“Hi Sita, unfortunately it is a negative”

“Hi Sita, we have received the result of the pregnancy blood test; unfortunately, it’s negative, we are all very sorry” is a phrase I have heard all too often. It’s a call I dread, one that tears open my wounded heart to bleed free each time.

The reason for this ache is infertility – the dark secret that our society tends to hide in the closet, afraid of its ugly head popping out when in company. It’s not that we are only ashamed of it; it’s also because we do not know how to handle it.

As I write this article, it has only been a day since I last heard the phrase above. Our second attempt at an embryo transfer using a donor egg had failed. And as of 2 months ago, I have been living with infertility for 7 years. What exactly does 7 years of ‘trying to conceive’ involve, you may wonder? Other than my life being taken over by the baby-making project, for me it has involved a whole bunch of things.

Hundreds of medical tests (I once had 21 vials of blood drawn out – no, this is not something I would joke about), nutritional advice, various supplements, hypnotherapy, theta healing, acupuncture, reflexology, yoga, meditation, spirit babies, energy work, a  laparoscopy, dye test, immunology testing, a hysteroscopy, an endometrial receptivity analysis (ERA) test, injections after injections and IVF. Multiple IVFs; followed by two donor egg cycles. (All the while, hoping and praying each month that I’m pregnant.)

For the longest time, I would keep this journey to myself, only revealing certain bits to a few individuals. It is so personal and unless you are in a similar position, there simply is no way you can begin to even understand. Then last October, circumstances prompted me to share my story. We had just been through a gruelling 9 months of IVFs with no success, and gossip was rife. Before anyone else made my story the headline of their storytelling, I thought I’d better take the lead role. I started writing, sharing aspects of my journey on my blog.

A year later, I am still here, with no baby in hand, but with a whole lot of other treatments under my belt. As of today, I can account for four IVFs, one ERA test (a mock embryo transfer test), two donor egg cycles and a total of four embryo transfers. And I have never been pregnant. Not once in all these years.

Since sharing my story, many people have commented on how ‘brave’ I am to let it out. Brave, because our society and culture at large, considers it taboo. Because we tend to prioritise and celebrate having offspring and everything related to children. But living with infertility is brave in itself. Having just received the news about my non-pregnancy, I am currently in a state of pure anger. I feel robbed and violated. I am infuriated and this fire is burning deep inside me. Anger because I cannot believe just how unlucky we (my husband and I) are. Anger because it is not fair. Anger because scientifically, they have solved every ‘problem’. Anger because spiritually, I have done the work. Anger because there is no explanation for it not working. Anger because I have no one to blame.

And I am tired; tired of society only measuring success and happiness if you fall pregnant. Tired of society only ever celebrating when there is a pregnancy announcement. If we, infertiles, still have to dutifully mingle and live within society, then it’s about time society takes responsibility and accepts the ugly, dark side of fertility. It is a burden we should be allowed to shed.

In a few days, this anger too shall pass. For I have been through this cycle many a time before. Writing is my way of letting off steam.

Infertility is always about compromising and learning to accept. Over the years and with great difficulty, we have come to accept that we would not get pregnant naturally. Then, after several failed IVFs, we came to accept that we would not be able to conceive using my own eggs. Now, after two failed attempts at using donor eggs, how do we bring ourselves to accept that perhaps this may also not work?

Bravery comes in various forms. My body is brave – it has repeatedly taken a physical beating and bruising with hormones and injections – but has survived and thrived. My mind is brave – after all these years, it is firm, has a voice and pulls me through each time. My spirit is brave – it has not been broken and is still willing to pursue and achieve what we desire the most.

Being brave also means re-adjusting to a major shift in life expectations. Bravery is to continue being a dutiful daughter, daughter-in-law, wife and sister. It means getting on with our responsibilities both in society and in family life. It means attending birthday parties and family gatherings, whilst supporting others in their happiness and success at falling pregnant, even though you can no longer share in their happiness as it is a stark reminder of what you desperately want, but don’t have. Bravery means working hard at everything you do, whilst making sure that your business prospers to secure the future of the children within the family, even though those children may not be your own. Bravery means to carry on because that’s all you know how to.

I know, there may come a day when we reach the end of our pursuit. When we will have to accept defeat and to move on. And on this day, we will have to be braver than ever before. But I know that I am not alone in this; for I have my husband beside me, along with my mind, body and spirit to lead the way. And we will be the bravest of them all.


(This is the original article that I wrote for the online magazine, GRIT. The theme for the Winter edition was ‘Becoming Brave’. Have a read of the ‘shorter’ version at GRIT.)

How long is a piece of string?

What do you classify to be an experience? How does the duration of that experience matter?

For example, to experience snow, is it enough to just step outside and feel the snowflakes falling on your cheeks? Or do you experience it fully when you build a snowman? What about if you stay outside for too long and catch sinusitis? Is that then the ‘full’ experience?

My brother once explained that a job interview is just as important as the job itself. I’ll elaborate. You could easily ask for a job and get hired; thus, missing out on the valuable experience of actually preparing for – and getting through – an interview. The outcome of the interview is irrelevant; it’s what you gain from the experience of the interview that counts and will help mould your future.

On that basis, it got me thinking about the duration of my fertility journey. I’m always questioning why this journey has chosen me. Why 6 years (and counting) of TTC? Lately, I’m beginning to realise that many of life’s experiences are lessons in disguise. So, what is the lesson in this for me? The more I delved in to it, the more my traits became stark and the more I admitted about myself. Knowing the way that I think, I act and I behave, I came to realise that I’m an achiever. An achiever who gets through it by putting in the work. An achiever who doesn’t take shortcuts without feeling guilty. An achiever who is willing to try many new things. An achiever who is not afraid. An achiever who will only feel satisfied when I know ‘I have done my best’. Of course, I falter and often question my path; but then I pull myself right up again and continue. This is me; this is my personality. You can call it a flaw(s), but this is my DNA. Therefore, in this warped mind of mine, I realised that if I experienced infertility for 1, maybe 2 years, before successfully conceiving, I would not have felt as if I ‘really’ experienced it at all. Perhaps I wouldn’t have called it a struggle at all.

(This is no disrespect to anyone out there. I am just explaining how I deal with things.)

So, if I don’t want a 1-year infertility journey, do 6 years make it viable? This brings up my next question: “Is a hardship deemed ‘hardship’ according to the number of years you go through it?”

How long is a piece of string then?

You know, when we first started TTC – when you’re at that stage where you are excited and naïve and sometimes spill your plans to an unsuspecting individual – this individual mentioned that it usually takes couples 1 year to fall pregnant. I was a little taken aback I must admit, as I thought it just ‘happened’ when you wanted it. (I have been told by a few couples that this has been the case for them.) But, I was ready to put in the ‘work’ for the year.

My grandfather always used to say that couples should try for a baby soon after marriage. Should we have tried earlier? Or would we still be in the same position as we are now, but with only more years under our belt? Or perhaps, would we have been blessed with our babies earlier? Hindsight. Plus, the notion that everything happens at the ‘right’ time. I know for a fact that we would have been different parents if we had conceived earlier or with little difficulty. Our thinking, our priorities and our outlook has changed dramatically for having gone through this journey. It’s inevitable. Perhaps, that is the lesson, laid bare.

Is part of the reason for going the ‘whole hog’, as explained in my last blog post of more IVF, (if that fails) donor treatments and (if that fails) ultimately, adoption because I am not ready to give up and willing to put myself through it all, because I know I can? (These are real thoughts that go through my mind. I could sit here all day and have a conversation in my head!)

This week has been particularly difficult for me because I’m preparing for an ERA test (more on that in another post), and have some horrendous side effects, so much so that I’ve had to remember 11 different time slots to take five different medications. I’ve had moments where it all gets too much. Then I remind myself of my commitment to the treatment, commitment to our babies and, most importantly, my commitment to my husband and to us.

But everyone has a threshold. Was mine the 6-year mark? Conceivably so because that was when I decided to pen my thoughts? Or perhaps not, because I’m still going through further treatment? Or actually, have I reached my threshold and now I’m on the home-stretch because in some way or the other (after our decision to adopt if we need to), we will get our babies?

In school, my two favourite subjects were Art and Physics. Art nurtured my creative side, and Physics nurtured my analytical side. It made sense. I wasn’t one for memorising or cramming. My favourite theory was Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. I tend to find that I apply it in my daily life. (As you do.)

Are experiences all relative then? Are experiences all that matter?

Early on in the TTC journey, around the time when I was going through my first IVF, I met up with a friend for lunch. This friend had also gone through some difficulty with conceiving and was successful in the end. They pointed out something that has stayed with me all these years. According to them, miscarriage is better than not getting pregnant at all. Their reasoning was that in a miscarriage, at least you know you can ‘get pregnant’. The chances of conceiving again are there. Your body has been able to conceive with your egg and your partner’s sperm. If it has achieved this once, it can (hopefully) achieve it again.

I have never been pregnant in all these years. Sure, I have been a few days ‘late’, but have always tested negative. I have had every symptom and sign under the sun, and then some. I have also had that ‘you just know’ feeling that many attest to. But, still no pregnancy. And I tend to agree with my friend’s point above.

During the last summer when we found out that the ET had not worked, my mum tried to console us by saying that the pain could have been worse if we did fall pregnant after having gone through all the IVF, but then miscarried. I can completely understand her point. Having gone through all the various treatments, then to fall pregnant and then to lose the baby is beyond awful. However, I related the story above from my friend and explained that at least then I would know that I ‘can’ get pregnant. I would at least have got to experience being pregnant, however brief it was.

(I am not in the slightest assuming that a miscarriage is easy. I am just honestly laying down my true feelings. I just hope that I am never in that situation to have to go through that too.)

On top of it, even though we only had an embryo, it was still our ‘baby’. The grief we felt is akin to losing a baby. It actually felt as if we had lost a member of our family. Grief, like love, is absolute and cannot be measured in time. Either you are grieving, or you are not. Either you love someone, or you don’t. You cannot half-grieve or half-love.

It’s all relative in the end. Our experiences are relative to what we know. And, perhaps, experiences ARE all that matter in the end. For without these experiences, how would we come to know what we know?

Lest we forget.

Culture be damned

Judge: What is the motive?

Jury: Culture

Us Indians (referring to all from Indian origin) are culturally inclined. Our food, our family life, our clothing, our mannerisms, our relationships … all tend to include our great heritage.

Or, with all things, we like to have it included in some areas of life, whilst not really caring for in other areas. We like to pick and choose. The problem this creates is a form of lost identity. You cannot pick and choose your identity. You can create a whole new identity. Or you could embrace the identity you have. Unfortunately, it’s not something that can be split.

Over the years, I’ve observed how we, the generation Y millennials, like to shun away from cultural associations and activities. Yet the very next day, we drag our offspring to some activity to impart some ‘culture’ on these innocent minds, because, god forbid, they grow up to be brats with no ounce of tradition or culture whatsoever, or identity of where their predecessors come from.

I’ll give examples (much to the distress of my readers) as it’s easier than beating around the bush. The last few weeks and coming weeks have been full of festivities and celebrations in the Indian calendar – Paryushan, Navratri, Diwali, etc.

Navratri – 9 days of celebrations, including garba

How many Gen Y millennials actually went for garba, or usually partake in these celebrations yearly? Answer is, usually the same individuals who like to celebrate this festival. So the regulars.

How many took their kids to the kids’ version of celebrations? Answer is – all the rest not included in the above. I cannot fathom why you wouldn’t make time to engage in cultural activities, but have the time to make sure your kids do not miss out.

Diwali – possibly the biggest celebration in all Indian religions

The usual decorum is to perhaps send your kids to learn how to do Rangoli. But when was the last time you did a Rangoli yourself at home, for the joy of just celebrating Diwali?

Dressing up for Diwali needs its own paragraph. This is the time to wear our finest jewellery and traditional attire as it’s a big family celebration. Yet, many choose to wear an ‘Indo-Western’ top over jeans. However, if you look closely at the family unit, the offspring will always be on show, wearing their very best traditional gear.

See the repetition I’m trying to address? It’s all to do with time. We don’t have time for tradition and culture. Yet we want our kids to be fully engaged in it. My point is if we, the Gen Y millennials, are not actively partaking and cherishing our culture, how can we expect the next generation to follow suit? Sure, they will be fine for a couple of years whilst you drag and parade them around. But what do you see happening when they can think for themselves? At the most, they will become like us. At the worst, they will be worse than us. So who suffers in the end?

Judge: What is the verdict?

Jury: Death by suffocation. (Actual death undetermined – culturally inflicted human death, or human-inflicted cultural death)

Monkey see, monkey do

Apart from the obvious physical similarities (hair and all), what’s the common denominator between humans and monkeys? We all love to do what the other is doing. We like to be a collective. We like to fit in with society. Shame on us if we have a different opinion to the other.

(That’s as far as my understanding of monkeys goes. I can imagine that they are less complex individuals. Or they may be just as complex as we are. Clearly, I’m still undecided. Needs more follow-up.)

During my hiatus from the blogosphere, which involved a lot of the writer’s block-type thing and a considerable amount of soul searching, I’ve realised that our biggest and most underused asset is CHOICE.

Choice. Choice to choose from left or right. Choice to decide for yourself. To think for yourself. To know for yourself. It applies to everything imaginable, and then some. We have a choice. So let’s stop following the rest and let’s start firing the neurons to power our own mind. We all want to control our own destiny. Yet, how many of us succumb to someone else’s version?

I’ll spill a little secret that I’ve come to realise. Do you know that destiny is not binding? Every action and choice you make can create a new future? You have the power within you to create a change. It’s all down to choice. The sooner we realise this, the better for everyone.

Critical acclaim versus playing dress-up

The long-awaited Fabric of India exhibition at the prestigious Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) in London opened on the 3rd of October. It is the ‘first major exhibition to explore the rich and fascinating world of handmade textiles from India.’ Some of the finest and most fascinating textiles from the V&A and collections across the world have been used to ‘illustrate the processes, history and politics associated with these incredible objects’.

Following the developments of this thought-provoking exhibition on their blog, I had booked tickets online as soon as they were available. A week after the opening, we were eagerly waiting to enter the V&A, in anticipation of good things to come.

Rewind a few hours earlier and the mood was one of utter disbelief. I’ll explain. The first ever India Fashion Week was to be held in London the same weekend and excitedly we had also booked tickets to watch a catwalk show advertising three designers. Having experienced Lakme Fashion Weeks, we decided this was an event not to be missed. It is sufficed to say that this was the most disorganized event camouflaged as playing dress-up ever imagined.

As seen on the ramp - India Fashion Week, London
Poor styling, as seen on the ramp – India Fashion Week, London

The usual lack of seating arrangements, lack of informed personnel and a lack of certain expectations is not what I want to focus on. The focus should be on the garment; specifically, the sari. The drape, the way it flows, the way it is treated with respect bring out the full flourish of this symbolic 6 yards of joy. One would expect that whoever styles the models on the ramp knows how to drape a sari. Aye, you say, one would expect. Cue exposed shoes and ankles; cue models who look so uncomfortable that you could almost believe that this is the first time they are wearing a sari; cue ill-fitting blouses; cue disaster.

How not to drape a sari
How not to drape a sari

Last I checked, I am 100% sure you cannot pass Fashion School without knowing how to drape a sari. FACT.

Another FACT – you do not need to have attended Fashion School to be a designer. Hence, why the world is full of designers wishing to time pass and those that bury us under their piles of imitated and unoriginal sheets of cloth. A complete and utter waste of resources.

So you can imagine how eager we were to get away and head straight for the anticipated Fabric of India. The day could only get better.

The exhibition is divided into six themes: Nature & Making, How Textiles are Used, Splendid, Global Trade, Textiles in a Changing World and Textiles Cutting Edge. Having a new-found love and respect for the artisans and craftsmanship through my interactions and experiences as Co-Founder of S9 Muses, it was wonderful to discover the techniques not only involved in the dyeing, weaving and embroidering of garments, but also how the textiles are actually made. Cottons, Silks, Chintz…all painstakingly produced to form the finished products that we see and wear to this day.  Using the weft and warp to form the hand-woven textiles, using natural materials such as turmeric to produce dyes, hand-blocking to form exquisite prints, quilting to form textures, using assorted embroidery techniques such as gota work to add embellishments and fine thread work…the many stages and techniques involved in producing finished product can only be credited to the vast experience, skill and knowledge of the artisans. Something that the mass-produced, machine-credited garments threatened to destroy for good. Until that is, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s movement on Kadhi came to force in the 1920s. Gandhi promoted the spinning of Kadhi for rural self-employment and self-reliance. ‘The Khadi movement promoted an ideology, an idea that Indians could be self-reliant on cotton and be free from the high-priced goods and clothes that the British were selling to them. The British would buy cotton from India at cheap prices and export them to Britain where they were woven to make clothes. These clothes were then brought back to India to be sold at hefty prices. The Khadi movement aimed at boycotting foreign goods including cotton and promoting Indian goods, thereby improving India’s economy.’

Today, even though we are surrounded by cheap, mass-produced quick-fashion, there is a whole new movement emerging with many designers reviving old techniques, using and, more importantly, crediting local craftsmen whereby particular skills have been passed down from generations. The livelihood of these artisans depends on the appreciation of their talent and appreciating the quality of their work. The future of heirlooms depends on us, as consumers, changing the way we perceive fast fashion and quick knock-offs, and willing to pay the right price for these labour-intensive jewels.

Pallavi Datta, an advocate for reviving the age-old sari, specifically writes and highlights the issues surrounding this garment on her blog, Pallavi’s Style Diaries. I love her style of writing and detail; worth a read when you have a chance.

The Fabric of India exhibition runs until the 10th of January 2016. Do go and have a look; it certainly is worth spending several hours over.

*Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed to be taken of the exhibition at the V&A, and being the obedient being that I am, I complied.