The trials of women in pursuit of a baby

The trials of women in pursuit of a baby
For the eleventh time in three months, Uma, a domestic worker in Chennai, was late for work. After a round of angry remarks about her lax attitude from her employer, she trudged indoors to begin sweeping.

Soon, she fainted. Uma’s employer rushed her to a physician, who diagnosed her with severe dehydration. Just as the nurse began to plaster the IV inlet onto her wrist, Uma got up gingerly and asked, “Will this treatment affect my current treatment?”

  What followed after gentle probing was an enormous case history: three months of multiple medical tests to see if she could conceive, and if not, what could be done. “I’ve been married for a year now, and I haven’t yet gotten pregnant. My mother-in-law says that I must get pregnant soon – she got pregnant within three months of marriage. If I don’t, they may have my husband remarry.”  Uma has also been to 13 doctors, with 10 of them suggesting bizarre treatments, from losing weight to hormone therapy.

 All of Uma’s reports have showed that she is physically fit, able and in no way constrained to have a baby of her own. In most cases, the husband is almost always never tested. “When I suggested that my husband should also be tested,  I was slapped by  my mother-in-law. My husband went off on a diatribe about how I had the audacity to insinuate a deficiency on his part. When I revealed this to my mother,  she didn’t like that I had asked for my husband to be tested. She said it was unbecoming of a woman,” she shares. Uma was forced medication that wasn’t always good for her and taken to various religious places of worship, seeking divine intervention.

Mindset matters

On the other hand, infertility becomes a pressing issue for countless women, including Uma’s friend Kavita. A year into the marriage and with no baby on the way, her in-laws had her tested, and it revealed infertility. Like Uma, she was tested repeatedly and was taken to various temples to perform rituals and fasting. “But when nothing worked, a point came when they concluded that I was a waste of their money and efforts. There were no more visits to the doctor or temples. I was relieved - until they told me to get out of the house,” she recalls. She was forced to return home, while her husband was getting remarried.  Life wasn’t easy while she was living in her mother’s house. “They saw me as an
impediment for my sisters as I had come back home and was also infertile. Perhaps they
worried that it might be perceived as  hereditary,” she says.

Realising that she was no more than a unwanted guest, she moved to Chennai. Here, she was secured employment as a domestic help. “The family I work with has been good to me. My life is good; I have nothing to complain about. There is however one regret, that I didn’t get to have a happy family life of my own. But this way, I find that I enjoy a measure of independence and I am not answerable to anyone but myself,” she remarks.

Not everyone is lucky as Kavita, though, in financial mobility after leaving home. Those who have their parents’ support know that it comes at price. “People talk. No matter what your own family says. Your business is everyone else’s business. Stigma is very difficult to deal with,” observe Uma and Kavita.

Dr Rupa Krishnaswamy, a gynaecologist who holds free consultations, says that many of her economically-challenged patients face these issues. “Many times, I see mothers-in-law
dragging their daughters-in-law to get them tested. I’ve seldom seen their sons. They are forced to comply and  do so to survive .  It’s very difficult for me to reveal the results to them, as a tough predicament awaits them. There are options for infertility, but are beyond their means and are considered unnatural ,” she explains.

The doctor tries to get the sons tested as well after creating awareness, but they are rarely brought along. “When they do come, they either ignore my suggestion or get aggressive. I try my best to educate them, but I haven’t seen it change minds much,” she rues. In many instances, she finds that these girls struggle under the obligation of having to obey their in-laws and it puts them in a tough spot.

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