Being Unable To Get Pregnant Is Not A Crime, Society Needs To Stop Penalizing Women: Gitanjali Banerjee
- IWB Post
- December 5, 2018
I have PCOD, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Simply put, I have irregular periods, excess hair growth, acne, obesity, and it may lead to me being infertile i.e., inability to bear a child. While today, at the age of 24, this is not my prime concern, there will come a time when my inability to conceive will render me incapable of matching society’s definition of being a woman. Will the society judge and criticise me for something I don’t control? The answer is, sadly, yes.
Thousands of women in India, suffering from various ailments and health issues, are unable to conceive and are infinitely judged, insulted, and criticised for it. But isn’t it the life story of every girl and woman who doesn’t measure up to society’s pre-decided version of supposed perfection. It’s high time that this superficial mentality is done away with and women are celebrated for who they are – strong and unrelenting.
With this goal in mind, IWB brings to you its latest campaign #JudgeMeNot, which focuses on breaking the binds of society’s judgement on everything from a woman’s outer appearance, the fact she is fertile or her professional choices. And the first warrior to share her story with us is Gitanjali Banerjee, who talks about how societal pressures and standards almost broke her when she couldn’t get pregnant and how she emerged from it stronger than ever.
I can only imagine the effect of the judgements and criticisms that you had to endure just because you were unable to get pregnant.
Society’s judgemental behavior is one of the worst downsides of being infertile in India, as a woman is considered to be complete only when she gives birth. Only then does she become worthy of being called a woman, and this mentality alone is enough to make her feel guilty for being unable to become a mother, plunging her into depression, anxiety and stress. And to top it off, we have our society who is in a hurry to criticize our womanhood.
Of the women I have counseled, it is the common denominator- the fear of log kya kahenge. Whether a woman is from the urban class, middle class or lower class, she harbors this fear of society which is quick to question her, reserving little sympathy for what she may be going through.
When Gitanjali came to know that she was infertile, she was engulfed by her own guilt and even asked her husband to divorce her, but he chose to support her and be her anchor.
Unfortunately, in such scenarios, it is seen that the ones closest to the woman tend to also judge her like others.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the case with me but it is for many other women who are blamed by their partners for everything going wrong. But when your spouse stands by you, realizing that infertility is normal and a woman shouldn’t be blamed for it, your bond becomes stronger. Thankfully, my partner understood me, gave me space and support to handle my depression and today, when I have overcome it all, I know that I wouldn’t have made it this far if he hadn’t been my constant support.
Even though you had your husband by your side, how did you find the strength to battle your inner emotional storm?
Initially, I didn’t, I couldn’t. No one can be brave when they learn that they can’t get pregnant and take on the world with a smile. I was unable to accept what was happening around me, so I found whatever solace I could find in spiritualism. If nothing works, at least Bhagwan to hain hi.
After this, I went to Auroville, in Tamil Nadu. There I volunteered for many causes, I tried reiki, regressive healing- all this gave me a lot of clarity and hope. I realized that women are full of strength, it’s just a matter of looking inside you and finding it. Looking back, I would say that in a way whatever happened helped in making me the person I am today- stronger and confident, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
She is the founder of InfertilityDost, which curates genuine stories from women who are unable to get pregnant and also provides support to the couples.
As you have conversed with many such women, have there been cases where the labels and criticism of people led them to lose their self-worth?
Yes, countless times. There was a research which found that women suffering from cancer and woman who go through infertility, both experience the same level of emotional stress but a woman having cancer is treated with empathy, making it easier for them to cope with the problem.
On the contrary, if you are infertile, there is so much social judgment and apathy around you and you live surrounded by the black cloud of judgments. This depletes the energy from the woman to actually continue her treatment as she has either lost all hopes of ever becoming a mother, thanks to people labeling her banjh or starts believing that everything will miraculously turn out okay.
So, this never-ending-criticizing mentality of society seems to have no end, no matter how developed we call ourselves as a nation. I often wonder where its roots lie, what supports this sort of thinking that refuses to accept its shortcomings.
This has been the scene since, well, sayings eons would be more than apt. Like once, we held a coffee conversation attended by many women. One of them was accompanied by her mother-in-law, who shared her own experience of going through her fertility issue when she was newly married. Even 50 years ago, she had faced the same societal pressure and derogatory remarks of people.
She couldn’t talk to anybody, didn’t receive any support and was treated like she was a criminal for being unable to give birth to a baby. “I listen to your stories now and I realize that nothing has changed and nor will it in the coming 50 years,” she said. There is this patriarchal mentality where it is always the woman who is asked to get her tests done to see if she is fertile and never the man. They just deny the fact that he can be infertile as well.
Is there no way that this bleak situation can be transformed into a better future?
I am not saying that the situation is not changing, men are coming out in support of their partners and willingly opting to get checked, but the progress is very slow. After all, the basic learning we get when we are young conditions us to think the way we do. A young girl is given a doll and asked to take care of her from a very small age, the fact that she is a woman is drilled into her psyche. She HAS to get married, become a mother, take care of her in-laws, learn to cook, wear a saree and what not.
Like most girls, I had it all planned out in my mind, that I’ll get married, then a 1-year gap, then I’ll have a baby and after a 3-4 years’ gap I’ll have another child, so it was unnerving for me to see that society-constructed plan crumble. I had blamed myself that it was something that I had done wrong. So, before we go out trying to amp up the confidence of women, we need to educate the society because my confidence to accept my situation will only develop when the people around me accept it with ease. Being unable to get pregnant is not a crime, society needs to stop penalizing women.
If you have a story you want to share with us about how you overcame society’s judgement, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with #JudgeMeNot.