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Are you married? And other probing questions

One can only imagine why not-so-privileged young girls try to terminate their pregnancies with unscientific DIY methods because they could not find a doctor who could end their suffering with a simple procedure just because they are unmarried

One can’t help but marvel at the world of difference in the attitude of doctors towards women who are married and those who are not.

My first visit to a gynaecologist office was around a decade ago. A friend of mine had missed her period and was worried if she was pregnant. We booked an appointment with a top gynaecologist in the “small town” we lived in and walked in confidently into her office — two unmarried women, working in the media, seemingly in control of their lives, and their bodies. The insides of the doctor’s chambers punctured all our sass, though. The doctor, a soft-spoken woman who spoke perfect, swift English asked my friend, “Are you married?” “No, but…” Before she could proceed, the doctor went on to list the possibilities behind her delayed period. She spoke so fast and stoically that we barely got a word in, the fact that she was joined by an assistant devoid of any expression didn’t help matters either. The doctor came up with a diagnosis without as much as touching my friend, and sent us packing but not before asking again: “you not married, right?” Once outside, both of us let out our breath that we had been holding on to throughout whatever transpired inside the doctor’s office, looked at each other and said, almost in unison, “Dude, what was that!”

My friend never bought those prescribed medicines and mercifully, got her period within the next two days. It’s been a decade and I still shudder to think what might have happened if my friend was pregnant and had consumed those medicines? Did it not occur to the doctor even once that even an unmarried woman in her mid-20s could have sex? And if this is how she left the two of us feeling, what would be the fate of teenaged girls with the misfortune of visiting her?

The interaction took place ages ago, in a Tier-2 city, but the reality is not very different in the so-called cosmopolitan towns either. Conversations among young women would reveal the horrors that are visited upon any unmarried woman going to a gynaecologist’s office. There seems to be no end to their fixation with our marital status. Recently, one even wrote a long thread on Twitter on why marital status was essential information, panning “woke” women for raising “unnecessary” hue and cry. Every now and then, a list does the round of “ethical’ gynaecologists who only treat you for your specific problems without checking your hands for a wedding ring. Isn’t it sad that such doctors are exceptions instead of being the rule? It must also be mentioned that most of these doctors are not exactly affordable, so where are women from less privileged families supposed to go? Not everyone has Rs 2,500 and above to spend for not having to hear an uncomfortable and absolutely irrelevant question. And did I mention that even a princely sum won’t spare you probes into your personal life? A fancy gynaecologist I went to last year for general sexual wellness did not ask me about my marital status but only because her assistant outside had already done so, helpfully writing in my form: Unmarried (SA). No, it does not stand for South Africa.

All this, despite my privilege. One can only imagine why not-so-privileged young girls try to terminate their pregnancies with unscientific DIY methods, sometimes to fatal consequences, because they could not find a doctor who could end their suffering with a simple procedure just because they are not married.

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One can’t help but marvel at the world of difference in the attitude of doctors towards women who are married and those who are not.

The small-town doctor that I mentioned before is great apparently. Two of my close friends have had their babies under her care and they couldn’t rave enough about how great and understanding she was. Why did the same understanding not extend to women who were unmarried and did not want a baby, I wondered. How are both sets of demographics so different?

In light of such unsavory memories, the recent Supreme Court verdict making it clear that women pregnant up to 24 weeks have the right to a safe termination of pregnancy, no questions asked, comes as a major relief with far-reaching consequences. The top court unequivocally stating that “it is the right of every woman to make safe reproductive choices without any outside interference” will come as a relief to many of us. Because is this not what we have been crying-until-hoarse about since forever? Please let us be in charge of our bodies, thank you very much.

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Now with the Supreme Court on our side, can we also request medical associations to conduct a refresher course for gynaecologists and bring them out from under the rock where an overwhelming number of them seem to be living?

National Editor Shalini Langer curates the ‘She Said’ column

First published on: 02-10-2022 at 04:10:59 am
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