I killed my unborn baby because I have too many

Published: June 29, 2013
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The conditions under which these abortions are carried out are horrendous. PHOTO: REUTERS

She had no remorse on her face as she sat in front of me sharing the story of her third induced abortion she had gotten done a few weeks earlier.

 “I already have five children. I am working for your mother in Karachi. My family is in a village near Rajanpur. Who’d look after the baby?” said Sughra, my mother’s maid, when I asked her why she kept having abortions.

“In my village, it’s a done thing baji. Every woman gets it done. All married women. The daai (midwife) takes Rs 300. She uses dawaai (medicines) or any sharp instrument. I nearly died in the second one, I bled so much,” she shared the details as I looked on in horror.

I had my first detailed one-on-one meeting with Sughra amongst the one million Pakistani women who have unsafe abortions every year. Over the years, as a journalist working on maternal health issues, I have met scores. The stories have multiplied. The commonalities are many. And it sends shivers down my spine every time. These women are lucky to be alive to tell their stories. Others are not so fortunate. The conditions under which these abortions are carried out are horrendous. They ingest chemicals. They jump and skip ropes. They let unskilled hands plunder their most sensitive organs. They often bleed uncontrollably. They develop complications that often lead to near fatal problems.

Out of the 30,000 maternal deaths yearly in Pakistan, a substantial part is related to unsafe abortions. Yet, it goes on. In shady places. At homes. In small so-called clinics.

Breaking many stereo-types, Sughra taught me a lot that day. For starters, mostly unsafe abortions are used as a form of contraception. Instead of a precautionary method, they think of getting rid of the foetus once it has been conceived. Ironically, many feel it is against religion to practice contraception, but go ahead with an abortion which is strongly discouraged in most religions, while temporary contraception is not prohibited. Other reasons for avoiding timely Family Planning (FP) are husbands refusing to use condoms, myths about contraceptive pills and other forms of contraception, a lack of awareness or simple laziness.

Needless to say, after visiting some of the small abortion clinics, my research left me quite worried. The unhygienic surroundings, the very obviously untrained women posing to be doctors or nurses, and the sheer number of patients are cause for concern. I have walked into such clinics, with the natural advantage of being a woman, and quietly observed what goes on, without having to lie that I am a patient. All this goes on openly. It is known. But not much is done about it.

And this happens across the board, though 96.1 % of the women getting induced abortions in Pakistan are married. The list includes unwed mothers-to-be, commercial sex workers, rape victims and victims of incest. Inevitably, it is the woman’s body that suffers and her soul.

There has to be a solution to this insanity, I always think, frustrated, every time I meet such a woman, or the family of a woman who lost her life or developed a lifetime debilitation. Little Sajid, five-years-old, had lost his mother to an induced abortion in a village in the Bhit Shah vicinity. If only she had practiced contraception in time, Sajid would not be motherless; I thought as I looked at his pale face that had deprivation scribbled all over it.

The answer lies in awareness at many levels. People need to be sensitised to the fact that religion does not prohibit temporary contraception, which includes most forms. Those forms of FP need to be talked about. An example would be the cycle bead rosary which has worked in many developing countries – a simple rosary like string of 28 beads that allows a woman to calculate her fertile days. The shame associated with talking about contraception even within married couples has to be tackled. The mutual decision of birth spacing should be taken by the couple, not the mother-in-law as happens in a lot of families. For this, the men of Pakistan will have to be brought on board.

A holistic solution includes training midwives and traditional birth attendants to perform procedures hygienically, guide families about FP and refer them to the nearest health facility in case of complication.

But to me, the central piece of the puzzle lies in the women prioritising their own health, especially in their child bearing years, and making very careful choices when it comes to their reproductive health. The woman of Pakistan needs to know that she is the most important person in her life, and live her life that way. Only then can she be the backbone of her family.

Read more by Farahnaz here or follow her on Twitter @FarahnazZahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Dr.G

    Very sad state of affairs…a cocktail of illiteracy, skewed religious beliefs and lack of penetration of specialist medical services into the most rural areas..Recommend

  • Parvez

    Now that is an important topic.
    I agree with you that the woman has to take charge but I don’t see why a concerted effort can’t be made to educated the men and remove at least some of the nonsense fed to them by various mischief monger bodies.
    Recommend

  • amna

    educate the men.they are to blame.god i wish men had to give birth,its only then maybe they would understand the sufferingRecommend

  • kanwal

    I stopped reading this article after the mention of 30000 maternal death number. Its too painful to read on. Recommend

  • Ovais

    I am sorry islam can never accept abortions , contraceptives condoms are allowed but abortion is killing it is not at all allowed .dont know how can someone do thatRecommend

  • kanwal

    If i mention Vasectomy here, will any man consider it to safe their wives from the potential complications of drugs taken for contraception? It should be discussed seriously in our society and by religious scholors. Once a family has had as many kids as they want, they can get this done.Recommend

  • kanwal

    @amna
    If men had to give birth, the maternity leave would be five years, with full pay. Then five more years with part time work and full pay. Thwn five more years woth flexible work and full pay.Recommend

  • Hassan

    We should be more open about sex education. Recommend

  • Citizen

    As identified by the author, two main problems face our nation when it comes to maternal health:

    1) Pakistan has a MASSIVE shortage of nurses and midwives, particularly in rural areas. The social stigmas associated with both these occupations prevent many from taking up such jobs, resulting in many undue deaths like the ones mentioned.

    2) Populations in rural areas have little to no knowledge concerning the use of contraceptives. The lack of availability alongside lack of knowledge have made abortions the only way to go for such individuals.

    For all those associating the professions of nursing and midwifery with stigmas, STOP. We’re losing mothers and children to your silly assumptions, and the country is going nowhere. Shame on each and every one of you.Recommend

  • Mj

    Bangladesh and Iran, both somewhat conservative countries, have been quite successful in promotion of family planning practices. Pakistan should learn from their experience. The current population growth rate is unsustainable and has a negative impact on every citizen.Recommend

  • Emmron

    This is the best blog i’ve read here so far. I never thought abortion is an issue in pakistan and its is effecting women so gravley.
    On the side note people who are reading this should get involve nd propose solutions. Enogh for hollow words.Recommend

  • Sidrah

    My Aunty is a gynecologist and about 6 year ago her Akhbar wala who was already a father of 7 kids got his wife pregnant again. He started to pester my Aunty and uncle if they could help his wife get an abortion and they firmly refused. He even brought his wife to see them and my Aunty later told me that she half wanted to help the poor woman because after 7 kids and pregnant with the 8th she looked like a walking dead body. Her husband just distributed news papers and they had to go without food sometimes as his income was so low. They had no idea about contraception and were desperate for an abortion.
    My Aunt refused but who knows if they went somewhere else.

    Whenever the government in Pakistan tries to start education program on contraception all the religious molvis and conservative moral value champions stat jumping up and down and telling us that we are importing western values and how muslim ummah has to be increased. If only these men knew the suffering and trauma of child birth and pregnancy and abortions would they understand. But this will never happen at least not in an oppressive country like Pakistan. Recommend

  • hs

    Abortion=murderRecommend

  • Insaan

    @kanwal: If i mention Vasectomy here

    Tying the fallopian tubes in women and vasectomy in men is a good way to prevent pregnancy in couples who don’t want any more kids. I added little bit more explanation to make it easy for every one to understand but my comment was rejected.Recommend

  • http://www.outlookpakistan.com Muhammad Awais

    Totally illiteracy, no sense is in the villages about the future planning. People living in villages have no sense about the birth and if you ever visit a village a women has atleast 6 to 7 children, no concept of contraceptives are available there and this is the real cause of above mentioned story, having nothing to eat but too many eaters are there.Recommend

  • Dante

    @amna:
    I’ve heard this comment many times before and you’re not innovative enough with the blame-game. Unfortunately men aren’t to be blamed for each and EVERY problem that exists. If only someone like you would get out of the comfort of their air-conditioned room with wireless internet connectivity and actually go into these communities to educate the women (and men alike), we’d begin seeing some difference, even if small-scale only.

    So if you could kindly stop providing “expert” suggestions such as “Educate men”, “ask men to give birth”, and actually do something, that’d be great.Recommend

  • Clarus

    @amna:
    why not educate your daughters? blaming men wont help whether within your house or outside. Increase your thinking horizon and avoid flocking with feminists only then you can help society.Recommend

  • Citizen

    @Sidrah:

    If each of us educated even one person successfully about the need and successful use of contraceptives in family planning, the nation would improve. Agreed that the current maternal health situation is far from productive, you still can’t be as lazy as to throw everything on the government and expect things to happen. Get out and prove it.Recommend

  • safeer ahmad

    Man had always boasted his numbers, because it meant prosperity in all spheres of life.

    After the 40s or the turn of the 20th century Man has given in to deception that poverty results from large families.

    The foolish maid has been misguided away from a better living. The survival of the poor is in a large family: more earning hands.

    In our villages, people especially children can get food most easily from the Chaudhris and Number Dars; for the same services as the foolish lady is imparting away from home, among vultures.Recommend