Women Without Wombs by Gayatri Jayaraman

‘Can we pull it out?’ they asked. 
I sat there unblinking. 
‘You obviously have no need for it anymore. Do you?’

They squeeze my tits, one nurse holding up my blouse, the doctor diving in with both her hands to complete compression capacity, to check if I had need for those anymore.

If it was a tooth and you were no longer contemplating eating, you would have been less surprised.

Women’s bits are not their own.


First there’s the boyfriend whose fingers keep groping, in autorickshaws, taxis, dark corners of the college and movie theatres, in public gardens, up your skirt, past your thighs, ignoring your squeals, eliciting sighs. The ownership of the sexual act is his, never yours. He demands and you yield.

The onus of birth control is yours and when you have failed at that, the blame of what follows is yours.


‘Spread wide come on, I’ve not got all day.’

The doctor raises an eyebrow, throws a spotlight on me, no six, six bulbs in one spotlight, like you’re a stadium, and nods to the nurse who hauls your legs up in stirrups.

What the...

Horse woman. Piece of meat. Doctors are allowed. But then again, who isn’t?

The containment of the female anatomy comes like a free concert in the park.

Bring a book and a hipflask.

Jab. Poke. Pick up large obtrusive instrument, insert and widen even further.

It’s all in there.

You have a septum, you have a yeast infection, you have your periods. You had a sense of self that a single check-up destroyed all illusion of.


The result of his reluctance to walk ten minutes to the chemist shop in broad daylight and my mother’s fighting shy of discussing pill options is
an unplanned pregnancy they have to terminate.

As the anaesthesia sends me under I can hear them joking 

‘I wonder how he even got in there, past the septum, penetrating past the cartilage?’ 

‘Brute’ one of them says.

Then they all laugh.

The last thing I remember thinking is, will they call me damaged goods?

Will I be able to have a child again?

What is happening to me? Why are they inside me?

In the places they told me not to look at even when having a bath.

‘Wear your chaddis when you bathe, so if someone comes in suddenly, they can’t see’ an aunt said.

‘And don’t lock the door’

Wet chaddis are wrung out with generations of my shame.

Why is the chemist a man? Not even an old man. A young man. How do I ask?

I go buy cough syrup and circle the block a bit. Maybe I’ll manage with cloth.

One day when I’m walking down the street, the cloth falls out
because they didn’t tell me to secure it.

Or they did and I was too embarrassed to listen properly.

Oh why do I never listen? Why. Why. Why.

It’s all my fault, it always is.

Don’t mind me blushing here on the cold steel table top of my virgin morality.

I’m not sure who fucked it first. This idea that I am my own person, not a social co-operative movement.


Mine is connected to the collective womb. Echo chambers to the lingering moan.

The company of women is the sacred cult of telling you how normal it all is. It happened to us. Yes, even that wrinkled old hag who looks like she has no clue what being fucked is. Read her wrinkles. Dignity is the facade of being oblivious to the commonality of our fates.

Women hate women who think they are special. Paati cried in the corners amma cried in long before you did.

All corners of walls look the same to all the women facing them.

I moved on from he who wouldn’t wear a condom to another who would.

What is that burning sensation?

The doctor couldn’t find an infection. She found guilt, raging like a fire.


Why do my panties burn holes in themselves?

The things I’ve put away into it.

Peanut-sized life.

Penis-sized men.

Loneliness. Wantonness. Lust. Longing.

Break ups.

Hope, curled up into a touch-me-not, and held with a breath.

Disappointment, curled up in foetal position.

The boy who lived across the road, whom I glimpsed through the leaves of trees late at night when the lights went on in his balcony as he studied, oblivious. The idea of what my life would have been had he lifted and noticed.

The words I never wrote. The words I ought never have wrote. The words I learned by rote.

They who held me and they who unheld me.

Embraces, softness, dissipated anger


Endless tears made solid and crusted like salts of the seven seas evaporated.

Flecking my food.

Moving down into a molecular cyst crystallising in my womb every time they measure enough to fill a teacup.

Atom by atom, building there, that thing of the earth we all eventually descend to.

Breaths that are held, in fear, while walking down a darkened street, my shadows acquiring the clacking of heels that reverberate down empty spaces attracting attentions I will them not to. Every route I should have taken instead.

Every friend I could have stayed with, but didn’t.

Prayers I’ve never known I knew.

The get-me-home-ness of the homeless.


There is no one waiting outside in the space reserved for companions, visitors.

‘Do you want to ask someone and let us know?’

You nod, and hesitate, and then shake your head and then unshake it. It is best to look at your fingers now. The finely manicured, well buffed, smoothed over with expensive hand cream bought on a hard-earned disposable income.

How coiffed are you, that you get to decide whose womb it is any way.

Do you hold the title deeds to your womb? Is what they are asking.

This is one of those times when you search for a man.

Like a phone list through your brain, you wonder whether it has mattered to anyone, and whether it will matter to anyone, once this vital part of you is summarily ejected from your body.

Alien thing. Bleeding little runt. You who speak in clots and spasms would know. It is the universal language of the suppressed.


The womb and I have not had a talk in a while. Ever since I made a badge of my claim to empowerment, we have lost a wavelength on which we could possibly ever mean the same thing.

It’s a friend you turn into a basement into which you relegate your struggles in neatly labelled cardboard boxes.

You can’t give them away to the kabadiwallah.

I tried once. He wouldn’t take them.

‘Ye nahibikega madam.’

‘These won’t sell.’


Your guilt is your own, your shame is your own, your relationships your own to recycle as you best can.

The joys that linger surface like foam to the surf.

He who went around the house switching off the lights.

He who brewed the tea with ginger.

He who loved a perfume you continued to love long after you unloved him.

But the ocean is still dank and dark.

Churning, churning in its quiet womb are the things you hope never turn to poisons you can’t contain.

No matter how much they tell you you are your own woman, you won’t ever really know till you authorise the surgery to take it all out. Before this thawing of the woman-ness comes the deep freeze of all the violence stored within.

Tiny clusters of knots born of seething, wanting, unwanting.


It takes a while but you unblink. Eventually.

‘Yes. Sure. You can take it out.’

‘Did you ask him?’

And her. And it. And them.

You can let them go.

This is the secret women without wombs quietly know.



Gayatri Jayaraman is Senior Editor, India Today in Mumbai, and is currently writing Unfuckwithability: Songs of the Painted-Dented, a collection of forty-nine poems in tribute to the New Delhi and Shakti Mills’ gangrape victims, and is single mom to a thirteen-year-old.