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Why I Worry About The Possibility Of My Unborn Child Being ‘Different’ From Others

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By Anubha Garg:

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Source: Flickr/David.

Perhaps it was coincidence. I began work at the Amrit Foundation of India, an NGO that focuses on intellectual and development challenges. Only a few days later, my sister-in-law went into labour. As we waited for news on the progress of her labour, we were told that she had ‘complications’. Complications? Oh no! Coupled with my new work environment, it left me wondering – “What If?”

What if I were to have a difficult delivery? What if my child were born somehow ‘different’? I slipped into a reverie…

The birth of a child is generally one of the best moments in a parent’s life. But what if my child has challenges that are not visible at birth? As time passes, I realise that she doesn’t often smile; in fact, she generally doesn’t show much emotion. As she grows into a beautiful toddler, she doesn’t say much unless it is to respond to a direct question.

She becomes old enough to start preschool. At her regular teacher meetings, I am told that she rarely interacts with any of the other children. I try my best to find playmates for her but she prefers to find a place to play by herself. Slowly, though, she makes friends with another child. Her friend is the world to her. She believes and does everything he says, never wanting to make him upset. I worry about her, hoping that as she gets older, she will become less naive.

When the time comes to shift to a regular school, her friend goes to a different school and this upsets her. She cries, throws tantrums, but when she realises the outcome isn’t going to change, she retracts into her shell.

The cycle starts again. She doesn’t want to talk to any of the other children. Her teachers tell me that she is very intelligent, great in her school work, but does not say a word unless called upon to do so. She always knows the correct answer but never volunteers to answer. They call her shy and introverted. One of her teachers makes her sit with the most talkative kid in class, hoping the two of them would absorb some characteristics from each other. Another tells me she refused to read out her praise-winning essay to the rest of her class because she didn’t want the attention. I get calls from her school on multiple occasions telling me she has soiled her clothes. When I ask her why she didn’t ask permission to use the toilet, she says she tried but she was scared and the words just wouldn’t come out.

After some time, she makes another friend. The two girls become inseparable. They are both lost in their own world and spend the entire school day with each other. On sleepovers, they prefer to sit around and read books instead of going out to play or even talking to each other. Though her friend shares a lot of her characteristics, lucky for me, she is somewhat more outgoing. Through her, my daughter starts talking to a few more children and makes some more friends. I see a little ray of hope.

The girls grow apart in high school. By now, my daughter has matured and has realised that she is a little different from other kids. She knows she needs people to talk to but is scared of approaching them and starting a conversation. As she goes on to college, I can see that she has developed a pattern in making friends. She first becomes part of a big group and then narrows it down to the one or two people that she feels most comfortable with. From there on, she becomes very close to those people only and hardly talks to anyone else.

The biggest challenge of her adult life comes when she has to give her first presentation in front of her class. She gets extremely anxious and has something close to a panic attack. She tells me she wasn’t able to sleep the entire night before it was due. She manages to stumble and stutter her way through the presentation, mostly reading off the slides. As time goes by, her presentation skills improve somewhat, but the anxiety stays. Being the centre of attention still terrifies her. I wonder how she will survive in the regular fast-paced world where she will need to interact with many different people every day…

Suddenly, I heard my husband calling out to me and I remembered where I was – in the hospital, looking forward to news of my sister-in-law and her baby. The moment had arrived. A lovely, healthy baby girl was born.

I realised that all these thoughts were only a manifestation of certain fears emanating from how society treats those with challenges. Even today, disability is often seen as a curse and many parents jostle through problems day in and day out to carve a dignified life for their children facing challenges. The biggest issue is education where, according to UN data, a staggering 34% of children with challenges aged 6-14 years are out of school. The figure is higher for those with intellectual disabilities (48%), speech impairments (36%) and multiple disabilities (59%). Instead of pigeonholing all persons with challenges, they need to be given an opportunity to showcase their uniqueness. An inclusive society and an environment free from prejudice and social discrimination is the need of the hour.

“What If?” – That was the question that I’d been pondering over when I slipped off into my own world. So, what if I have a child who is different? Not normal, the way that the world sees normal? That will not change the fact that she is a part of me. My expectations from her may not be the same as from a child without challenges, but that will not stop me from encouraging her to dream big and supporting her in all her conquests. That will not change how proud I feel about her achievements; I might even get more happiness at the tiniest of her successes. Most importantly, that will not change the way I love her. After all, my reverie was as much about me as it was about her.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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