What Not To Say – a handy festive season guide

Festive season is here. You will be meeting family and friends. Even if you are some part Indian, you will be curious about the child-free status of some of the couples you meet. Here’s my Diwali gift to you.  A checklist of ‘What Not To Say’ to these people even though you think you are helping. I wish I could tell you I made this list up but I have personally heard each of these and surprisingly from unexpected quarters.

In an unfortunately mixed group

  • Any good news?
    • Different prefixes include – you are looking so healthy, you have a glow, you look tired, you look unwell, you have put on weight, you have lost weight, you are wearing an Anarkali/Angarkha/anything that doesn’t cut off circulation
  • Your parents are tired of waiting to become grandparents
  • These days you people think your career is your baby
  • Who will take care of you when you become old?
  • If you travel so much for work, how will you give <insert random kid’s name> a cousin to play with?
  • When we were your age, we didn’t think so much before having a child…your whole generation overthinks decisions
  • I saw on my Whatsapp group someone had posted that if you do deep breathing like Pranayama, it will help clear all your tubes for pregnancy
  • I saw this medicine on Facebook…
  • I saw this video where these liberal, feminist types are refusing to have children, are you also?
  • If you don’t increase our numbers, we will get run over by all other religions and communities
  • These days adoption has become fashionable

One woman to another

  • Have you tried <insert obscure herb>? It is supposed to help
  • Don’t drink too much coffee/tea/alcohol
  • Drink green tea
  • Don’t exercise too much
  • Exercise more
  • Have you tried yoga?
  • Don’t do CrossFit – it won’t stick
  • Try losing weight
  • Try meditating on the days of your ovulation – visualize your egg being fertilized
  • Have you tried veganism? I read it is helpful for getting pregnant
  • He will leave you for someone else <insert uncomfortable laughter> if you don’t do something soon
  • Isn’t ironic that you didn’t want kids before…
  • Don’t your in-laws say something?
  • You both work at home and even then it’s not happening?
  • Keep your legs up in the air after you have done it
  • There is this app you can use to track when to…
  • This is why I didn’t go on the pill
  • Go on a vacation for 5 days – but go on the right 5 days
  • When you go to <insert name of any Indian state you had no plans of visiting> there is this tree you can offer water to
  • You can go get this thread from this temple to tie on your right hand
  • That aunty’s daughter in the US also had the same problem, she quit her job and now she has twins
  • Don’t let him spend too much time in the bathroom if you know what I mean
  • IVF try kiya? There are some really good packages these days
  • There is this doctor (best said in Tamil) – avar kai vechaale porum. Translated – if he lays his hands on you it is enough
  • These days everything is so complicated. I toh got pregnant by accident
  • We also really struggled for two months
  • Are you really trying? I mean trying hard or chumma?
  • Which direction are you facing when you are….? North or East?

What you can say instead

  • Happy Diwali
  • You look great!
  • Here eat some mithai/sweet

See…not difficult at all 🙂 Happy Diwali and don’t be an asshat.

Image result for diya png

 

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The bullshit of “mild discomfort”

So as a part of this quest to diagnose why we are not pregnant yet, the doctor suggested a HSG test. As any brave woman would do, I asked her how painful it would be and if it can be done under sedation. She casually mentioned I would feel ‘mild discomfort’ just like regular menstrual cramps. Now as someone who has gone through menstrual cramps over 200 times (quick Math FTW!)  I was like I can totally deal with this!

By now you would know that for any procedure, I prepare as though I am the one performing it instead of being a patient. So I began by reading up on the dye, the mechanics, possible side effects and everything suggested mild discomfort but also most websites had this sort of weird declaration about how different people have different pain thresholds. Only WebMD mentioned serious pain but then they are also the ones who suggest cancer or Lyme’s disease anytime I key in a symptom so…

Warning 1: The billing lady

As I was paying for the procedure, the woman at the billing counter asked me who I had come with. I was of course by myself since I don’t typically expect the husband to stand guard for such things. She looked a little taken aback and asked me if I want to reschedule when he is available. I held back my wise-ass, “my uterus waits for no man” comments and handed over my card.

Warning 2: Declaration signing

As I was waiting in the hall, another staff member came up to me and called me on the side. She asked if I had come with someone. When I said no, she looked at me nervously and pulled out a declaration form for me to sign. The form basically stated that I was completely aware of this procedure; I have chosen to be unaccompanied and shall not hold the hospital responsible for anything.

Warning 3: Painkiller injections

I was then sent to receive painkiller shots. While I am happy to share that I am a firm believer in drugs when it comes to pain, but two painkiller injections? That left me wondering why we are trying so hard for “mild discomfort”.

Procedure: The unhelpful helper aunty

The procedure happened in an X-ray room and here also there were three other people in the room apart from the doctor and one helper aunty. The doctor asks me to relax (a hard thing to do in that position) and begins injecting the dye. Now let me tell you that I have had some pretty severe menstrual cramps, I suffer from frequent migraines and I have walked into a solid concrete wall and a giant tree (not making this up), so no stranger to pain. But this was someone twisting my insides like tying a water balloon for Holi. The worst thing was the helper aunty chuckled and asked me that if I cannot handle this, how I will endure the labour pain.

Realization: HSG was designed by men for women

As with how I deal with most of my issues, I came home and sought revenge by Googling to see if there are ANY tests that involved injecting anything into a penis and don’t hold your breath – there are none. No surprise there so I then looked up on Wiki to answer the question who the fuck decided it was a good idea to check for blockage in fallopian tubes like you would add Drainex to your sink. It then dawned on me that this was once again that time in history when two men got together and decided to devise a test for women because you know…who understands plumbing better.

Things I wish someone had told me:

  • Take someone with you. Someone who is okay with snot, tears, cursing and holding hands.
  • You will read that it sometimes is easier to get pregnant just after the HSG test. Unless you are into Immaculate Conception, this will not happen since you will hate men for a while and sex will be out of question
  • The “mild cramping” after the HSG will feel like you are carrying four women’s uteri during their period
  • Visit forums instead of generic websites with Getty Images photos. Women tell women things when things get shitty (not the helper aunty though – she hates you!)
  • If you are mad at your non-existent baby and are questioning if any of this is “worth it” – it is normal and you are not a monster

I know…you are welcome.

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3 out of 5 for my scan

Going for any sort of medical, diagnostic procedure in India is an experience by itself. With there being a sea of humanity waiting to be tested, screened, scanned, poked or probed; the staff doesn’t really care about small first-world things such as feelings, discretion, propriety etc.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have no grand illusions about me being a snowflake but at the same time I do get awkward if you are drinking chai or discussing which Shanti Sagar has the best chutney with four other people in the room when you are moving an ultrasound probe inside me.

I was undergoing my follicular study which basically means I was having a transvaginal ultrasound every week. Going to the same diagnostic center each week, establishes a strange relationship with those there. You don’t want to wave and shake hands in greetings of course, but neither can you waltz in with a poker face. So with awkward smiles, you sit and wait your turn.

Since the wait time typically for each of the scans is a minimum of two hours, I carry my Kindle and my laptop. I have been a silent listener to conversations around the modern day evils of technology, women in cities and the rise in infertility because of the use of laptops. I have no idea how laptops cause infertility in women unless one placed a searing hot Macbook on one’s abdomen and singed an ovary.

After about 10 pregnant women have gone in before me, I get called for my scan. Like a pro, I drop my pants and lie down waiting for the diagnostician to do her magic. The staff by now knows that I have been married for seven years and am sexually active therefore doesn’t feel the need to let me know before inserting a cold, lubricated probe inside me.

As I lie there being probed, my mind travels through a zillion places – why are there 4 additional women in the room (apart from the doctor and the lady who types up the report)? What kind of business model allows for it? This is like having that guy in the mall press a button for my parking ticket or like that guy who punches a hole in my receipt as I exit the department store. Oooh…I need to go to the supermarket to buy milk.  Suddenly, the diagnostician says I have one follicle on my right ovary that seems to have grown well. I swell in pride as though I personally watered it and raised it to good health.

After a few more pokes and prods, I am sent my way with my follicle report card and me red with hope and pride about my ovary’s superb performance.

The next day I receive a call from a call center associated with the diagnostic clinic asking me to rate the experience of my procedure on a scale of 1 – 5. I incredulously asked the woman on the other side, if she was aware of the procedure I went through. She said, “Yes madam, this is to get feedback on your TVS scan on xyz date.”  I thought back about the coldness and vague aches due to the prodding but I also remembered that’s about as much action I was getting that week since husband dearest was busy trekking the Himalayas then.

I replied with utmost seriousness, “Since my husband wasn’t in town this week, I will give you a 3.” The woman completely unflappable made me repeat it and typed the score and my comment. She thanked me for my positive feedback and hoped that I will continue to avail of the services in their clinics.

I still don’t know if this is being aired on some radio channel or some TV network as one of those prank calls. So if you do hear of it on air some place, let me know.

If it is not a prank, I am seriously amazed by the customer centricity of this chain and weird as it is, feel like a valued customer. Maybe they have a Facebook page I can Like.

 

Why am I talking about this?

Apparently 1 in 10 couples in India struggle with infertility. It shouldn’t be surprising given that we see as many or more number of IVF clinics as Dr.Batra’s hair transplant hoardings. But what is also interesting is that given how common it seems to be, it is incredibly hard to talk about. Let me rephrase that – it is incredibly hard to talk about to someone’s face. I am pretty sure any couple married for over three years with no kids is being discussed in some Indian household.

But for the couple in question, it is hard on so many levels! How do you explain constantly going missing for a few hours from work?  How do you explain that ugly adhesive square on your arm caused by the square sticker after countless blood tests? How do you explain cancelling weekend plans because you need to go get shots? How do you explain being broke with no visible sign of the money spent?

I am talking about this because I am sick of not being able to. I have the ludicrous privilege of having a husband who is both supportive when I have to cry and can also laugh in equal measure when you cannot do anything but just that.  I have parents on both sides who have been incredibly kind. I have friends who allowed me to crash at their place when treatments failed and I didn’t want to go home. Not everyone is this lucky.

I am also talking about it because for all my gratitude I am also deeply aware that literally 14 people in my life know about the struggle. I have been in forums (the Indian ones) where everyone sounds sad, plaintive, beseeching to gods and I was left wondering why I am not experiencing any such extremes. I stalked UK and US forums and was left scratching my head when they spoke about mandatory counseling and therapy whereas here there is no such thing. I heard some really funny jokes about ultrasound probes (which I thought were only in my head) from women I admire and I wondered about why aren’t we reading or hearing more of these!

And you can ask me why on earth should this be everybody’s business and I will tell you that in most cases, the silence is not by choice. The stigma, the insensitive questions, the ridiculous solutions people offer, the pity, the gossip, dealing with the idea that your body is failing you, worrying about what it will do to your relationships – professional or personal , one or all of these are deterrents. There is no “normal” in this conversation.

Also I am doing this because I find listening to stories helpful and I cannot keep these many jokes in my head. So here we are.

One more thing – my husband is a rock star (my rock and a star ha!) and also struggles, feels confused about many of these things I will be writing about. But his story is not mine to tell. That’s why what I am sharing will be mostly me (except for some of his unmissable jokes)…not because we weren’t in it together but because he should be free to hold the pen if and when he chooses to.

Sometimes just being in a place wipes you out…

Maybe a childhood home, maybe a café where you have had a lot of difficult conversations or a work place you never want to go back to. What is strange is when the heaviness comes from a place you have never been before.

I have never been to Nepal before. I have seen pictures of the Himalayan ranges and then some of the city in the news during 2015. But as I walked the streets, along with the smells and sounds was a wisp of sadness. Something I couldn’t put my finger on but I could feel in the crack of every broken building, every electric pole with mangled wires and every pothole along the way.

It makes me sound like I am from some developed country where none of these exist. But that is not true. Where I come from, the cracks in the buildings somehow feel like they ooze anger, the mangled wires shock enough to tell that they are live and the potholes, well…they are filled with the curses of those who drive over them.

Maybe it is me who brought that wisp of sadness. Asking questions on why it feels calm when there should be rage. Is what we see contentment or resignation to fate? Was that laughter or was that a sigh? If there are enough prayer flags and wheels does it bring peace? Is it peace or is it apathy? Does seeing grief in someone’s tired eyes, remind me of happiness within reach back home? Shouldn’t there be guilt if someone else’s arduous life makes me feel more than a twinge of gratitude for my own? Why am I constantly scanning faces for some extreme reaction? Am I seeking validation for screams ringing in my ears?

Sometimes just being in a place wipes you out. But most of the times, being in my head does the trick.

The Day After

It is the next day.
Pink pamphlets torn,
Full price mani-pedi &
Fewer floral messages
On my phone.

Their job has been done,
Their purpose served.
What more do you want –
A pat on the back or
For me to lower my gun?

Stop whining and playing your card,
Waving your flags fighting for a cause.
You have it easy at every turn on the way-
Climbing the ladder,
Sleeping your way.

Go back into the box I drew for you
Say the words I spoke for you
Feel the feelings I told you to feel
Give me your body,
To choose for you.

You are afterall defined by me
A wife, sister or daughter
Or a slut if you are free.
Come on my dear, don’t ask for more
You have a whole fucking day that I don’t.

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The hurt of being a woman and seeing the results of the U.S elections

I spent an entire day yesterday in sadness and quite frankly bewilderment. I was torn between thinking about writing this and wondering if it is my place to do so – considering I am an Indian citizen, an able-bodied, cisgender, Hindu, upper-caste, heterosexual woman in a same-race relationship where both of us are college educated, employed and come from privilege in a country that is going through its own tumultuous growing pains.

I am writing this from the core of my identity as a woman because that is the part of me that feels most beaten and bruised right now. I am at a stage where I am yet to get to thinking about how we will explain this to children in schools or at home because quite frankly I do not think I understand it enough for me to be able to explain this to anyone else with that level of conviction or hope.

I am feeling a deep rooted sense of disgust by how this win has legitimized sexual assault. It makes my skin crawl to read Nigel Farage’s statement which mocks at the idea of Trump being a sexual predator when he says, “don’t touch her for goodness sake” when talking about meeting with Theresa May. It is NOT amusing to hear this when you are a part of a group that experiences microaggressions each day around touch, consent and space. I am not saying that all of this didn’t happen before this election but it has now become the new “normal” and that makes me sick. I am appalled by how “guy talk” is now an openly acceptable defense for conversations that actually could be construed as criminal offense. I am extremely worried for friends who may now need to think of getting an IUD before January 20th

As someone ensconced in their own bubble of beliefs and values, I take full responsibility for not connecting with the other side and being blindsided by the ideological divide that runs so deep. But I definitely do not shoulder responsibility for signing up for this – I was ready to have arguments about pantsuits, being “emotional”, how being a woman doesn’t excuse you for corruption, on why anyone should not be expected to smile more to be “likeable” and more such. I was not ready to go back redraw the basics tenets of decency.

To all those in India who are reading this and wondering why I am taking all of this so seriously considering I don’t live in the U.S or to those who take pride in us electing Indira Gandhi and therefore do not see this as our issue – I am equally disgusted and sickened when Mulayam Singh Yadav makes comments on how boys make mistakes (while referring to rape) or when I hear senior members of the police force talk about how if during rape fighting back is not an option, it is best to lie back and enjoy the experience. It is just as bad when you express a political opinion not aligned with the popular view and the trolls immediately threaten sexual violence or begin the diatribe with body shaming, slut shaming or any form of abuse that belittles who you are as a woman.

I am not one of those who looks blindly to the West in aspiration on issues of gender but it truly sucks to be a woman and see all of this play out across the world in far harsher degrees than what it ought to be in 2016.

Fuck breaking the glass ceiling – it is back to feeling grateful if your body, your voice, your intellect, your being is respected as human and not some second rate “creature” and if you can escape each day feeling unscathed or a little less dirty.

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