India: Haunting experience: Ordeal of a woman who chose abortion as a teen

Artist: Amit Bandre

By Express News Service

Published: 10th July 2016 06:27 PM

Getting an abortion is never easy. Whether you go to a certified medical professional or a quack to avoid questions, medical termination of pregnancy is a tough decision. Here’s a first person account of a woman who chose the latter as a teen, and her harrowing ordeal thereafter, which changed her in more ways than one.

It has been 11 years since I had my abortion. Time may have helped me cope with the experience, but I can recall every excruciatingly painful moment I spent sprawled on the wooden table inside a hut.

When I was a teenager, I was sexually assaulted by a few boys I had grown up with, and became pregnant as a result. I didn’t have a choice but to opt for an abortion. I didn’t realise it at first. My periods were always irregular. When I didn’t get my periods for two to three months, I didn’t think anything of it. I had no other symptoms of pregnancy, except occasional nausea and loss of appetite. I attributed it to stress. I knew something was wrong when I didn’t get my periods for three whole months; my stomach was also bigger.

I was desperate for help, and since I didn’t have anyone to turn to, I went to my attackers, who were also my neighbours. One of them took me to an elderly woman, who promised to take good care of me.

She said I had to stay with her overnight. So I told my mother I was visiting a friend. And I told my friend I was spending the night with my ‘boyfriend’. Even to this day, I am grateful the woman didn’t ask me any questions about how it happened. I would have broken down and told her everything, and God knows what would have happened then!

I was warned that it would be painful and that my hands and legs would be restrained. Here I was, lying on a wooden table with my legs folded, and a couple of ladies tying me up…and all I could think of, was food. I hadn’t eaten all day… I was hungry. I remember the smell of fried potatoes and my mouth salivating over it. The woman saw my face and promised to send me home next day with meen kozhambu (fish curry). She was really sweet. I had no idea what was coming.

Within a few minutes, everyone, except the woman, left the hut. Then the pain started and I began screaming. To call it painful would be an understatement!

I thought someone had cut me open and poured gasoline on the wound and I was on fire. I was screaming and begging her to stop. Suddenly, I felt two men holding me down. I was terrified they’d rape me. I kept screaming, and someone stuffed a cloth in my mouth. After what felt like hours, I passed out.

I woke up a while later, disoriented and hazy. I didn’t know the time or how long I had been there. There was no electricity…. just a lantern and a candle light. I was cold and shivering uncontrollably. There was something warm on my tummy – it was a diya (lamp). One of the women told me it was for the rest of the blood to drain, and to soothe the pain. She gave me something to drink… it was slimy, bitter and burned down my throat. I was too tired to protest. I must have passed out again, because the next thing I remember is waking up to the noise of a man and woman fighting with each other about kids. It reminded me of my parents.

It was morning and the hut was empty. I knew I had to leave, but I could barely stand up; I was dizzy and weak.

One of the women came in and helped me clean up. I couldn’t move without flinching in pain… with every step I took, it felt like I was being pricked with needles. She told me I’d feel sore for a few days and gave me instructions on diet and hygiene. She fed me and after a while, she put me in an autorickshaw.

I went back home tired and hurt. I told my mother I was ill due to my periods, and did not go to school for three days. I didn’t talk about it to anyone.

Nobody saw anything different about me. I was tired and irritable for many days, but nobody asked me what was wrong. I couldn’t understand how anyone, including my mother, could not care enough to ask if I was okay, or why I was behaving this way! I was angry all the time! The unfairness of it all, the fact that I had to go through all of it alone, and that those boys were going on with their lives without any remorse or guilt… I was miserable and angry with everyone.

I did not report the attack to the police. Nor did I disclose my pregnancy and the abortion to my parents or friends. How could I? I knew my parents would blame me… and the shame of it would have been too much.

As an adult, I know it’s not my fault, but I was 16 then. I believed I didn’t have a choice but to keep it a secret.

Today, some of my friends know what happened, and they understand. It helped a great deal in healing. I am not defined by what happened to me, but yes, it certainly has a huge role in altering my personality.

A well-meaning friend abroad asked me why I didn’t go to a doctor or seek medical help. How could I? I didn’t know how doctors would react. They’re not exactly known for their empathy and open mind. I was scared it would bring shame to my family. Plus, my parents would have disowned me!

It was the early ‘90s. I was underage and unmarried. You can’t just go to a doctor and ask him/her for an MTP (medical termination of pregnancy) without a husband or guardian to accompany you. That’s how it was back then and it hasn’t changed much even today.

In these so-called modern times, where there’s much discussion and debate about women’s reproductive rights, a medical termination of pregnancy is still frowned upon. Social stigma, insists victim-blaming and slut-shaming makes terminating a pregnancy a ‘dirty little secret’ – whether you’re married or single is irrelevant.

(as told to Lakshmy Venkiteswaran)

Source: New Indian Express