April 28, 2020
Married Women’s Dilemma: Having Children or Pursuing Higher Education

For most women, being married often puts a damper on their personal goals, as they have to choose between having a child or pursuing higher education.

by Maria Cellina Wijaya, MD
English
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I made the decision to get married pretty young, at 22 years old, to be exact. Let’s just say that I have found the right person to share my life with, and I didn’t want to wait for us to start pursuing our goals and conquering the world together.

My husband is not the type to hold me back: he constantly supports and encourages me to chase my dreams and do what I think needed to be done. I am lucky enough that my parents and in-laws are also not the type to pressure us to produce offspring as soon as possible. I admit that I am lucky, but not all of us are blessed to have such an understanding family.

When I finished my bachelors and profession (I am a medical doctor), I decided that I wanted to do my Master’s degree in another country. Suddenly I’m faced with a dilemma: I want to have children, start a family as soon as possible, but I can’t do that if I want to apply for further studies especially in another country. My husband works in Indonesia, and not all of us are blessed enough financially to be able to uproot our family and move to another country together.

So, what should I do? Should I postpone my education in order to have a child? Can I really postpone it? If so, for how long? Caring for children takes a lot of time and needs a lot of attention. If I do already have a child, I’m not sure if I will be able to leave them at all.

I’m sure this is a dilemma faced by almost all married women all over the world. Women with either pressure to have children or not at all. It is all the same for us: we have our so called “fertile window”, coupled with a biological instinct in some women to produce an offspring (though I admit, the instinct is not as strong in me). Women, being the main caregiver of children and the household, can never really leave their children once they have them. Not only society will frown upon them, but some women might even feel guilty about leaving their children for the pursuit of something like higher education.

Also read: You May Want to Marry My Boyfriend

We were raised in a patriarchal society that sees a woman’s place being in the house. Once she is married, taking care of children, managing the household, doing daily chores become her responsibility. Even to some people who come from more modern upbringing,  a woman pursuing higher education is considered unnecessary or even irresponsible.

It pisses me off sometimes because I believe my husband, like most men, will never have this problem. They can have children and then go study for a degree outside of the country, while wives would take care of their childremn back home. I’ve known some of my friends who grew up this way: their dads travelling all over the world for their Master’s, PhD, or subspecialties. In all the examples I’ve come across, none of the traveling parents were mothers. It seems unacceptable by society, that a woman, a mother, can ever leave their child for the purpose of obtaining higher education.

According to a population census done by Badan Pusat Statistik Indonesia in 2010, only 3.1 percent females, as opposed to 3.8 percent males, finished undergraduate or postgraduate level of education. A study shows that in the year 2000, there were 25,000 people holding a doctorate degree in Indonesia, and only 15 percent of them were women.

There is a real gender gap in the higher education in Indonesia. The reasons vary, from a lack of access, financial factors to  marriage. Another research shows that women who pursue higher education tend to marry at later age. Again, this can be attributed to the dilemma that women face with having to choose one over the other: family or education.

Also read: Married at 21: Can I Still be Called a Feminist?

So I decided to sacrifice starting a family for the sake of obtaining my master’s degree from a university in the United States. My options seem pretty clear to me: if I have children now, I would not be able to leave them at least until they start primary school, which is about six years long, and if I do, I might run the risk of my children feeling abandoned by their mother. So I decided to hold it off: a master’s degree only takes one year after all. Again, I’m lucky my husband and my family were so understanding.

But what about others? How many women out there have the same choices as I do? Some of can never continue their studies after getting married either due to societal pressure, or a personal sense of responsibility.

This is a problem that our society doesn’t seem ready to solve yet. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the strong women who choose to be homemakers and caregivers for their family, if they are happy with that. But I am not okay with it.

I am not okay that we, as women, have to constantly choose between having children or pursuing higher education or starting a career. I am not okay that during interviews in some medical residency programs, women would be asked: “Are you married?” or “Are you planning to have children?” Because a medical residency usually takes time and dedication and having children supposedly makes you unfit or unable to do so. I am not okay that at work, women who have children are considered less capable or less determined. Why can’t we have both?

Then again, our society may still not be ready to answer this question.

Celline is 22 years old and a medical doctor from Surabaya. She has a passion for writing, running, and fighting patriarchy.