For many women, what hurts the most is that the questions and blame come from their own husbands and families.

I miscarried during my pregnancy and was blamed for it Indian women share their storiesImage for representation
Features Pregnancy Wednesday, July 19, 2017 - 18:56

One of the most difficult decisions Bhavya* took was in 1996. A mother of one then, she conceived for the second time - and she decided to keep the pregnancy. While Bhavya wanted a second child, the decision was difficult to make because the pregnancy was a result of marital rape.

“My husband was an alcoholic,” says the 49-year-old. “One day he came home drunk and raped me. I became pregnant,” she adds.

Bhavya’s body, though, decided against the foetus; she suffered a miscarriage in the first month. She did not receive support from her husband or his family, and even as the bleeding began, she took a train from Delhi to Gwalior, where her parents lived. She was taken straight to the hospital from the station.

“It was a risky pregnancy right from the beginning because my husband wasn’t very healthy. His blood sugar was always high because of his drinking habit. The doctors told me that the foetus could have been unhealthy,” Bhavya tells TNM.

When she returned to her husband’s home after the D&C, she didn’t expect a warm welcome, but what she got was far from it. “My in-laws believed that I had killed the baby because it wasn’t my husband’s,” Bhavya narrates. And later, when she wanted to adopt a child, she was told the same thing.

“I used to cry alone in the night. But I didn’t answer back because there was no point trying to convince him or my in-laws. They had made up their minds on what they believed,” she says.

Bhavya and her husband got divorced in 2006, and he passed away in 2015.

High rates of miscarriage

A five-city study was published by The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India two years ago, which found that of 2,400 women it surveyed, 32% had suffered a spontaneous miscarriage. “Miscarriage, or spontaneous abortion without medical means to terminate a pregnancy, has so far been presumed to be 10% across the globe,” Malathy Iyer had reported for TOI in 2015.

Even with a significant number of Indian women having miscarried at some point in their lives, the topic remains taboo, and often carries stigma and shame for a woman. What adds to it is the lack of support, and even additional blame, often from immediate family.

‘You weren’t careful enough’

For Divya*, who miscarried four years ago, “You did not take enough care. This has never happened in our family before.” was the refrain she heard for months. While her husband was supportive throughout, her in-laws’ remarks along these lines hurt her.

Divya’s miscarriage happened three days after a surgery to remove an ovarian cyst, which resulted in her losing an ovary as well. “My in-laws did not understand why I didn’t start trying to get pregnant again right after the surgery. My body needed time to heal. The pain of losing an organ and a child was too much,” she says.

“They would keep saying no one in their family had gone through something like this. One day I finally asked my mother-in-law whose family I belonged to then. She didn’t have an answer,” she recounts.

‘The doctors didn’t tell me why’

Divya didn’t receive proper support from her doctor as well. “They had said that in 99.9% cases, the surgery won’t affect the pregnancy. After the miscarriage, they said I just happened to fall in the 0.1% and that I should be happy that I have one ovary and can still have a second child,” she says.

Like Divya, Garima* too remembers not having closure about why she miscarried. Based in Bengaluru at the time, the 33-year-old home-based child care consultant suffered a miscarriage in 2011, when she was four months along.

It was a risky pregnancy from the beginning, Garima tells TNM, but all her scans had been normal until the day the doctors told her there was only a 20% chance of saving the foetus.

“I experienced some discomfort and when I went to the gynecologist, it was discovered that my cervix had opened up prematurely. I was admitted to the hospital and suffered a miscarriage early next morning. The doctor wasn’t even there,” Garima narrates.

Lack of support from family

When Garima went home after the D&C, she found her husband and in-laws aloof, and unwilling to broach the topic. Her husband even insisted that she go to her parents’ place for some time.

“I just wanted to cry with him, but I understood there was no point. I knew he and his parents thought it was my fault, even though no one except my sister-in-law said so explicitly,” she says.

The miscarriage affected Garima and her husband’s relationship to a point where the latter stopped being interested in sex. So, when Garima went to her parents’ place for three months following the miscarriage, she worked on her health and tried renewing her relationship with him.

“I sort of forgave my in-laws and husband and tried becoming more independent so I wouldn’t rely on them for support. I also discovered mommy support groups, and researched online about what had happened. I found that I suffered from cervical incompetence, which caused my cervix to open up prematurely. It gave me closure. Until then even I wondered if I was responsible,” she says.

Garima is now a mother to a one-year-old, and says that she and her husband are better, but still working on their relationship.

Relationship between doctor and patient is crucial

Kochi-based gynecologist Dr Marina Varghese says that it is imperative for support to come from doctors too. She asserts that it is important for medical professionals to just listen to women who are vulnerable after such an incident, and provide them with a scientific explanation about the miscarriage.

“It will also help assess risks for the future, plan the pregnancy and prevent recurrent miscarriages,” Dr Marina says.

She emphasises on the need to emotional and psychological support as well. “The woman may already be feeling guilty for losing a child. If her loved ones reinforce the blame, it can have affect relationships in the long term, and even push her into depression,” Dr Marina explains, adding that doctors should recommend counselling if needed.

‘I couldn’t talk about it’

For Ritu*, a Bengaluru-based school teacher, getting pregnant itself had been a challenge because of her rampant Poly-cystic Ovarian Disorder. So when she conceived for the first time about eight years ago, and miscarried in the first month, her in-laws told her it had happened because she had told everyone at work about her pregnancy.

“Three years later, I conceived again, and it was made to be such a hush-hush affair. They were like don’t even breathe about it,” she laughs. Ritu’s husband however, has been supportive of her throughout. “Because of his support, it didn’t affect me as much. I was more amused by the superstitious behaviour of my educated in-laws than anything else,” she says.   

Ritu and her husband are now parents to a five-year-old son.

(*Names changed)

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