Our Perspective


Pregnancy: A Personal Boundary, Not To Be Crossed

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Sri Lankans are infamous for being painfully tactless when it comes to personal matters. Starting from our childhood, we are quite used to being asked; what our parents do or is our residence rented or owned. Then as we get older “When are you going to get married?” and after that’s accomplished “When are you going to have a baby?” and then “When are you going to give him a sibling?” and so on. For a young bride who hasn’t produced an offspring within the first two years of marriage, family events have become a nightmarish experience involving auntie after auntie inquiring after reproductive health, sex life, and commenting on the imminent un-blessedness of a childless marriage. A flood of home remedies will follow; “Drink this concoction-of-vile-herbs every day; my niece did it and she was pregnant within two months!” “Give your husband these foods daily, you will have a baby within a year!”

Being childless by desire is almost blasphemous. Being childless due to health complications is a taboo subject that should only be spoken of in hushed tones, accompanied by sympathetic nods.
Why is it such a shameful subject in this day and age?

Recent research shows that an estimated one in seven couples have difficulty in conceiving. Out of this, one third is attributed to only female infertility, one third to only male infertility, and the remainder to both male and female infertility. The National Human Development Report (NHDR) 2014 states that the fertility rate among women aged 15-19 declined from 35 per 1000 live births (in 1993) to 23 per 1000 in 2000. The adolescent fertility rate (as a whole) was 37 per 1000. Why then, do our dear elders still attribute infertility to be solely the woman’s problem?

I believe women are more emotionally invested in trying to conceive. If either partner is diagnosed with infertility, it is a constant cycle of hope, impatience and crushing disappointment that continues month after month. It’s a train wreck of doctor’s appointments and a cornucopia of drugs, charting and tracking. It’s a roller coaster of emotions that can wreck you if you’re not careful, and make you a bitter, mean and resentful person if you don’t catch yourself in time. Infertility is brutal. To feel like your body has let you down in one of its most essential capabilities is a crushing blow that is almost impossible to come to terms with.

Infertility is physical pain that tears you down to your core. It comes with many side-effects, such as depression and grief. Uncontrollable, unbounded grief that can bring you to tears over a cute baby video you see on Facebook. Grief at feeling like a failure for not being able to have a baby like every other woman. Bitterness at your childhood friends’ pregnancy announcements.

Infertility is a very lonely battle that is mind-numbingly dark and suffocating and it can suck the joy out of everything good in your life before you even realize it. To people going through this and trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy in their daily lives, it is a painful reminder of the grief they are trying to forget, when every other person is constantly asking, teasing and ribbing them about how it is ‘high time they stopped fooling around and started a family.’

The reason I was inspired to write this piece is because of the complete and utter mental anguish a person is unwittingly put through when they are repeatedly grilled about matters that probably cause them enough mental anguish as it is. That friend whom you’re teasing about getting married, maybe her family can’t afford a wedding and she’s saving up until they can? That friend you keep pestering about when she’s having kids, maybe she’s tried all the treatment options available and is at the last end of her rope?

We generally assume that it is the older generation that is prone to this kind of nosiness. But as a society who learns from its elders, I see a disturbing pattern where our generation is continuing the intrusiveness of the previous one. Think to yourself, if you’re unmarried; how many of your acquaintances/cousins/college mates have asked you when you are getting married? If you’re married; how many of you have been asked by a peer about when you’re going to have a baby? For one I have caught myself about to ask old friends these questions and stop myself, remembering firmly that it is none of my business. When a couple decides to have a baby is their own, personal and immensely private decision, and they do not have to feel obliged to explain to you or anyone else the nitty-gritties of their journey. Unless they volunteer information, I do not think it is very kind to ask them about it unless you know them and their trials intimately.

As a society, our mantra should be ‘be kind’. Kindness in respecting the personal boundaries of even your close friends. Kindness in thinking subjectively of a situation before putting another person into it. In these small ways, we can spare so many people from even a second of sadness, and isn’t that a great thing to be able to do?

So the next time you catch yourself about to ask your friend, cousin or colleague an intrusive question, take a second to think. Be kind. Personal boundaries matter.

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