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Keep it down, girls

In most parts of India, misogyny comes to a lather in the labour room. A general disrespect during delivery is common, and empathy is thought to weaken the brisk, practical mood of the ward.

April 17, 2021 / 07:52 AM IST

Childbirth, uterine health, birth control, abortion, miscarriage, menstrual hygiene and menopause… none are feel-good areas in a developing country like ours. Obstetric violence is a reality, with limited or nil access to timely gynecological consultation or maternity aftercare. A general disrespect during delivery, with possible contempt for those with venereal disease or premarital pregnancy: the World Health Organization has always recognized these as violations of women’s rights.

Though mega bucks are minted from human breeding, and corporates are alive to the commercial aspects of the business, the person at the fag end of the chain – the new mum – may or may not enjoy the process of bringing someone into the world. Even the best of hospitals educate first-time mothers poorly on lactation, episiotomy complications, spacing offspring, etc. Molestation possibilities peep in from time to time.

In most parts of India, misogyny comes to a lather in the labour room. Abuse during contractions adds to the general cacophony of the moment, but the memory of it fosters gender shame. This can start early at rural or financially challenged levels, with women treated like a lumpen lot. From the main doctor concerned, the midwife, the nurses, to even the helpers in the delivery chain, abuse can travel down the line at express speed. Empathy is thought to weaken the brisk, practical mood of the ward, especially if there’s stillbirth or fetal distress, but bawdy jokes that mock female libido are a must.

Postpartum depression is seen as a wilful act of rebellion; a woman who can’t love her own child? For those brought up on syrupy mommy images, the need for counselling or medication for such an ‘unnatural’ condition is difficult to fathom. Parental interference could complicate matters; sometimes patriarchs take ultimate decisions despite not having given birth personally.

Hysterectomy is advised as a one-stop shop for all womb woes; hanging on to your uterus and ovaries is an ‘each woman for herself’ situation. If past childbearing age, there is a casual indifference to this organ remaining inside of women: ‘for what?’ is the male query. Hysteria is a dreaded word, with its etymology directly connected to the uterus.

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Women stayed silent too long on urinary infections, painful coitus and lumps in the breast. Each one a Jhansi ki rani quietly fighting her battle in her own bed in the dark. For centuries women were brought up like mice, to scurry quietly over their households, producing hot meals and male heirs. Maternal mortality was a routine event, with emphasis on saving the child rather than the mother in many places. ‘Down there’ can go from being the promised land to no-man’s land in no time.

Populating the planet is a thankless job. Women everywhere have started to collectively protest the snub in recent times and come to the conclusion that the mammalian reproductive system needs some tender loving care too. Prenatal care and postnatal care are dynamic action words, and continue beyond nine months.

When a new mother bursts into tears, may those around her know what to say and what not to say.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.

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