“I am cheating on my husband and I have all the reasons of doing that. And CARE has helped me do this!” Being a shy 16 year old, when I got married, I was very vulnerable. Within a year of marriage, I became a mother. At an age when I was hardly more than a child, my life revolved around taking care of my little girl Rashmi and endless work like oxen around the Oil Mill, in a house with more than 12 people. My husband has 04 younger sisters, old aunts and aging parents to take care of. He was the sole earning member. A family of predominantly females, birth of Rashmi did not exactly bring smiles of JOY to all faces. In spite of all the neglected attitude of my in-laws, I was very happy. After all, Rashmi was my first born. But what happened next, added unimaginable misery to my already burdened life.
When Rashmi was hardly 3 months old, I began to feel sick in the mornings. I would lie on my cot wondering as to what could be the reason for this. My mother in law reasoned that, “You eat too much nowadays that’s why you vomit like this”. For someone who ate the ‘least and last’ in the house, the same was not really understood. One day while I was fetching water from the government hand pump near my hamlet, I suddenly felt my head spinning and fell down. The women nearby gathered near me and noticing some bleeding, they took me home. It was not until night that I told my husband about the happening at the hand pump. He consulted his mother who again brushed it aside as ‘normal’.
Next morning, I had a visitor at my door. She introduced herself as Sandhya, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) of Sonmayi village, which was adjacent to our hamlet. Being born into a dalit family, I knew that people from the village were to be revered. I respectfully called her in and offered a seat on the cot while I sat on the humble ‘bichona’(seating) on the ground. She was kinder than most of ‘them’ I had met earlier. She had heard about the incident at the hand-pump ( anything unusual in a small hamlet tends to be a big whispering ground for all!) and came to check on me. “How are you Shakti? Hope you didn’t get hurt during that fall yesterday” I shook my head. She asked me to accompany her to the ‘Village Health and Nutrition Day’ site the next day to be sure. This congregation was happening at the Anganwadi centre in the village. There I met another kind lady, named ‘ Nituji’ who questioned me about my menstrual history. She was the Auxillary Nurse Midwife (ANM) of the village and visited every month. She then asked me to perform a urine test. The test turned out to be positive for pregnancy; I was shocked and dumbfounded literally!
I argued, “But my baby is just 3 months old; and I still have not got my periods after delivery! How can I be pregnant?” Nituji explained to me that a woman can become pregnant anytime after one month of delivery; whether she resumes her menstruation or not. I still looked at her with disbelief, “How can that possibly happen? I had never in my wildest dreams thought I would be undergoing such a miserable condition.” “We see such cases very often in the field, it is only due to lack of knowledge about our fertility”, Nituji exclaimed. She then informed me about the various methods which can be used to keep a difference between two children or for stop having children. “Do you want to have this child?” she asked me. It was very difficult for me to answer that; I was even finding it hard to accept what had happened. It would be a nightmare to go through the process of pregnancy once again so soon! But I was afraid to take any decision. She explained to me that when women bear children consecutively without any spacing, it is dangerous for mother as well as the child. She said, “After all, the child is born out of your flesh and blood; your body needs to be prepared for it.” When I broke the news at home, they seemed very happy. “May be this time you will have a son”, my sister-in-law exclaimed. I could not sleep that night.
Next day, while working in the kitchen as usual, I felt giddy and blanked out. Next I only remember lying down, with a worried Sandhya looking into my face. She had been called by my sister-in-law who feared for my health. I had bled profusely on my own and lost that child. I felt too weak even to be distressed. “You take rest right now, tomorrow morning we would need to go to Nituji to check whether your system is clear now”, Sandhya told me.
Feeling remorseful, Nituji checked my abdomen. The bleeding had stopped. They both (Sandhya and Nitu) sat beside me and asked, “Are you still interested in having another baby right now?” I shook vehemently. Nituji then told me about ‘IUCD’; a method of family planning to be adopted for spacing between children. I was apprehensive at first with the idea of inserting something into me physically. Sandhya then opened her bag and took out something which looked like a small toy. “This is a model of uterus and it is exactly of this size. When we insert the IUCD, it opens like this and fits here. No damage done. It takes a few months to adjust to your normal menstrual cycle, nothing else.” She explained. Sandhya then informed that CARE meeting was taking place the next day. “I had got this at a CARE meeting only along with many other things,” she said pointing to her bag. Nituji smiled, turning towards me she asked, “Would you like to come and attend it? We will be talking about family planning this month.” I nodded. Being in company helped and I needed a hand to recover from the recent shock of my life.
The CARE meeting at the HSC had particularly useful information for women and young mothers. All the Anganwadi workers (a village worker looking after the nutritional components of women and children) and ASHAs were chatting when I reached there with Sandhya. Nituji was accompanied by a male member today. He introduced himself as Abhay, a facilitator from CARE. I was told that CARE was an organization that was working to improve primary health care both at the field level and in hospital. One of the main objectives was to provide services in family planning in the field. “An initiative of CARE and Janani is to bring a mobile IUCD van to the villages and it would be coming to your village this month” Abhay ji told us. “This is particularly useful for subcentres which are far away from block primary health centres. What better could be than to adopt family planning services at your door step!” There was a hustle among the participants and then one ASHA spoke up. “But an IUCD is dangerous; it leads to a lot of bleeding.” Nituji and Abhay ji looked at each other; then Nituji smiled and said, “Ok let’s talk about this today. Let us clarify your doubts so that we can provide correct and complete information to prospective users”. The session went on to describe what IUCD was, how to use it and what side effects it sometimes could cause. “It is important to dispel myths regarding IUCD by provide information to the community,” Nituji told us. “And the facility in the van is very good, I had gone to see it in the village last month,” Sandhaya enthusiastically spoke. The session seemed like a mental preparation for me to step up for my health. I decided to talk to my family about adopting IUCD when the mobile van came. My husband got very angry and asked me to stay away from Sandhya. “She doesn’t want us to have any more children, they get money for such things” he said. My mother-in-law went into a long narration of how an IUCD spoiled the health of her friend’s daughter-in-law.
With such discouragement and apprehensions in my mind, a month passed away. Sandhya had met me a couple of times in between. Fearing the backlash of the family, I had kept quiet. However the fear of another unwanted pregnancy overcame me and I decided to give it a try. Nevertheless I could not tell my husband or in-laws otherwise I would be barred from going there.
It was 24th of November, when the big day came. It was a big van with a painting of a happy lady on it holding family planning methods. I too longed to be happy. Within minutes a crowd of women had gathered. Sandhya and other ASHAs had already spoken to women who ‘longed to be happy’ and gathered them here. I saw Nituji smile at me from a distance; she was busy noting down the clients who wanted to adopt the method. Once inside the van, I was met by a gentle lady who asked me various things about my health. She also informed me about the side effects that I might face after adopting IUCD and assured me that nothing would hurt. “We will come again next month to check on you, please come to us for a follow up” She told me.
Once home, I felt relieved. No one came to know about it. Only Sandhya had come to meet me a couple of times to check on me. But somehow the news had leaked! My husband came to know about my adoption of IUCD from someone in the village. After his daily dose of alcohol, I was beaten up black and blue. He threatened me, “Get it removed or leave the house!” I wondered how fair it was for a woman to be burdened by the responsibility of bearing a child but not the power to take decision about ‘how many’ and ‘when’. Next day, I met Sandhya and told her about it. She accompanied me to my house and tried to reason it out with my mother-in-law. This had no effect. The evening was again a repeat telecast of the last day.
Sandhya came early the next day when my husband was at home. She asked his permission to take me to Primary Health Centre, Dhanarua (PHC) to get my IUCD removed. “I will ask the doctor to do a check up and remove it”, she told him. He obliged. I was hesitant but the fear of another bashing made me quietly follow Sandhya. I was very quiet and upset all along the route. After reaching the PHC, I stopped in my track. “I don’t want to get it removed didi. I don’t want to be a mother again right now. I am not ready for it. Please find out a solution”, I begged her. Sandhya just cajoled me towards labor room and asked the nurse to do a ‘follow up’ on the IUCD inserted. “It is absolutely fine. Are you having any troubles?”, the nurse asked me to which I shook my head. Sandhya smiled at me. I could not understand anything, why had she brought me there?
“It is very unfortunate that women are treated like this in our homes. I too was treated the same way when I decided to adopt permanent method of family planning but I boldly decided to fight on. It is OK if you don’t want to fight the discrimination right now, just prepare yourself for the future. Our daughters should not face what we are facing!”, Sandhya said. We came back and told the family that I had got my IUCD removed. For all practical purposes, I had complied with my husband’s wishes and escaped the physical misery as well.
Sandhya and CARE have brought strength back into me . At a stage, when I was being mentally and physically tortured, they stood by me. It has been two years since then. I feel better now. I have a 2 month old son now. When I decided to have a child a year back, I got the IUCD removed. But as soon as I had Roshan, I got it inserted back. This empowerment came through CARE meeting, “I have realized that I am as powerful as my name-Shakti (the powerful one), all women are powerful. It is just that we haven’t realized or exercised our power till now. It would not change overnight but there has to be a beginning somewhere.” Today I stand as a strong advocate of IUCD. I have been suggesting the adoption of method to my friends, neighbors and other female members. Without the knowledge of my family, I have taken to be an active advocator of Mother and Child Health. The time isn’t ripe yet to open up to my folks. “Now, did I cheat on my Husband or the family?” A query every oppressed woman has to answer for herself.