#SitWithMum – Keeping Mum About Not Being Mums
By Sheril A. Bustaman
Back in 2018 when Zan Azlee & I were newlyweds on our first big trip together, we found out that I was 5 weeks pregnant. Upon returning home and after the then-miracle of GE14, we lost our very own miracle. I had what is called a missed miscarriage, which is where the fetus is no longer alive but my body didn’t recognise the loss of the pregnancy. I had to undergo a D&C (dilation and curettage) procedure, which was very simple and only took the better part of a day, but it took many months after that to heal from the pain emotionally and no longer feel like a broken person.
When this happened, both my mother & my mother in law told me that it was common and can happen to anybody. They told me it was normal and that once I rest and heal properly, Zan and I could try again. My mother in law stressed that I needed to relax, berating Zan for letting me do so much around the house. My mother nagged me about food intake, selling the healing properties of ginger chicken and chicken essence (basically healing involves a lot of chicken cooked many different ways). Despite all of that, nobody really spoke to me about how I was feeling and there was also nobody for me to speak to. My friends are mostly single young adults relishing in their late twenties and early thirties, and would not be able to relate to the experience I had had and despite actively looking, I did not find any type of support group specifically catered to women who had gone through such an experience.
Recently, my newfound friend Daphne Iking had a baby at an age where it is dangerous for women to have babies. She announced the arrival of her son on her live show and talked about how she had to make a choice between terminating or going through a difficult pregnancy. She chose the latter because she saw the baby as another blessing and thought about how many women are out there trying hard to have children but can’t, and the public revered her for it. In that same live show, Daphne also talked about the D&C procedure and how sometimes, pregnant women in different situations other than hers (where the pregnancy would be hazardous to her) aren’t given the opportunity to make the decision of whether to terminate their pregnancies or not.
Malaysians abhor talking about abortions. Contextually, the culture within the country is that babies are considered rezeki or a blessing and abortion is a sin. It is taboo to even bring it up. But what Malaysians don’t consider is that context also plays a great role in whether a woman should have an abortion or not. Legally, we can only have an abortion or a D&C procedure if the pregnancy is hazardous to the mother’s health, like in Daphne’s case. But contextually, there are many reasons as to why women should be granted the option of voluntary abortion.
This isn’t a new argument and it isn’t something that certain groups in Malaysia haven’t already brought up. In cases of pregnancy by rape or incest for example, it is cruel and unfair to ask the victim to carry the child to term. Cases of accidental pregnancies by teenagers who aren’t well-verse in sexual health also pose a strong argument for abortion. Many a time, the conservative culture argument is thrown back at these points stating that if abortion was legalised, young couples would be more prone to sex out of wedlock because there is an ‘easy fix’ available to them. But by constantly shutting down the possibility of a need for voluntary abortions, Malaysians have also dismissed the experiences women who have needed access to it.
Taking a step back, women’s sexual reproductive health as a whole is generally dismissed in this country. Our convenience stores and pharmacies sell condoms, but not diaphragms. We teach our children about menstrual cycles, but not about the female orgasm. We sell pregnancy kits at our 7-Elevens, but not abortion pills in Guardian. The onus is somehow always on the woman not to get harassed, raped or pregnant, but we don’t equip our females well enough to prevent all those things. Most of all, we deny all of our women a choice. Malaysia doesn’t give women the choice to not be mothers if they were to get pregnant or the platform to explore and discover what their options even are. The void of silence where conversation about women’s sexual health should be also pushes women into a corner where single women who do end up getting pregnant make bad decisions such as illegal abortions via backalley doctors which endangers them physically and women who have had to go through these experiences have no place to turn to process how they feel.
Daphne and I are both married women living fairly comfortably. We are lucky to be in places of our lives where, if we were to need to carry out that procedure, people would be understanding and supportive. Nobody would berate us for not being careful, we would not have to carry with us any shame, and we would be told that we would be able to try again. The same privilege and luxury should be afforded to teenagers who didn’t know any better and made a mistake, to rape victims who didn’t ask for it and to all the other women in between who just want the choice not to be mothers for whatever reason. For this to happen, there needs to be more conversation on how these procedures affect women by women, to lift the stigma and create safe spaces that will in turn drive change. A year after my D&C, despite my newly diagnosed PCOS, I got pregnant and now have a healthy, demanding and squishable 8-month old baby. Much like my D&C and Daphne’s pregnancy, the road to conversations about voluntary abortion is not easy, but also as both our situations proved – it will definitely be worth it.
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