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Even when seen as the best choice in a given situation, an abortion can evoke conflicting feelings in many Indian women.
By Maitreyee Chowdhury
The year is 2007. Early one morning I get a call. Even before I can utter a word, I recognize the distraught voice of my cousin Drishti from Durgapur in West Bengal. Ever since I can remember we have shared times both good and bad and her call made me apprehensive. Amidst uneven sobs, she declared that she was pregnant. For a minute I was quiet, realizing that congratulations were obviously not what she wanted.
That day, over an hour long conversation I learnt that my cousin, in her mid thirties, mother of a five year old son and a marketing professional was extremely stressed since the time she had found out that she was pregnant. Drishti, who was doing extremely well for herself professionally, was very clear that she did not want a second child. In fact, she said that she and her husband had discussed this previously too agreeing that neither of them was mentally prepared to take on a second child.
Realizing that the issue was a sensitive one, I asked if she and her husband were so sure that they didn’t want a second child, then she might think of having an abortion? At this juncture Drishti let out a long sigh and said that it was very difficult for her to explain to someone what she was going through. She felt as if she were killing a part of herself for her own selfish, practical reasons. Moreover she was sure that no one apart from her husband would agree to her decision.
…as outsiders, we often do not understand the underlying contradictions in the mind of a woman or even her partner when they face the issue of abortion.
Her words that day made me realize that as outsiders, we often do not understand the underlying contradictions in the mind of a woman or even her partner when they face the issue of abortion. Apart from social conditioning which leads some to look upon abortion as allied to murder, for many it is a mixed bag of tradition versus personal needs .
At a sonography session during my own pregnancy, I came across a woman who lay in a bed next to mine. When the person in charge asked her if she wanted to see the image of the developing foetus, she almost screamed, refusing to see any screen shot. This appeared rather curious to me and seeing me look at her, she mustered courage enough to blurt out later in the changing room that she was having an abortion and as a result did not want to see any images; she felt that she would be drawn towards it and as a result might not actually be able to opt for the abortion.
It was not my place to give advice to a total stranger. But I could feel the duality of her uncertain feelings and the stressful condition that she was going through.
Many Indian women are further terrified of the fact that their opting for an abortion would not be approved by either their parents or their in-laws. As a result of this, fear often overrides their emotions and it is only at a much later stage, when the procedure is complete that many women have the luxury of crying over an important aspect of their lives.
An abortion often evokes different emotions in different women, depending on the circumstances that she is in. But the one emotion that is seen in most women irrespective of their condition is mental unrest. Salma Hussain* is a woman in her mid-thirties. Two years ago, she underwent an abortion. Both she and her husband were very clear that they did not want more children, after their three kids. But as fate would have it Salma conceived for a fourth time.
…the one emotion that is seen in most women irrespective of their condition is mental unrest.
She says that her abortion was a ‘relatively painless one’, since it involved the support of her family too. When I asked her what she meant by ‘relatively painless’, she explained that having taken the decision to abort, they went about it without delay, but the hours after the abortion were tough on both her and her husband. She described it as a feeling of ‘absence’ – an ambiguous mixture of knowing that one has probably taken the right decision but yet not being able to somehow come to terms with it. Salma says, “I was lucky to have a loving family beside me. Not all women have that because it can make a huge difference to how the woman feels in such circumstances.”
For most Indian women and some men too, abortion is perhaps a choice they would rather not make, because of the emotional and physical implications on the woman and the family overall. But often, it might be a better choice than others in a given situation and this is perhaps what makes the emotions bearable too.
*Names changed to protect privacy.
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