By Charmi Trevadia
I come from a typical middle-class household where Sooraj Barjatya is a national hero, the cookie box always has sui-dhaga inside it, and sex is a forbidden word. Until recently, a visit to the gynaecologist required secrecy of the kind the UIDAI would be proud of. Plus, you had to be pregnant to make the trip. Without that, you were surely sick with some kind of Voldemort disease that existed but that you never spoke about.
I have ovaries that function like the BMC – they work once in a while. Yet my choice to remain childless, despite my faulty marriage, was met with excessive and mindless advice. And my inevitable divorce only made matters worse. The attitude I encountered as a divorcee is probably what Dante’s first circle of hell must feel like.
A trip to any gynaecologist routinely involved invasive psychoanalysis of my answers to their queries about the separation and my means of coping. A doctor wanted to know how often I had sex when I was married after I complained about my irregular menstrual cycle. Another staff member at the doctor’s office insisted that I add the ex-husband’s contact details to my case file, so that they could keep in touch in case they needed consent for any medical procedure – a 28-year-old woman’s consent for her own medical procedure be damned. To another doctor, my PCOD was linked to my PTSD from the past relationship, and would magically disappear if I stopped “overthinking”.
Post the divorce, a typical visit to the gynaecologist came with a healthy side of shaming, both from the doctor and the nurses. A wink, a nudge; a useless question asked with absolute authority. I changed many doctors, until a point where seeking a non-judgemental gynaec seemed like an exercise in proving that unicorns walk the earth.
Until I met Dr Awesome.
My first appointment with her was a maze of questions about my ovarian and blood health with some disapproving looks at my blood reports. I eventually got to the part where I had to tell her that I had been on the pill for a while and getting off them had probably caused my system to begin shuttering. This is when I expected judgmental stares and some free advice to start flowing. But the opposite happened.
“Listen,” said Dr Awesome in her most business-like voice, “you might have had your personal reasons for staying on the pill for this long, but let me assure you that they haven’t done the kind of medical damage you are assuming they’ve done to your system. I truly don’t need to know about your reasons to use them.” I was left speechless. Once I got over my initial shock at the possibility of no more intrusive questions, I gathered the courage to ask one myself.
“What do I do if I need extra protection, now that I am single again?”
With only a slight bit of irritation, she told me, “Use other means. You are old enough to know your options and the possible side effects. I will write a prescription for you if you need it, but I suggest you hold it off for a bit until we can get your system to function normally once again without pumping hormones into it.”
Who was this woman and how was she treating me like an adult?! Was I experiencing a waking dream? Was all this unfolding in another dimension? This certainly could not be happening in India, where a query about cervical shots is met with a stern gaze, in a country that accounts for one fourth of the world’s cervical cancer cases. One in 52 women die of a cancer that is preventable with a simple vaccine, but our medical professionals cannot get beyond their personal biases about a woman’s sexual freedom and personal choices. Every single doctor I’ve met – except my superhero gynaec – has raised an eyebrow at my queries about contraception. Why does a divorced woman need any action in her life unless she’s remarrying? Tinder, whuhh?
The greatest challenge for women – not just in India, but around the globe – is the lack of autonomy to make choices about our own bodies, whether they are medical decisions or social ones.
I truly wasn’t prepared for the absolute judgment coming my way from certified medical practitioners. What surprised me about my excellent gynaecologist is that her point of contact firmly remains my phone number because I am her patient – and she is not my mother.
Society might see me either as some sort of victim at best or a “loose character” at worst, but my gynaecologist helps me find agency and calm for a brief while. Finally, my worth doesn’t lie between my legs or in a piece of jewellery. Finally, there’s a woman who doesn’t look at my childlessness or capricious personal life with a sorry gaze.
She has no time for irrelevant questions about my current relationship status. Her interest lies in the potential medical risks I am exposed to under any given circumstance. She asks me to give every choice a legitimate thought instead of making those choices for me. She shares my concern over the timing of my periods with Olympian levels of disquiet, but nothing more. For that, I will always remain grateful.
I once asked her, “How are you so different?” She replied with a grudging half-smile, “Are you here for a diagnosis or are you looking for a nanny?” Being put in my place has never felt so good.
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