grudgingly) forgiven for being a spinster, a divorcee or even a single mum with two baby daddies, but saadwe is a curse.

    Since the day I left for college my mother told me if I ever get pregnant for any reason I shouldn’t agonize about the logistics. I should just born the baby and give it to her and in her words “She promises me five years of free child-raising while I go do what I need to do.” When I got pregnant a few years ago and decided not to have the baby she was very sad, even though she herself had terminated a pregnancy before (my birth nearly killed both of us so when she got pregnant a few years later she decided it wasn’t worth risking her life cos she already had two kids).

    And now that I’m older and there is anxiety from my extended family about my single state I hear the kid thing all the time from relatives and family friends: “I know you’re one of those I-know-my-rights-girls so you haven’t found anyone but at least you have one child for me.” It was the last thing my aunt said to me before she died.

  • Oh my word. That last line was a gut punch.

    I’ve always known that childbirth has been considered the pinnacle of womanhood in our society, but I had never observed/realized the lengths that family would go to make sure the bloodline remains insured, so to speak. When I got pregnant with my first child, both my father AND my grandmother were very eager to take the baby and raise it for me, so that I could “concentrate”. I had no idea what that meant, but had I been smarter, I would have sent the baby to Ghana and saved myself thousands of dollars in child care and diapers in those early years!

    Perhaps – after all – the nuclear family looks more kindly on children born outside of wedlock whereas wider society doesn’t.

  • Hmmm…this topic is very sensitive because there are a lot of factors that have created this trend in many societies. If we are talking about marriages in Ghana I can’t agree that it is more favorable towards men. I am not a lawyer, but know many lawyers and they speak about the laws that protect the wife and they seem pretty decent. Now, there is a trend in Ghana where women are becoming single parents by default. I don’t believe that women by nature want to have children without the representation of a male figure. On the other hand there is a minority of woman that don’t believe in marriage and will opt for other avenues to fulfill motherhood (btw that is a very small percentage of women). From a healthcare providers (nurse) experience most women (majority) are really looking for the marriage and the happily ever after. Going back to the factors that might make a woman chose pregnancy over marriage is the desire to be a mother and usually these women that opt for an unconventional method are raising against time (age). Marriage is always the silver lining that most women are looking for as part of our life progression. We all have choices, but unfortunately I fear that Ghana might be adopting other cultural norms that will not benefit society, but in the long run destroy the family nucleus. This goes beyond rights…and if we look at the African American culture we will see the destruction of marriage and family nucleus. I feel we need to focus more on nurturing sensitive boys to men that will be responsible and loving towards their wives and children for generations to come. Childbirth over marriage should not be a woman’s option unless she is 100% sure that this is what she really wants out of life or how destiny cards were dealt. This is my conservative opinion from a liberal woman!!!

  • Lol. @Leslie – the idea of the nuclear family is not indigenous to Ghana o – it’s one of those ideals that we started to aspire towards with colonisation, and in our current neo colonial era. We’ve always had children in our extended (and often polygamous) family structures. This is why in my view families are always so keen to encourage women (particularly those like me who are getting older and will soon no longer be able to biologically conceive) to just have a child. That’s what’s important for most Ghanaian families in my view – continuing the line, in fact it is not even about continuing the line because there is no danger of that dying out. It is just (as VV points out) part of some patriarchal ish where folks don’t think you’ve fulfilled your ‘destiny’ as a woman if you don’t have a biological child of your own

  • Yes, a lot of my friends are choosing childbirth over marriage. And majority come from uber-traditional families so it’s a big no, including myself.
    On the other hand, @Nana Darkoa is right, older women are pressured to have a child, which strikes me as odd because just 4 years ago you were screaming “God forbid?”

    In either of these cases, so long as the choice is mine/yours and not to feed some internalized societal need? Girl, have as many kids as you can “afford” whenever you want.

  • @Nana it always baffles me the constant pressures women in Ghana face by families to have children, but there is alarming rate of orphans in this country. It makes me wonder of the idiom MISERY LOVES COMPANY, because I can’t really understand the logic behind the pressure. The craziest thing is that I hear this manic talk amongst affluent, educated and exposed women in my circle and it makes me feel oppressed, suppressed and depressed. It seems like family and men want incubators and the rest is life. Maybe I am being to critical, but I am speaking from what I see and it’s disheartening.

    • I so agree with you Leslie….I really feel more couples that want children should adopt. Our children do not always need to be a direct product of our genes. The pressure to give birth to a child from your own loins is incredible…hehhehe, and misery loves company for sure

  • Through my research,studies and practical survey, I have realised that one major factor affecting our African communities and family structures negatively is adopting foreign cultures and religions. Our forefathers in their God-given wisdom practiced polygamy and extended family structures(were orphans are cared for by relations) to accommodate our population ratio(women are far more than men) and cover possibilities of family members death. Due to Christianity, we now practice monogamy purely based on emotions which is prone to change. Our forefathers taught us marriage as a process of mutual responsibility to raise a family, not an emotional fulfillment of love. We can’t lay the process of our continuous existence and progress on earth on mere emotions. We have to go back and follow the ways of our forefathers and improve them in ways that will benefit us and our future generations. No tree cut of from its roots survives long

    • Please. We beg. There’s no way we are going back to the days that you’ve described: Where men hold and control all the resources and women have to beg for scraps. We’ll take a hard pass on that one. It’s not “wisdom”. It’s oppression, and one that favors one gender over another for no other reason than having or lacking the possession of a penis. Not every tree is meant to survive.

    • Hey Mojobanton, personally I have no issue with a system where both women and men can have multiple partners if they so wish…I also don’t think that culture should be static so if our ancestors did things a particular way years ago, I don’t think we should be obliged to stick with those ways if they don’t suit our current era. And I am speaking as someone who comes from a polygamous context, and so see the pros and cons very intimately, even in my own life… Plus the argument that polygamy is necessary because there are so many more women than men is frankly a fallacy. In most societies just over 50% of the population are women, and just under 50% are men, and so the figures won’t add up if men married multiple women…lot’s of men won’t have wives…and of course this is also based on a very heterosexist idea, that all women want to be in partnerships with men and vice versa

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  • @Leslie, I understand what you mean by women looking for the silver lining called marriage. However as a single woman with polycystic ovarian syndrome, who absolutely loves babies, as I approach each birthday I keep asking myself what if I eventually get married much later and cannot have my very own little one? I know adoption is a good option, but I’d like to experience the morning sickness, the scans, the shopping, the baby excitement, the fat phase, the delivery room.
    I don’t want to have to wait for my perfect partner at the expense of the joys of momtherhood.

  • I have DEFINITELY noticed this. Heck, I’ve discussed it and believed I’d go that route myself. There is the social pressure to have kids which we can’t dismiss as easily [though it’s not that easy] as we dismiss marriage. And thats because a good number of us actually want kids, they haven’t done nothing to us – yet. And of course the fact that we’ve been socialized to want to nurture.

    So yeah, I can list at least 10 women I know who went after men just for the seed. Sad [for me at least] but it’s how things are now. I say it’s sad because this is not an empowering choice for me, I wanted to go this route because the options are horrible, so it’s out of resignation not exactly a choice you know?

  • In accordance with world stats the genders born into this world is very slim. Ghana stats (if accurate) taken from Ghana Population live clock is males 50.9 and 49.1, so the shortage is very slim. Now in regards to monogamy, I will agree that it was the creators intention for his creation to live in blissful ignorance and have eternal orgies and btw…not exclusive for boys boys!!! So we can conclude that a shortage is definitely not the cause of why women are having such an unlucky time on earth. I find it disturbing to hear that women want to use a man for a seed and I would hope that the man is aware of the intentions because trickery is never a good friend. To those unfortunate cases like the woman with PCOS, I am a nurse and understand the anatomy and physiological frustration of such patients. Marriage does not translate to having babies, it only validates social norms. Women with reproductive difficulties can only hope that a child is in their destiny and with so many medical advances the reality is not far fetched. The only thing I can;t agree with is selfishness, you can’t think about your own wants without being honest with the person who will be affected by it. If there is a mutual agreement, I say go for it and enjoy every bit of the process and let life take it’s course.

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