“Poetry at its best can do you a lot of harm.”– Sylvia Plath
Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…
This was so annoying! Why would anyone have a giant white clock on the very white wall of their office? A regular-sized one could do the same job without grating on the nerves of anxious people waiting out here. As if the nature of the appointment wasn’t nerve wracking enough! Apparently, reading through one’s favorite book of poetry doesn’t do much to help the matters either. What was she thinking bringing Sylvia Plath along to such an anxiety ridden event? She read the poem again, written by Sylvia when she was just 14, the drama clear as day, along with the other facets of her curious mind, and sighed loudly. Her mind conjured up everything that led to this moment as the poem that was written more than 70 years ago resonated with her current predicament.
I thought that I could not be hurt – By Sylvia Plath
I thought that I could not be hurt;
I thought that I must surely be
impervious to suffering—
immune to pain
My world was warm with April sun
my thoughts were spangled green and gold;
my soul filled up with joy, yet
felt the sharp, sweet pain that only joy
6 years ago
“You guys look so cute together!!!”
“Made for eachother!”
“Ohhh!! Romance is in the air…”
“Gosh Sri! You look gorgeous! Wish you guys a blissful married life!!!”
“Congratulations to both of you! May your future shine with the brightness of a thousand stars…”
Reading all of the comments and responding to each and every one of them was becoming a full-time job. It had only been a week since she got married to Hari and just a day since she’d put up the pictures, an album with merely 10 photos, highlights of the beautiful ceremony and other functions, which had garnered more than 200 likes and other reactions and some 150 comments from her family and friends. The pictures were not even the ones taken by their very professional wedding photographer. Her friends were going gaga over her wedding saree and make-up, complimenting her on her jewelry and the elaborate wedding henna that took 5 painstaking hours to be put (and a whole night to dry out and be removed), which looked absolutely magical on her wedding day. But most of all everyone seemed to be pleased by seeing her with Hari.
Hari. She was still surprised at the rate in which everything had happened and she was still coming to terms with the fact that she married the guy her father chose for her. After a short courtship, during which they met every single day, for coffee or for movies, spoke about everything under the sun, found out about each other’s likes and dislikes, political affiliations and religious inclinations, and every single conversation reaffirmed their decision, that “yeah we are good together” (and yet their birth charts were matched, because how could that be missed…?), they got married with all the pomp and show of a typical South Indian wedding.
It was a grand 5 days affair. With dancing and singing, stage performances by family members and friends, yummy delicacies (most of which she did not eat because hello… she was the bride!) and all the other requirements that made it “the wedding of the decade” for her family. Her father hadn’t left a single stone unturned, to make her day special. Speaking of whom, unsurprisingly she had a better relationship with her father now, as she’d recognized finally how alike they both were. He did trick her into saying yes, but she would never regret it because after all Hari was “the one”. And yes, in a few short months he had become the firm sounding board and voice of reason in her somewhat flambouyant existence. Who would’ve thought that a perpetual dreamer would fall for an arranged match, that she would abandon a lifetime worth of disdain towards the institution of arranged marriage? Not her…
My spirit soared above the gulls
that, swooping breathlessly so high
o’erhead, now seem to brush their whir-
ring wings against the blue roof
of the sky.
(How frail the human heart must be —
a throbbing pulse, a trembling thing —
a fragile, shining instrument
of crystal, which can either weep,
So, as she got ready to leave for her honeymoon in Northern Ireland to see the Cliffs of Moher, which she’d wanted to visit ever since she’d seen them in “The Princess Bride” as a child, she felt happy, content. She saw her future spread out in front of her like the ocean, the possibilities were limitless. She felt like an albatross ready to take flight towards the colorful horizon from the majestic cliffs, with her partner, her lover and best friend, who was her opposite in every way imaginable, yet absolutely perfect for her. But there was this feeling, that insistent ache in her belly, waiting for the other shoe to drop. It was part of being an anxious person, that makes you look at joy through the dark glasses of cynicism. “What’s next?”, her mind would ask, and when she couldn’t answer, it would struggle and make her suffer. So she came up with a 5 year plan according to which they would first buy their own home, travel the world, fulfill all their fancies and then plan for a baby. Seemed like an ideal plan.
Then, suddenly my world turned gray,
and darkness wiped aside my joy.
A dull and aching void was left
where careless hands had reached out to destroy
my silver web of happiness.
The hands then stopped in wonderment,
for, loving me, they wept to see
the tattered ruins of my firma-
4 years ago
It started when they turned 2, with the comments on her 2nd anniversary post on Facebook, when they had visited Rome. People being people and wanting to know when would they add a little one to the mix.
“Sri all the pictures are gorgeous and you are glowing! Is it just Hari’s love or something else entirely?” *wink wink*
“Sri and Hari you make a beautiful couple. When are you giving us the good news?” *generic smiley face*
Her friends were relentless and her family members, unbearable. The speculation was getting out of hands.
“Is that a tiny bump I see or have you put on weight?” *wink*, a distant cousin wrote.
To which Sri replied cheekily, “Oh honey! It’s obviously a food baby! I am in Rome, why would it be anything else? We have been practically living on pizzas and gelatos ever since we arrived here.” *so many winky faces*
3 years ago
On their 3rd anniversary they decided on New Zealand and skydiving. The comments were borderline offensive then.
“Wow Sri, you jumped out of a plane? What a great achievement! I would love to see you with a little one on your next anniversary though.” *generic smiley face*, her cousin who’d had a baby as soon as she got married had written.
Sri started feeling that these “generic smiley face” and “winky face” emojis were all a sign of condescension that people used when they wanted to get away with making her feel bad about her life choices.
It was not just on Facebook and Instagram, there were the innumerable family functions to which she dragged herself and Hari, only to be bombarded with the feared “baby” question. Some even showing shock and surprise at the sign of no baby stroller in their hands.
“What? No baby yet?”, an uncle asked following it up with raucous laughter.
“We really hope to see you guys with a little version of Sri or Hari next time.”, the smiling aunty would say, to which they could only nod and smile back.
Then the plethora of baby-shower invites started showing up. Friends who had gotten married at around the same time as them, siblings, cousins, it seemed as if everyone they knew were having babies. By the time their 4th anniversary rolled in, their parents had started feeling the pressure as well. (Who were they kidding? They had started feeling the pressure of presenting a grandchild as soon as Sri and Hari had left for their honeymoon.)
So, her mother started fasting every Monday to appease Lord Siva, her mother-in-law started doing poojas in their names at their local temple, praying for a grandchild. And her father, a self-proclaimed agnostic and an all-around pragmatic guy, who used to take great pleasures in making fun of all forms of superstitions was suspiciously keeping quite. He even took trips to faraway places of worship with her mother in the hopes of “the good news” (of course at her mother’s insistence, but still).
2 years ago
Sri didn’t want to have a baby for the wrong reasons. Her inner rebel not letting her bow down to this obvious societal coercion. But to maintain the peace within their respective families and their collective sanity, they finally decided it was time. So, they started trying.
They thought that it would be simple, that if everything was done correctly, they’ll be pregnant before their 5th anniversary and everybody would go home happy. Turns out it wasn’t that straightforward. And they did do everything right! They visited a bunch of OBGYNs before settling in on the best one. Sri began eating clean after years, exercising regularly, finally leading a healthy and immaculate lifestyle, to reduce stress she even started meditating. And then there were the ovulation charts and the test kits and the multivitamins, keeping track of her cycle, the numerous books and other sources on “How to get pregnant!”, taking the fun out of the very act of conception, becoming more robotic as days started blending together changing into weeks and then months.
She would become hopeful every single month, only to be disappointed when she’d get her period. It was so strange that something that she thought could wait, was now making her wait. That as time was flying by she was getting worried and obsessed with it. Why wasn’t it happening for them? They spoke with their doctor. Some tests were done and it turned out that she had a long standing illness, PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome), a condition in which the eggs instead of being released from the ovaries during ovulation, are retained within, turning into cysts. That combined with her irregular thyroid levels were hindering their chances of conceiving. She was advised hormone therapy. Each month, at the end of her menstrual cycle, she was injected with gonadotropin-releasing hormones to release eggs from her ovaries… hormones which started pushing her already weakened state of mind to the edge.
She left her thriving career because she thought maybe it was all the stress that was causing these problems. She followed all the rules religiously, taking all her vitamins and medicines on time, exercising everyday, meditating and doing yoga, saying no to junk food, eating only organic food, working on losing weight and try, try, try… Every month they would try, wait, with bated breath and high hopes. Every month right on time she would get her period. The handful of times when she would be late and then get them, led to absolute heartbreak.
The faith she was holding on to was slipping through her fingers. Even her shining light of eternal positivity, her husband, was turning sombre each day. Actually that’s what did it! His smiles were becoming more restrained than natural, he looked tired all the time, his eyes would still light up whenever she entered the room he was in, but they were losing their distinctive shine. His shoulders stooped with the burden of their shared sadness. She saw him day after day, changing, slipping, sinking. And she spiraled even more.
After two years of nothing but false alarms, they decided to go for the IVF treatment and visited a fertility clinic. They were told that their chances of getting pregnant in a single cycle were pretty low, around 30 percent, as Sri was already 31 years old and had PCOS. They were obviously crestfallen but did not lose hope.
IVF (In-Vitro Fertilization) has become the best available option, a savior of sorts, for childless parents, hoping and praying desperately for a baby of their own. But there is much agony attached to this one procedure. Agony in the form of not knowing that you would conceive. In the form of the fear of literally putting all your eggs in this one fragile little basket. And if you are unable to conceive even after going through such an intensive medical procedure, multiple hormone injections and stress, it all compounds an already declining self esteem with even more trauma, resulting in it’s complete annihilation.
(How frail the human heart must be—
a mirrored pool of thought. So deep
and tremulous an instrument
of glass that it can either sing,
A lone tear escaped from her right eye as she read the last stanza of the poem… which she quickly swiped off. She couldn’t do this on her own. After 2 IVF cycles, and no baby, she was here to talk about their options. Hari should’ve been here. She should’ve let him come along. But he’d looked just so burned out, she had told him not to, that she could handle it. Turns out, she couldn’t. As the barrage of tears threatened to make their appearance, a shadow fell over her. One she knew as well as her own. He took his seat next to her, and pulled out the book of poetry from her death grip. He held her much colder hands in his warm ones. She put her head on his shoulder and wept. Out of love for this amazing man, her partner in everything, out of the relief and gratefulness for his presence, out of the sheer anguish of knowing what laid ahead for them. He held onto her, steadfast in his attempt to comfort her. Letting her squeeze out all of her sorrow on to his pristine oxford blue button-down shirt. The ball of dread inside her stomach started melting gradually and by the time they were called in for their appointment, she was ready. Because come what may, she was sure of one thing. That they would always have each other.
Writer’s note: This is a strictly fictional story about the realities of the struggles of infertility. Having gone through something similar to this, I know exactly how it feels to be on that side, but that doesn’t make me an expert. There is absolutely no judgement towards anyone in this story. Towards the people who make plans, or those who don’t. People who want children, are trying to get pregnant/are pregnant, those who opt for IVF or adoption or surrogacy, or those who have decided against having children at all. This is just a story, that I’ve written and shared in a bid to bring attention to this one single issue, on the various societal expectations and pressures which do not always lead to the right results and the unfair stigma attached to it. So, please be kind to each other. There is much to live for and to life.