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I Was Happy To Give Them My (W)hole Heart, But They Wanted Kids And A Desi Bahu

I’ve had a heart defect since childhood. So, how do I find love in a world that’s obsessed with the body?

“So why don’t you want kids”

I stare blankly at the chat notification on my phone screen. How do people have the audacity to start a conversation on a dating app like this? Yes, sure, I’ve mentioned it on my profile, but at least say “hi” first. I reply with something about how it’s a personal choice. 

“But why?” comes the next question. At this point, I wonder if I should unmatch or admit to this person that I have had a serious heart and lung condition since childhood, in which pregnancy will most definitely be fatal. 

Collaged illustration of a young woman sitting on her bed with heart shaped pillows with an oximeter on her finger and medicines on her mind and looking at her phone where a man curiously asks "Why no kids????"

But then if I do mention the latter, am I prepared for the “sympathies” that will follow and then the questions on “what about surrogacy or adoption?”

Now, how to explain to this person that my life is pretty expensive as it is, because I live with an incurable condition that requires life-long medication and treatment (unless it gets really bad and then the only option left is transplant, which costs minimum Rs 80-90 lakhs). How would I also pay for surrogacy or handle a child’s expenses? And the hormones you have to inject yourself with to extract eggs for surrogacy aren’t exactly safe for someone living with my condition. Plus, I wouldn’t even want to. What if I pass on something to the child? To add to that, I don’t have that kind of energy to run around after a kid or even take care of them. How will I afford a nanny? 

How would I afford the child’s healthcare and education (have you seen how expensive decent schools are these days?) On top of that, I would feel terrible not being able to give enough time and attention to this child.

So obviously, after having this long conversation in my head with myself, I finally clicked “unmatch”.

Then, there’s the other category of men who will speak to you long enough and then drop the bomb that they intend to convince you to change your mind about having kids. Now, these naïve beings are completely unaware of my chronic disability, because it sadly is invisible most of the time.

Unfortunately, I can’t show you how my lungs and heart are struggling all the time without carrying my reports and oximeter everywhere.

I can’t help giggling at how cute these men can be. Their lives are so privileged and comfortable, the thought doesn’t even cross their minds that a woman could actually have serious health issues that could make it difficult to tolerate and sustain a pregnancy. Forget that, it’s hard for them to comprehend that women can have minds of their own and choose not to have children, whether they have a health complication or not. No such thing as choice, bro!

It’s scary, yet hilarious at the same time when they talk about how you’ll move into their house after marriage and live with their parents and pop out babies and everyone will just be so happy! This is another issue for me—I will never be the perfect “bahu” because I can barely do any house work. My lungs don’t allow it, and neither do my parents. And to be honest, I don’t want to go into someone’s house and take care of their family. It’s more than enough if I can manage to take care of myself.

My parents have always made sure that I have a comfortable life, so I can focus on education and work. Plus, having to live with a chronic illness is a full-time job. I have to make sure I get enough sleep so I don’t have trouble breathing the next day, take my medicines on time, do pulmonary-cardio rehab so my body can manage to do at least an average job on the low levels of oxygen I live on, be careful about what I eat so I don’t send my whole immune system into a tizzy, and then also make sure I’m not exerting myself too much while trying to work and have some semblance of a social life (which by the way has to be intricately planned so that I’m not doing anything else that tires me out the same day I’m planning to meet a friend for lunch).

Collaged illustration of a young woman with an oximeter on her finger sitting on a chair feeling dizzy in front of a busy study table with a medicine organizer and a board with posters, medicine timetables and more. Behind is a plant that is growing a heart.

Now, you tell me, how will I have the energy or the time to be a typical Indian bahu in the midst of all of this?

It became pretty clear to me early on in life that a traditional marriage could never be an option for me. And I’ve heard enough stories from fellow chronic illness survivors, women in particular, who were dumped by their husbands simply because they couldn’t do enough around the house for their in-laws or be baby-making machines.

Yeah, I’m good without all that drama, thanks.

Let’s move on to the body shaming now. As I live with a heart defect that cannot be operated upon, I have always been very thin, even as a child. It’s quite difficult to put on much weight when your oxygen levels have always been below 90. I dealt with my fair share of bullying all through school and college, being told I would never be attractive enough and no one would ever date me because men like meat, dogs like bones—some nonsense quote that was popular back in 2007. 

So, when I got out into the dating world, I was already living with social anxiety as I always thought every one I’d meet would only make comments about my weight. I always prepared myself before a date for the man to pass some derogatory remark about how I’m so skinny. Some of them were quick to do it, some were nice enough to never bring it up, but then there were those special creatures who waited to get intimate with me. 

And, right at that moment, when things would start to get hot and heavy, he would softly whisper something along the lines of “you should really gain some weight”.

Boys, nothing kills a lady boner like a critique about her weight when she is in such a vulnerable state with you! Hey, but you gotta love how he was only concerned about my weight and not the fact that I was obviously out of breath pretty quickly—an obvious symptom of my chronic disease people just don’t happen to see.

I also don’t know how to explain my health issues to these men because I have come across a few specimens who panic the second you say “heart condition”. It’s hard to believe that these are grown men when they cower away at the mere mention of a chronic illness! So now I’ve just added it to my social media handle profiles and created dedicated posts about my health, so guys can prepare themselves beforehand. I know, I’m very thoughtful like that.

Anyway, I’m still keeping myself open to the possibility of love entering my life, because I know I have so much to offer (other than children, lol). But in the meantime, I’ll continue to rant about how most men are hypocrites who act like they’re very broad minded and mature, but only want a (healthy) slave/child-bearer to take home to their family.

Roshni C, 31, has been living with a Congenital Heart Disease (VSD), Eisenmenger’s Syndrome and Severe Pulmonary Hypertension since childhood.

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