Friday, January 20, 2006

Blogging for choice month

I just found out that this has been declared 'blogging for choice' month. And I want to add my baby blog to all the pro-choice blogs out there.

For all my non-American readers, the word choice here refers to a woman's right to abortion i.e. the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy when they don't want to have a baby. Some Christians believe that abortion is murder of the fetus and must therefore be stopped. Of course this is not just about abortion, which is the thin end of the wedge issue - which is to ensure that women cannot control what happens to her body. Not only do the anti-choice groups oppose abortion but many of them even oppose free sale of contraceptives especially those which can be take after the deed, such as the morning after pill. Pharmacists adhering to this philosophy have refused to sell contraceptives to women with presciptions (see this and this and this) Many of these groups osentsibly believe that sex should be for procreation only which is why they are usually anti-gay and definitely anti-gay marriage. Under the current administration, which completely believes in this philosophy, funding has been withdrawn from programs which work in the poorest parts of the world for the sin of distributing condoms. The overarching theme is that 'sex is bad, sex is a sin and the only good reason to indulge in sex is to produce children'.

Coming from a culture that has a history of celebrating sex, though the past 1000 years has been an excercise in rolling back everything that was enlightened, these ideas seem stupid and ridiculous to me. Even though I practised abstinence till I met the one guy who was right for me, I would never presume to think I could tell other people what to do with their bodies and their personal lives. And even people in monogamous relationships need contraceptives unless we are each to have 10-15 children. This planet cannot support that many people!!

But the weirdest thing is to try and legislate morality. Even if you do think sex simply for pleasure is bad, do you think laws against it will work? If you think abortion is bad, then make sure that everyone has access to contraceptives, especially the morning after pill. Even so, there will be abortions - from a condom that broke to a pill/patch that was supposed to work but did not but they will be far fewer. Try and understand that no woman goes about trying to get pregnant so that she can have an abortion. Having a baby is not easy, read this to see how dangerous it is even with good health care and facilities. It is nonsensical to force women to go through with it, that attitude is no better than Saddam forcing children to walk ahead of the regular army in order to defuse landmines.

But the most important thing of all is to have humility. To be humble enough to say, this is what I think is good but of course other people have the right to their own opinions. Then there would be no conflict because of course no one is forcing you to have an abortion or use contraceptives or be gay. You live life on your own terms and allow others to do the same. Disagree with their choices if you must but do so civilly without trying to bring the state in people's personal lives or bedrooms.

The above paragraph would make no sense to two groups :- the unreconstructed sexists who believe that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant to ensure that they are not taking men's jobs or getting too uppity and the religious crazies. You cannot argue with the religious position, they believe this to be evil because their holy book says so and it must be stopped. All we can do is to hope that the state policy remains secular.

As for abortion, remember that the fetus is like a tumour growing inside a cancer patient, yes eventually fetus will be able to survive without the woman but till such time, she has a perfect right to her body and a right to refuse to host the parasite. Women are not incubators and you have no right to try to enslave our bodies. This is a harsh way to put it but necessarily so, women's rights are trampled on too easily by the patriarchy and it's enablers.

Update: Please read this for a very good blogpost on abortion, Feministe has said much better than I ever could.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

2005 Annus Horriblis - goodbye and good riddance

So 2005 is over, whopee! Yay, at long last! This was the worst ever year in my life so far and as I am in my early thirties, can only hope that I will not have a year this bad for another 30 years. To begin with, let me introduce my life and my circumstances and then onto my annus horribilis.

I am a graduate student studying astrophysics at a prestigious East Coast university in USA. Unfortunately my significant other aka my lover, boyfriend and husband lives in sunny California. He has not been able to get a job in the east and I have not wanted to move my research and retake all my exams in an univ in the west. So we have had a 4 year long-distance relationship. This is very stressful in and of itself. Add to that the usual stress in grad school and most reasonable people will agree I had enough on my plate. But no, the Gods decided that this was way too little and my father was diagnosed with stage II pancreatic cancer in August 2004.

In the months that followed I met with doctors in US and in India, talked with doctors in Australia (I have uncles who are doctors there) , researched the internet so much I felt my primary research interest was in pancreatic cancer and generally put my life on hold. My dad's tumour was inoperable because it was touching, almost entangled with, 2 major blood vessels. So chemo was his only hope. If the tumour shrunk enough to operate, he had some hope of surviving 5/6 years otherwise 1-2 years or less was the prognosis.

2005 began with the doctor in India telling my dad that after 4 months of chemo since the tumour had not shrunk enough, he didn't think there were any further chemo/radio/surgical options left for him. Since this doc is one of the foremost physicians in his field in India, this pronouncement really brought us all down. There was a slight ray of hope when a renowned surgeon in a very famous hospital in the US said that he thought my dad's tumour was operable. But we couldn't get a visa date for my parents till mid-May which meant 3 months of waiting in agony.

To add to all this, my thesis advisor was continually giving me grief about how unmotivated I was wrt to my research and I should reconsider whether I really wanted to do science - this after spending the last 4.5 years in grad school. I explained to him several times my circumstances vis-a-vis my dad and family but that was unimportant in his eyes. I was working as hard as possible but was obviously out my mind with worry over my dad. As he was not paying me anyway (I am being supported by a TAship from my dept) I could not understand why he kept belittling and harassing me. Mid-April saw me undergo a mini-breakdown from all the stress and in mid-May I told my advisor that I could not work for him any more. Any grad students out there will know how hard this is especially when you have worked for a while with your advisor.

My parents came to the US by the end of May and we met with the surgeon who seemed optimistic about my dad's chances. We spent the next month with our fingers crossed and our hearts in our mouths. End of June my dad had his surgery and that was the worst day of the worst year. The surgeon came out of the surgery in 2.5 hours to tell us that the cancer had already metastasized into Stage IV and there was no surgical procedure which could help my dad now. This was not only a delayed death sentence but also meant that the surgery, involving a great deal of pain (for my dad) and money ($65000 - this was borrowed from our relatives and my husband and I will be paying it back over God-knows-how-many-years), was a colossal waste.

Next month brought forth my baby sis' illness, she had TB and pleurisy (water in the lungs) and also an abscess in her breast. In between talking to doctors in the US and doctors in India, hubby and me felt like we would go insane. My mom returned home in August to look after sis and my dad started treatment under a clinical trial. Since it never rains but pours, I then proceeded to lose my dad's passport. Though how I managed to do this, I'll never know! It was inside my purse and nothing else from it was lost except the all-important passport. Getting a new passport was very never-racking and time-consuming and plain exhausting. And my sis was still not improving as the doctors were expecting, adding to my worry lines and white hair.

Unfortunately we found, in early October that the experimental drug was having no real effect on my dad's tumour and it was steadily growing. Another round of reading about clinical trials, consulting doctors etc. followed after which we decided to go in for a more aggressive treatment which involved more risk but also a possibility of more rewards. We finally got a new passport for my father by the second week of October. Now the worry was that my dad's I-94 was expiring in the end of November so we filed for an extension. One month was spent in see-sawing between hope and fear that we would/wouldn't get the extension but it didn't come through.

So my father returned to India and I took another sensible decision, I would spend the next year at least with my husband. If I could find an advisor who was willing for me to work remotely fine otherwise I would take a year off. All the disposing of lease, household goods and other general tensions involved in moving house ensued but the year ended on a happy note - I found an understanding advisor and I am finally living with my husband. The icing on this finish was that my sis was also improved enough to go off some of the heavy medicine she had been taking and so was really getting much better. She is not completely well yet but so much better that I can only be thankful for it. We still have many problems to deal with, my dad has to get his visa to come here, money is very tight, my dad's tumour has to respond to the medication, I have to finish my thesis but for now I am going to cling to the rays of hope that we do have and concentrate on the positives.

Before I end this post, I have to say thank you to all my friends out there who supported me, coddled me and literally pulled me through this miserable year. You know who you are, thank you for keeping me sane. And to my hubby who is the best, words cannnot express all that I want to say. If you have managed to read this far, thank you and I promise you that my future posts will not be so narcissistic and depressing.