I know right, what a scandalous headline. Especially given how taboo sex is in India, outside of the noble task of producing babies. The biggest problem that comes from this taboo is that it leaves young people to navigate potentially dangerous waters without any guidance.
Navigating the underground ecosystem of Oyo Rooms and making sure you don’t get murdered by someone you met online is hard enough. But what happens when you need medical help? Personally I’ve taken the occasional iPill but I’ve never had to navigate my way through aborting an unplanned pregnancy.
The conversation came up when I was meant to be a guest on a friend’s podcast to discuss this and I realised that I had absolutely no idea what I should do if I found myself pregnant, or what to do if a close friend called and asked for help while in a similar situation.
So I asked around.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. What I have learned comes from conversations with friends about their first hand experiences. When in doubt please talk to a doctor. This blog post is meant only as a starting point/overview of your options and the process.
From what I’ve gathered, there are several options depending on when the panic sets in about pregnancy.
- The morning after pill — This is the usual over the counter iPill that you can get at any medical store. It’s recommended that you take this within the first 24 hours of unprotected sex. iPills are not abortion pills, they are emergency contraceptives. It’s a preventative measure to make sure that any possible pregnancy doesn’t stick.
- The “abortion pill” — This is something a gynaecologist will have to prescribe which will force you to bleed out your pregnancy. I’ve heard from friends that the process is similar to a very painful version of having your period. This option works as long as you’re within 6 weeks of pregnancy.
- Medical procedure — If you’ve been pregnant for over 6 weeks you’ll have to get a procedure done in a hospital to have the pregnancy removed. From what I understand, the most common method involves using suction to remove the pregnancy.
Basically if you’re past that 24 hour window where you can take an iPill, you need to go see a doctor.
Here’s a crowd sourced list of trusted gynaecologists in India: https://docs.google.com/document/d/17Z8mrQo80A_kYwGN-j9MjH1ppSTWjVxDgYK0njpb6yE/pub
From what I’ve heard from friends, doctors can be judgmental but you have to grit your teeth and get through it. I’ve heard from unmarried friends that there was judgment about sex outside marriage, while married friends were encouraged to keep the baby since, you know, that’s what marriage is for (eye roll). I’ve also heard that friends went in prepared with entire cover stories about what happened just to skip some of the awkward questions. That’s up to you and how much you want to confront a potentially judgmental doctor.
Once those awkward conversations are out of the way, the first thing the doctor will do is of course confirm your pregnancy through tests that are more reliable than the at home pee-on-a-stick variety. Next up the doctor may refer you to someone else who is willing to do terminations. It appears that not every gynaecologist performs abortions. So then you have the whole conversation again with someone else. Ugh.
Then depending on how far into your pregnancy you are, you’re given options as mentioned earlier. I’m sure there are more details than I’ve provided about what you can do. The bottom line that I’ve heard from my friends is that the options can be painful and often are. They have recommended that you stay with someone trusted because you will be in pain and may not want to answer questions from family. If you stay alone, it’s recommended that you have a friend stay with you to help out for a few days.
Also bear in mind that some of the procedures can be expensive. One friend said she spent a total of Rs. 10,000 in total, across all the consultations, tests, medications, and procedure. So this is where that emergency fund has to be dipped into. I’m not sure that procedures like this are covered by insurance. So brace yourself financially as well.
Hopefully once it’s all done, you can continue with life as planned. Personally I recommend talking to a counsellor or therapist afterwards. It cannot be easy going through the process given the judgment, physical pain, and moral dilemma. It’s always good to make sure your mental and emotional health are also taken care of.
Here’s a crowd sourced list of mental health professionals in India: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/u/2/d/1pzckT6ns2H1IlmwYwJa8EnBh_1u3gRA9cEOoA4zfilc/htmlview#
Of course the best way to stay safe during sex is to take preventative measures.
- Use a period tracking app. These apps not only help you track the days you bleed but will also indicate when you’re most fertile. It’s obviously best to avoid these days entirely if you can.
- Condoms. The easiest way to make sure you’re safe, not just from pregnancy but also from sexually transmitted diseases. Wherever you are in your cycle, you should be using a condom.
- Birth control. Not everyone’s cup of tea but a good option if you’re in a long term relationship with a trusted partner and don’t want to have kids. It’s not easy trying to get a prescription from a doctor, from what I’ve heard, but it is an option, especially if you’re allergic to latex condoms.
Additionally if you are sexually active with multiple partners, it’s best to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STD/STI). Most diagnostic centres have an STD test available which you can find on their website. Personally I recommend getting tested once a year along with your usual health check up. The lack of conversation and awareness around STDs in India is shockingly sparse but it absolutely doesn’t mean that STDs don’t exist.
It’s definitely difficult and awkward to have conversations with your partner about STDs, condoms and contraceptives, but that one difficult conversation could save you from a lot of stress. Hopefully this one blog post will get you to have a tough conversation or give you a starting point to get the help that you need.
I’ll sign off by saying that our system isn’t perfect but options do exist. A little bit of awkwardness could help you keep your future on track, so do what you need to do. We’re lucky to live in a country where abortions are not heavily politicised or impossible to get. Hopefully if all of us starting talking about our experiences a little more, we’ll all feel a little less alone.
Thanks for taking the time to read something I wrote/compiled/transcribed. I don’t put any of the content I post behind a paywall because I feel like it should be accessible to anyone who needs it. That being said, putting together content takes time, effort, and thought. I’m a freelancer without a salary and I live off the gig economy and the contribution of patrons. If you would like to contribute to my work (you can give as little as $2 or 150 rupees a month) please click here: https://www.patreon.com/urvashi