I’m having the same dream again. This is the third time in as many months. I’m out of breath, huffing, and puffing, as I lift one foot after the other and climb each rung of the never-ending ladder. A sense of urgency pervades my being. There’s something that I’m desperately looking for and I will find it as soon as I reach the top of the ladder.
The tableau stretching before me is straight out of some dystopian movie. I must confess the setting jars me. Is it because the vista mirrors the sordid hopelessness of my heart?
It is a broken world lying in front of me. The earth has finally given up, whether, under the onslaught of the constant global warming or the indifference of its denizens, no one knows. It’s melting away like ice cubes leaking on a hot countertop in one corner. A clock hangs broken from a wall as red as blood, its numerals clustered together in the bottom, discarded. The hands are twisted and now march to a rhyme all their own.
I know why I dream about this clock. Time, in terms of minutes and seconds has ceased to hold any relevance for me anymore. I’ve learned to measure it in days, or weeks or months. Days marked from the start of my periods which tell me when I am the most fertile. Months measured by my cycle, not by the numbers on the calendar, a cycle that keeps ending in futility and stains of blood. More than six months have passed since Ayan and I decided to embark on this journey of family planning and I haven’t been able to conceive yet.
Teasing me in all their sunny glory are a bunch of eggs, scattered throughout. Fried, sunny side up. Hanging from the sky, splashed on the floor, swimming in the gelatinous clouds, or peeking from behind corners. There was a time I used to love them. Now I can’t bear to look at them anymore. They seem to demand joviality that I am presently unable to feel, their presence a reminder of a slowly strengthening conviction that I might not be able to have children. Advanced age, our increasingly stressful lives, and plain bad luck might have affected my ability to conceive and subsequently bear a child. In short, I am afraid my eggs are fried!
A wall of blood-red bricks dominates the scene. It seems to be shedding the tears I haven’t. Tears for the dreams that are dashed to smithereens when every month my periods commence. I pick up the broken fragments of the dream painstakingly, and revive it once more, month after month in a vicious circle of hope and despair. A figure stands in front of the weeping wall. I have to reach that figure. I’m convinced with the unexplained certainty we find only in dreams, that he holds the secret to my happiness. He can tell me what is to be done to break this cycle of broken hopes. I quicken my steps on the rungs. But in my haste, I fail to notice that the rungs of the ladder are broken. I stumble on one and I slip and fall into oblivion.
That’s when I wake up. Ayan stands at the foot of the bed looking at me with concern.
“Bad dreams?” He inquires. “You were quite agitated there.”
“I guess so,” I reply nonchalantly. I don’t want him to know how desperate each passing day is making me. He is no fool though. The look in his eyes is enough to tell me that he can guess what is going on in my mind.
“I think you’re apprehensive about our visit to the doctor. It is better to know if there is some problem with us instead of wondering about it. They can also take corrective action if it’s required. Science has made a lot of progress in the last few years. Some things that seemed impossible earlier are routine these days. Just remember that whatever happens, I love you. You’re my life. I’ll love you no matter what.” He sits next to me in the bed and nuzzles his lips under my ears. “Now get out of there before I start getting other ideas. We have to get ready for the visit.”
I laugh at him. I’m lucky to have him, whatever my parents and the world might say. Ayan and I met while we were doing our residency after completing MBBS. Belonging to different communities, it was an uphill task to have the families convinced for our marriage, a task that we could not accomplish after all. I still remember the hurt look in my mother’s eyes. She tried her best to convince me to give up the idea.
“Couldn’t you find anyone else to fall in love with?” She had asked in a caustic tone. “We are progressive open-minded people. We wouldn’t have stopped you from love marriage if only he was of the same community.”
I hadn’t held back in pointing out her hypocrisy. As if love was some object to be retrieved at the lost and found section of the malls she was used to frequent with her friends. Of course, my actions would bring shame to my parents, they were so concerned with what everyone thought. Probably that’s why she hadn’t hesitated in flinging those curses at my retreating back.
“You ungrateful girl. You’re going to make us a laughing stock among society and our friends. Do you think you can be happy after inflicting such unhappiness on your parents?”
The dream has awakened familiar doubts. Is it karma getting back at me for not being a docile daughter doing quietly what was expected of her? For daring to be happy after bringing untold pain to my parents?
When both Ayan’s parents and mine refused to agree to our union, we decided to marry anyway. A happier, more in love couple cannot be imagined. You have to see us together to believe our camaraderie and felicity. We are like two peas in a pod, relishing out togetherness and camaraderie. Our days are golden and the nights sparkling as diamonds with our love for each other. Sometimes I feel like a balloon filled with happiness and floating away. My only regret is that we waited so long to convince our parents. Eight years, a time we could have spent together in each other’s happy company.
There is one nagging doubt coiled at the bottom of my heart, like a serpent ready to strike. So much good luck never lasts long. We have wrangled all this joy from the hands of fate by sheer determination and obstinacy and fate doesn’t like to be slighted. I smile, I joke, I laugh, I love and I wait. I wait for the blow to fall as it eventually will.
We both are clear we want a big family. As soon as we are married, we happily start planning for welcoming the first of our long brood. Ayan wants all girls just like me as is fond of mentioning. I’ll be happy with either boys or girls. We’re extremely excited the first month we try. After all we’re healthy, happy, and do it like bunnies. It should be a piece of cake. But the one pink line stubbornly stays pink that month. As it does every subsequent month.
Doubts spring into our hearts. Is everything okay? I see questions in everyone’s eyes, including Ayan, and put up a brave face. These things take time sometimes. But every time the line stays single, a little something dies inside me. I am scared when the time for the test comes. It is getting harder and harder to cope with the unsaid doubts that’s there in everyone’s eyes.
I sit in the doctor’s outer office and wait for my name to be called. The shiny cold steel chair is devoid of comfort and warmth, two things I am in sore need of now. I desperately wish for a warm big sofa with big cuddly arms and covered with soft enveloping material, something in which I could disappear. But as they say, if wishes were horses… Ayan sits next to me. He is jittery and keeps shaking his legs which he does whenever he is nervous. All our love, camaraderie, and friendship hasn’t prepared us for this moment.
I look around at the faces around me. They have the same discomfort written on their faces. After all, we are the failures. Those who couldn’t do the one simple thing we have been put on this earth to do. Bear children. And we have all been drawn together to this place looking for hope. And affirmation.
The fertility clinic has an impeccable reputation and a success rate of seventy percent in difficult cases. Whispered words and kindred spirits have directed Ayan and me to this place, a haven for couples looking for answers and sometimes just help.
Me, I am not even aware of the questions I have or the help I need. Ayan assures me that realizing questions need to be asked is the first step in this difficult journey.
We have undergone a barrage of tests which we are assured are routine, a few days earlier. The results today would tell us if we can go ahead and plan for happiness or we require assistance.
The display board pings our token number and we get up with heavy hearts. Prisoners going for the guillotine might have had more cheerful demeanors. The nurse directs us to the door and leaves. We knock and then enter, subdued and somber.
The doctor sits behind a desk, protected from the anxiety of patients like us behind a sheaf of papers. I realize they are our test reports. He motions for us to sit.
I know it’s bad news from the way he refuses to look us in the eye. My mother’s curses have come to roost. I have spent too much time on my career and now I can’t be a mother.
I am aged,
I am stressed,
I’ve been smoking,
I’ve been working too hard,
Too much pollution,
Not enough exercise
Too much exercise
I mentally go through the reasons I could have messed this up! The doctor begins speaking but I hardly listen, when I hear the word ‘infection’ and pay attention.
It isn’t me. My eggs are okay. Thank God! Relief floods through me. I am not the culprit.
But wait! What is that doctor saying?
‘Mumps?’ For God’s sake… Don’t we all have it some time or the other? So Ayan had it when he was a child. So what?!! This can’t be right!
It’s Ayan. He sits there with an ashen face. I try to squeeze his hands. To show him I am there for him. But there is no answering pressure. He can’t believe it is because of him. That we can’t have kids because the problem lies with him. This is when it hits me.
I wasn’t the only person who thought it was me responsible. He thought so too!
There is an unspoken bond between women and guilt. We assume we are the guilty party and can find reasons enough to justify the assumption. How easy it had been to believe that I was the one deficient! That I was the one responsible for the absence of kids in the marriage. It had been so easy for Ayan to show his love when he had thought the blame lay at my feet. Now that the tables have turned my love and my support isn’t as welcome as he would have wanted his affection to be. I feel as if I have opened my eyes and looked at my darling husband for the first time.
The doctor has finished speaking and he looks at our faces. Ayan’s face is full of panic and shock writ across my features.
“I hope you understand your options. It would be better if you two discuss them among yourselves before coming to a decision. You can come back to us for taking things forward whenever you are comfortable. Preferably sooner because madam’s age is also advanced. If you go for IVF with donor sperm, we would advise you to go for the procedure soon before she turns forty.”
We leave the clinic in a daze. Ayan refuses to talk with me on the way or once we reach home. I try to reach out to him, to tell him that it’s okay. We will find a way to go through this together. Only together seems a dream now. Ayan has shut me out totally. Grief is a strange thing. Shared grief can bring people together or break them apart. And if this sense of loss isn’t something to grieve over what is?
My mind goes back to that desolate landscape of my dream. Maybe that man isn’t the one to show me how to get out of this cycle. Maybe he is me. Broken and bloodied. Showing me that the path ahead of me is a tough one. We’ve got to decide what to do about the future.
The doctor has given us the option for IVF with donor sperm. Somehow it doesn’t seem to be the same as having our child. Our flesh and blood with our genes. A child with Ayan’s smile or my eyes, a reminder that we have together made a miracle.
I wonder what Ayan thinks. This is a conversation I never thought we would have. It is three days before Ayan’s grief-induced haze fizzles out. I know he is okay when he comes and sits next to me after dinner the third night. He takes my hand in his and continues to sit quietly. I wait for him to speak which I know he will, once he finds the right words. Till then this simple act of sitting next to me, with my hands in his is enough. Enough for me to know that we aren’t broken. That we’ll brave this blow together as we have done earlier in the past too.
“Simi, I’m not able to find the words. I don’t know how to do this. I have to apologize but I feel what I have done is so bad I won’t find the words that would make you forgive me. I’m sorry, my love. I’m so so sorry! Not only for being the one responsible for the loss of our dreams but of a far greater transgression. I’d assumed that it was you when I should have kept an open mind. It could’ve been any one of us. I am a medical professional and I know the statistics. Yet, when the time came, I behaved in a manner befitting someone ignorant and unaware. Please forgive me. I have no excuse.”
His contrite words and the dejected look is enough to melt my heart. How do I tell him that what he has done is far less serious than what I’ve done? For I’m guilty of this transgression too. When we don’t love and appreciate ourselves, how can we expect someone else to?
“Ayan, let us put this behind us. This is a test for us and we’ve to get through this. I am sure we will weather this storm if we have faith in ourselves.” I try to let him know I’m not angry at him and there is nothing to forgive. I steer his thoughts towards the issues that face us urgently. “It’s imperative that we decide on our course of action. You heard what the doctor said. We need to make a decision soon.”
It is a difficult conversation that we have in store for us. But difficult conversations like these are what make us stronger and bring us closer as a couple. It is soon clear he isn’t in favor of IVF with donor sperm. Is the future as hopeless as it seems now? We’re unable to reach a decision and decide to sleep on it. The morning might dawn better and with hope.
I’m again huffing and puffing up the ladder, compelled to search for that something that holds the key to my happiness. Why don’t I know what it is? And why this dream again? It’s nothing but my despair stretching out in front of me, endlessly. But wait! Why have I not looked at it before? A sliver of hope in the guise of a little sapling. This is the answer I’ve been searching for. They say hope is a thing with feathers. I say hope for me is a little being that doesn’t know who gave it birth, but needs only love, affection, and care to grow into something wonderful. I’m sure the two of us have our hearts overflowing with love. We just need someone to shower it onto. I finally know what the dream has been trying to tell me.
The six kids rush into the kitchen all at once as I give the call for breakfast. It’s pandemonium as the small room fills up with their hearty chatter. All of them love fried eggs, sunny side up, just like their mummy. Their features, height, and color vary but they are all similar in their smiling excitement. They may not be our flesh and blood but they are our heart and soul. So what if Ayan and I did not create them? They fill our lives with love, laughter, and hope, our little miracles.
Connect with Penmancy:
Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!