Student Blog Posts

Are You Expecting? – Infertility in the Indian context

By Thehil Russelliah Singh

A common question addressed to newlywed couples in the context of India is, “Are you expecting?” Two to three months after a wedding, parents, in-laws, relatives, friends and random people on the street begin to question a couple as to their reproductive prowess. When I was a young bride, I remember becoming frustrated and irritated at such questions and wishing that people would kindly mind their own business. But when it comes to a married woman, Indian society deems it, its privilege and responsibility to inquire without shame or apology into the inner workings of a woman’s body.

As generations pass and the world in which we live becomes more unwholesome and unhealthy, infertility has become a real and pressing issue. Fertility clinics have sprung up advertising complex artificial reproduction techniques such as IUI, IVF and even surrogacy. But my intention here, is not to delve into the ethics of artificial reproductive techniques, but rather to examine the pathos of women who wait with great expectation for a child and then resort to these methods. For it is these women, who should really be considered as “expecting.” The mental agony and pressure that a woman who is unable to conceive undergoes especially in the Indian context is unimaginable. The emotional pain, feelings of rejection (imagined or otherwise) and sense of unworthiness cannot be understood by anyone other than those in the same situation. It is these women who cry out to God year after year, who spend thousands upon thousands, and who bear the brunt of ridicule and humiliation at the hands of society. Perhaps it is because this sensitive issue is dealt with such a lack of sensitivity that we see many women becoming depressed. Indian society has brainwashed womankind into thinking that she is only valuable as a reproductive machine. She is most highly praised in her capacity as “mother” rather than any other role. Many women are subjected to mental, physical and emotional abuse and have even been kicked out of homes or divorced simply because they are unable to bear children. In most cases, society stands ready to judge a woman and label her as unworthy, curse her as deficient and disregard her presence as inauspicious for her inability to bear a child. Unfortunately, this is the case for many Indian women today. Society places great expectations on the expectant and women who are unable to fit themselves into the established norms find themselves marginalized.
But to these women, I would say, look at the life of Jesus. For he too, lived at a time and in a context where a woman needed to bear children to command respect. Navamani Peter, Former President of the Association of Theologically Trained Women in India said, “Jesus treated women as intelligent, thinking humans, equal with men. His attitude to women was remarkable in a day when men thought women were a grade lower than themselves.” Jesus began his ministry at the wedding in Cana at the prompting of a woman (Jn 2:3-5); many women accompanied him in his ministry (Lk 8:2-3); he healed women and girls (Matt 9:18-26); a woman identified him as the Messiah (Jn 11:27); he discussed theology with a woman at a well (Jn 4:7-5) he was anointed with oil and prepared for burial by a woman (Matt 26:6-13); and after his resurrection it was to women that he first appeared (Lk 24:2-10). There is no doubt, therefore, that Jesus himself did not consider women as merely reproductive beings. Jesus’ expectations of women broke down the walls of the kitchen and domestic sphere and granted women access to all aspects of his ministry.
It is time that Indian society learned to value and perceive woman as herself, not merely as the wife of her husband or the mother of her child. There must be freedom to re-imagine these traditional roles. Her ability or inability to conceive should neither grant her status nor demean her. There is no end to the possibilities if only Indian women are encouraged to have dreams and if only traditional roles do not stifle their efforts towards re-visioning the roles to be played. Women must be able to identify themselves as human beings, children of God, and worthy of equal respect and opportunity regardless of their reproductive ability. For, it is at that point that women will be able to move towards fulfilling God’s expectations in their lives.