March 28, 2013

Cycles of Abuse: Kamala breaks through – 3

(This is the third in a series of posts on domestic violence and maternal health. Read part 1 and part 2.) The fact that Kamala* was pregnant did not deter her husband from frequent violence. Her first trimester was rough. She had severe morning sickness and could hardly get out of bed. He refused to do anything around the house and got angry with her when she didn’t manage to do chores. He also displayed complete disregard for her health. “He would buy juice and drink large glasses of it in front of me without giving me any,” she recalls. He also continued beating her during this time. “I still have back aches. I still can’t get up sometimes when I am lying down. He hit me so often.” Unlike other domestic violence, where the head is usually attacked, batterings of pregnant women tend to be directed at breasts, abdomen or genitals, according to this paper which also has other useful information on VAW during pregnancy. Studies show that intimate partner violence during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage, low birth weight babies, and foetal injury or even death. It affects woman's physical and mental health, reduces sexual autonomy, increases risk for unintended pregnancy and multiple abortions. Violence on pregnant women also significantly increases risk for low birth weight infants, pre-term delivery and neonatal death and also affects breast-feeding postpartum, according to this site. A fact sheet from the Pan American Health Organisation lists the physical effects of violence during pregnancy:
• Insufficient weight gain • Vaginal/Cervical/Kidney infections • Vaginal Bleeding • Abdominal Trauma • Hemorrhage • Exacerbation of chronic illnesses • Complications during  labour • Delayed prenatal care • Miscarriage • Low birth weight • Ruptured membranes • Abruption placenta • Uterine infection • Fetal bruising, fractures and hematomas • Death

“He hit me so often. I don’t know how I didn’t have an abortion (miscarriage),” Kamala says.  She cries a little when she says this. As she went deeper into pregnancy, she realised that her husband was not going to change. She also started suspecting that her husband did not really want a child. Something in her shifted toward a hunger for survival, and the urge to protect her unborn baby. If Kamala stayed with him, the possibility of her baby having low birth weight was high. As such, he / she would have an increased risk of death or of developing several health and developmental disorders. Low birth weight infants are at greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), breathing problems, cerebral palsy, heart disorders and learning disabilities.

Unsurprisingly, violent men do not change after the baby is born. The child often become one more receptacle for their aggression and violence. Babies of abusive fathers are also likely to be abused after birth. This creates and continues infinite cycles of violence.

Kamala got out. Perhaps, it was this nadir of vulnerability that created a new strength in her. Perhaps, it was the fact that she had healthy self-esteem before the abuse started. “My family hardly ever scolded me, let alone hit me,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that he could do this to me.” Even while taking the abuse, she knew that it was not normal. She knew she deserved better. Initial paralysis gave way to strength and she called her family. “I told them this man will end up killing me.” Kamala left her husband when she was four months pregnant. She moved back to her mother’s house. Her two elder sisters helped and supported this decision, both emotionally and materially. But there were other decisions that Kamala had to make. She came from a fairly progressive family, which meant that she had the option of not having the child. “Some told me to get an abortion,” she says. “Since I was leaving him, they said it would be better for me to be free. But I thought if the baby didn’t die when he beat me so much, then maybe it was meant to live. I also thought now I am alone. I should also have someone, some reason to live. My baby will be my own.” Again, her mother and sisters backed her choice and this allowed Kamala to give birth. She had a baby, a girl child. In the aftermath, there is a long case to be fought. (She has filed for divorce but her husband is making promises to change. He also wants to see their daughter.) There are fractured reconciliations. There are wounds. There are questions. “I thought he would love me,” she says. There is something bewildered in her eyes. Then she shakes her head. “Anyway, now I just want a job. I have to earn enough to give her a life.” ___
*Not her real name

About: Anindita Sengupta

Anindita Sengupta is a 2013 IRP New Media Fellow and founder-editor of Ultra Violet. Her collection of poetry, City of Water, was published by Sahitya Akademi in 2010. Her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies including The Harper Collins Book of English Poetry (Harper Collins, 2012), The Yellow Nib Modern English Poetry by Indians (Queen’s University Belfast, 2012), Writing Love (Rupa, 2010) and Not A Muse (Haven Books, 2009). She has been a recipient of the Charles Wallace Writers Fellowship (2011), the Muse India Young Writer award (2012) and the Toto Award for Creative Writing (2008).

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