Two years ago, I was your average, invincible thirty-something with everything going for her. I had a career I loved, had managed to bag the man of my dreams against all odds, had the perfect future lying in wait. The way I figured it, my body would step up to bat the day I decided it was time to get pregnant, not that I was in any hurry to get there.
But, through it all, I was sure whenever I did want a baby, I’d be able to complete the family nine months on. There was no reason to think otherwise given the way women in my family and all around me managed to pop out babies.
Nobody tells you that having a baby will be the most difficult thing you’ve ever encountered.
Films and novels will have you believe that you get knocked up the minute you get intimate. God knows, that’s the fear drummed into many a teen-aged daughter. Then, there’s the ubiquitous blessing showered on girls in my country the minute they marry: “May you have many children”. But nobody tells you that the road to motherhood is no cakewalk. That it’s not just biology at play, but luck too. And that’s a pity. It would have made the burden I bear a little lighter, a little more bearable. Two missed miscarriages in as many years. Nobody told me this was even a possibility.
In May 2012, on our first anniversary, the first time we really gave ‘trying to conceive’ a serious shot, I managed to get pregnant. Oh joy! My body was indeed delivering on one of its most basic functions, just as I expected it to. From the heady discovery of the pink line in the bathroom to the first doctor’s appointment and the first flush of blood test results, everything was one smooth ride, again just as I expected. And I was oh-so-complacent about it all. There was no awe in the whole experience and I did not have a moment’s concern. In between, there was a wedding in the family and I danced around, tottered around on heels, ate exactly what I pleased and in general lived it up, helped to a large degree by the near absence of pregnancy symptoms. Even the first, and only, swipe of pink discharge did nothing to alarm me. I even bought a baby book to record my thoughts and hopes.
Then, it was time for my first ultrasound, where I discovered that expectations and reality are two entirely different things. I was supposed to be eight weeks pregnant, but there was no heartbeat. Worse yet, my baby had stopped growing weeks back, and I never suspected a thing. My body had gone from being a vessel of new life to a graveyard while I was making merry.
The doctor told me to double check a week later, just in case the foetus was a slow starter. How I had hated the word foetus. How inadequately it described a being that was the object of so many dreams, hopes and prayers. Unlike many others, I may not have really struggled for the baby, but I did say a heartfelt prayer of thanks for him/her. And I did everything I could, from painful progesterone injections to bed rest, to give the pregnancy a chance of continuing. All for naught. A week and some days on, I had a D&C operation and the ‘product of conception’—the medical fraternity really outdoes itself with this term–was sent for testing to figure out what went wrong. My husband and I, too, subjected ourselves to myriad tests in the hope of ferreting out the culprit.
Again, what a waste of time, effort and money. Because our reports were clean, bar two false scares regarding the presence of TB in my uterus and the baby having Down’s Syndrome. The first scare was unavoidable, but easily eliminated by further testing, but the second one did a right number on me. I could have avoided that mind fuck if only my doctor had not spoken through her hat! She lost nothing. I lost a week or two worrying about the increased risk in my next pregnancy.
Oh yes, I was let down by my body and badly rattled, but I was sure there would be a next time. Endless hours spent Googling miscarriage and everything related to it, told me that the chance of lightening striking twice was just 5%. On doctor’s orders we were told to wait at least six months before trying again so we took heart and life went on. It took a long time for me to get over the crying jags, mostly because I could not believe it could happen to me, but I was slowly pulling myself together.
A couple of months after my first baby would have been born, had all gone well, I conceived again. This time round, I was determined to leave no margin for error. I pigged out on vegetables and dals, popped pills like they were going out of fashion, went to the hospital for weekly blood tests, drank 2 litres of water daily, went out for regular walks, took longs afternoon naps—all things I could never make myself do before. In between, I prayed and Googled for every possible thing that could go wrong. Of that, there was no dearth. Besides, once bitten, twice shy so this time I forced myself and my husband to keep completely mum about the news, at least till we heard a heartbeat. All my endless reading after all made it perfectly clear that the heartbeat pretty much guarantees you are home and dry.
Not true. One morning we were sending up fervent thanks after being told that our baby had a heartbeat, but by evening all my relief turned to ash in my mouth: The heart rate was very slow. Once again, I was told to wait a week to see if things got better. Once more I watched the clock with increasing anxiety, more like mind-numbing fear. So much so that I had to take sick leave and just sat on my bed all day long, worrying, hoping, praying.
The following week brought a new learning. No amount of praying will bail you out if it’s not meant to be. I was almost resigned as I lay on that table. I was the one to first say it: “The baby hasn’t grown, right?” This baby, too, left me without my knowing it. What’s worse is that I never saw his/her heartbeat. When it was there I was too much of a nervous wreck to spot it, and this time, when I was calmer, it was no longer there.
In hindsight, perhaps, there were signs that I chose to ignore. My progesterone level was low, the second batch of hCG reports were doubling more slowly, that pink discharge, absolutely no pregnancy symptoms. But, no matter how I wrack my brains, I can’t think of one thing I could have done differently to change the outcome. But it does nothing to absolve me of my guilt. If only I was a younger woman, none of this would have happened. And with me I have dragged down the one person I love the most in the world. My misfortune has become his cross to bear. I did not think my heart could break any further but it did when my husband said “You know this was the first time I could make out the baby’s shape, head and all”.
At the end of the rollercoaster ride, I have learnt that recurrent miscarriage does not bring with it the exact same batch of emotions. The first time round I was left reeling with shock, guilt and bitterness. With this second certain-miscarriage I am oscillating between numbness and a deep anger with the now-established failure of my body. After the first D&C, I would look at pregnant women around me and wish it was me. Envy possibly was the lowest emotion I felt. This time, I am in a very ugly place. While waiting to get home after my operation, we saw an old man trying to push a stalled car along. I asked my husband to help. But when I discovered that the girl in the car was pregnant, I actually, seriously felt angry that he helped at all. I really don’t like what I am becoming.
So I have pledged to myself that if I am ever blessed with a daughter, the last colour I will cloak her in will be pink. God knows she will have enough of that colour in later life. From her quest for the pink line whenever she is ready to conceive—and I hope it is not a long, painful wait–to, god forbid, the end of her dreams signaled by the dreaded pink discharge.