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Just because I decided on an abortion by choice when contraception failed, it doesn't mean that I am not allowed to feel the grief of loss.
Just because I decided on an abortion by choice when contraception failed, it doesn’t mean that I am not allowed to feel the grief of loss.
‘I’m never going to get to tell people that I am pregnant,’ I thought to myself as the buccally-administered pills dissolved against the inside of my cheek.
It’s always a strange moment when you’re giving up on dreams that aren’t yours but could have been. Having children is not my dream, I have known that ever since I was a child myself. It’s not because I believe I lack maternal instincts — I’ve raised creatures big and small my entire life, and I’ve spent the last three-years fostering a wonderful and rewarding relationship with my now 10-year old stepson — it’s because I lack maternal desire.
I don’t want to have a child, the idea does not appeal to me at all.
Some of my reasons are often deemed selfish, I don’t want to pay the motherhood penalty professionally. While there are many women who have both successful careers as well as children, I know how difficult it has been for some of them to manage that. I know how difficult the politics of work are for pregnant women.
I also don’t want to put my body through pregnancy, I wouldn’t even put it through menstruation if I had the choice (but I think that’s just me and every other female in the world), because I don’t think I have it in me to deal with the aftermath of that. The abortion laws in India permit women to terminate a pregnancy if going through it would cause grave mental damage to the woman and I believe, based on my entire history of hormonal and uterine issues, that it would do exactly that for me.
So, I took pregnancy and childbirth off the table a long time ago, and it felt great. I didn’t date people who wanted children, and I moved in with (and eventually married) a man whose choices aligned with mine.
Biology, however, is inconveniently bigger than individual choices.
Despite a tremendous amount of caution and experiments with every kind of birth control imaginable, I got pregnant.
This is partly because of the manner in which birth-control is prescribed in India (and a lot of the world, too). Contraception is a relevant issue since the dawn of time, yet the amount of research and development that has gone into it is minuscule, and most of it is female-focused.
I have had many side-effects from taking various kinds of oral contraceptives, and no matter how often I brought those up with my many doctors, they either asked me to persevere or to switch to another hormonal birth control medication. Most gynaecologists advised against getting an IUD (inta-uterine device) because of the pre-existing uterine issues I had had and because my cervix had never been opened before. Also, each time I researched and brought up a different form of birth control, one that might have less side-effects, it was shot down because of its lack of popular use.
Not a single doctor ever suggested my partner get a vasectomy! When I suggested it, I was told that it’s “better for women to take the birth-control because those methods are reversible.” This, even though vasectomies have less of an impact on long-term health, are less invasive, have no side-effects and do not involve taking hormone-altering medication of any kind. The idea was that I would, of course, change my mind about having children. A more sinister idea was that if I did ‘accidentally’ get pregnant, I would see it as a miracle and decide to have a child.
I was told as much, by the doctor, when I went to the clinic.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I am uncomfortable when my doctors set stock in miracles. I was told that if I was pregnant despite all the efforts I had taken to not be pregnant, it must mean something. In my opinion it means a lot more that I took those efforts to not be pregnant, but that is not how the doctor saw it.
“You’re 28 now,” he said looking through my chart, “You’re running out of time to have a child, if not now, then when?”
“Never,” I told him, “I don’t want to have children.”
“What do you want to do then?” He asked, “Don’t you think you will regret it in the future if you don’t have kids now?”
That’s the trap. The one they use to convince themselves that if women do make the ‘misguided’ decision to not have children, we will be punished in the future by regret. In actuality, everyday, there are paths we choose not to take and those decisions impact the rest of our lives.
I am not a lawyer, because I chose to be a journalist.
I don’t play tennis, even though I like it, because I only have time for one activity a day, and I choose to swim.
I don’t live in New York, because I chose to pursue opportunities here instead.
No one ever asked me if I would regret those things, and I don’t. I recognise the opportunity costs of my decisions, and I understand that fundamentally when we choose one thing, we give up another.
I am not a naive, misinformed child playing life on a board game. Nor are most women, but when the people we are supposed to trust strike us with ‘good intentions’ at moments of vulnerability in the effort to coerce us to comformity, they know what they are doing. They know they are undermining your choices, and it is wholly unethical when the person doing it is a professional who presents in a white coat.
Even after I reassured the doctor that I knew what I was doing, as did my partner, he was not convinced.
“I don’t agree with this at all,” he said writing down a prescription, “I think it’s wrong.”
As a human being, he is entitled to his opinions, but as my doctor, his opinions prevented him from doing his job well.
They prevented him from performing an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy was safe to abort (he said that was unnecessary because I wasn’t going to have a baby anyway). They prevented him from giving me detailed guidelines on the use of a Medical Termination of Pregnancy Kit (MTP kit), or prescribing a painkiller for when I would need it.
When your opinion as a professional impacts and even endangers the health of an individual, that’s medical negligence, and medical negligence often impacts women a lot more than it does men. Instead of using his position to help or guide me through the process, he used it to dispense fear and pain as punishment for my choices.
In India, the majority of women who have medical terminations do so unsupervised and without the guidance of a physician, I used to think that was unwise, but now I understand why it may seem like the better option when the guidance of a professional is not only non-existent but comes with a hefty dose of condemnation.
I came back from the doctor’s office feeling like a criminal even though I was merely availing rights that have been extended to me as an Indian woman. I came back filled to the brim with outrage and helplessness, because all the enlightenment and progress in the world doesn’t mean anything when the people around you see it only as immorality.
In all of my anger, I forgot that even though I didn’t want to carry a child to term, I was actually going through something I needed to deal with emotionally and physically.
After I administered the first medication, the fear and depression set in. I didn’t doubt my decision, but you can feel pain and sadness because of decisions you make yourself. You can feel sadness that is brought on by the physiological experience of hormones and loss.
There is an idea that a woman who chooses to have an abortion shouldn’t feel sadness about it, and if she does, it’s because she doesn’t really want to go through with it. But that’s patently false; I don’t want to have children but that doesn’t mean an abortion is a pleasant experience for me. It doesn’t mean that it brings me only relief or joy.
When I took the second medication that is designed to cause contractions and expel the pregnancy, I began to think about what I was giving up.
I would never experience that moment when you tell your partner he’s going to be a father.
I would never see the radiant joy on the faces of my friends and family when I told them I was going to be a mother.
I would never hold a baby in my arms knowing I made that.
I would never bring life into the world.
I would never buy little clothes or strollers or little packets of pureed baby food.
I never wanted that, but it was a moment fraught with sadness nonetheless. I recognise and respect the joy of motherhood, and just because I do not want that, doesn’t mean I am not allowed to grieve it.
Yet even as I decided to allow myself to feel the entirety of the emotional spectrum brought on by the experience, I worried that sharing my sadness would make me a fraud. I worried because we are taught never to show self-doubt especially when making unpopular decisions, lest someone pounce on that moment of weakness, and even though what I felt wasn’t doubt, I worried that voicing my pain would indicate that.
It wasn’t doubt, it was the unique pain of choosing one path in exchange for another. Expecting that anyone be 100% happy with all their decisions is unreasonable. This expectation is even higher when you have built your life as a woman who lays such precedence on the importance of choices. It’s the same pressure that compels women in unhappy marriages to stay because they married for love; you have to be completely happy or you have to be wrong.
I felt neither.
Was I happy? No, it was an unpleasant and painful experience which forced me to confront the realities of the decision to not have children.
Was I wrong? No, I was much more scared of the prospect of being pregnant, than I was of ending a pregnancy.
Ultimately a little sadness and a good deal of self-searching aren’t terrible things, and I am glad I went through that because it allowed me to consider the depth of my decisions and reaffirm them armed with much more information.
I am glad I don’t have children. I am not glad I had an abortion, but I am glad I could. Having the option to do that is what matters most here. Despite judgemental doctors and pain, I am glad I had the option to avail that choice, and I am glad I used it.
Image source: shutterstock
Aarushi Ahluwalia is an author, journalist and columnist. She has been covering women's issues and rights for various news organisations throughout her career of almost a decade, and now runs a women's media read more...
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