You must wonder why this article has no byline (name). The reason is pretty simple. I don’t want it to appear. It’s information I am denying because I am protecting my identity. This is my defiance, my assertion of my right to privacy.
Right to privacy.
In the past decade and more, as a journalist, I have lost count of the number of times I quoted someone anonymously, swearing to protect their identity — come what may — and uphold their right to privacy.
You see, privacy means protection. From harm, from hurt, from scrutiny.
But as a woman living with, or rather fighting infertility for the last eight years (makes me feel better to be a fighter than a victim), I know now, that this courtesy, this right to privacy, this protection, does not apply to women who are infertile.
Melodrama much? Let me help you understand, put things in “perspective”, if I may.
Have you ever seen a queue of women, standing butt-naked from the waist down in a narrow passage, trying desperately to cover their modesty? Unless you’re a woman, sorry, infertile woman, chances are you have not. I have. In fact, I was a part of that queue.
It’s been eight years since my husband and I have been trying to get pregnant. Eight years during which we have consulted several gynaecologists, “star” doctors and the not-so-famous ones, too. And while each one has their own peculiarities, there is one factor that binds them all — their insensivity.
Allow me to demonstrate.
Picture this: “Number 71, go inside the room, drop your pants and wait in the queue,” a nurse barks out at an assembly of waiting women. I was there for an “ovulation study” report at a rather reputed infertility doctor’s swanky new hospital. For the uninitiated, an ovulation study begins a few days after menstruation, when the doctor conducts regular ultrasounds to check the development of the egg in the female and suggests the best date to mate the egg with the sperm. In short, the best day to have sex to reproduce.
Wait, did she say queue? I didn’t understand. Until I entered the room. Actually, it was more like a passage adjoining the main room where the big doctor was doing his job. In this passage, there were partitions in which women went in to change — into nothing. They were expected to just drop their pants and come out. There was no towel to cover up. The partitions didn’t amount to much, harried women kept peeping in as others changed, a delay meant being further down the queue of butt-naked women.
In this queue, it’s easy to ascertain the experienced ones. They are the ones in skirts or long kurtas, they have been here before, they know the drill unlike freshers like me, trying desperately to pull our T-shirts lower to maintain a semblance of respectability in the tightly-huddled queue. Everyone knew that the other had come for the exact same purpose. Privacy, did you say? You’re an infertile woman, you should know better.
“No underwear too,” the nurse warned. Because taking off underwear in the main room would mean a loss of 30 seconds — a criminal loss given how precious the doctor’s time was. Think this is the worst it can get? Wait till you hear about another time, in another doctor’s hospital, where they left me on a stretcher in the middle of a busy OPD as they were wheeling me into the operation theatre for a procedure. A nurse came up to me and asked me loudly enough for everyone to hear: “Identify this bottle, it is your husband’s sperm, right? Don’t complain later. They are going to put this one inside.” Privacy? Tch, tch. What did I tell you?
And before you crucify doctors and nurses, as an “experienced” infertile woman, let me tell you this — they are not alone. You see when you’re infertile, and it’s something that people magically know when you’re eight years into a marriage and have no children, there is no reason for privacy.
It gives the right to your friend’s mother, a part-time astrologer, to tell you that maybe your thoughts were straying while doing “it”. “The next time you do ‘it’, you have to absorb him completely and be ready for him.” Whatever you say, ma’am.
It gives the right to your aunt-in-law, over for lunch, to ask you loudly in front of all the woman of the extended family: “So have you been trying? Don’t be so career-oriented and neglect your family life.” And then spark off a 30-minute discussion on “girls like these”, advising my mother-in-law to be stricter with me. I really would like to know how.
Over the years, I have been telling myself that I have heard it all — “Have you been on the pill for long? It must be a side effect”, “Never got pregnant even once?”, “I hope you’re doing it regularly? You need to do it thrice a week at least if you want to succeed”, “Is there a problem? I mean do you both satisfy each other?” — but have I, really? Change the position of the bed. Fast every Thursday for 10 weeks. Feed a roti to a cow every Saturday. It goes on and on.
Intrusion of privacy, you ask? Not to an infertile woman. Every woman, older or younger to you — it doesn’t matter as long as they have produced a child from their womb — assumes the right to ask you private questions and dole out advice without your consent. They know better. About your body too. They have produced a child. And you have not.
So right to privacy be damned. You see, privacy is dignity. Privacy is right to be treated with sensitivity. But when you’re infertile, it’s a luxury you should never expect.