#WomensHealthWednesday: Abortion Literacy and Women’s Autonomy

by Harshita GaneshFollow @harshikapoor17

Abortion. No matter who you are, where you come from or what you believe in, that one word evokes a reaction or sentiment. Whether it is positive or negative, some feeling radiates from your chest.

As a progressive woman, I am a strong pro-choice believer and an abortion advocate. What I mean to say is every woman should have sexual and reproductive autonomy, her right to decide whether or not to have a family at that moment.

I have witnessed in South Asian societies that abortions are not deemed sinful or shameful, if and only if, a married woman has one due to being pregnant with a girl or if it will be injurious to her health.

Aside from the unnecessary stigma and shame that follows unmarried and married women for considering abortion outside of those two broad categories, a sense of illiteracy and hateful rhetoric has spread in our community. Statements like “you will never conceive again” or “you will get cancer” or “they will rip a child out of you, do you really want that?” circulate and slap a woman in the face whenever the thought enters her mind. Fear surges through her veins and a dark cloud of guilt follows.

Now-President Donald Trump graphically said about late-term procedures:

In the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

When he talks about abortions in such a grotesque and inhuman way, he is adding fuel to the fire about the incorrect information and misconceptions surrounding how abortions work. So let’s correct that.

[Read Related: President Donald Trump Reinstates Anti-Abortion Rule Endangering the Lives of Women Globally]

The Facts

There are four main types of abortions: medical abortions (the pill), Dilation and Aspiration (D&A), Dilation and Curettage (D&C), and Dilation and Evacuation (D&E).

1) Medical abortions: Also referred to as non-surgical abortions. This method involves taking the drug mifepristone (the generic name is RU-486 and its brand name is Mifeprex) and another drug called misoprostol. Mifepristone is a synthetic steroid that works by blocking the hormone progesterone which is necessary for a pregnancy to continue. Since the hormone is blocked, the uterine lining will begin to shed and the cervix will begin to soften. Once Misoprostol has been taken, the uterus will begin to contract and the fetus will be expelled in what will appear to be a heavy period. Both of these drugs are administered within the first 49 days after a woman’s last missed period. Neither of these pills is available over-the-counter; thus, they must be given by a health care professional. This procedure requires roughly two doctors visits to make sure that the pregnancy is fully terminated and no infection has developed.

2) Dilation and Aspiration: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 72% of all first trimester abortions in 2010 were done with the D&A method.

In this method, all uterine contents are removed by suction, which is done with a cannula — a tube inserted into the uterus attached to either an electric pump, handheld syringe or a manual vacuum. This procedure has a 99.5% success rate, requires fewer doctors visits, is done within the first 16 weeks of pregnancy and tends to be much faster.

3) Dilation and Curettage: D&C involves two main steps, one of which is dilation and the other curettage.

Dilation involves widening the opening of the cervix so that a slender rod, usually a laminaria, can be inserted into the opening. Curettage is the scraping of the lining and the removal of all contents inside the uterus through the use of a curette. Even though there is no “cutting” per-say, a doctor will clean the cervix with an antiseptic. This procedure is usually done within the first 16 weeks of pregnancy.

4) Dilation and Evacuation: If a pregnancy is anywhere from 12 to 24 weeks along, the D&E method is most likely used. Less than 1.2% of abortions take place past the 22-week mark and are usually performed due to the detection of unexpected fatal anomalies. Since these occur further along in a pregnancy, the cervix needs to be dilated more through the use of synthetic materials that absorb moisture. These are often inserted a day prior to the actual surgery. Once dilated, the uterine contents are removed using a curette, forceps, and a vacuum.

Check out this great video by AsapSCIENCE for a simplified version of what actually happens during an abortion:

The decision to have an abortion can be very difficult for many women, but safety should not be a concern if one chooses to have an abortion in an industrialized nation such as the United States. Less than 1 death per 100,000 procedures has occurred as a result of an abortion, as compared to 14 deaths per 100,000 pregnancies (CDC). Having an abortion is a safe experience if you go to a reputed provider who meets all qualifications and medical training.

Never attempt to perform an abortion yourself by causing physical trauma to yourself, inserting a random device or ingesting toxic materials. That, itself, can lead to serious infections and permanent disabilities. Unsafe abortions contribute to 68,000 deaths among women, yearly, and an estimated 5 million women suffer from permanent or temporary disabilities (CDC).

While many conservatives would like to think that, by reducing the number of abortion clinics, the number of abortions will decrease, numbers and facts do not correlate. Studies have shown that by reducing the number of clinics accessible to women, the number of abortions does not change, but in fact, the number of unsafe abortions increases. This results in thousands of preventable deaths.

It is important for lawmakers and politicians to not implement ‘gag orders’ on doctors, which restrict them from giving proper, informative, reproductive care to women. The only ways to reduce the number of abortions is by providing women proper access to reproductive health care and clinics, contraceptives, and unadulterated education on how to be safe. If lawmakers are truly ‘pro-life,’ they will aid in preventing unwanted pregnancies by providing affordable contraception, giving women more access to abortion clinics in order to decrease child poverty rates, and implementing proper sexual education, as opposed to ‘abstinence only’ education.

If you want to advocate for abortion rights and women’s reproductive rights, please call your congressman or congresswoman and let him or her know how passionately you feel. You can find the contact list here.


Harshita Ganesh is a South Indian-Bollywood enthusiast; a princess who is here to fight patriarchy; a dancer; a pianist; and an explorer. Her main love is writing scripts on topics regarding empowerment and hopes to one day have one of her films made. She is currently an undergraduate engineering student in Europe and hopes to get a law degree soon after.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Raising an Atypical Child in a Typical World

Raising an atypical child in a typical world

Hi! I am Sara and I am a mom to a beautiful, neurodivergent child. This piece explores some challenges of parenting an atypical child in a typical world.

It is a sunny day in the summer of 2020 and I am trying to enjoy the only entertainment that has finally been “allowed” by our province. Parks. Sunshine was always free; scarce but free. I have eyes on my daughter, running and somersaulting, with that untethered quality they say she gets from me, while socializing with two girls her age from a distance.

All of a sudden, the distance called ‘social’ gets smaller and as I run and call out in vain my child has the kid in a tight and loving but forbidden hug. I understand that pandemic or no pandemic, physical space is a basic right but for my daughter, it falls under the ‘but why?’ category.

The next 15 minutes are spent apologizing to an exasperated mother asking me why my kid was not taught the dangers of COVID-19 and personal space. She is four, I tell her, she just got excited. At some point, I zone out and just let her say her piece. Some of it is in a language I have never heard before, complete with hand gestures and melodrama as if it was not a preschooler but Bigfoot.

Maybe later I will do the thing we all do; oh, I should have said that. Maybe I won’t. This is not the first time my kid has drawn public attention and it is not the last.

Six months later, we received a diagnosis for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After the reaction time (read stress eating and ugly crying) ended, we began our journey of raising an atypical child in a world that insists on the typical.

 

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Textbook wise, neurodivergence includes Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, OCD, hyperlexia and Tourette Syndrome.

I could write a book on my journey as a mom raising a child who is neurodivergent (ND). I will in due time and the first chapter would be, “Fighting for inclusion in a world insisting on exclusion.” If you ask any parent with a neurodivergent kid, they will tell you that it is not finances or the fear of the future bringing them down, it is just people. But that’s been the case since the dawn of time anyway.

[Read Related: How Model Minority Myths Fails Neurodivergent South Asians]

If you are someone who is kind and inclusive but are confused by the jargon, read on for some guidance that will make you an ever-favorite ally and, well basically, just decent. It is just basic decency after all to be inclusive and kind.

  1. If you have a kid on the spectrum for ASD or ADHD or any other neurodivergence in your social circle, the first step is to not stop being friends with their parents. Yes, that happens. Parents can get super isolated and alienated because their kid is a certain way. Give ND families a chance to breathe. Invite them to BBQs, ask them what their kid will eat, encourage your kids to include them — the whole nine yards.
  2. There will be meltdowns, at birthday parties, at the mall, in restaurants. Sometimes the best thing to do is to look the other way. Ask the right questions. Rather than asking “what happened?” or “why are they doing this?”simply say “how can I help?” Maybe you can help with another sibling or give the child some space.
  3. Do not equate a sensory meltdown or otherwise to a parenting failure or a lack of discipline. ND parents face a lot of judgment on those grounds. That is one of the top reasons they scoop up their kids and leave before dinner is even served.

 

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The biggest challenge in our community is acceptance. There is a dire need to accept that around 30 percent of our population is neurodivergent. This includes adults and undiagnosed individuals. You and I might not even know if we are atypical, the world is just getting to know this word and what it entails. As for the South Asian community, neurodivergence is practically stigmatized and seen as ‘spoilt’ child behavior or ‘mom spending too much time at work, on social media, Netflix, sewing, knitting, kayaking…’ The list goes on.

[Read Related:Let’s Talk About the Desi Hypocrisy With Autism and How You Can Help ]

It is 2022 and we are all trying to make space for people at our tables. This includes people who might not look or act or perceive the world like us. As a parent I have fears that all parents have, but somehow those fears have been heightened to exponential limits ever since my kid’s diagnosis came through.

How is she doing? Did someone bully her? Does she have friends? Is she included in activities? What if she says something silly and they laugh at her? What happens when she is older? Will she go to college? I should not be thinking that. I want to think about how much she is learning at school, what game they played today, what she and her friends talk about and all other typical mom things.

Except I am not a typical mom. And that is okay.

My child has wonder; she has innocence. I see things from her lens and her computation of the world is unique. The biggest misconception people have is of intelligence. A child with autism finds difficulty in processing social cues (like sarcasm) but otherwise they are as smart as you and me, if not more. Probably more.

Some days are hard but not all days are hard, and not every moment of that rough day is difficult. We, parents of ND children, do not keep obsessing over the fact that our kids are atypical; we binge watch the same shows, we have hobbies and interests and date nights and ‘me-time.’ Some days are magical and the most important thing for people to know is that Autism families are not looking for pity parties, just kindness and inclusion with a healthy sprinkle of understanding— an understanding of the atypical in a world only rooting for the typical.

By Sara Qadeer

Sara Qadeer hails from Pakistan and has always had a not-so-secret writing life on the side, in addition to her … Read more ›

Men, Mental Health and Vulnerability

And it is beyond the point of “let’s talk about it.”

Time for action. 

Mental health hits close to home for me. As a filmmaker, I will always share my journey with others.
– Jacquile Singh Kambo 

Men, mental health and vulnerability often aren’t talked about enough. “Embrace” is a short film that seeks to change that. It is a short animated film about Arty, a well-dressed man who has no face, gets ready for his date until he meets a younger version of himself. Arty and this younger version of himself delve into a surreal world where he learns to embrace himself. It’s him versus himself.

The façade self; the feeling of wanting to be somebody — are all things people are dealing with especially in adult life. From the dating world to the social media world — it feels like different masks are worn only to make us feel faceless, feel numb or a nobody. Too many masks could make people feel like a lost identity amidst everything that is going on in this crazy world. Out of touch, and out of life — with others and with themselves. The masks are metaphorical, the story is internally about men and mental health. Arty learns to ’embrace’ himself and to overcome his internal struggles.

Not often is it discussed that men should have a safe environment to be vulnerable, amongst others or even other men. Perhaps this is because men are wired to put on a façade when things go wrong, when things get difficult, or when true emotions are not expressed. If these are not dealt with, it can lead to other relationships, including romantic relationships. Further it becomes a cycle: suppression could lead to aggression, substance abuse or self-sabotaging behaviors and could create a toxic environment. Many of these arise from childhood trauma. Quite often childhood is repressed or ignored, and one may take their troubles along with them into adulthood. Perhaps revisiting the roots of the past can help one become successful in a better tomorrow. “Embrace” is an example of how important it is for men to embrace their past.

[Read related: Schism: A Journey to Finding My Own Identity]

Why Animation?

“Embrace” was meant to be a live-action film — until animation was considered. Seven years of re-writing, re-working, and digging down deep with the characters for the story to better fit the message at its core. Animation is an underrated avenue for a universal story that became the key pillar for “Embrace”. What many do not know about animation is that you can create a serious subject matter in a light-hearted way that is universally acceptable. Men and mental health are heavy subjects for some, but animation allows the exploration to become innovative, creative and fun. Animation allows the experimentation of entering surreal worlds.

For example, in “Embrace” Arty enters a surreal world where he has to go up against a younger version of himself — to unmask the root cause of his internal struggles and give himself the “big hug” he needs. This heart-throbbing metaphor is captured in animation that a live-action film couldn’t have captured. The freedom of animation helps tackle tough subject matters about self-love, and how we must embrace the soul, the child, the person within.

 

The Story Behind The Story 

There are many inspirations behind “Embrace”. Film noir, the silent film era, surrealism and the works of Christopher Nolan and David Lynch — the film is able to articulate something far more special. This is more than just a mental health piece for educational purposes. This is a classical narrative from beginning to end; a story of important themes and beloved characters that needed to be shared with the world.

It is not often the words mental health and men and vulnerability are discussed under the same umbrella — especially with growing hypermasculinity, and the likes of social media where facades are put up and the vulnerable parts of ourselves aren’t as expressed. It is here where the film encourages men to look within themselves, and allows them to be vulnerable to themselves. Perhaps this is an important step to better themselves on the journey to have successes (whatever success means to them), and to enlighten and lift those around them. The first step should always begin with “you.”

[Read related: Truth Be Told: Breaking the Silence on a Silent Killer, Mental Illness ]

A Call To Action

It’s tough to find places where men have access in ways of improving their mental health without feeling like a patient or a victim in the institutionalized realm. It’s tough to find places where men can talk to other men about their struggles among peer groups, educational groups, and more.

The “Let’s Talk” phase  and awareness is long overdue; it is indeed time for action. Perhaps creating seminars or group-related events and activities to help create vulnerable environments. Art or art therapy can be a great way of producing something stemming from the inner journey. Or maybe it is time to look at “sick days” as “mental health days” as well. Perhaps more can be done to simply just talk about it. It’s time to give ‘doing’ a chance to start in our close-knit communities.

Maybe if one learns to ’embrace’ themselves, only then, perhaps one can fully understand others and their pain — and have the vision of empathy for others. “Embrace” took seven years to write and a year of animation for a four-and-a-half-minute short film. The film is about self-love, embracing one’s self before one can see empathy for others. It is produced by Raman K Fenty and Jayesh Kodwani and his team, directed and written by Jacquile Singh Kambo, co- written by Sidartha Murjani and stars Jenna Berman. “Embrace” has received numerous international accolades including Best Audience choice at the Emerging Lens Cultural Film Festival of Halifax, Nova Scotia, as well as acceptances in hometown Vancouver, Canada; Goa, India and Chicago, United States.

 If you are struggling with your mental health, please call your regional crisis hotline. These are a few non-crisis mental health resources for men’s mental health. 

Feature Image Courtesy: Jacquile Singh Kambo as Embrace promo

By Jacquile Singh Kambo

Embrace team: Jacquile Singh Kambo, award winning Director and Writer for "Help Wanted" (2016) focusing on South Asian gang violence. … Read more ›

Of Motherhood and Mental Health — An Immigrant Mom’s Journey

Motherhood and mental health

May is an important month for mothers around the world as we get to celebrate motherhood for Mother’s Day and support mental health for Mental Health Awareness Month. It is also a month in which a week is dedicated to honour maternal mental health before, after and during pregnancy. To honour this beautiful month, I would like to explore motherhood as I have experienced it as an South Asian, immigrant mom — the magic, the struggles, the mental health challenges, the community expectations — and share how I have reached the most comfortable, confident version of myself as a mother.

12 years ago, on a very hot, humid August morning, after going through a few years of unexplained infertility and then finally getting pregnant, I was rushed for an emergency C-section and my tiny, but very feisty, daughter was handed to me. As I held her in a severely drugged-up state, very much disappointed in my body’s failure to deliver naturally, I felt a rush of the most beautiful, gut-wrenching, fierce, protective love I had ever experienced. In the hours following her birth, I also experienced major confusion and anxiety every time she cried endlessly; I didn’t know how to soothe her.

I grew up listening to my mom, grandmothers and aunts talk about the beauty and miracle of motherhood, but no one ever talked about the extreme sleep deprivation, the mental and emotional breakdowns and the sheer physical exhaustion. I had seen most moms in my very traditional, Pakistani family, sacrificing their own needs for the comfort of their children. In fact often, I would be confused at how proud my grandmothers were for sacrificing their health and mental peace to raise their families.

[Read Related: Stories of Stigma: Three Generations of Generalized Anxiety Disorder ]

After moving to Canada I repeatedly witnessed the same thought and behavior patterns in other South Asian maternal figures. I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a cultural thing, especially among the older generation! They love to talk about the beauty and magic of motherhood and glorify the rough parts of this journey with a kind of toxic positivity. South Asian women, I find, generally don’t like to discuss the struggles, the vulnerability and the mental load of motherhood.  Yes, motherhood is magical, beautiful and one of the biggest blessings but also it might probably be the most difficult thing you will ever do! In retrospect I do feel, had I heard healthy discussions about the mental and emotional challenges of motherhood, along with its privilege and beauty, I would have been much more prepared for this magical, roller coaster journey!

The mental health challenges, the invisible load of motherhood, the continuous mom guilt, the overwhelm, the self doubts, I experienced all of these during the happiest time of my life. And I felt extremely guilty for having these feelings! Was I not supposed to have that ethereal new mama glow and calmly enjoy this new phase with ease and joy? My overwhelm and anxiety as I protectively held my five-pound, feisty baby girl just felt wrong! It made me doubt myself as a mother.

[Read Related: From a Mother’s Perspective: Why is Loving Myself So Hard? ]

As an immigrant mother, one of the hardest things I have had to do is to break away from, and unlearn, so many culturally-acquired behavior patterns and expectations. It is so important to acknowledge the fact that mamas need to be vigilant about and take care of their emotional and mental health in order to be fully intentional and engaged in raising their children and taking care of their families. Thankfully, the thought patterns are evolving and finally the South Asian community has started having discussions about mothers’ mental health issues and acknowledge that motherhood, though absolutely precious, is exhausting, rough and can sometimes leave one questioning their sanity.

 

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After the initial years of motherhood, I started researching and reading on mental health and South Asian behaviour patterns. My observation and research has led me to a point in time where I can proudly say that I am the most comfortable I have ever been in raising my children. I have come to the realization that this will be the most fulfilling, but also the most daunting and exhausting thing that I will ever do. I have also come to a very solid conclusion, the better my headspace and mental health is, the better I will be at being the best version of myself for my children. I really want my children to see me making my mental health a priority so that they learn that their mental health is also as sacred as their physical health.

Once I realized how pivotal my own mental health was for my family’s wellbeing, I became more mindful about prioritizing my mental health. These 10 mantras have really helped make a difference in my mental health:

  1. It is not normal to feel excessively overwhelmed and anxious all the time just because you are a mom. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness. Talking to your doctor about your sense of overwhelm is a great place to start. Accepting medical intervention (meds) and therapy are an important part of my parenting journey; they do not make you a weak or bad mother in any way. Rather it makes you a braver, better parent!
  2. Motherhood is not always glorious and rosy as most of us have been made to believe. Like any other relationship, it will also have its ebb and flow. It will sometimes be chaotic, messy and hard and that is ok!
  3. They say, it takes a village to raise a child and that is so true! In case of immigrant families, a lot of times their village is far across the oceans so what do you do. You mindfully try seeking out a village of like-minded families/people that share similar values and beliefs as your own. And then you help each other out. In other words, when offered, graciously accept help from that elderly neighbour, a family friend or a distant relative. They probably have gone through this busy season themselves and realize how exhausting and isolating it sometimes can be.
  4. In today’s world, many of our decisions are driven by our favourite influencers, mom bloggers and social media personalities. Majority of them curate content that just spells perfection and beauty! From a beautifully arranged, tidy house, to an impeccably put together, happy mama serving fresh, organic meals in her tastefully-decorated, minimalistic kitchen; we know very well that social media can be unrealistic and shows only the beautiful parts of the journey. Yet most of us feel this immense pressure to be perfect and be the providers of the absolute best for our children. Honestly, in my experience, motherhood became so much easier, smoother and calmer once I let go of my exhausting efforts to be the perfect mother! Once I accepted that there is no such thing as a perfect mother — only a mama who loves her children like crazy — I felt at peace and became way less anxious.
  5. Most South Asian cultures measure the worth of a woman by her marital status and later by the success of her children. In the first few years of being a mom, I enrolled my tiny humans in as many different activities as I could in dreams of future success in education and careers. I was always running around planning things for them to do. The result was an extremely burnt-out mama with overwhelmed kids in tow. It has been quite a journey to learn that children will be at their happiest with simple routines and happy experiences. You DO NOT need to lug your family to fancy, expensive activities in order to prove your worth as a good parent! Children will remember simple, happy experiences where they can connect and spend time with their loved ones. A simple picnic in the park on a beautiful day, feeding the ducks at the local pond, visiting the farmers’ market, going to the beach on a hot day, camping trips with other families, these are some things my kids consistently recall happily from their tiny human days.
  6. Connecting with other moms going through a similar situation will make your journey less isolating, less intimidating and so much calmer. Culture tells mothers to be resilient and unwavering, and not share their vulnerability with others. That can be very isolating! After a rough night with a teething baby and a clingy toddler, nothing feels better than having a quick cup of chai over a phone call with another sleep-deprived, tired mama!
  7. Mamas, you are being so generous and giving to everyone around you. Be kind to yourself too! Indulge in self care and take out time to do little things that bring you peace and joy. It could be a lunch date with a friend, getting nails done, doing a yoga class, taking a walk by yourself, listening to a podcast or going out for a movie. Remember your children are observing you all the time and will learn emotional regulation and self care by watching you do it.
  8. Mom guilt is real and can be devastating for one’s mental health. Know that you are only human and the only way to learn about motherhood is by actually going through it. You will make mistakes and it is okay! Give yourself extra love and grace on those hard days. As long as our children see us apologizing, being respectful and loving and trying to be a better parent, it’s all good.
  9. Taking care of one’s physical health will always help in achieving better mental health. Eating well, staying hydrated, learning some breathing techniques, moving one’s body, all these help so much when the days seem long and never-ending.
  10. Motherhood, specially in the initial years will be physically exhausting. If you are like me, maybe you have also thrown your babies at your spouse as soon as he walks into the house and escaped to the washroom for a mommy time out! It is probably the busiest season of life for both you and your spouse and might leave both of you angry with and snapping at each other. Try to find little pockets of time when you and your partner can reconnect, away from the beautiful chaos of the tiny people you have created together. Something as simple as having a takeout meal together after kids’ bedtime can feel heavenly and therapeutic and recharge both of you for the day ahead.

[Read Related:Open Letter From an Immigrant’s Daughter to Immigrant Mothers]

So moms, I urge you to let go of overthinking, enjoy the present moment, go with the flow and savour the messy as well as the beautiful, uplifting parts of your journey. Cherish and protect your own mental health, reach out for help and support if the journey gets too isolating and overwhelming. For your children, will grow up seeing the beauty and wonder around them through the eyes of the most important person in their lives — their mom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Anabia Adnan

Anabia Adnan is a mother to two beautiful children and a crazy puppy, married to the love of her life, … Read more ›