Newlyweds bemoan pressure to have children

By Pham Nga   March 29, 2023 | 12:49 am PT
Newlyweds bemoan pressure to have children
Traditional Vietnamese cultural beliefs hold children as symbols of luck. Illustration photo by Pixabay
Hong Hoa says that she and her husband were “terrorized” by their parents into having children before they were ready.

When she got married 4 years ago, the now 30-year-old Hanoian in Cau Giay District was in an "unstable" financial situation, and both she and her husband had just changed jobs.

She says they weren’t prepared for children and had already decided to wait a few years before getting pregnant because they were still young and had yet to establish a strong foundation upon which to raise a family.

But both sides of the family opposed the decision and soon the young couple found themselves pressured on all sides. Hoa, now the mother of a beautiful 3-year-old daughter, still gets upset and regretful when she recalls the first year of her marriage.

Hoa says she received calls from her father-in-law daily. Her mother-in-law joined the calls, often saying things like "you should have kids when we are still able to help you to take care of them." Her in-laws told her husband: "you’re our only son and we need to have grandchildren."

Hoa’s own parents also pressured her to get pregnant immediately, as they believed their daughter and son-in-law would turn infertile otherwise.

And if that wasn’t enough, every time Hoa and her husband visited their relatives, everyone - including nosy neighbors - would also ask "Why aren’t you pregnant yet?"

When Hoa would then try to explain that she didn’t feel ready and wanted to save more money for her family’s future, she would receive snarky, ironic responses like "Oh, so it turns out you and your husband want to be rich before becoming parents."

Hoa says she and her husband eventually caved.

Cases like Hoa’s are not rare in Vietnam and many other young women have shared similar stories with VnExpress.

Three months after her wedding, Minh Hanh, 25, from the central province of Thanh Hoa, has yet to become pregnant and is beginning to feel "stifled" by her family’s constant requests that she do so.

But during her engagement ceremony, Hanh’s soon-to-be in-laws asked if she was pregnant yet and when she said no they told her they wanted to see grandchildren as soon as possible as they already had "one foot in the grave." Her mother-in-law went as far as ordering Chinese fertility herbs for Hanh, asking her to join in ceremonies to pray for an heir.

Feeling bad about their families’ desperation for grandchildren, Hanh and her husband relented on their decision to wait and instead decided to have their first child. But after 3 months of trying, they have yet to become pregnant. Now Hanh fears everyone – from her neighbors to family members – because she can no longer stand constantly being asked "why aren’t you pregnant yet?"

Le Quy Duc, former Deputy Director of the Institute of Culture and Development at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics, said traditional Vietnamese cultural beliefs hold children as symbols of luck.

They are considered like savings for the future, he said, so having them is both lucky and necessary. Someone with children is considered lucky and safe as they’ll be well taken care of later, while childless people are considered unlucky and vulnerable.

Psychology specialist Nguyen Thi Tam from Ho Chi Minh City considers asking about others’ children an expression of care, but also sometimes an expression of inconsiderateness and insensitivity.

"Some people raise these kinds of questions simply because they care or regard them as common topics for conversations," she said. "But some people are ignorant and insensitive about it."

Heavy burden

Urging couples to have children by using harsh language burdens them with unnecessary stress and anxiety, according to psychology specialists.

Thu Huong (30 years old, currently living in Lang Son), who tried for four years before becoming pregnant with her first child, says the stress she felt from the pressure her family put on her was part of the reason it took her so long.

The pressure Thu Huong felt from her family to have kids gave her anxiety and stress. Photo courtesy of Huong

The pressure Thu Huong felt from her family to have kids gave her anxiety and stress. Photo courtesy of Huong

"Every time someone asked if I was pregnant yet, my mother-in-law would sigh and disappointedly say me and my husband weren’t even thinking about having children," she says.

Huong adds that her neighbors and relatives always peppered her questions like "it has been so long, why aren’t you pregnant yet?"

Some inquiries were so blunt they made her depressed: "do you have any diseases?"

"My doctor suggested that we had to relax if we wanted to have kids, but I was unable to do so for a long time."

Huong came close to giving up. She stopped taking fertility medicine and stopped visiting her husband’s family so frequently.

She and her husband stopped "trying" to have a child and eventually began considering the possibility of the IVF method in the future. Then, after two months of living in a much more relaxed state, Huong’s period came late. She took a test and found out she was pregnant.

Psychology specialist Nguyen Thi Tam suggests that married couples who are frequently asked about having kids can try to ease the pressure by stating their feelings in a calm way.

Luu Quoc Khai, Deputy Director and Head of the Obstetrics Department at an international hospital in Hanoi, advises couples not to worry about the possibility of going infertile with age if they don’t want to have kids immediately.

Now that Hoa and her husband are no longer so young and new to parenting, their life has improved. And their daughter is no longer a toddler.

These days, when she visits either side of her family, her parents are pleased to see their granddaughter.

However, a new question now lingers:

"Why haven’t you had your second child yet?"

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