The choice of becoming a parent

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A few days ago, a discussion at office sparked up a thought in my head. I would like to discuss it today. The discussion was about adapting to changes in life after having kids and why we have kids in the first place 😀 If any of you have had clarity about this aspect in your lives, I would love to hear!

I realised that I myself have probably not given a clear conscious thought as to why did I feel like having a baby 3 years ago. I mean, having and raising a baby is no easy task. Especially in today’s world, where the spectrum of things that you can explore and do by yourself is so wide; the idea of signing up for something that deprives you of this ease and freedom is enough to dissuade many from getting into parenthood.

So there must be some reason that makes us add something which gives us sleepless nights, endless jobs to take care of, makes us rework our career plans, steps into EVERYTHING we plan and do in our daily life (I mean EVERYTHING) and gives us a never ending responsibility for life?!!! There surely has to be something that goes beyond all this right. Is there? Or is there not?

Today when my daughter is 22 months old, I certainly know there is a lot more to it. However, when we decided to have a baby, I had no idea how the journey was going to be!

So why did I decide to have a baby?
Was it because we were already married for 5 years and it was the ‘next thing’ necessary? – Clearly no!!
Was it because of family/society pressures? – Thankfully no!!
Was it because my biological clock was ticking? – No, not yet!!
Was it because I needed a change in life after a major milestone of life after completing Ph.D ? – No! There could have been several other ways to achieve a change in life!

So what then?

I decided to recap and flashback.
I realised that I had always been clear about wanting to have a kid of my own. I knew that at a stage where time commitment for career can be relaxed a bit, I would become a mother. I had this in mind even before making any professional choices. To be honest, it was even before I could finalize who the father of my kids would be!! Much before I met H, I knew it was always going to be –> build a career foundation –> then have a baby. I have never been from the clan who thinks the sooner you have kids, the better; and that your career will grow ‘in the background’. No, I have never been supportive of this. Thankfully, when I met H and we got to serious discussions, we shared the exact same opinions about this. So the question of whether we want to get into parenting was always a yes; the only critical aspect was identifying the suitable time. However, the question of why did I or we choose to have a baby still remained unanswered!

What is it that we gained?
Or the more correct question is – what was I trying to gain 3 years ago when I decided to be a mother?

After a bit of pondering, I think the answer was actually very simple – the underlying parenting instinct is a strong universally conserved emotion that was the chief reason for this decision.

Deep down, we all want to take care of something so badly that we cannot handle any discomforts to it.
We all want that little something that we can be completely ‘responsible for’ and ‘in-charge of’.
We want to be able to influence and raise someone by yourself – with all your creative freedom.
We want to be given the magical power of being able to be influential and mould someone’s life, be someone’s unconditional love.
We want to be someone’s purest love with all security.
We want to be someone’s in all it’s entirety, to be irreplaceable!

We all have that desire of parenting. I think it peaks sometime around when we are in the quarter life-thirties crisis! Some, like me, choose to have a baby around this time. I have often seen that several couples this age also tend to adopt pets and raise their pets with the same emotion. Not just couples, several single men and women also adopt pets and raise them. I don’t know how many of you have noticed this, but the number of people who declare themselves as parents of pets has risen immensely in the last decade. Some of us take up a very serious hobby/passion or build an organization and nurture it with the same emotion. Some of them even say – This company is like my first baby! To me; these are all manifestations of the same parenting instinct.

A BIG difference in raising your own child is undoubtedly though, that the level of dependence on you is extremeeeely high! AND it’s a no-rest-no-vacation job; much unlike pursuing your passions like your child – where, well, lets be honest – you can at least have a cup of coffee undisturbed 😀

But either ways, I think the parenting instinct put us into this. It definitely put me into this.
And with the parenting instinct also came in the very practical considerations of having a baby while you are young and fit enough to physically endure carrying a child and also do all the literal ‘running around’. And like what I described earlier, the very important consideration of having sufficient time at hand to take care of the baby; and also a sense of having completed one foundation stone of career and financial plannings.

So, 3 years ago I decided to have a baby because I wanted to parent someone and I wanted to do it when I have enough time and fitness at hand to take care of him/her! Yes! I think I finally have my answer – and it was so simple!

So did I end up achieving all that I sought to? I did, and in fact I got much more!
That having a baby is the most magnificent sort of happiness that you can ever get. The little one, the innocence, the affection, the feeling of belonging – is priceless!!!
It is also something that puts you in a fantastic self discovery and introspection mode because you now know that someone is looking at your life and learning to copy you entirely!! It helps you in time management, makes you responsible, fiercely independent and of course, PATIENT!!!
However, I also learnt that it comes with a price. A price of your priorities, time, career paths, vacations, everyday business, relations, mental health, physical health – and the freedom of smallest things in life such as sleep times or even going out!

So, when you have a baby, you are signing up for the entire package – remember that the best things in life ARE going to come with a price. I don’t want to play the diplomatic mom and tell would-be moms that its a superb smooth happy journey once you get into it. It’s a superb journey undoubtedly, but it’s not going to be super smooth ever. But that is the fun and amusing part of it for me as well – Like they say, motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing in life ever!!!

Richard Dawkins has told us about how the selfish gene wants to procreate so it can stay alive and in circulation in the gene pool. I am glad that for this, the selfish gene has chosen the cutest path ever. Whatever made the gene so selfish, thank you!! I owe my little bundle of joy to you!

Some days

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Some days I wonder and let my thoughts linger

And on others I get rid of my thinking cap

 

Some days I rush into organization

And on others the clutter just doesn’t bother me

 

Some days I love being active throughout the day

And on some others a couch potato life I enjoy

 

Some days I envy and I worry

Think too much and compare too much

And on others letting go is so easy

 

Some days make me furious and fuming

And on some others, it just doesn’t matter

 

Some days get me excited and thrilled

Dressing up, adding colours to the day

And some others are so dull; even my coffee yawns back at me

 

Some days I admire and am grateful for the life I have

And on others I just cannot stop cribbing

 

What is the magic that sets apart some days from the others?

Some days things matter, and on some others they will not?

Our state of mind dictates it all

Tells us what to take seriously and what not

 

I give in to moods too much I realise

Old habits die hard, my father says

Remembers the first complaint about me from kindergarten

She’s very moody they told him

I laugh as I see my 8 month old following suit

Will history repeat, will be fun to note

 

Right or wrong? I contemplate

On this difference in my responses

On giving in to moods

On having a different mood every day?

 

Only being a human, I assure myself

After all, who but a human has mood differences I ask?

I ain’t no machine

Or a computer program

Where the same input gives the same output all the time

 

I cannot predict you, my better half laughs

Heck, I cannot predict myself I say – and join in his laugh!

 

I will live the present mood

Allow it to shape my day

And create a memory of this moment

The way it is, impulsive, without any predisposition

 

I cannot give in to one state of mind forever

Cannot make it platonic ever

I cannot have just one mood

Because I am a human

I am a human.

 

 

 

The ‘why’ in biological sciences

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A little while back I saw a group of young students freshly out of school discussing their choice of subjects for higher studies post secondary school, on a table besides mine in a cafe. An unintentional eavesdropping led me to understand that most of them seemed to be science wiz-kids aspiring to join engineering colleges for their love of automobiles or computers. Not surprising then, that these people chose physics and math over biology as their primary subjects of interest. Having been studying biology for a while in life, this was one of those many moments where I strikingly sense a dwindling love for biology among the gen-next, and just smile to myself. I was almost losing interest in listening to their ongoing conversation when I heard something. ‘No but there is nothing new to learn or think about in biology. That’s why I am dropping it off this year. It’s just a descriptive science.’ I was alarmed. Now my eavesdropping became intentional and real. My ears were all tuned to try and see what the rest of the gang had to respond to this statement. And to my surprise, almost everyone agreed to this!! That their Biology textbook was only full of stuff to memorize and read descriptions about. That there is only ‘information’ that the book gives, and not new concepts to learn or think about.

I was completely taken aback. For someone who has spent some amount of time working on and thinking about biological problems in a science lab, this was difficult to take in. How could the youth of this next generation believe that there are no concepts to be learnt, no questions to be answered in biology when it is in fact, a science packed with some of the most exciting questions around us? It just suddenly put me in a very alarmed state!! I mean I certainly have no qualms in anyone having a greater inclination toward non biological sciences; but let misconceptions about biology not be the reason for it!
I was about to turn to that table and sit down and explain the philosophy of biology to these kids. However, before I could respond, I decided to step a gear down and think about what must have made most kids think this way about biology? Is there something fundamentally misleading about the way biology was being explained to them? Okay let’s go back in time. Did we have a similar approach when we were in school or college? Was this the general thought and perception about biology even when I was starting out in college? And sadly, I realized that the answer is yes.

I realized that the approach with which we were taught biology in school is a serious enough culprit in this. Somehow, the biology text book that we start out our studies with is full of diagrams and descriptions of different biological concepts. Articles in the book are written to describe different events and structures in the living body. In short, the how, where and which of different biological processes are detailed very efficiently. But wait. Is that all that is to it? What about the question ‘why’? Does that question even exist for this branch of science? What I now know, is that it certainly does. But I hardly remember discussing this element in biology classes in school. And sadly thus; among the long recitation of descriptive texts in biological sciences, I feel this is what is lacking. The question of ‘why’ in biology!
We have somehow never been taught to question the ‘why’ in biology very efficiently. At least that is what my case was. All through school or even in college to some extent. My first real introduction to thinking about the ‘why’ in biology started as late as post my bachelor’s degree. That was the time when certain questions started popping to my head about why are certain biological structures the way they are. Specifically in that stage when I was studying viruses and their life cycles; I was seriously bothered by the question of why does this virus exist/live in the way that it does!

I looked around and started realizing that there are a host of biological ‘why’ associated questions around us. Why something is structured the way it is? Why does a caterpillar respond to a particular kind of disturbance which we humans do not sense as a disturbance? Why is there so much diversity around us? Why do parents and off springs look similar? Why are some diseases more likely in certain areas of the world over the others? Why do some medicines work better for some people and not for the others?
These are just some mundane examples of the ‘why’ relevant questions in biology. There are many more out there. The problem with the way I was taught biology so far is, we were always taught to wonder about how something is executed, but not why it is the way it is. And that is why it took me a while to appreciate that biology is all about nature’s miracles, or the more scientific term, nature’s ‘creations’ and a thorough understanding of these comes through questioning why a particular thing is the way it is. A variety of paradigm shifting discoveries were made simply because those were the people who questioned the why of biology.

Perhaps the answer to the why question in biology is a bit more involved and non linear, and not always very easy to handle. Let me try and explain in the simplest of forms here. A thorough understanding of biology necessitates an awareness of the fact that it is an integrative science. The compositional complexity of biological units is quite high. To understand it in its entirety, you may need to apply principles of biology, physics, chemistry and mathematics to it. Yes. It is indeed something that you sometimes may not completely comprehend in isolation. In addition, the composition of biology (read life) is something that is highly variable. There are very few steady equations that you can apply to all of biology. Most biological principles have inherent exceptions and some serious context specificity to the rule. And that is where the so-called ‘other’ sciences come into picture. And that is why a holistic understanding of biology that includes several outliers necessitates an application of the principles of physics, chemistry and mathematics also to biology. Today, an interdisciplinary approach to biology is what has got several chemists, physicists to get interested in biological problems. Because they often find a manifestation of their rules and principles (that they have worked on in their respective sciences) in a fascinating manner in biological systems. For example, studying a living biological unit (cell) includes studying its chemical composition (chemistry), processes such as diffusion and transport and conductivity across its different parts (physics) as also say, its rate of duplication (mathematics).

It’s interesting that the ‘how’ of something often has a singular answer (though not always) since it is most likely built from direct observations of different things and their execution. However, what really gets our thinking center and creative imagination ticking is the why of living things around us. It’s unknown, unexplored, and in most cases, speculative. And this for me is the most enjoyable part of biology. Once you get into the groove of asking these questions around, you will start getting fascinated at every minute detail of biology that you discover. The sooner you sense this, the earlier the appreciation of biology comes to you. Like I said previously, this happened to me quite late in life. I had always been interested in biology, but this was mainly because self formation, self regulation and life processes were something I was always curious about. But to be honest, my curiosity was limited to knowing the ‘how’ of execution of biological phenomena. The realization that questioning the why of things gets us to the vaster and deeper meanings of biology and life came to me only after completing my first degree in biology. Sometimes I still find this funny and weird, that despite not getting a true appreciative sense of biology, we could essentially walk away with even a master’s degree in biology with ease. Now how pertinent is that? I often feel it’s a major limitation of the education system that we have here that we do not bother to infuse the real inquisitive spirit of science as a pre requisite for a degree, and that degrees are bestowed through a rather simple display of scientific information put across on a paper. It’s disappointing hence, that, very few core scientific career interests are sustained through from our degree colleges to professional sciences.

So the bottom-line here? Dear Students, do not dismiss off biology as a science that involves mere recitation of facts. It is indeed a science where the ‘why’ is just as important. Waiting to be answered, waiting to be discovered. A slight difference from other lines of science may be the fact that answering the ‘why’ in biology is often an amalgamation of principles that come from various fields outside ‘classical’ biology. And that exactly is the fun of it. A holistic and integrative approach which can account for the ‘why’ in a branch of science with as much variety as biology. Biology is very much a science of the why. In fact, it’s the science of one of the biggest ‘why’s in this world – the why of life 🙂