Stop Acting! All Women Endure This So You’re Not Special!

She told my mother, "You doting parents turn these girls into delicate darlings, you should let them be a little tough. Girls have to be strong, what is this?"

Trigger Warning: This deals with gaslighting and abuse of women during labour, and may be triggering for survivors.

It has been over 18 years since I gave birth to my only son. I had been with one of the best gynaecologists in Mumbai; experienced, confident, and gentle. I had no qualms about him being a man, and even after all these years, I consult him and his daughter for my menstrual difficulties.

I had a complication-free pregnancy, and 9 months passed smoothly sans any stress or abnormalities. But in spite of that, I could never gather the courage to opt for a second child. The reason might sound absurd, but the 4-5 hours I spent at the maternity home before delivery caused me such trauma, I would say my childbirth experience got scarred forever.

I had experienced spasms almost the entire day, and when they were 20 minutes frequent, we went to the hospital. It was midnight when we arrived, a nurse performed an internal checkup and proclaimed we had come too early. And I had a good 6-7 hours for delivery.

I was accompanied by Mom and husband, but the nurse was hell-bent on sending my husband back. I don’t know how she did it, but my husband returned home and was told to come to the hospital by 6 in the morning.

What will happen after few hours if you are already screaming now?!

Now we all know what labor pains are, and for almost 3 hours, I was writhing in pain. But I couldn’t shout out even in my private room, because the first time I made a noise, the nurse had hushed me down, rather rudely.

“Keep Quiet.” She had fumed. “You still have plenty of time. What will happen a few hours later if it’s like this now?”

I guess, by 3:30 am, they took me to the labor room. The pains had become very frequent, so they were expecting the baby soon. Mom was by my side all the time.

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Another nurse approached me for the enema, and while she was at it, I guess I had turned a little firm. I accept it could have been my fault, but the scolding I received from both nurses was immense. I was in tears, as to when the ordeal would end, and to think it hadn’t even started.

Back on the bed in the labor room, I remember I was screaming away. The spasms were obviously getting very frequent as well.

The internal checkups too were happening, and I was constantly at the receiving end of the nurses’ taunts.

“You’re so firm, why don’t you cooperate Preethi!” They thundered.

Why did they have to be so rude?

“There’s still some time, the baby’s head seems to be big. The doctor will be here shortly.” The nurse was speaking to my mother, when she shouted at me again, “Hey, what’s with the ruckus Preethi? Behave!”

‘You have pampered your daughter so she can’t tolerate pain!’

I had begun weeping by then, requesting her to do something, to reduce my pain.

“Stop acting, I know it’s not that bad. All women endure this, you are not special.” And then she reprimanded Mom.

“Your only child?”

Mom shook her head, as I have a younger sibling.

“You have pampered her a bit too much, I guess. So many tantrums! She can’t take an enema, she can’t handle labor pain, won’t let us perform an internal examination, what kind of behavior is this? You doting parents turn these girls into delicate darlings, you should let them be a little tough. Girls have to be strong, what is this?” The nurse remarked.

My mom didn’t respond, she was holding my hands. And I still can’t fathom how you make your daughter Labor Pain Ready.

I mean, is it like, if you don’t dote on your daughter and be a strict parent, someday her childbirth would be painless? Or is it that the love you bestow on your daughter in her childhood, is inversely proportional to her ability to withstand labor?

Well, the doctor arrived soon, together they monitored something on the screen and finally, after all these hours I was told that my baby wasn’t coming down naturally. So, they had to perform a C-section.

I don’t know if I’m right or wrong in saying this, but I was extremely relieved. Because it meant an end to my suffering.

“If only we had known earlier that it would be a C-section, you wouldn’t have had to tolerate all that pain.” Mom cajoled me.

“It’s okay Ma’am, women should experience labor pain. Good your daughter could.” The nurse quipped.

It’s been almost two decades, but these memories are fresh. Much as I try to forget, certain things remain etched forever. The labor room, the gentle music, the various poems and quotes on the walls to ease the pain, and then some health workers. Who constantly remind you, that you are a woman, your job is to reproduce, so you should experience labor, feel the pain but not call out aloud, and then emerge a strong woman with childbirth.

Editor’s note: Women regularly face #MedicalMisogyny from health care professionals. For the WHO World Health Day 2023 theme of ‘Health for All’, identifying this misogyny and ensuring #Equity in healthcare is essential. All of April, we will be sharing stories with you on this these, either personal stories or fiction. Find them all here.

Image source: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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