2020 has been a year like no other. Lives stood on a standstill as a virus made its way across the world and ripped us off of our ‘normal’ - sparing nobody, but impacting some disproportionately.
As the year comes to an end and we slowly (and carefully) crawl towards a ‘new normal’, FIT brings you a round-up of its coverage of women’s health during 2020. With lockdowns, compromised medical services, uncertainty and the accompanying stresses, and a resurgence of the ‘period leave’ and the ‘ideal motherhood age’ debate, the year has been monumental in exposing the gaps in our healthcare systems (and our minds) when it comes to women’s health.
From COVID to non-COVID, here is our ‘Her Health’ round-up from 2020.
Delayed, Missed & Painful: Is the Lockdown Affecting Your Period?
“This month I missed my periods completely, which is very unusual for me,” says 30-year-old Akriti (name changed).
Heavy bleeding, delayed cycles and missed periods altogether - the COVID-19 lockdown is doing something weird to our monthly visitor.
In a global pandemic, it’s normal to be stressed. But prolonged periods of anxieties can throw our bodies out of sync. Stress manifests physically.
Many women have been experiencing changes to their periods in the lockdown. While Akriti has missed hers entirely, Adeeba, a 27-year-old has a reduced cycle.
Read more about their experiences here.
How ‘Essential’ Abortion Services Are Inaccessible in the Lockdown
A 19-year-old rape survivor in Mumbai found out she was pregnant right when India implemented its nationwide lockdown. She knew she had to get an abortion, but with no transport available and with many clinics shutting down their operations, she felt helpless and out of options.
“We went and picked her up and ensured she got the abortion at a public hospital. Forced sex is a critical issue in a lockdown and abortion services are required here and now,” Sangeeta Rege of the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), the NGO that intervened and arranged for the girl’s pass and travel, told Reuters.
India imposed a nationwide lockdown on 25 March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. On 14 April, the government went ahead and declared abortion as an essential service. But women, since then, have been struggling.
For reasons ranging from the inability to travel to chemists and doctors, to the stigma surrounding sex and abortions, millions of couples have been finding it impossible to get birth control, contraceptives and abortions on time.
Read more here.
‘Frustrating & Scary’: Dealing with Postpartum in the Pandemic
(If you know someone or are personally dealing with postpartum mental health issues, know that you are not alone. Reach out to the NIMHANS Perinatal Mental Health Helpline - 8105711277 )
When Nami, a 32-year-old medical professional gave birth to a baby on 11 March, little did she know that the world would come to a standstill a few days later.
By mid-March, COVID-19 had begun springing up in conversation in India, and fears of this strange, new virus were taking over. On 22 March, PM Modi announced a Janta Curfew, and what would then be the beginning of an almost 7-month lockdown.
“When my baby was born, not many people came to visit and those who did spoke mostly about COVID. It was frustrating and scary,” Nami says.
Dr Uma Vaidyanathan, a senior consultant of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Fortis Hospital, New Delhi, adds, that the atmosphere had changed - “Deliveries are a joyful occasion, but everything had and still has mellowed.”
Read on here.
Neglected & Forgotten: Women With Disabilities During COVID-19
“I had gone to buy some ration, and my crutches slipped. I fell down. Normally, someone would have come to pick me up. But that day, no one came,” a 39-year-old woman with locomotor disability, Ahmednagar, Maharashtra, shares.
The past few months have been difficult for all of us. But anecdotes such as the one above are reminders of the ways in which the pandemic, the lockdown and the enforced physical distancing have impacted certain sections of the society differently - and more importantly - disproportionately.
Women with disabilities, who make up around 11.8 million of the population of India, face discrimination and denial of rights on multiple and intersecting grounds.
The pandemic has only widened these inequalities; increasing difficulties in access and resulting in a lack of social, physical and emotional support at a time that has been particularly turbulent.
‘You Don’t Have to Live in Pain’: Doctors Debate Period Leave
We’ve often wondered how different the world would be if men had periods. Gloria Steinem’s famous essay, ‘If Men Could Menstruate,’ imagines a radically different world, where men would have great pride as they bleed, it would be considered virtuous and macho even.
“I think we are late about this discussion about period leaves by a few hundred years. This discussion should have started centuries ago, when women had started entering workplaces,” said Dr Kamna Kakkar, MD Anaesthesiology.
Dr Kakkar adds, “ I've seen women with endometritis, PMS, undergoing hormonal therapy to conceive, severe ovulatory pain, severe migraines. And these are not rare women, these are women who are around us. These are stories of our sisters, our mothers which have been untold so far. And I think the taboo related to periods needs to end.”
Periods are still shrouded in much mystery. From taboos of women being impure and unclean to women being assumed as weaker, these unfounded accusations have caused a generation of women to grit their teeth and bear the pain to prove their worth at work.
But is it time for a change? Watch here.
Pregnancy In a Pandemic: How Are Delhi’s Pvt Hospitals Preparing?
A 28-year-old woman gave birth on the way to a hospital in Delhi, after waiting for hours for the ambulance to reach her house.
The months of April and May saw an unsurmountable number of such instances, where pregnant women in need of medical assistance were forced to resort to unsafe and life-threatening measures in order to simply deliver their babies. Many of them lost their lives running from one hospital to another in the middle of a state-imposed lockdown - put in place to contain the COVID-19 pandemic - as other 'essential’ services took a backseat.
But now, as the country slowly ‘unlocks’ and as clinics and OPDs resume services, pregnant women’s access to healthcare is expected to improve. We reached out to hospitals, clinics and nursing homes in Delhi to know how they are preparing to cater to these women, and what protocols are being followed in light of the pandemic to ensure their safety.
PCOS Affects More Than Just Your Period: Hear These Women Out
19-year-old Tavishi was taken aback when she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) after a series of routine medical tests. Tavishi’s periods had never been irregular or painful, which was in absolute contrast to what we would all assume to be the primary symptom of the syndrome.
This, for her, was the start of her PCOS journey. When she realized PCOS was affecting her insulin more than anything else, it became clear to her how misunderstood the syndrome really is.
Dr Munjaal Kapadia, Gynecologist at Namaha Hospital, explains, “PCOS is a syndrome, with many many things happening together. Not just with the ovaries, but also with the sugar levels in the body, with the cardiovascular problems, with obesity, skin changes, hair changes and more.”
Is There an Ideal Age For Motherhood? Docs Explain
Should there be an ideal age of motherhood?
When Prime Minister Modi announced setting up a task force to increase the age of marriage for women (and therefore presumed motherhood) from the current 18 years, to protect their health, he set off an avalanche of opinions. India has a high level of preventable maternal deaths, so can doing so actually reduce our maternal mortality rate? Can the state decide an age? And what about unwed pregnancies?
FIT speaks to renowned gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Noser Sheriar to understand the complex issue of maternal mortality better.
Planning to Get Pregnant After 35? Everything You Must Know
Bollywood actor Kareena Kapoor Khan announced her second pregnancy this year. As congratulations poured in, so did an observation: Khan, who is 39-year-old, is among the many women choosing to conceive later on in their lives, during what is known as the ‘advanced maternal age’.
There could be numerous reasons for this shift from the preferred 20s till some time ago to the late 30s today. To name a few, women are gaining agency over their bodies and lives; they are prioritising their financial and emotional stability, and they have better access to contraception.
But does biology align with this ‘older and wiser’ trope? Is it safe to get pregnant in your late 30s?
Doctors take us through the biological processes and clarify misconceptions about late pregnancies. Read here.
The Sleep Disparity: Why Does Insomnia Hit More Women Than Men?
There are few pleasures in the world that come for free, and a good night’s sleep is perhaps the most undervalued on the list. Because really, is there a better feeling in the world than hitting the sack after a long, long day of work?
If facts are taken into account, a significant number of people are unable to experience this bliss — among whom, women fare the worst.
Women are 1.4 times more likely to report insomnia than men, and, in general, they suffer from sleep problems more often.
While the trend is well known, the reasons explaining this discrepancy are complex and indirect. Why are more and more women not getting enough sleep?
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