Public divided on Kamla’s Mother’s Day message

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar. – File photo

OPPOSITION Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s Mother’s Day message urging young women to consider motherhood has sparked debate among members of the public, with opinions sharply divided.

In her May 11 message, Persad-Bissessar said one of the most fulfilling feelings is the happiness and joy experienced “when you return to a home of happy children.”

She said it was possible to balance career aspirations with family life and encouraged women not to view motherhood as a hindrance to their professional goals.

“As the years go by and women surpass 40 years and older, social life slows and friends get married, moving on with their own families. While you may have achieved your career goals, life without a family and children may get very lonely as you get older.

“Without familial love, money, and achievements become worthless when loneliness envelops your older years. All humans need love and companionship to achieve their fullest potential. Women, in particular, have an inherent drive to nurture and care. It is very possible to have a career and be a mother at the same time – you don’t have to choose between them.”

However, members of the public are divided on Persad-Bissessar’s sentiments.

Speaking with Newsday on May 13, Emma Rampersad, a corporate lawyer, criticised the message, saying it sets women back a century and undermines career-driven aspirations.

“We are already a low-class economy. Why are we pushing women to have babies instead of careers? Things are difficult in our economy.”

Rampersad added that increasing reports of domestic violence had made women uneasy about having children. She cited the brutal murders of four-year-old Amarah Lallitte and five-year-old Jamal Grant.

“Remember just the other day when little Amarah had her head cut off by her relative? The mother said he never had a track record of being violent. Or remember in 2008 when Jamal Grant was bludgeoned to death by his step-father who was sentenced in 2019?

“Women think they know their partners, but there’s always another side to some of them. It’s a reality some women are understanding now and it’s made them apprehensive.”

Celine Paul, a 20-year-old law student, offered a nuanced perspective, acknowledging the importance of balance.

“She does have a point. I want kids one day and a successful career. I don’t see why I can’t have it both ways. Once you know what to prioritise and have the right support system, it’s possible.”

Nicole Gonzales, a 38-year-old neuropsychologist, however, says bringing a child into the world now is risky given challenges in Trinidad and Tobago’s health-care system.

“I had a stillborn child and almost lost my life during the whole process when I went through the public health-care system which most women in the country use considering the cost of private health care.”

Gonzales questioned the public system’s reliability in light of the death of seven babies who died at the Port of Spain General Hospital (PoSGH) neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the beginning of April.

“Look at what happened in PoSGH with the babies in the NICU. A ‘possible’ bacterial infection in a place that’s supposed to be sterile and you expect people to feel safe?

“Absolutely not.”

Raseda Ramkhelawan, team supervisor of the Mindwise Project cautioned against romanticising motherhood without adequate preparation or support systems in place.

“Imagine the emotional distress from urging our young women to have children when jobs are not secured, crime is rampant and services for children with disabilities/chronic health conditions are not well-maintained.”

Ramkhalawan added that children were not to be used to “fix loneliness” as Persad-Bissessar said life without family and children could become lonely, making career goals and achievements seem worthless.

“Children are not toys but human beings who require a lot of time, resources and community to be developed appropriately with a fighting chance at the scarce opportunities in this country.”

Contrastingly, Steven Anthony, a 25-year-old accountant, echoed Persad-Bissessar’s views, advocating for women to prioritise family alongside their careers.

“Women are hardcore workers but get so caught up in work that they neglect their personal lives. They need to understand that life isn’t all about work. Have kids and set up your lives.”

Geoffrey Alexander, a 32-year-old mechanical engineer, highlighted the societal pressures and expectations surrounding childbirth.

“It’s a double-edged sword but it comes across as though she’s the aunt nobody likes who keeps asking her niece every week, ‘When ya making me a baby?’”

Persad-Bissessar’s statement follows a recent Ministry of Health conference where Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh spoke about TT’s low fertility rate saying that TT’s fertility rate was 1.9 as opposed to the needed 2.1 births per woman.

Gynaecologist Dr Sherene Kalloo said TT was now facing an underpopulation crisis.

Dr Kalloo said the rate in TT had been declining over the years and cited industrialisation as a contributing factor.

In a Whatsapp message to Newsday, Kalloo said, “The more industrialised and wealthier a country becomes, birth rates start to decline.”