At 45, Meera Ali has all she ever wanted — a dream job, a nice house and a loving husband. But she often finds those around her think that something crucial is missing in her life — children.

Meera and her husband have been married for ten years. She met her husband at a party organised by a mutual friend and they hit it off immediately. Both were well-established in their careers and the couple decided they did not want to have children. However, Ali’s family had other ideas.

“I don’t understand why women can’t support other women,” says Meera. “At first, we didn’t tell anyone about our decision but two years into the marriage, everyone started asking questions. Ali’s sisters were especially blunt about it, as if privacy or politeness don’t exist.”

When Ali’s family found out about their decision, the reaction was explosive. Being the youngest of three brothers and a bit of a rebel, Ali decided to move out of the family home after another year of constant badgering by his brothers’ wives, his own sisters and mother.

Meera and Ali have now been cut-off from their families, but are decidedly more peaceful.

“I have to travel quite often because my job demands it and a child would have made it very difficult for me,” she continues. “Both of us like children, but we don’t want the responsibility of one and don’t have the time or place for one in our lives.”

Nasreen Bilal is another woman with similar ideas.

“The first question from any new acquaintance is always about children,” she says. “When I tell them I don’t have any, their faces always show a certain pity for me. That quickly changes to dislike or disdain when I tell them I decided not to have children.”

Her relatives whisper about how ‘westernised’ her thinking is; they say she is selfish because she is depriving her (unborn) children of a place in the world. According to them, she is also depriving her husband of an heir to his name.

“Why do I have to cater to their false sense of what a woman is?” Nasreen asks. “I’m told that a woman is not complete until she is a mother. But my decision to not have a child stems from my inability to handle one. Why should I cave in to their emotional blackmail when I know I can’t take care of a child?”

Women often have to bear the brunt of society’s culturally set notions of what a woman should be. Most accept defeat because they don’t have the courage to go against the tide.

They get tired of the pitying looks for not having normal lives with kids running around them. But ‘normal’ is just how you decide to live your life. If childless people can accept your kids as part of your life, why can’t you accept their lives?

“I like children,” says Nasreen, echoing Meera’s words. “But only as long as I can hand them back to their mothers.”

Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, July 1st, 2012.