Tag Archives: gender

Normal or…

One of the most often asked in the first few months after giving birth has been “normal or…” It’s a question left hanging where many don’t even want to take the dreaded C- word. I always found it very strange that it is perfectly all right to ask such a private question and I can explain why. Whenever I have been asked this question and I have replied back saying “yes I had a vaginal birth” people immediately broke eye contact and/or changed topics. If you cannot handle hearing the word vagina, why would you ask this question? But it is incredible how an assumed shared experience makes it perfectly all right to suddenly ask someone a question about their nether region.

My problem with this question stems from the intent. If you were asking me this out of concern for my well being and recovery, it is a different story. But we all know that in most cases, it is a question to evaluate if someone has suffered the right amount and is worthy of the respect given along with the title of “mother”.

The conversation around this began around the third trimester when conversationally I would be asked if I had a birthing plan. And my response had always been “my plan is to get this thing out”. After a laughter that clearly indicated no amusement, would begin this conversation on how these days women just prefer a C-section because it’s easier and can be fit into a busy work schedule. This would be followed by a tsk tsk and how doctors also just prefer a C-section. The unspoken message in the air being how women these days don’t have it in them to bear the pain or prioritize their lives over this miracle of birth.

Important side note: There are many reasons why one would choose a birthing experience over another. I am not advocating for any one way. What I am assuming is that women are capable of identifying and gathering information they need to best make a choice that would suit their needs. Novel concept?

Post birth is the next competition of hours in labour. I have stopped answering the question on hours of labour simply because every single time I have, the response has been how someone else had x + few more hours of pain. Then there is the epidural conversation. Now I am someone who is not embarrassed to say I am pro-drugs. I am in favour of the medical advancements being made and if there is a way to manage pain without causing significant harm there is nothing like it. I have absolutely nothing to prove or so I thought. But when the time came, I did feel like a lesser mortal asking for help.

I was left wondering how we ended up with such an idealization of birth. How did we come to make gold standards of many things that are particularly difficult for many women especially for those who choose to maintain an identity outside of motherhood. Of course, if you want to visualize that your body is opening up like some flower while listening to some Tibetan chants, you should be free to do so but what is unfair is for anyone to wield their choice with exaggerated benefits of a method that is impractical, unpleasant and quite frankly impossible for many women.

Yes “natural” is good but not everything that happened in the olden days is necessarily the best (infant mortality and maternal mortality rates can probably attest to this). The movement around this began with the intent of giving women the choice to make informed decisions pertaining to their bodies but has become another way to control, dominate and judge women. What this results in many a time are unrealistic expectations and a feeling of guilt even before the parenting journey has begun.

We need important conversations around abuse during birthing, informed consent, taking women’s pain more seriously and empowering women to feel their best while focusing on the health of the unborn. Instead what we have devolved into is a slugfest of wearing pain as honour and a sense of martyrdom to justify inadequate support.

Now as promised:

Handy tip while visiting a new mom:

When you are about to ask someone if they had a “normal or….” delivery, pause. Think about why you want to know.

  • Is it out of care?
  • Is it to share your birthing story when it is not warranted?
  • Is it to share some new found nugget of gold on child birth that you cannot hold in?
  • Is it in any way shaming the person for the choices they may have made?

Think about these questions before asking. Irrespective of the experience they underwent, the person is healing. They don’t need your bullshit.

P.S: This didn’t fit in the post but I needed to get it off my chest. Your birthing experience doesn’t have to be about absolute suffering. Neither does it have to be magical or pure or <insert any word typically used with getting high>. It can be – meh, whatever, okayish or even I really don’t recall. It is FINE. There are shades in this spectrum my friend and you pick you.

 

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The bullshit of “mild discomfort”

So as a part of this quest to diagnose why we are not pregnant yet, the doctor suggested a HSG test. As any brave woman would do, I asked her how painful it would be and if it can be done under sedation. She casually mentioned I would feel ‘mild discomfort’ just like regular menstrual cramps. Now as someone who has gone through menstrual cramps over 200 times (quick Math FTW!)  I was like I can totally deal with this!

By now you would know that for any procedure, I prepare as though I am the one performing it instead of being a patient. So I began by reading up on the dye, the mechanics, possible side effects and everything suggested mild discomfort but also most websites had this sort of weird declaration about how different people have different pain thresholds. Only WebMD mentioned serious pain but then they are also the ones who suggest cancer or Lyme’s disease anytime I key in a symptom so…

Warning 1: The billing lady

As I was paying for the procedure, the woman at the billing counter asked me who I had come with. I was of course by myself since I don’t typically expect the husband to stand guard for such things. She looked a little taken aback and asked me if I want to reschedule when he is available. I held back my wise-ass, “my uterus waits for no man” comments and handed over my card.

Warning 2: Declaration signing

As I was waiting in the hall, another staff member came up to me and called me on the side. She asked if I had come with someone. When I said no, she looked at me nervously and pulled out a declaration form for me to sign. The form basically stated that I was completely aware of this procedure; I have chosen to be unaccompanied and shall not hold the hospital responsible for anything.

Warning 3: Painkiller injections

I was then sent to receive painkiller shots. While I am happy to share that I am a firm believer in drugs when it comes to pain, but two painkiller injections? That left me wondering why we are trying so hard for “mild discomfort”.

Procedure: The unhelpful helper aunty

The procedure happened in an X-ray room and here also there were three other people in the room apart from the doctor and one helper aunty. The doctor asks me to relax (a hard thing to do in that position) and begins injecting the dye. Now let me tell you that I have had some pretty severe menstrual cramps, I suffer from frequent migraines and I have walked into a solid concrete wall and a giant tree (not making this up), so no stranger to pain. But this was someone twisting my insides like tying a water balloon for Holi. The worst thing was the helper aunty chuckled and asked me that if I cannot handle this, how I will endure the labour pain.

Realization: HSG was designed by men for women

As with how I deal with most of my issues, I came home and sought revenge by Googling to see if there are ANY tests that involved injecting anything into a penis and don’t hold your breath – there are none. No surprise there so I then looked up on Wiki to answer the question who the fuck decided it was a good idea to check for blockage in fallopian tubes like you would add Drainex to your sink. It then dawned on me that this was once again that time in history when two men got together and decided to devise a test for women because you know…who understands plumbing better.

Things I wish someone had told me:

  • Take someone with you. Someone who is okay with snot, tears, cursing and holding hands.
  • You will read that it sometimes is easier to get pregnant just after the HSG test. Unless you are into Immaculate Conception, this will not happen since you will hate men for a while and sex will be out of question
  • The “mild cramping” after the HSG will feel like you are carrying four women’s uteri during their period
  • Visit forums instead of generic websites with Getty Images photos. Women tell women things when things get shitty (not the helper aunty though – she hates you!)
  • If you are mad at your non-existent baby and are questioning if any of this is “worth it” – it is normal and you are not a monster

I know…you are welcome.

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The Day After

It is the next day.
Pink pamphlets torn,
Full price mani-pedi &
Fewer floral messages
On my phone.

Their job has been done,
Their purpose served.
What more do you want –
A pat on the back or
For me to lower my gun?

Stop whining and playing your card,
Waving your flags fighting for a cause.
You have it easy at every turn on the way-
Climbing the ladder,
Sleeping your way.

Go back into the box I drew for you
Say the words I spoke for you
Feel the feelings I told you to feel
Give me your body,
To choose for you.

You are afterall defined by me
A wife, sister or daughter
Or a slut if you are free.
Come on my dear, don’t ask for more
You have a whole fucking day that I don’t.

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The hurt of being a woman and seeing the results of the U.S elections

I spent an entire day yesterday in sadness and quite frankly bewilderment. I was torn between thinking about writing this and wondering if it is my place to do so – considering I am an Indian citizen, an able-bodied, cisgender, Hindu, upper-caste, heterosexual woman in a same-race relationship where both of us are college educated, employed and come from privilege in a country that is going through its own tumultuous growing pains.

I am writing this from the core of my identity as a woman because that is the part of me that feels most beaten and bruised right now. I am at a stage where I am yet to get to thinking about how we will explain this to children in schools or at home because quite frankly I do not think I understand it enough for me to be able to explain this to anyone else with that level of conviction or hope.

I am feeling a deep rooted sense of disgust by how this win has legitimized sexual assault. It makes my skin crawl to read Nigel Farage’s statement which mocks at the idea of Trump being a sexual predator when he says, “don’t touch her for goodness sake” when talking about meeting with Theresa May. It is NOT amusing to hear this when you are a part of a group that experiences microaggressions each day around touch, consent and space. I am not saying that all of this didn’t happen before this election but it has now become the new “normal” and that makes me sick. I am appalled by how “guy talk” is now an openly acceptable defense for conversations that actually could be construed as criminal offense. I am extremely worried for friends who may now need to think of getting an IUD before January 20th

As someone ensconced in their own bubble of beliefs and values, I take full responsibility for not connecting with the other side and being blindsided by the ideological divide that runs so deep. But I definitely do not shoulder responsibility for signing up for this – I was ready to have arguments about pantsuits, being “emotional”, how being a woman doesn’t excuse you for corruption, on why anyone should not be expected to smile more to be “likeable” and more such. I was not ready to go back redraw the basics tenets of decency.

To all those in India who are reading this and wondering why I am taking all of this so seriously considering I don’t live in the U.S or to those who take pride in us electing Indira Gandhi and therefore do not see this as our issue – I am equally disgusted and sickened when Mulayam Singh Yadav makes comments on how boys make mistakes (while referring to rape) or when I hear senior members of the police force talk about how if during rape fighting back is not an option, it is best to lie back and enjoy the experience. It is just as bad when you express a political opinion not aligned with the popular view and the trolls immediately threaten sexual violence or begin the diatribe with body shaming, slut shaming or any form of abuse that belittles who you are as a woman.

I am not one of those who looks blindly to the West in aspiration on issues of gender but it truly sucks to be a woman and see all of this play out across the world in far harsher degrees than what it ought to be in 2016.

Fuck breaking the glass ceiling – it is back to feeling grateful if your body, your voice, your intellect, your being is respected as human and not some second rate “creature” and if you can escape each day feeling unscathed or a little less dirty.

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To Kausra

Dear Kausra

We met the other day at your school and spending those ten minutes with you changed a lot for me. I felt I owe you an apology and hence I write to you.

Before landing in Srinagar – J&K, I like most other people from India came with my baggage about what I thought of “Kashmir”. I was also excited about the Dal lake, shikaras, phirnis and unabashedly voyeuristic about wanting to know more about the conflict. When I exited the airport, I saw a sign reading “Welcome to Paradise on Earth” and right under that was a soldier with a gun. I was uncomfortable to see the army presence, I was even more uncomfortable to acknowledge that the fundamental right of freedom of movement is curtailed and most importantly I was acutely aware of how different my India is and how I had no business discussing how this part of the world should be “India” as well.

I am embarrassed to tell you that reading a couple of books and editorials I thought I understood what your daily life looks like.  Nothing prepared me Kausra, to live sharing the surroundings you grow up with each day. Waking up listening to gunshots of the army doing target practice or being stopped for checking in the middle of the road or even that flurry of panic, thinking of sudden firing that is happening 1 km away from where we stood – Kausra, I do not know how you do it.

Your school teachers tell me how girls in your village are not confident, very quiet and not participative in class. Your school principal congenially told me about how girls are generally reticent. The boys in your class overcompensated for your silence. You looked down with your head bowed when I asked you a question. I accepted your silence for your shyness. But when you stood up and shared what you thought in a shaky yet confident voice, I saw some bit of myself in you.

I do not think you are shy or “under-confident” or reticent. I do not want to make any more assumptions on your behalf. But if my three days can leave me without words to describe what I am feeling, I empathise how speechless you must feel seeing what you see day in and day out. If I were you, I would bow my head down too. It is just easier to find answers within than look outside to spell it out for everyone else.

I am sorry Kausra for being one of those many strangers who trapeze into your life thinking you should open up and start “sharing” your life story.  It is again the same mistake of thinking that you are waiting for this amazing miracle from outside to save you.  It is absolute bullshit and you caught me on that one. You owe me nothing.

I hope you and I can become friends some day. I think we would hit it off quite well – I saw you snigger about my haircut to the girl beside you. I would have done the exact same thing! 🙂

Till then,

Much love

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An open letter to an aunty

My dear aunty

This letter is not just to you but to all the women like you who strongly believe that you know better about how I should go about leading my life and sadly go share your valued opinion with my mother as well.

I read your letter today first thing in the morning as I was reading my Sunday morning Hindu and it forced me to put everything aside to share my thoughts with you.

You lament about how mothers in their quest for giving  girls independence and financial security have not taught them the beauty of being a woman. Sadly aunty, I think my mother and many mothers have done a wonderful job of teaching us not just about independence and financial security but also about not defining our beauty of being a woman by only being married or having children.

Your reason for writing this letter is a sense of disquiet that you experience that somewhere down the line, there would be a generation of unhappy women spending their time in guilt, if not regret. I appreciate your concern for all of us but let me alleviate your pain by telling you that most of us do not feel guilty currently and most probably will not be regretting our choices in the future. We choose to live life on our terms and feel strongly about what we believe in. We work hard to build our careers and find them extremely fulfilling, we are single or in relationships by choice and not because we are nearing 30. We have very different expectations from our lives than what you had from yours and sadly, the only guilt we experience is the guilt of not being able to help our parents from feeling bad once in a while when an aunty like you comes home and asks “still not married?” or “isn’t she already 30, when will you become grandparents?”

You talk about our amazing risk taking abilities and our capability to make a mark in the economy. The decisions we make in our jobs are clearly thought through, based on data or experience with us driving the process to achieve outcomes we desired in the first place. So I request you to credit me with the confidence that if I can shape the economy of the country or drive profits up for organizations on a quarterly basis, I can definitely make life choices to take on “additional burden” as you put it.

When you hear me say “I am not ready for marriage or having children” what I am trying to tell you is I am perfectly happy with what my life offers me right now. Please do not insult your intelligence or mine by comparing the decision to have kids to crying on the first day of school. I am aware of the consequences of my choices and more importantly what it would change for me. I am aware that if I choose to get married, you will have an opinion about me not giving up my career to relocate and be with my husband. I am aware that even after having a child when I go back to work, you will still have misgivings on me leaving my child behind or not breastfeeding long enough.

You talked about how one can balance work and home life or prioritize the most important things in life. I know for a fact aunty, that you would never write a letter to your son to take a break for 6 months or be a stay at home dad to help me manage my career. Even if the poor guy makes this choice out of his own free will, chances are you would berate me and him for not doing the “right thing”.

So aunty, I am pretty convinced that irrespective of the choices I make in my life you will have something to be unhappy about because I do not live within the parameters you defined in your head for an appropriate life that a woman should lead.

Lastly aunty, there are some of us who want to have children more than anything else and even at the right time in consultation with our biological clocks. But sadly, there are complications which make medical assistance of IVF necessary. Needing modern medicine’s assistance is not a sign of failure or a sign from the universe that I am paying a price for placing my needs above someone else’s.

My choices are my own and the regret or guilt if it follows will be mine as well. I am willing to bear the cross of my actions and I think you should be ok with it too. So please do not write a letter to all daughters asking us to reflect on our choices and feeling bad about what our mommies did with us.  Our mommies did an awesome job with us and we are thankful and awfully proud of them as well!

So I suggest you make your peace with my life decisions, move on in life without worrying if I will be old, wrinkly and angry with the world. I see it more as your style than mine.

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Lack of choice between government and private schooling in India

The Indian education system like its society is heavily stratified. While, the standard segments remain government schools and private schools  – with private schools further segmented into government aided or unaided, with the proliferation of unrecognized low cost private schooling there are more fuzzy lines creating differential access for varied socio-economic groups.

As per the ASER 2012 report,  at the All India level private school enrollment has been rising steadily since 2006. The demand for private schools comes from the perception that the governments schools do not deliver on providing an acceptable quality of education to children which would in future provide access to different pathways of opportunities. This perception is so engrained that a parent says “My child goes to a private school” with a sense of pride of being a good parent and making the right choices for his or her kids. Parents choose to send their children to even unrecognized private schools, often at a considerable financial sacrifice.

The all India enrollment data by ASER 2012 says that in the age group of (6-14 years) for both boys and girls put together the private enrollment is at 28.3%. But if we break it down to age groups and gender there is a clear pattern emerging. In the 7-10 age group 31.7% of boys are enrolled in private schools as compared to the 25.3% of girls in the same age group. In the 11-14 age group, 31.3% of boys are enrolled in private schools as compared to 24.8% of the girls. This indicates that with the increased trend of private enrollment, there is an over representation of girl children in the government schools. This is because with the rising costs of education, the parents are making a choice of sending the boys to a private school (perceived to be of better quality and providing higher opportunities) and the girls to a government school (perceived to be of lesser quality) to ease the cost pressure. Simply put, which child would you bet your money on – metric being ROI and the girl child being seen as  “paraya dhan” (someone else’s wealth – reference to girls having to be given away to another family in marriage) gets the raw deal.

When one compares learning levels, there is a steady decline across arithmetic and reading in government schools and the rate of decline (though persistent) is lower in private schools. This is not to say private schools are doing much better, but socio-economic-educational background of children’s families, parental aspirations and additional support for learning contribute majorly to their better performance. Yet, fact remains that the learning gap between government and private school children is widening. This widening gap may make the private schools look better, but in an absolute sense it is important to note that less than 40% of Std 5 children in private schools could solve a simple division sum in 2012.

While all this time we were talking about the low cost private schooling options, there exists also a middle level of private schooling in which have entry exams for admitting students, interviews for parents to see if they meet the unspoken criteria of social level of the school and the school fees around 2000-8000 rupees a month. There are also additional costs of school uniforms, trips, coaching classes or individual tuitions. At the top end of this spectrum is a small section of elite, global Indians whose children also go to private schools but with PTR closer to 15 instead of 30, swimming pool and horse riding facilities, international field trips, personal laptops for each student and teachers who are trained from across the world.

The clear sorting of schools on basis of social and economic class has led to distinct groups of students in each kind of school as opposed to a socially mixed institution. Also, for the elite it is not just a choice based on frustration with quality of government schools. There is an inherent ambition to be exclusive and maintain that level of social distance to ensure one’s place in the top of the pyramid of the hierarchy of classes.

When the Supreme Court ruling upheld the Right to Education Act which makes education free and compulsory for all children between the ages of 6 and 14, and requires schools, including private ones that don’t receive any public funding, to set aside places for children from low-income families, there was an outcry from parents as well as private schools which felt burdened by having to share the responsibility of educating less privileged children alongside other privileged children.

It is very well to say that government needs to get its act together instead of passing the buck, this is just a small percentage which does not make any impact in the larger schemes of things, children from “those” backgrounds face a lot more psychological issues when put in middle and upper middle class schools and a child’s schooling needs to be aligned to his or her social needs.

The conversation on choice and quality is always seen synergistically but the minute you throw equity into the equation, quality comes in question. Why is that? Why is equity seen to detract from quality? Aren’t we just hiding under the cloak of “quality” to continue to remain insulated from social reality and exclusive?

The choice really isn’t a choice when it is known that certain schools are barely able to deliver what we would believe to be education.

References:

  1. Manabi Majumdar, and Jos E Mooij, 2011: Education and Inequality In India: Classroom View 
  2. Pratham Foundation, 2012: Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) – http://img.asercentre.org/docs/Publications/ASER%20Reports/ASER_2012/fullaser2012report.pdf
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