The Jamvanu Club

It’s a Monday. Not any particular Monday; just a regular Monday at the beginning of the week in May where I happen to be back home in Thika, Kenya, visiting family. It’s approaching noon and I have just arrived at my aunt’s house with my son, my mother and grandmother. We are there for a family lunch involving three households – my father’s and his two cousin brothers’. Accustomed to such impromptu gatherings and luncheons, this particular gathering was only established 2 days ago when we found out that some old acquaintances were travelling from abroad to meet with the men in the family for work-related matters, and since everyone in Thika usually comes home for lunch, my aunt had volunteered to host this meal at her home. She hadn’t had the whole family over for about month and, therefore, she took the opportunity to invite us all for a ‘jamvanu’ – a celebratory meal or gathering for a meal, if you like.

We walk into the vast kitchen where one end opens to the veranda, the soft tapping of my grandmother’s walking stick on the tiled floor gently announcing our arrival.

Aavo,” my aunt greets us in Gujarati, a common greeting used to welcome one into the home. Her daughter and daughter-in-law emerge from one of the adjoining rooms.

We all exchange greetings and dive right into conversations as my son goes about hugging everyone, “Hi!”, “Hi!” his favourite word.

My mother places the mixed vegetable rice dish that she had prepared earlier on the grey granite countertop of the kitchen table next to several other dishes that are ready for service. A salad that is waiting to be dressed sits beside a tray filled with various homemade chutneys and condiments of all colours. Green and red chillies prepared in numerous ways – dried, stuffed, pickled and cooked in oil and spices – form a part of this vibrant display. A glass bowl in the middle of the arrangement catches my eye. On closer inspection, I see it is filled with ivy gourd that has been cut into small pieces and mixed with jaggery and spices. My mouth watering, I make a mental note to try that later.

On the far end, jugs of lassi – some plain, some laced with a spiced tadka and curry leaves – stand tall beside another carafe with cool water. I peak into the Tupperware container and find a peculiar dish with chunks of avocados that are mixed in with passionfruit juice. One of the dishes to finish off the meal no doubt.

A loud ‘bang’ of the cupboard draws my attention away and I find my toddler son peering inside the drawer, his quick fingers about to grab the nearest bowl. Hastily, I rush off to stop any calamity from occurring, running after him as he makes his escape. He runs towards the front door, and I look up to find my other aunt approaching with a bowl of fruit salad, her teenage son and older daughter in tow. Just minutes before, her mother-in-law – the ever-independent woman – had driven herself to the house and she now busies herself examining the food on display. Always early to arrive, her inquisitive manner curious to the happenings around her falls short when it involves the actual cooking or preparing of food.

At last, all the women of the three households are now present. As I chase after my son, I come across the hive of activities taking place around us. There are two large pots on the kitchen stove where the curries are simmering away. Every so often, my aunt lifts their lids to give them a quick stir, before continuing with overseeing other tasks. Both her daughter and daughter-in-law are putting the finishing touches to the table setting, making sure there are plenty of glasses and bowls set aside to hold the numerous dishes we are going to consume. The oval dining table is large enough to seat most of us all together. The remaining few will be required to help serve the food and drinks. Jane, an impeccably tall woman with an elegant gait is sitting on a chair overlooking the portable gas cooker. Her dark blue uniform is the same shade as the gas tank sitting securely beside her. My aunt comes over to test the hot oil in the kadai by dipping a morsel of the batter mix, watching it sizzle as it quickly rises to the surface. Satisfied, she instructs Jane to begin frying the bhajias.

My mother and younger aunt have positioned themselves in front of the two-cooker burner, chatting animatedly as they work together. I watch as my mum rolls out dough to create perfectly round puris, placing them into yet another small kadai with hot oil as her sister-in-law takes the stainless steel slotted ladle and fries the puris into fluffy round pillows, taking them off the heat at precisely the right moment, before they turn a shade too dark. Within a few minutes, there is a pile of puris sitting high over newspaper collecting the excess oil on a large plate, waiting to be later transferred into a serving platter.

Taking advantage of time, the ‘younger’ generation decides to sit down to eat, filling our plates with all the hot food as it is being prepared. We’ll have eaten by the time the men arrive and so we will be able to serve the lunch to the rest of the group.

It’s not long before the kitchen countertop is full as completed dishes are added to the display, and a functioning system emerges. The well-trained eye will recognise that each dish has been precisely placed both for ease of serving as well as taking into account the pre-ordained approach to dining etiquette. It’s all in the details. For example, the condiments, salad, bhajias and curries will be served first, followed by the puris. Rice will not be served until the end, followed by the fruits. An important system to follow for any jamvanu to be deemed successful.

The honking of the cars at the gate signals the arrival of the men and all the ladies spring into action. The jamvanu begins.

Ever since I can remember, this is how it has always been in Thika, where I grew up. Jamvanus have been the norm in my family. They used to be a big part of my life too when I first moved to London, still a young girl enrolled in the education system. Back then, I relied on jamvanus to help satisfy my food cravings since boarding school and university provided me with limited choices. There was always a handful of families who regularly invited me into their homes to share meals with them, meals with other guests and meals to celebrate special occasions. I clearly recall the excitement of getting dressed for every jamvanu, and the feeling of being utterly satiated after gorging on the vast spread made generously for us. These wonderful hosts opened their homes and hearts to me. It was all done in enjoyment. For the love of getting people together. For the love of wanting to feed people. For the love of entertaining. Whether you were house proud or not, it did not appear to matter. What mattered was the ability to call people over and open your homes to them. An act of opening your home; thus, opening your heart. Out of generosity. A selfless act that brought so much joy to others.

This is where bonds were formed and forged, where memories were created. As a child, I learnt how to hold steady the tray with the chutneys as I made my way around the long table where diners were seated in a line patiently waiting for the food to be served, making sure not to spill any on myself or any on the diners opposite me. I took pride in being allowed to serve a dish (serve anything for that matter) as it felt like a privilege and felt like an important part of a ritual whereby everyone got involved. The excitement was evident on the eager faces of all the children as the ‘papad’ (or poppadom) dish was handed over to them – their initiation into the world of food service. It’s during jamvanus that I learnt the art of persuasion, whereby you convinced (read: coerced) the diner to take one more barfi, one more gulab jamun, a top up on shirkhand

“Ek chalse” (“One more will do”), I say.

“No, no”, as they wave away my hand.

“Khali plate che.” (Your plate is empty.”)

“Bow khailidhu.” (I’ve eaten too much”)

And so goes the conversation to and fro until an elder intervenes to take the laddu thali off me and dumps a piece right on the diner’s plate, insisting that they need it.

The best part of a jamvanu was that we got to eat like royalty; always spoilt for choice.  

In those days, I took the hospitality for granted. I never gave the jamvanus much thought and certainly didn’t give them the prominence they deserved. I had grown up believing ‘they’ would always be around.

And they were always around. Whenever there was a wedding, there was some form of (or several) jamvanus. Jamvanus in people’s homes; jamvanus in bigger venues. Whenever there was a religious event, there was a jamvanu. A puja at someone’s house was followed by a meal for all those attending. A ‘balmovara’ was followed by a jamvanu. Family visiting from overseas was an excuse to hold a jamvanu. A birthday always involved a celebratory meal at home. There was always an occasion suitable to have a jamvanu.

Today, after nearly 14 years of marriage, I feel lucky if we are invited over to someone’s house for a meal. Sure, there are the few people who definitely do love entertaining at home and who do invite us regularly. However, the numbers are few and it’s always the same people who volunteer. Over the years, the art of home entertaining has slowly but surely changed. Families have grown. Relationships have altered. Priorities have adjusted and adapted. The cost of living has increased. Labour is not as readily available. Helping hands to pitch in are scarce; for some it does not come as naturally to step in and help out. Houses are smaller. Not everyone can cook; not everyone enjoys cooking. Entertaining can also be tiresome and disheartening when an invitation is never reciprocated or extended back.

The very same people who used to host these elaborate jamvanus have grown older; they naturally cannot organise and manage as much. Their children (I consider myself as one of the ‘children’ and so these are my peers) see entertainment in a different light. Very few open their homes to entertain. Catching up with friends and families now involves more of dining out than in. Our lives appear to be busier. There is no time to always cook a meal from scratch, let alone feeding others outside the immediate family cohort. Life is tough and as much as possible, we try and make it easier where we can.

But in making life easier for ourselves, we have lost touch with truly connecting with people. Yet, this should not be the case.

I was in the car with my friend and her sister last Saturday, driving back from a clothes exhibition we had all attended together, when I let my inhibitions loose. Despite the initial excitement of visiting and seeing what’s on display, none of us bought anything, lamenting on the fact that we have nowhere to go to wear all these beautiful Indian clothes. This prompted a discussion on jamvanus. The jovial self-sympathy continued, followed by a feeling of self-importance as we joked with exaggeration about how nobody extends any invitations anymore and how the last time we might have seen the inside of certain family members’ houses would have been years ago.  

We were all in agreement about how we like to have people over, or want to have people over more often, but never manage to get round to it as much as we would like to. How we wished to host more jamvanus and make use of our homes and gardens; yet how we have found to struggle to get the help we need to make such a jamvanu run smoothly. Falling gracefully from my self-assured high horse, I soon realised the idiocy of all our comments. There was simply no reasonable excuse not to go ahead and make forth a jamvanu. We could just as easily have it on a smaller scale, a more manageable scale or even a paid scale. Where there is a will, there is a way.

And so, that day we came to an important conclusion. We formed the highly elusive, originally named ‘Jamvanu Club’. A club that celebrates what the tin says. At present, its members comprise of us three families and there are a few stipulations that must be followed. First, we each must host a jamvanu at home and this will be rolled over to the next member to host every 2 months. To ease the burden and pressures that come with entertaining, the host can choose to keep it as simple or as elaborate as they desire. The finer details still require some attention, such as if and when we get new members, would they automatically be bumped up the pecking order to host the next jamvanu? Would take outs and catering be acceptable as long as the gathering is at ‘home’? This is all relative and can be accommodated as we go along.

For now, this club is my vision to bring back that childhood excitement and joy. To rely on forging stronger relations and a sense of togetherness. For my son to experience the same camaraderie and learn as much as I did. For him to be able to spend time regularly in other people’s homes, getting to know them well and forming a strong memorable bond with the other children in the group. For him to know of the happiness that comes with a full house when guests come over to ours. For him to share food and ‘break bread’ and be treated as an equal at the dining table.

(As I planned to write this, my cousin assured me that there are indeed still a large number of people who enjoy entertaining at home. They – my cousin and her husband – have a group of friends who always entertain at home. There is obviously the one anomaly within the group who manages to avoid the situation whenever it is their ‘turn’, but for most, it works well. They have found their cohort; their Jamvanu Club. It’s now high time I find mine.)

“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.)

Gaga over baba

Have you ever been in a situation where you are the minority in the crowd? As a result, you feel uncomfortable and get a little anxious? Take, for example, a dinner party where all the other couples at the table are pregnant, and your coupling (made up of your partner and yourself of course) are not (pregnant). Awkward.

It’s purely awkward because all couples with child tend to only talk about babies and all things baby-related. Snippets of the conversation may go like this:

“Where do you shop for your fancy maternity dresses?”

“Oh man, the nausea is extreme.”

“Have you planned your baby shower?”

“Do you know what you’re having?”

“I feel like a whale”. (Okay, I’ve taken a bit of poetic licence for this one.)

“Can’t wait till the baby comes along with all those sleepless nights.” (Chuckles) (As in, they chuckle whilst I hide a groan in my drink).

“I’ve been gyming and going for weekly yoga and pilates. Need to stay fit and keep off the weight as much as possible”.

“Oh, I swim.”

“Have you been to those hypnobirthing classes?”

“Doesn’t my little cherub look just like his daddy in this 4D scan?”.

“Would you opt for a caesarean? I think it’s so much easier.”

“OMG, my obstetrician is so attractive!”

“You have to book yourself in at the Portland; the scones are to die for”.

“We fell pregnant by accident and I had my first when I was 40.  I was so thrilled when my doctor announced that I have eggs of a spring chicken”.

Blah. Blah. Blah. And the conversation continues. Even the masculine halves of the couples interject and lend in to the conversations.

Two words: baby obsession. It’s as if once you fall pregnant, all you can talk about is baby. Suddenly, you seem to lose your identity as an individual and only promote yourself as a mother. Normal, adult conversations give way to baby talk.

I guess you can tell that we have been ‘stuck’ in such a situation before – my imagination does not reach such heights on its own. The dinner seemed to drag on for about 9 months. The fact that the others knew about our struggle to conceive didn’t seem to alter the topic of conversation, because – I suppose – that is what their new baby-brain has wired them to do henceforth (that is, talk about baby only).

My husband has a knack for cheering me up when I’m down and in this case, there was no exception. He explained, “These pregnant couples probably had nothing else in common to discuss and so that’s why they talked baby all evening”. In my non-pregnant brain, I interpreted his explanation as, “They are boring, so I wouldn’t have been able to have a suitable conversation with them anyway”. Anyway, never again. Lesson learned.

(Have you ever wondered how the term pregnancy and all its affiliations are so loosely used to add importance to every situation, to make a complaint more profound, to bestow attention to an already inflated ego and to add weight to every stand? If so, I discussed just this is a previous post here.)

Through observation when we are out and about, the one topic of discussion that comes up most is the lack of sleep caused by newborns. Don’t get me wrong; lack of sleep can be detrimental to your productivity (whatever that is). But, the first obvious trait of a newborn is that they wake up every few hours. To feed. To poop. To cry. Everybody knows that. You don’t have to be a parent to register that in your head. Yet, when parents talk about it, it’s as if they never knew such a thing exists (“Baby or the witching hour?” – I hear you ask).

Newsflash to parents: if you are pregnant and get to full term, you will result in a baby. If you result in a baby, be sure to ‘budget’ for sleepless nights.

It’s tragic, but most people with children tend to complain about life as parents. Homo Sapiens have been reproducing for over thousands of years. Our ancestry dates back to many generations. Many of us have lived in the same era as our great-grandparents. Yet, our generation feels that being a parent is a novel idea and nobody else can understand their position. This got me thinking … are we made up of a society of serial complainers? The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced. I voiced my thoughts to a friend who has a baby but has never once complained to me about parenthood. I asked this friend why is it that they never feel the need to complain like the others? This friend simply pointed out that their baby sleeps fairly well and eats well most of the time. Plus, they have help with their cooking and cleaning. This enables them to not be totally exhausted. Fair point(s).

Okay, let’s get back to understanding all those who complain regardless. My friend’s reasoning strongly supports the age-old saying about ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. This prompted me to conduct a little research of my own. I listed down names of all the couples (parents in my generation) who I regularly associate with and then collected data based on their habits. I found that an astonishing 91% of these people have at least some form of help (e.g., nanny, house help, grandparents, night nurses – the new rage, etc.) Of these, only 20% are purely grateful for their situation and have never complained (to me at least); 30% seem to complain at every given chance (or whenever anyone is prepared to listen to them), and mainly discuss sleep deprivation; and the rest (50%) have expressed the occasional ‘obligatory’ complaints, but generally tend to ‘get on with it’.

Conclusion: we are most definitely a society comprised of serial complainers. It is not only the ones who have presumably conceived easily that complain (you could almost forgive their naivety); even those that had some difficulty in conceiving tend to have complaints.

I can completely understand how difficult it can be for parents when a child is unwell and does not sleep or rest properly. But if the reason is because that’s what babies do (poop, eat, [lack of] sleep and cry), then zip it.

I’ll have you know that for all the lousy ‘lack-of-sleep’ complaints you make, there are thousands of infertile couples who would gladly be in your position and would fully ‘embrace’ the night-time episodes of parenthood.

Looking around in today’s world (well, at least a world based on most of the people who I’m associated with), the ‘village’ has been replaced by ‘household names’, such as nannies, house help and grandparents. The ‘enjoyment’ in bringing up children has been replaced by strict regimens, timetables and inflexibility.

With all the obsession over babies, having babies, pregnant with babies, nursery decoration, millions of toys, schools and everything else baby-related, adults tend to forget their own individuality and identity. I think that we have already established this point. Yet, what is also frustrating is that somehow parenthood makes you forget all that you had, including the people who were around you prior to babies. Children are priceless; but so are the relationships that we have built and nurtured over the years, pre-kids.

If you recall in my last post, I wrote about how we had no plan for 2019 other than deciding if we should (could?) go for another round of IVF. Well, one Saturday night a few weeks ago, we got the clarity we needed. We both (my husband I) decided that we would not settle for ‘life without children’ and are willing to go the ‘whole hog’ to having our baby (babies). This means that we are willing to go through more IVF, (if that fails) donor treatments and (if that fails) ultimately, adoption to achieving what we desire most. Because we are whole as a couple, but incomplete as a family. Because we are damn good people with a lot of love to give. And because we will make damn good parents.

And once we become parents, I’m going to try my damn hardest not to forget who I am and the relationships I have nurtured; the two things I’m most wary of after witnessing it around me. Affirmations completed.

Summer of ’69

Pun intended.

This is the summer where it all happened … baby-making was in full swing. I wish I could say that this was the summer where we were acting out like rampant rabbits, trying out all sorts of ‘positions’ and just having fun. Wedded bliss, eh? Nope. This was the summer where love-making gave way to sharps bins. The summer of IVF(s).

So actually, pun UNintended.

And even more actually, ’twas the summer of 2018. (Choosing a title asSummer of 2018’ just doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as ‘Summer of ’69’. What it lacks in pizzazz, it makes up in content. And I’m exercising my rights to freedom of speech since, well, it’s my story.)

What people do not realise is that preparations for IVF begin months prior to actual treatment. It’s not a decision that you wake up to one day and begin the next. It is never that simple.

Let’s rewind to set the scene.

We had been trying naturally for a baby for 2 years before we embarked on tests and, ultimately, IVF. Our first IVF was in the summer of 2014. (The failure of it took me a whole year to get over; both emotionally and physically. Hence, it was a very big decision for us to agree on another round.)

During the 4-year period in between the IVFs, we explored every other avenue possible (e.g., acupuncture, nutrition, hypnotherapy, spirit babies, etc.) – I listed the crux of it in my post, Extremes of TTC. Although we achieved optimal results that demonstrated we should be able to conceive naturally, we never did. Not ever in all these years.

So now it was time to re-think our baby-making plan.

The year is 2017; the month: December. The decision to go for another round of IVF was set in stone. Preparations begin by getting inital tests done via my gynaecologist.

January 2018 – more tests

It’s now my husband’s turn and all necessary tests are done via his andrologist.

February 2018 – the hunt

Scouting for a clinic that we will be most comfortable with, which aligns to our priorities and principles, and will (hopefully) help us achieve our dream. We did not want to go back to the previous one – bad experience of which we’re better informed now. We attended several open evenings at various clinics. (Something I highly recommend you do because you can gauge it pretty well and also, it’s free. Otherwise, you’re paying a fee for every initial consultation.) By this stage, we had plenty of experience under our belt to suss out the right one (if any) for us, and by sheer luck, we came across one such clinic that resonated with us – IVI London.

March 2018 – tending to affairs

This is really about sorting life out, getting tedious things out of the way, putting work on the backbench and essentially clearing our diaries to make way for the IVF. We also undertook a stringent set of tests at the clinic (IVI London) in order to determine our treatment protocol. Some of these results take weeks to arrive; therefore, it’s always a waiting game.

April 2018 – it all begins

We’ve been to see our nutritionist again. We all know that natural conception is very different to assisted conception. It’s no surprise that nutrition-wise, this law also applies. Different supplements; different do’s and don’ts; different everything.

April 15th

I’m on a different protocol (drugs-wise) this time around on the IVF compared with the one in 2014. My AMH level (known as Anti-Müllerian hormone; key for all fertility issues) is remarkably low and that means I have a lot fewer eggs left than 4 years ago, and there could be a quality issue too. (You will start to notice IVF jargon surfacing from this stage on, including names of drugs. When I first started to formulate this blog post in my head, I wasn’t sure how detailed I would get in to it. I still am not sure at this stage; I only trust that the story will be revealed the way it’s meant to and the way it wants to.) I begin Norethisterone 5mg tablets, taking them twice daily for 15 days. These are hormone tablets designed to give the ovaries a ‘break’ and, once I stop taking them, I should have a withdrawal bleed 2–3 days later. This week, I also received delivery of my injections.

May 2018 – stims

May 4th

Day 2 of my cycle. (A cycle refers to the monthly cycle of a woman. Day 1 is the first day of the bleed, or period.) I have my baseline scan at IVI and all appears to be okay. Thus, I begin the daily injections, which are administered in the sub-cutaneous fat around the belly – remember I had mentioned that having some belly fat is advantageous? I’m on a protocol of Bemfola 300IU, Menopur 75IU, as well as Cetrotide 0.25mg. That’s three injections daily. The Bemfola and Menopur must be taken every night between 9 and 10 p.m. The Cetrotide is introduced on Day 5 of the stims (that’s short for stimulations) and needs to be taken between 6 and 8 a.m. I opt for 9.30 p.m. and 7.30 a.m.; timings for the evening and morning injections, respectively. The injections must be administered at precisely the same time each day; they are hormones after all.

The role of the Bemfola and Menopur is to encourage the follicles in the ovaries to grow. Usually in natural conception, only one follicle grows and becomes the dominant follicle each month (i.e., the follicle that grows to the optimal size and the one that releases the egg; all others die). In IVF or assisted conception, the aim is to grow as many follicles as possible to the optimal size. The function of the Cetrotide is to help prevent spontaneous ovulation. (When follicles reach a certain size, the body’s reaction is to naturally ovulate – or release the egg. In IVF, you most certainly do not want this to happen as you then cannot harvest the eggs.) I’m on a much higher dose in this protocol, with a total of 375IU of hormones injected. Last time I was only on 150IU.

The next few days pass by with the daily routine of injections, followed by visits to the clinic for scans and blood tests every other day to monitor the progress of the follicles. I administer the injections myself; I don’t trust my husband to do them (!) and at least this way I have some control of this whole process. They are so painful, and I soon run out of injection sites.

I have days when I’m bloated, moody and have headaches. With each passing day, it takes me that little bit longer to psyche myself before each injection, and frustrations mount when trying to calibrate the solutions for the injections. Then, I have days when I’m happy, full of energy and feeling positive. I take long walks in the woods, manage some light yoga and spend hours in the sun, reading. To help me get through it all, I have recurrent bookings of head massages and acupuncture sessions, and I alternate between the two.

All other life is on hold; I fill my days with things that make me happy; I only meet up with people who I want to see; I prep meals in advance; evenings are taken over by the injections, with a whole array of needles, syringes, antiseptic wipes, vials and, of course, the sharps bin, all reigning over the dining table. I feel like an apothecary, mixing powders and solutions with drawing needles and inserting needles. The perks of IVF.

May 13th

Day 10 of stims. I took my last Bemfola and Menopur the previous night. Today is the last day for the Cetrotide. Then the ‘triggers’ are administered in the evening. These are two sets of injections that must be taken at a pre-determined time, exactly 36 hours prior to the egg collection (EC).

May 15th

EC day. All this happens in the theatre, under sedation. The theatre is full with five clinicians; the doctor, the anaesthetist, the assistant anaesthetist, the embryologist and the nurse. And me of course. (Somehow, noting these details are important to me.) Hospital gown and hairnet in place, I prop my legs up on the stirrups to be securely fastened. It’s all very exciting. The oxygen mask goes over my nose and mouth, the anaesthetist administers his drugs through the canula on my wrist, I feel a cold sensation and a dizziness overcomes me. Within 5 seconds I’m knocked out.

It’s all over in an hour. I’m awake, back in my room; the doctor comes to inform me that they drained five follicles and collected five eggs. (Not all follicles contain eggs. This is true for all women. I was lucky that these five did.) After some tea and biscuits, and once they are happy with my vitals, I am released to go home. All medication is stopped for now so that my body can recover back to its natural state. No pills; no injections; nothing. Only my supplements as recommended by the nutritionist. Now, it’s just a waiting game.

We will get a call on Days 1, 3 and 5 from the embryology team informing us on the progress of our embryo(s). At IVI, they use the time-lapse guided method to monitor the embryos. This is when a camera continuously records the development of the embryos, so that the embryologist is not required to take them out of the incubator to examine; thus, avoiding any disruptions. Time-lapse at IVI is not an ‘extra’; it’s already part of the treatment plan. At other clinics, it’s an optional add on.

May 16th

Day 1 of embryos. The embryologist called in the morning to inform us that we have two embryos that are doing well. Out of the five eggs they collected, one wasn’t mature. The other two disintegrated as soon as they injected the sperm. (It is worth noting at this point in the story that our protocol involved ICSI – it’s a step up from IVF, whereby the sperm is directly injected in to the egg. It is all technical and the best sperm is chosen under a high-powered microscope. In simple IVF, the sperm and egg are put in a petri dish and allowed to fertilise on their own. For all our treatments, we did ICSI. You can look up the full meaning of ICSI yourselves; or e-mail me and I can explain more.)

By now, I am getting quite anxious that I may need to go through another round of stims at this rate.

May 18th

Day 3 of embryos. The embryologist phoned and reassured us that both embryos were doing well. They were developing correctly for this stage. Phew! Now to get through the next 2 days so that they could reach the blastocyct stage, after which they will undergo PGS testing and be frozen until the PGS test results are back.

May 20th

Day 5 of embryos; normally marked as the blastocyst stage. The embryologist called; the news was not that great. One embryo was lagging and still in the cellular stage. The other had not quite yet reached blastocyst and they want to give it another day. We were so deflated. We were heartbroken and so sure that this embryo will also not make it because, well let’s face it, luck has never been on our side when it comes to babies. So we did what all sane people do; we went shopping. Nothing quite like retail therapy to keep your mind off things!

May 21st

We had been waiting for the call from the embryologist. No longer nervous, we had succumbed to the impending outcome. Lo and behold, our little Trooper had been ‘busy all day yesterday and was ready!’ We were elated! I cannot remember the last time we felt such extreme happiness. It felt as if the baby was here already, in our arms. So. Much. Joy. Trooper was indeed a trooper! The other embryo did not make it.

They now take some cells from the embryo to send for PGS testing. They then freeze the embryo until the transfer. PGS testing is to check for any chromosome abnormalities. The result takes about 2 weeks to come back. If it comes back abnormal, IVI discourage transferring the embryo back in the womb as it would most certainly lead to a miscarriage. Along with the time-lapse method and blastocyst development, PGS testing is another one of the principles IVI believe in and stick to. So is frozen embryo transfer (FET). More on that later.

During this week, we had a long chat with our doctor at IVI and came to a decision; we will pursue another round of IVF. There are many reasons for this. First, we know that the PGS test takes 2 weeks to come back. Statistically, there is a 50% chance that the embryo is normal. I would still have to prep my body with drugs for the transfer; hence, another couples of weeks before the actual transfer takes place. If I do fall pregnant with this embryo and it results in a full-term pregnancy, the earliest I could do another round of treatment in the hope of baby #2 would be at least 18 months later. By then, who knows what the situation of my eggs will be like. Also, if this embryo is abnormal, we have no other left. So, in the grand scale of things, we would delay the whole treatment plan by 2–3 months and get another IVF cycle in, compared with a possible lifetime decision if we did not go ahead with it. It was the sensible thing to do.

June 2018 – IVF #3

June 4th

We had our nurse consultation to plan for the next IVF cycle. The clinic had some great news for us; the PGS test results of Trooper came back NORMAL! This means that the embryo has no chromosome abnormalities and should have the best chance of implantation.

June 8th

I’m at Day 14 of my cycle. I begin the down-regulation phase by taking Norethisterone 5mg tablets, twice-daily for 10 days. I cannot wait for the stims phase and have consoled myself that the only reason I am doing another round is purely to secure the possibility of a second child. I have no doubt that Trooper will be our first. (Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be ‘one of those’ people who have multiple rounds of IVF. I never knew I was strong enough, and I never thought I would succumb and surrender.)

June 22nd

Day 1 of my cycle and Day 1 of stims. I have my baseline scan and everything appears to be in order. All set to begin stims. I’m on the exact same treatment protocol as last time and I begin the Bemfola and Menopur injections that evening. I’ll start the Cetrotide on Day 5 of stims.

June 24th

It’s a Sunday and we’re celebrating my husband’s 35th birthday with a BBQ at home. (After 2 months of only concentrating on IVF, you inevitably get back to other life’s routines and commitments.) We had some friends and family over and it was fantastic. But by the evening, I was flat out. Exhausted from all the cooking and entertaining, the injections took longer than usual, and really hurt. I could no longer continue this way and needed to get back in the ‘zone’. I could feel the angst building up. It was all too much and we had to reign ourselves back.

June 25th

Happy birthday to my husband! We spent the most wonderful day together. Just what we both needed.

July – EC and a little break

July 3rd

It’s EC day! Same story as last time; but this time they drained eight follicles, which contained eight eggs. So far so good.

July 4th

Day 1 of embryos. The embryologist called to announce that out of the eight eggs, only six were mature, which they injected with sperm (again, using ICSI). However, four of these disintegrated, and we only have two embryos in the running again. F*CK. (Excuse my French. Lately, I have a tendency to swear.)

‘Nerves of steel’. ‘Nerves of steel’. I repeat, ‘Nerves of steel’.

July 6th

Day 3 of embryos. Both embryos are still doing okay.

July 9th

Day 6 of embryos. Yesterday, the embryologist informed us that both embryos were still at the cellular stage; so not looking good. They were going to give them one more day to see if they perk up and get to blastocyst stage. Today, they have not developed any further. So that’s the end of this round #3.

It’s alright. We still have one embryo.

Since everything is dependent on my cycle, the preparation for embryo transfer (ET) will still not be for another few weeks. What we love about IVI is that it is very focused on research. Their studies show that it is optimum to have the body recover after the stimulation phase. They prefer FETs over live transfers. This is partly because they prefer the body to get back in to its natural rhythm following from all the drugs taken during the stimulation phase. You can imagine that with such high doses, the oestrogen levels in the body have sky-rocketed. In a ‘normal’ conception, the oestrogen level in the body is around 1000. In IVF, the level could be around 5000 (in my case anyway). The other reason is that they advocate PGS testing, and results for this test take 2 weeks. So, it’s advisable to let the body recuperate while waiting for the results.

We take advantage of this recuperation phase and host another BBQ to make the most of the summer. We get back in the social scene and enjoy other people’s company for a few weeks. We also take a few days off to enjoy some sun, sand and sea.

Now we are all set for the big transfer phase.

July 30th

Preps for the transfer have begun. It’s the first of 10 days of another round of Norethisterone tablets.

August – ET

August 15th

Having discussed all our options whilst planning for the transfer, I agreed to have a hysteroscopy to increase our chances of implantation. Back in the theatre, sedated again. It’s my third sedation in the last few months. I’m an advent fan of it! Honestly, I get such a great feeling and for those few minutes, your mind is at ease. Not thinking or worrying. Think of it as an addiction. Again, the perks of IVF!

(Food for thought: could IVF be disguised as an addiction after all?)

We have also discovered that I have a slight clotting issue. This means that in addition to taking baby aspirin tablets, I will require further injections – in the form of Clexane – for several weeks. Clexane is notoriously known to be painful and cause severe bruising. Fun times ahead!

Hysteroscopy all done; I begin the dose of Progynova tablets. They need to be taken three-times a day, for possibly 10 weeks if successful implantation occurs. I will soon also start the twice-daily progesterone suppositories. Again, these will need to be continued for approximately 3 months if implantation is successful.

August 30th

ET day! The embryo had to first survive the thawing process, and it did. (One more hurdle overcome.) Back in theatre, but this time fully awake and alert, with a full bladder ready to burst any minute. (It’s not by choice – a full bladder makes for a clearer ultrasound.) It’s all very emotional. My husband accompanies me in theatre and holds my hand through the procedure. The nurse is pushing against my bladder whilst the ultrasound probe gives a visual of my uterus. The doctor is ready to begin. The embryologist is on alert, ready to hand over the long tube containing the embryo. It’s actually uncomfortable and painful; bit like a smear test. We get to see our little Trooper on the monitor as it’s been placed back inside my womb. All done, and the doctor reassures me that I can go relieve myself. The act of peeing will NOT in fact drop my baby out! The evening routine of Clexane begins.

September 2018 – the 2-week wait

This is the bit where you just have to rest and relax. Nothing strenuous; no heavy lifting; just taking things slow and easy. Another alteration in supplements and diet. It was great because my mum had flown in from Kenya to be with us and look after us. She had arrived just a few days before the ET, and I cannot express just how grateful we were to have her here with us, looking after us.

We had opted to have a blood test done to give us the outcome of the ET. We could just as easily have used those home pregnancy tests, but you know how I loathe peeing on those sticks! Usually, the test is done 11 days after the ET. However, to play to superstition, I opted to push it to 12 days. The reason being, in the first IVF we ever did (back in 2014), I started my bleed the day I had my blood test after the transfer. Hence, I figured, ‘If only I could get through the actual day of the test. If all is well and the day goes by smoothly, then surely it’s a positive?’ What’s one more day of waiting?

The test was booked in for the 11th of September. The weekend before the Tuesday, I was in a foul mood. I had cramps. I also had a feeling that the treatment did not work. Yet, I consoled myself that cramps could mean anything; even implantation. (Side story – another friend of mine was going through IVF around the same time as me. Even though she started her treatment after my first one in April, she had finished hers way before I began my second round. Different protocol; different clinic; different plan. Anyway, like me, a few days before her pregnancy test, she had cramps and some bleeding. I had reassured her that they could be implantation cramps. I was right. She tested early, and it was a positive!)

September 10th

Went well without any hiccups.

September 11th

D-Day! The morning of the test. Still no bleed (my period) so feeling really optimistic. My doctor comes to see us whilst the nurse takes my blood test. She’s feeling very optimistic and envelops me in a hug. (So much love from everyone at the clinic. So important emotionally.)

The results will be in that afternoon.

5.00 p.m. – my doctor calls and gives us the shattering news … ‘It’s a negative’.

As my husband pointed out, we just had our own 9/11.

So, this is how our summer went … all 9 months of it. The time it takes for normal individuals to make and have a baby. All I have left to show for it is an empty sharps bin, leftover medication, a bag full of syringes and needles and a face full of zits. Lots of them that still lurk and re-surface, continuously reminding me of the summer that passed.

How did your summer go?

(I could only recollect in such detail above because I kept a journal for each IVF cycle. I’ve lost count the number of times I wrote down, ‘This will be the last set of injections’; ‘The last IVF’; then, ‘The FINAL IVF’. Just to psyche myself up. Just to carry on. I now know what makes me tick … ‘I got nerves of steel, baby. NERVES OF STEEL!’)

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)

She’s pregnant! (Screams headlines)

That must have got your attention, right? Such is the power of the word ‘pregnancy’. And no. No I am not pregnant.

Have you ever wondered how the term pregnancy and all its affiliations (e.g., bump, baby, etc.) are so loosely used to add importance to every situation, to make a complaint more profound, to bestow attention to an already inflated ego, to add weight to every stand? Let me elaborate.

Why is one, when making a complaint about a certain something to a certain customer services, compelled to list a whole set of events about how much unnecessary time, money, effort, annoyance they had to dispel all the while having their pregnant wife be witness and an accomplice to their troubles? For example, you are not happy with a certain manufacturer for supplying faulty goods. Do you think the manufacturer really cares that your pregnant wife had to come all the way with you to return the faulty goods? The fact that the wife is not pregnant (yes, I know these people!) is beside the point. Why do you need to make her pregnant to create more of a fuss?

Or, how about the scenario when you just drop the ‘bump’ so causally, in the hope that what you are trying to emphasise will suddenly make more of an impact?

This morning, I came across an advertisement on the radio informing listeners of the dangers of cycling and to watch out for cyclists. The sketch was really well written from the point of view of a woman, who was warning motorists to just keep a watch for her cyclist husband because, you know, accidents happen. That is all well and good and easily understood. Then why does it have to take an almost hysterical turn saying she would love for her cyclist husband to be able to come home to her and her bump? Really? Isn’t her life important enough to her husband and humanity, that only if we mention ‘bump’ would it seem more profound?

Since when did pregnancy, and all things related, become a benchmark for importance? Why is the world so fixated with these terms?

Don’t get me wrong. Pregnancy is a wonderful thing and you are very lucky to have ever been pregnant. I for one have been trying to get pregnant for years, but it will happen when it’s meant to happen. But let’s quit devaluing the sanctity of it by portraying it as feeble, weak and poorly. Heck, I’m told that when a woman is with child, she is ‘glowing’ and has this inner power and wisdom about her. Seems more apt a description of a warrior princess than a poorly, helpless woman who needs to be used as a pawn to gain sympathy.

Newsflash – not every family has offspring. Not every woman is with child. Then why should your importance and worth be judged on this?


This week, the eldest member from my family lineage passed away at the age of 89 years. This brought back memories the day my grandfather passed away just over 4 years ago. Time never heals any wounds; I think you simply get used to the circumstances you are in. My grandfather was big-chested, generous and, in all manners, the Godfather of the house. He stood tall, always with a straight back. The attention he commanded is the kind that legends are made of. A true giant, in every sense.

My first job was as a Production Editor for scientific journals. Through those years, I cannot explain just how useful the keyboard shortcut ‘ctrl+shift+z’ was. This is the equivalent of ‘undo’. This shortcut was so embedded in my memory and daily use, that I found myself constantly thinking of erasing, or undoing, moments in life itself. As soon as something unwanted happened, or was said, or a thought processed that I did not want to occur, I automatically thought ‘ctrl+shift+z’. Only to realise, this is not some unwanted artwork or text on my screen. It is happening in real-time, in real life. I could not undo life.

The ever procrastinator, I have toyed with the idea of what to write as my very first blog post. I’m certain that the first blog post is the most difficult for all bloggers. Cue several weeks, and late one night a few days back, just before I was drifting off to sleep, I knew what I wanted to write.

This is an ode to the heads of families, the giants. The stalwarts who form the backbones.

MY RED COAT is aptly named after my most prized possession. I’ve had this coat for over 10 years, and it is still in pristine condition. I mean, the zipper is broken, and it has lost most of its fluffiness, but it still looks good. I have yet to find a coat that I love so much to replace it. Don’t judge, but in a world full of uncertainty, it has been my comfort.