My Life in My Hands: Anju’s Story
Thirty-five year old Anju is a pro-active member of the local women’s health center in the Moti Bagh area of Agra, UP. A happy mother of three, she is proud to have succeeded in limiting her family size. Still, her journey to achieving this goal was filled with the challenges that face millions of young mothers across India who desire to limit the number of children they bear. Having only studied through the fifth standard, and without much personal ambition, Anju’s family married her off at the age of 25 to Rajesh, a young man who worked in a local shoe company. She reconciled to living with his extended family, despite its petty skirmishes, and even gave birth to her first child within the first year of marriage. By all appearances, Anju was fulfilling her role as a traditional wife. Nonetheless, though there was happiness all around her, Anju wanted to ensure at least a three year gap between her first and second child. Anju consulted her neighborhood friends about family planning. Her friends assured her that breastfeeding is the best contraceptive post-pregnancy. Anju broached the subject of contraception with her reluctant husband and maintained breastfeeding to avoid getting pregnant. Imagine her shock when she discovered that she was again pregnant, barely eight months after delivering her first child. To make matters worse, her husband blamed her alone for the pregnancy. Overwhelmed with dismay, Anju confided in her sister-in-law, who not only promised to help, but took her to a local clinic to inquire about an abortion. Anju thought hard about whether or not to go through with the procedure because she knew the cost of the abortion, which was 2500 rupees, would be a big financial strain for Rajesh. A bigger shock was still to come. Anju’s sister-in-law squealed about the consultation to her mother-in-law, who flew into a fit of rage. Anju’s mother-in-law scolded her and warned her not even to consider having an abortion before giving birth to a boy, as it was her duty to their family. Anju reluctantly agreed to go through with the pregnancy. Anju’s second pregnancy took a huge toll on her both physically and mentally. Both mother and child were growing weaker by the day; yet, Rajesh’s extended family was keen on extracting a son from Anju at any cost. Their wish was not granted, and when Anju gave birth it was yet another baby girl. The tension in the house was palpable and Anju’s mother-in-law was highly vocal in her disapproval. This bitter experience strengthened Anju’s resolve to take matters into her own hands. She persuaded a friend to take her to the local health center, where she was advised to use Mala-N oral contraceptive pills. Anju began using the pills but soon experienced several side-effects that gave her discomfort. The health supervisor at the clinic reassured her that some women do experience side-effects from pills, and that if she wanted to stop using them she should motivate her husband to begin using condoms. Anju was fortunate that her husband agreed with her wishes, but due to her husband’s diffidence, Anju took it upon herself to procure the condoms from the health center. Three years later, Anju and Rajesh had a healthy baby boy. After finally giving birth to the son that most Indian households still must have, Anju was determined to get a tubectomy and ensure once and for all she would not have to worry about other methods of contraception. Rajesh was certain that his mother would support this decision, but he was wrong. Anju’s mother-in-law viewed the act of limiting Anju and Rajesh’s family as an insult to her son’s capabilities. This time, however, Anju’s resolve was steadfast. She sought assistance from her own mother and sister and successfully underwent the procedure. Even her husband Rajesh applauded her decision. After a long journey, Anju now finds that she is free to rear her children the way she desires, and give each of her children the care and attention they both need and deserve from their mother.