‘Any good news?’ #InfertilityNotATaboo

Image courtesy of Areeya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Areeya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Any good news?”

How insensitively and unempathetically almost all of us subject a newly wed woman to this question without even trying to imagine the emotional turmoil she may or may not have been going through.

A love marriage among two individuals from different sections of the society and different regions of the country is itself a grave sin enough to target them to life-long accusations and abuses.

I was already being cursed day and night and to add to it I myself got into this situation. A colleague at work gave up his first son, a boy, for adoption to his childless elder brother and sister-in-law. Later his wife could not conceive at all and fell into depression. I happened to discuss this with ‘my people’ at my ‘new home’.

“Won’t you give your child to your brother-in-law if he doesn’t happen to have one of himself?”, she asked.

“No, Maa. I’ll not. Instead I’ll help them adopt a child.”, I responded.

Then it was a shower of abuses like ‘may you not become a mother at all‘ and ‘may you deliver a still-born baby’. 

This was just the beginning (in the very first month) of our marriage. Months later, when this mental torture went on beyond control, the husband finally decided to move out. But by then my 22-year old self was already affected enough, mentally and physically.

A year later I was experiencing terrible cramps in my lower abdomen and the doctors from a nearby clinic treated me again and again for stomach infection till about three months later when the pain was absolutely unbearable and I couldn’t afford to move an inch without help.

Any good news?”, asked every other colleague. I know it wasn’t to hurt me or depress me because none of them were aware of what emotional trauma I was going through on the personal front. And knowing them I am sure they did not even intend to hurt me ever.

We visited various doctors, various pathological labs, ultrasound centers and the likes. This was when my interest in medical field especially cancer related terms came to my rescue (I still believe that it was good that I was the one who was the first in my family to know what I was suffering from. ‘Growing mass of endometrium’, ‘carcinoid’, ‘carcinoma’, CgA, CA 125 and High risk HPV, DNC and FNAB (Fine-needle aspiration biopsy). These were terms I had learned through the Medical Reference Library 4 Book Box Set By Time that I procured for my Medical Entrance Examinations preparation. One look at the reports and I knew it.

Hospital visits, second and third opinions were sought. The worst was my visit to the Lady Hardinge Hospital. The way the nurses and doctors there treat you or talk to you itself is uncalled for. Or may be I wasn’t used to such filthy street language. ‘Tera marad paas aata hai to dukhta hai kya?‘ To add to it was the lack of privacy. You’re undergoing a TVS (trans-vaginal sonography) and there are 30-40 females (nurses and patients) and some male attendants peeping in from all possible corners. I was at a loss of words. This is where I came to know that I have also had one or two chemical pregnancies (early miscarriages/abortions). I was not afraid of getting operated but I could not accept that atmosphere. It pains to know that this is all that most percentage of India’s population can afford. I spoke to my husband and all I said was I don’t want to get admitted here even if I end up dying.

Then Dr. Kamal Buckshee came to my rescue at Apollo Hospital, New Delhi. Trust me, I used to hate doctors by the time I reached her. She told me everything was alright and under control and I remember having shouted back at her with a ‘Can you stop telling me lies?’

Within four days, I was laporatomically (not laparoscopy) operated for the removal of a 2.7 kgs chocolate cyst (endometrial cancer) and non-malignant ovarian cysts. The left ovary underwent ovarioplasty and the left fallopian tube was partially opened using hysterosalpingogram. This is a procedure in which radiographic dyes are injected into the tubes and as they push through, they open the blocked tube. My right fallopian tube was (is) totally blocked and could not be opened at all.

This was a time when I was highly depressed and my gynaecologist put me on anti-depressants along with hormonal  steroids for about two years. From 49 kilograms at the time of my marriage, I reached 73 kilograms. All thanks to these drugs. People chose to comment on my increasing weight and my protruding belly. ‘Koi khush khabari hai?’, ‘humein sab pata hai’….I did not react.

Back home, more than worrying about my medical condition people were worried that my husband might have had to spend all that amount on my surgery and the hospital stay. ‘Mere bete ka khaa gayi’ was the response I received the day after I joined office after two months. Luckily I was working and had a medical insurance which took care of the surgery and the post surgery expenses for two months. And my parents along with my husband stood like strong pillars of support for me. I did not bother to disclose any of this to her because I had enough of it all and had no more patience or energy to go through another round of abuses and accusations. I’ll always be grateful for my man and my parents.

Now that the operation was over it was back to ‘Any good news?’

Banjar zameen ho tum. Ek dum bekaar!‘ (Barren land you are. Totally useless!), she screamed at me at my office number. A Product Manager’s desk. Which made me imagine the condition of those suffering females who are not independent and are not educated. That was the last call I had picked of hers before becoming a mother.

I was one of the few lucky ones who reacted positively to treatment after two years and conceived naturally. But all through my journey from bed number 3309 to 3305 to 3304 of the gynecological ward of Apollo Hospital I have witnessed the pain and agony that most females fighting infertility go through. More than the pain what hurts is the insult and the disrespectful behaviour. A furniture at home is treated much more gracefully than a live human being suffering infertility.

Is it our fault if a certain organ of our body misbehaves or a certain system in our body decides to work against the natural cycle?

Will they treat their sons in the same manner if they were the ones suffering from such an ailment?

Will they treat their own daughters like this if they suffered in the same manner?

Those words. Those accusations. They still ring in my ears from time to time and make me wake up in the middle of the night.

I also take this opportunity to clear some myths about Endometriosis.

Endometrial cancer is a cancer that arises from the endometrium (the lining of the uterus or womb). It is the result of the abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body. The first sign is most often vaginal bleeding not associated with a menstrual period. Other symptoms include pain with urination or sexual intercourse, or pelvic pain. Endometrial cancer occurs most commonly after menopause.

(Information Source: Wikipedia)

The simple description is that endometriosis is a condition in which the glandular tissue that normally lines the uterine cavity appears in other places, such as the lining of the pelvis, fallopian tubes, ovaries, or bowel. Rarely the uterine glands can end up in really weird places, like the lung, bladder or kidney.

(Information Source: Everyday Health)

Myths about Endometriosis

  • Endometriosis is not restricted to obesity and lethargy. I was lean, thin and absolutely active.
  • It occurs because of drug misuse like birth control pills. I had never used any medicines other than paracetamol, dispirin/saridon and a few anitobiotics that they prescribed for stomach infection in my life before getting detected with this disease.
  • It occurs in people with high blood pressure and high diabetes. I did not have any of these conditions before my pregnancy.
  • Endometriosis occurs in females wearing tight clothes. I have never worn tight-fitting clothes ever in my life.
  • Women with endometriosis are usually infertile. I am a living example to prove this wrong.
  • And no, reading about endometriosis or any other diseases does not make you suffer from them. My mother believes I suffered it because of reading too much about cancer.

DISCLAIMERI am not a certified medical practitioner and hence I would still request all of you to seek medical help and not take any of this content as basis for diagnosis.

I am now a mother of two little daughters. Absolutely blessed! But if you ask me if I ever wanted children, all I can say is I have no idea. No one gave me the time or chance to even decide whether I wanted to be a mother or not. I truly cannot imagine my life without the girls but I would still say we don’t owe our existence to having children. If I were childless I would have gone for adoption and I know my man would have supported me in that too irrespective of whether anyone else in the family did or not. Or may be we would have chosen to remain childless. But the accusations, abuses and threatening had all affected us negatively. Yes. Us. Watching your wife suffer does spoil the husband’s health. I have seen it all.

There are many in our country who are childless. Many who are ready to adopt but don’t have their families support. Many who are still suffering silently. #Infertility is a disease like any other but people have made it sound like a sin. Nobody openly talks about it. There are options available for infertility treatment. But there are also people minting money targeting this disease and the patients. If we talk about it openly and share our experiences others might find a ray of hope or might be able to get the right medical treatment. Even if the treatment doesn’t work they’ll at least not feel alone.

So the next time you feel like asking someone ‘Any good news?‘, please control your self and instead wish them a good day and good health.

And by the way, if you thought that my problems got solved because I was now a mother, let me tell you that you were wrong. You missed noticing that I had delivered two girls….not the waaris or the kul ka deepak.

It wasn’t easy for me to write this post. Nevertheless, for a cause I managed it.

Suggested Reading:

Myths and misconceptions in endometriosis

Top 10 B.S. Myths About Endometriosis

15 Myths about Endometriosis

Living with Endometriosis

All You Need to Know About Menopause

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This blog is to #SpreadAwareness about Infertility through Infertility Dost, India’s first website that facilitates couples to brave infertility with support and knowledge. You can find other links  on Write Tribe.

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Why is #Marriage Important to #Society?

I read Jaibala Rao’s post, I need to remarry for myself, not for my son yesterday. And ever since then Stella’s story has been haunting me. 

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Image courtesy of phaendin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of phaendin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This isn’t the first day that I am witnessing Stella breaking down in front of Mom. Stella is only a couple of years elder to me and I know Mom is very fond of her and hence worried for her.

21st June. Today is their fourteenth wedding anniversary. Stella was at home waiting for the kids who were coming down from their boarding school after almost seven months. She rang up James at least about fifteen times but he didn’t pick. Finally when she called up her in-laws she was informed that James and the girls were there. She called up James once again. He picked.

They will spend their summer vacations here with ‘their family’. You don’t bother about dropping down. I’ll make you meet them before they go back to the boarding.

Anna and Sophia are just ten and eleven. They don’t have a voice. They haven’t been able to stay with their mother ever since James admitted them to the boarding school in Dehradun. They only get to meet her for a lunch or dinner on the last day of their vacations.

No. Stella and James aren’t divorced. But James stays with his other family. And he stays with the girls at his parents’ place when they drop down for vacations.

What is Stella’s fault? Stella is dark-complexioned.

Were James and his family unaware of this before they got married? No. They were well aware. But he married Stella who is from a rich family only for the dowry. Stella is an only child. He parents are old and ailing. She is a government servant. Mom and Stella travel by the same school bus. For some reason, Stella finds comfort in Mom’s words.

I have seen Mom crying for her. I have seen Mom praying for her. I have seen Stella crying like babies in front of her. They haven’t been living like husband and wife for the last nine years. James got this new job and managed to woo his MD’s daughter. He now has a son with her.

Is Stella ready for a divorce? Yes. She is. Is James ready for a divorce? Yes.

Then what’s holding them? The church and the society that wants them to compromise and stay together for the sake of their children. After two attempts at getting a go ahead for the divorce, James sent the girls to the boarding school and isolated Stella. His family is party to him and leave no occasion to ridicule and harass Stella.

Why isn’t Stella going to the court? Because she’s worried for her ailing parents. Any move from her side and the church will ostracize her family.

James is well aware of her weakness and hence he threatens her with this trump card. Stella tried to meet the girls at the boarding but James had given them strict warning and Stella is not strong enough to seek legal help.

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This is not a fictional tale. This is a real life story of a close family friend. Names have been changed.

Who is this society? Where are they when Stella is crying her heart out? Where are they when she is mentally and physically harassed? Where are they when Stella is being tortured for no fault of hers?

This so-called society is happy that Stella and James are married. According to them, the marriage is safe and the children are taken care of. Everybody knows that the children have been sent far away. They know that Stella lives all alone. They know that James has a separate family and lives with them. They know that Stella is being judged for no fault of hers. People talk around her, in front of her and behind her back about her failed marriage. The kind of mental assault she has been subjected to in these last so many years is something that the society does not care about. They don’t care about the trauma of the children who have been taken away from their mother. And nobody does anything. Because ‘marriage’ is a sacred institution and they are the ones in charge of keeping this institution safe.

Our society is such a hypocrite that it blames the woman irrespective of whether it is her fault or not. They are fine with men having affairs and even children outside of their marriage. But if the woman dares to walk out alone in daylight, they will ensure that she’s given the kind of stares and looks that make her stop, turn and get back into her shell forever. They don’t care about how hurt she is. They don’t care about how her self-respect and confidence have been trampled underfoot.

Stella is well-educated, financially independent and young. I wish her parents tell her to get rid of this society and its people. I wish they tell her to walk out of this dead, decayed and decomposed marriage. I wish they took notice of her mental trauma and not about what the society may think about her. I wish Stella was strong enough to seek the legal and judicial help that she is aware that she can avail.

Why are we so prejudiced against out females? Why don’t we give equal weight-age to both the partners in a marriage? Why are we so obsessed with the idea of marriage that we are quick to judge even with all facts and figures available to us? A question that haunts me every time I meet her.

She used to drop in at Mom’s for some solace but lately she has stopped even that. The phone calls are minimal. May be she has accepted it as her fate. May be she has consoled herself that there’s no way to escape.

But what if tomorrow morning she decides to quit? Who’ll be responsible? James? No. I don’t blame James as much as I blame the society that wants them to compromise and stay in this dead marriage. I blame the society for not letting them close this and move on in their respective lives.

I am a married woman. I married against everyone’s wishes. I did not see any society trying to help us or our parents when we were sailing through rough tides. I believe in the traditional idea of this sacred institution. I understand the need to have this kind of arrangement. But all I don’t understand is why we cannot let the people within the marriage decide their fate. I do not understand what do we earn by keeping such dead marriages alive. Why can’t we let an individual chart out his/her journey? Why can’t we let an adult male or female choose the way they want to lead their lives? Why can’t we stop blaming only the woman even when we know that it is the man who has walked outside of the marriage?

What do you think? Why are we so discriminating? Why are we so judgmental?

Banished for Menstruating – #PeriodPride

I had just turned eleven when I first bled. I wasn’t aware what I was going through. I remember running up to Amma crying loudly. “Amma, call Acha back. I am dying. I have cancer.”

That’s what Indian cinema and two cancer deaths in the extended family did to my tiny mind.

In hushed voice Amma silenced me.

Shhhh…You’re a big girl now. Stay away from everyone. All men. Including your father.” 

And then she dialled a few numbers from the PCO. Wrote a few inland letters. She bought a pattu pavadai (traditional silk dress for young girls in South India) dress material and got it stitched within a day citing emergency. On the fourth day, she made me take bath early in the morning and made me wear the new pattu pavadai. Amma then adorned me the few gold jewellery that were available at home. She had also bought lots of bangles. And I also wore a jasmine gajra (flower garland) on my blunt cut hair.

Acha’s cousin brother and his wife arrived for a lavish lunch. They were the only relatives we had around at that time. They scanned me from head to toe and passed a wicked smile each. Ammayi also winked at me. And then they gifted me a dress and some sweets and namkeen.

I was confused. It wasn’t my birthday. Neither were we going to attend any family function. Why all this fuss?

Utterly confused, I ran out to the terrace while Amma shouted from behind, “Sit quietly. You’re a big girl now. Don’t let the birds fly over your head.”

“You’re a big girl now.”

That’s what Acha also told a five-year-old me when he left for the mid-east.

The ten-year-old could never understand what all this fuss was about. It was only later that I realized that it was a practice to announce to the world that we now have a fertile girl to marry off. In our native place, the ceremony is almost as elaborate as an engagement.

I remember the letter from my grandfather that we received a few days later. He had mentioned that he went to the astrologer and he had said that the day of onset was auspicious. The nakshatra and celestial alignment of planets were good. Seriously!

From then on my life changed drastically. I remember Amma asking me to stay away from boys and men of all ages, including Dad. I hated her for saying that last part because I was my Dad’s darling always. But looking at the newspapers and listening to the radio headlines these days I completely understand why she said what she said. The only trouble, I was too young to comprehend.

The first summer vacation after this grand celebration and like always we were there at our grandparents place. Everything remained the same till my monthly periods started. I was suddenly isolated. A corner in the verandah of the house was where I was made to stay for the next four days. A mat, a blanket, a plate and a glass were given to me and I was asked not to enter the main house and the kitchen. The plate and glass had to be washed outside the house. I had to take bath in the pond along with the mat, clothes and utensils that I used (or of people who touched me by mistake) even while I didn’t know swimming. The tap water which was the same water from the pond  pumped up into the water tank supposedly could not make me pure. If it was not for Mom who helped me with the dipping in the pond part, I would have drowned the very first time.  Our backyard was full of snakes and other creepy crawlies and I had to use the toilet which was behind the house, in the backyard. It had a separate bucket and mug for menstruating females of the house. Detailed story of the toilet here in this post: Do you know how necessary sanitation is? Suddenly I hated them all because I was being punished for no fault of mine.

One afternoon while everyone was taking a nap, I wandered through the backyard and went much closer to the Snake Shrine (Paambu Kaavu). I was always curious about going inside the shrine and taking a closer look at the stone idols but I was also scared as I had spotted cobras and other varieties there. I picked up a stone playfully and threw it inside the shrine. Ammamma had just woken up and was at the back-door closer to the shrine. She furiously asked me to get into the verandah. She told me a story about the curse of the Snake God and told me that if menstruating girls entered the snake shrine, they would never be able to bear children. The very next day the temple priest was summoned and some shudhi pooja was performed.

Years later, when I got married to a Garhwali and entered a completely different household with different rituals and traditions I had difficulty accepting them. It started off with adding a small piece of chappati in the tiffin box in addition to the three I had already packed for hubby because eating three chappatis was not considered shubh (lucky)The first monthly periods in that house was another shocker. I was told by my mother-in-law to light the pooja lamp. I refused citing my periods. She told me that in their household men are not ‘informed’ of such things and so I should light the lamp and pray as usual. Really!! Imagine my plight! I kept cursing myself every time I committed that ‘sin’ unwillingly.

Few years down the line, I had trouble conceiving and I remembered these episodes. The naive young girl I was then, I honestly believed that I was being punished for that stone that I threw during my childhood and the many times I have lighted the lamp while I was ‘impure’. Only later did I come to know that it was nothing but a gynecological disorder which was treated successfully.

I am now thirty-seven (I’ll be in a few days) and have access to so much information and views of so many people from around the world. I now understand that most of these rituals and traditions are baseless or their true meanings and existence have been misconstrued over the years. And the day my eldest daughter was born in February 2006, I promised myself that she’ll not go through what I have been through. I’ll empower her with all the necessary information that she needs to know. I’ll tell her that the Krishna that her mother prays daily is just an idol that helps her mom concentrate and meditate. The Krishna that her mother lights a lamp daily for only provides her some peace and sanity. He can show you the different ways because He resides within you or rather He is your own soul, but you have to choose the path for yourself. I’ll tell her that He will not punish her if she utters his name while menstruating. He’ll not punish her if she chants a mantra during those four-five days. Even Draupadi had called Krishna for help when Dushasana tried to disrobe her. It is mentioned in the religious texts that she was menstruating at that point in time. If Krishna could punish people for their sins He would have come down long back and punished sinners like the rapists of innocent children before punishing mere mortals like us for such silly matters.

I do pray. I do chant my mantras before sleeping. All this for my peace. Honestly I do not visit a temple during those days. Not because I’m scared of His punishment, but because I’m not interested in becoming an issue for the believers. My relationship with God is purely mine. It is not bound by any ritual or tradition or visit to a temple. My temple is my home.

And menses or periods is nothing but a biological occurrence, nature’s way of helping your body mature and be ready for reproduction. In short, it simply means you’re healthy. So be proud of the fact that you’re bleeding. There is no need to be ashamed of. No need to feel ‘impure’. No need to feel like an outcast.

Surprisingly, my grandmother was still a fairly mature lady and did give me quite a bit of logical explanations as to why the girls are made to live in a corner of the house like untouchables. She had mentioned that in older days when the joint family system was prevalent, this was how the elders of the family ensured that every female of the house got their share of rest from the backbreaking household work. And taking bath in the pond was to ensure availability of enough water and good personal hygiene. But she could still not explain why we still carried on with so many of those traditions and rituals even when we had the necessary knowledge and amenities required.

As a mother responsible to impart the right information to my child, I have already shared about this phenomenon with the firstborn because I don’t want her to be scared to bits like I was on my first period.

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This post is written for WriteTribe‘s #PeriodPride Blogging Competition in association with Naari. The intent is not to hurt any person, any religion, any region or any community but to spread awareness.