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They say pregnancy is a life changing event. I found that it not only changed me, but it also how I saw the world, and made me realize the importance of feminism.
I am a control freak who obsesses about deadlines, and meets them with a healthy buffer. I plan everything to the last detail, and I did the same with my pregnancy.
Three years after I was married, my stint as a research scientist in the USA was coming to an end. My yearning for motherhood peaked, and it seemed like the perfect time to have a baby. My husband and I always wanted to return to India to raise our kids, so we hatched a plan.
5 months before my stint ended, we started trying to get pregnant. I figured I’d be past morning sickness, and still have a safe window for travel. I knew it takes couples 6 months on average to get pregnant. But that wouldn’t happen to me. I was determined.
My husband and I had sex every single day for 4 weeks to maximize the chances of getting pregnant. I know it doesn’t sound romantic, but both of us like to be thorough and disciplined in every endeavour and we were not going to let mere statistics get in our way.
On the 27th day after my period, I took a pregnancy test and it was positive! Hooray!
I was thrilled to have so much control over exactly when I got pregnant, but I also realized I belonged to a tiny minority. My husband and family had always left it up to me to choose when we should have kids, since I would be the most inconvenienced by pregnancy.
But this simple obvious fact seems completely alien to most Indians. Many women are mercilessly hounded, by family, friends and society at large, to get pregnant, bare moments after they tie the knot, without any regard for their health concerns or career aspirations.
You know, how on TV pregnant women keep working normally until they go into labor. Sure, they stop to throw up a few times, but it doesn’t seem to affect their job performance. Many women are like that, and that’s how I hoped I would be too. Boy, was I wrong!
On several days I vomited six or seven times, and on most days at least 4 times. Worse, was the constant queasy feeling, like I was battling a wiggly octopus trying to escape the confines of my stomach. It was exhausting and I became a zombie.
Fortunately my boss and colleagues were accommodating, allowing me to work from home whenever I felt I could. This way, I managed to get enough done in a day. I doubt this flexibility is made available to most women, and I can’t imagine the torture of having to work through morning sickness with a rigid schedule.
It leaves me to wonder how many women quit the work force as a result of a difficult pregnancy. These women have to take a long break from work, as maternity follows pregnancy, and this becomes a stigma on their resume. Women are being punished for something they can neither control nor change. Doesn’t that clearly indicate a flaw in hiring practices of companies, rather than in women?
During my next pregnancy morning sickness lasted a whole 7 months! It left me both physically and emotionally drained. Putting on weight was a struggle. I wanted to eat healthy for the sake of the baby, but keeping anything down felt like a victory, even if it was a burger from Mc Donald’s. I hated it, when people ‘shared’ advice on healthy foods and how to fight morning sickness. None of it worked for me! I realized, that sometimes you just need to ignore well-meaning advice and do what works for you.
Besides, when you are pregnant, many people treat you as merely a food pipeline to the baby. Doesn’t matter if you are suffering. It’s all for the baby. Well, guess what? A woman does not cease to be an individual, when she gets pregnant.
The second trimester is supposed to be the honeymoon period, and my first time, it was, after 20 weeks. I had moved to India, and I was eating healthy, exercising, shopping and setting up our new apartment.
Yet, I was worried while waiting for the results of the anomaly tests. What if the probability of a genetic anomaly was high? How would it be, if the baby had Down’s Syndrome? Would it be better to abort? Could I bear the idea of aborting?
Did you know, that if your anomaly test results are delayed, or you need further testing, that indicates complications, getting an abortion can be very complicated in India? As if the emotional strain wasn’t enough, you also have to deal with legal hassles, thus delaying matters and making an abortion even more dangerous.
As I waited for the test results, I was also upset to learn about the social stigma against kids with down syndrome in India.
I had a lot of trouble putting on weight, so, when I finally did, my changing body shape was a source of comfort to me.
But it’s tough to stay positive while puking, farting and wobbling, as hormones play havoc with emotions. I was spared insensitive pregnancy jokes and judgment, but I can imagine how upsetting they would be.
Then there are the hideous stretch marks! I was worried about them. It was comforting to learn that occur in over 90% of pregnancies.
In the early stages of my pregnancy, our sex life was hindered by my morning sickness. I was barely functional on many days. So my husband left it up to me to choose. But in many Indian households a wife’s consent is considered irrelevant. Even our legal system does not consider marital rape to be criminal!
Pregnancy increases libido in some women. But in many Indian households, it is still taboo for a woman to initiate sex or masturbate. So women need to control their urges, but men shouldn’t have to? Double standards are no surprise, are they?
After 23 weeks, although my husband I both intellectually knew that sex wouldn’t hurt the baby, or me, it was difficult to internalize the idea. What if he put too much weight on me by mistake, or what if he hurt my womb somehow? I have never cared for the woman on top position, which may be more comfortable during pregnancy. So we limited intimacy to gentle cuddling and oral sex.
My breasts were very sensitive during pregnancy, and I hated wearing a bra. In the US, I often ditched the bra while going out, but in India I wasn’t comfortable doing that because sexual harassment aka ‘eve teasing’ is so common on the roads.
The idea of a baby forcing it’s way out of my tiny vagina was terrifying. In the US, my doctors discussed various medical options with me, to help me decide what was best. So I read up about episitomies and epidurals. An episiotomy is a clinical cut traditionally made in the vagina to reduce tearing.
I was shocked when my doctor absolutely insisted on an episitomy without discussion, even though they are considered highly controversial. My doctor also insisted on inducing labour the day after my due date, but I was conflicted about it. I decided to trust my doctor’s real world experience, though I would have appreciated a doctor who was more open to discussion.
Not everything went smoothly, but things did work out in the end. I belonged to the unlucky one percent who had a dural puncture. So, I did not chance an epidural with my second pregnancy. Personally, I found the small risk of long term damage, not worth the short term reward of reduced pain and discomfort.
My experience, as a fairly privileged woman in India, of my doctor dismissing my concerns regarding episitomies and induction of labour made me wonder, how much worse it is for women, who are in oppressive situations.
This study done in rural India shows that women’s voices are usually ignored in an institutional setting, especially when doctors have the power to decide. Many of them might not even be aware of, or receive any education about what to expect. Labour room violence is frighteningly common, and it is despicable, how women are treated when they are most vulnerable.
So ladies, know what to expect about your body and how it is treated when you go in for a pregnancy. After all, it is your body, and you have a right to that information.
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Kanika G, a physicist by training and a mother of 2 girls, started writing to
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