(An extract from Rohini S Rajagopal's 'What's a Lemon Squeezer doing in my Vagina? A Memoir of Infertility', a witty, moving and intensely personal retelling of the author's five-year-long battle with infertility offering a no-holds-barred view of her circuitous and highly bumpy road to motherhood.)
At weddings and holiday resorts, airports and cinema halls, I looked around for couples who seemed to be our age and did not have children, as a way of validating our experience. It was a relief to know that we were not the only ones. Once, on a late-night movie outing, I spotted a young couple in the basement parking lot of a mall. They were getting into the car next to ours. I assumed that they did not have children because I didn’t see any around them. My fantasy lasted only a short while before I noticed a pink hospital file in the rear seat of their sedan. It was a pregnancy folder. My heart sank. Even she was pregnant, just not visibly so. This non-pregnant breed was dwindling rapidly.
When you are denied something, your mind grossly overestimates its value. I rejected all the gifts in our lives and dwelled on its single deficiency. Pregnancy was an exclusive club and I wanted to break in. I envied the special treatment and attention a pregnant woman attracted. She is offered the most comfortable chair. Someone is always ready to carry her bags. Everyone checks on her well-being. In fact, her pregnancy, with its highs and lows, is the very topic of conversation. In some ways, pregnancy was more important to me than having the child itself. I was clear-eyed enough to know that there is nothing glamorous about parenting. It meant clutter, drudgery, illness, responsibility, and tying my life-long happiness to someone else’s well-being. Pregnancy, in contrast, seemed like a short-lived, light-hearted summer love. I imagined a breezy nine months spent cradling my baby bump and preening in front of the mirror.
With my Bollywood-themed imagination I kept choreographing the different ways in which I would find out that I was pregnant.
Scenario one. I wake up one day to realize that my period is a few days late. There’s an unused home pregnancy test lying in the bathroom. I casually open the pack and place two drops of urine to test, just in case I am . . . and guess what? I am pregnant. Great! I wasn’t expecting that.
Scenario two. I am feeling unusually tired and weak in office. I put it down to work pressure and continue plodding along. When I get up to gather my laptop, charger and data cable for yet another meeting, my head starts spinning and I faint to the ground. Colleagues rush me to hospital and, no, it’s not brain tumour or blood cancer . . . I am just pregnant! What a surprise! Who would have thought?
I tripped on every aspect of pregnancy. How would I break it to Ranjith? What maternity clothes would I buy? Where would we go for our babymoon? Which birthing clinic would I opt for? How long would I go on maternity leave? Every detail was accounted for while I waited impatiently for the two magic lines to appear on the pregnancy test.
Month after month, in the days leading up to my period, I imagined that I was pregnant. I scrutinized every premenstrual symptom (fatigue, lower abdominal pain, backache) and convinced myself that it had worked this time. I googled pregnancy symptoms and matched them with my own. I took ‘Am I Pregnant?’ pop quizzes that said there was a 55 percent chance that I was pregnant. Some months I took home pregnancy tests (HPTs), and when they turned out negative I searched for stories of women who had false-negative HPTs. I climbed stairs slowly, avoided bending over and rode gently over speed breakers so as to not cause a miscarriage inadvertently. I ate pregnant, slept pregnant, walked pregnant and talked pregnant. I willed and commanded my body to be pregnant—until my period showed up, sometimes five agonizing days late, raising hopes and then dashing them to the ground. Every month I wept and wailed. Each time it felt like I had miscarried. My mind swung between hope, excitement, anticipation and heartbreaking despair. How could I mourn the loss of something that didn’t even exist?
Things came to a head when at first the ‘global-average-time-to-get-pregnant’ milestone whooshed past, and then the ‘twelve months of regular intercourse without protection’ timeframe defined by fertility medicine. I began considering a visit to a fertility specialist. Even after the thought first made its appearance in my head I shelved it for as long as I could, hoping that I could get away with not making that visit, that somehow I would get pregnant before any intervention was sought. But the gnawing feeling began to grow that something had to be done. This was not working out left to ourselves. Ranjith still stuck to his view that ‘nothing is wrong’.
I pushed and prodded him.
I reasoned, ‘At least let us go and find out. If nothing is wrong, then we can relax and wait for it to happen naturally. But if something is wrong it gives us the chance to rectify it.’