The sex was amazing. Back arching, toe curling, head-banging-to-Radiohead-amazing. The condom must have slipped off. Or maybe it was that one Friday I missed taking the pill – I remember dismissing the beeping reminder on my phone amidst a haze of cigarette smoke, Long Island Iced Teas and familiar faces.
I watch as two chemical-blue lines coalesce into shape. Perfectly parallel, like train tracks, like cage bars. I stare at them so hard my focus blurs. Maybe there’s just one line? The second one looks a bit fainter, perhaps? I bite what’s left of the cuticles on my right hand, then peel back the wrapper on the second, more expensive test, reading the instructions carefully this time. Squat. Aim. Trickle. Shake. Wait. Wait.
Pregnant. 9 – 10 weeks. Fuck.
“Siri, call Adil.”
“Hey, it’s me. Acha sun, can you come over to my place now? Haan abhi, please. It’s sort of urgent.”
I remind myself to breathe out. And then breathe in again. I look over at the Amazon Alexa device I had bought as a house warming present for myself when I first moved to London a year ago. “She keeps me good company” I remember saying to Adil the first time he spent the night and complained it was creepy that I had let Amazon put a camera into my bedroom. “I could keep you even better company, if you let me move in to your bedroom” he had said in a voice that suggested he was joking, though I knew he was being serious. “I like my life – and my bedroom – just as it is” I had smiled, trying to look both kind and firm.
“Alexa, what time is it in Delhi?”
“In Delhi, it’s six-oh-three AM.”
“Siri, call Ma.”
“Ma? Sorry I woke you, but something’s happened. You remember I told you about Adil? Well, we didn’t mean it to happen but, I’m pregnant. Yes, I’m sure, it says 10 weeks. I don’t know how I feel. I don’t think I want this….but I’m 32 now and maybe there is no right time? No, I don’t need you to come here. Yes, I think the law is the same here as in India so I can if I decide not to. A friend here went to a place called Marie Stopes, I can ask her. Thanks Ma, I know it’s my decision, but…how am I supposed to decide?”
11 weeks. Plenty of time to change my mind. I lie catatonic on my jade green Ikea couch all weekend, staring flaccidly at my laptop screen, watching ‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’ on Netflix for the eighteenth time, consuming it like comfort food. My brain feels as spent as my body. Thoughts shimmer dully through the fog and then disappear in wispy strands. ‘You won’t get a second life’. I wonder vaguely how a movie title can sound so poetic in Hindi but so vapid in English. #YOLO, I think, is perhaps a closer translation. I watch Hrithik Roshan and Katrina Kaif frolic on a beach, flawed people with their flawless bodies, before leaning over to vomit into the bucket on the floor next to the couch.
“The elevators in this hospital take forever” I tell the receptionist, as if it is their fault that I am fifteen minutes late. “Aditi Sarkar. I’m here for my twelve-week ultrasound?” I turn to Adil and try not to look hopeful. “I guess we’ll know soon enough if I’m even pregnant or if this is all a false alarm.”
Adil smiles. “Aditi, a false alarm doesn’t turn you into a vomiting zombie.” I can see he thinks he’s being comforting.
The ultrasound technician is a spritely South Asian woman with a nose ring like mine and a posh British accent. She pronounces my name ‘A-dee-tee’ and, hearing my accent, asks if I’m Indian. I want to ask her the same, but wonder if she might be offended. I’ve always found it slightly perplexing that Brown people in this country seem to be insulted if asked where they’re from rather than taking it as a compliment. I get it, I suppose. I feel slightly insulted if people think I’m British. I am directed to lie down on a cold, hard hospital gurney and I mechanically follow instructions, pulling my t-shirt up and my jeans down. The disposable paper sheet crackles desultorily beneath me. Somewhere far down the echoing corridor I hear the faint sound of a child being chased by an adult, light footsteps followed by heavy ones, the laughter ricocheting inappropriately off the hospital walls. The shock of cold gel squirting onto my stomach refocuses me.
Adil holds my hand through the ultrasound in a manufactured coupledom that doesn’t match the contours of our relationship, making his touch feel stilted, his hand heavy in mine. We’re both silent until a knob is turned on the machine and a drumbeat fills the room, its rhythm flashing across the screen. Adil’s face lights up. “Oh, that’s the heartbeat? Wow, that’s pretty cool.” I feel nothing. Am I supposed to feel something? I squint harder at the mass of squiggly lines on the screen. What is wrong with me? I burst into tears. “Don’t worry,” says the ultrasound technician kindly, handing me a tissue. “It’s an emotional experience for most people.” I cry harder.
I don’t open the pregnancy book with the orange covers that the hospital has given me until a full 12 weeks have passed. ‘If you were at a normal weight before you became pregnant, aim to gain 25 to 35 lbs during pregnancy’. Aim to gain 25 pounds! I have spent almost my entire life trying to lose 25 lbs, so it really makes no sense to be sitting here with tears blurring my vision as I’m encouraged to gain the weight. I should feel liberated, but I feel trapped as I read on. The pregnancy book is full of horrors. I Google ‘trisomy 21‘ and ‘perineum massage’ and ‘incontinence‘ and ‘amniocentesis’. The words get harder and harder to spell as my typing becomes increasingly frenetic.
I lie back, panicked, longing for someone to tell me what to do. It’s five years ago. I’m back in Delhi. Glasses clink. Nitya lights a joint as Sakina lies back on the beautiful raw silk diwan in her living room, head resting on a tastefully mismatched set of hand printed FabIndia cushions – one with blue horses on it, the other with pink elephants. We’re talking about our first period, comparing stories of our first sexual encounters, the craziest places we’ve done it. How is it that I know these most intimate details of my best friends’ lives but I don’t know how Nitya feels about her scar after her second C section, or whether Sakina tore when she pushed Vihaan’s giant head out of her? How is it that alien words like ‘breast augmentation’ and ‘liposuction’ and ‘botox’ are part of our vocabulary as we laugh about the absurdities of American reality TV, but intimate words like third degree tears and diastasis recti are not? Why didn’t they prepare me for this, just as they had prepared me for my first period, the first time I had sex? I feel a wave longing for their company, tinged with betrayal at the information they have withheld from me.
Adil perches on a wooden foot stool at the bottom of my bed, cradling his whisky while I eye it enviously. “You don’t have to do this Aditi, you can choose not to put yourself through this. You know I’ve got your back no matter what you decide.” I get to choose, but that would necessitate the act of making a choice. I feel incapacitated. I could start off small – maybe choosing to get off the couch and changing out of my pyjamas? I cover myself with a blanket, exhausted at the thought.
As the brain fog slowly starts to lift, I see my body start to change. A line, faint at first, fades slowly into view like the line on the pregnancy test, until it is indisputable, splicing my stomach into two hemispheres. I rub my stomach with copious amounts of coconut oil every morning and evening, yet there they are, white tendrils creeping up my waist, stretching towards my belly button with alarming coordination. My body feels inhabited, controlled by some kind of mad, modernist sculptor who is wantonly disfiguring a form I had tried relentlessly to perfect over so many years, patiently sculpting down its rounded edges and chiseling away at its unruly curves.
Yet, as I recline on my couch, legs wide apart and my hand rubbing my gently rounding belly, I feel a strange comfort in this alien posture that I had never before allowed myself to adopt. A smattering of images play out in my mind, like a slideshow of memories from home. The vegetable vendor pausing outside our verandah as he sells Ma the week’s vegetables, absent-mindedly picking the lint from his exposed belly button as he hands back the change. My grandfather’s bare, hairy stomach bouncing off his thighs as he laughs that huge happy laugh of his while lounging in his favorite chair on a hot Delhi summer day. In both images is a sense of the unashamed matter-of-factness about the contours of the human body that is generally reserved for men. I feel a sense of relief as I realise that different rules apply for pregnant women’s bodies, just as different rules apply for men.
Shouldn’t I be watching prenatal yoga videos and shopping for baby clothes and taking weekly photos of my stomach holding up a colourful placard saying 13 weeks by now? I think of Sarah from work and her multiple rounds of IVF, and am horrified by my own apathy. What if I’m missing the maternal gene? What kind of monster worries about getting fat when they’re growing life inside them?
“You remember Rupika Aunty who lived next to us in Mohini Apartments?” Ma volunteers unhelpfully. “Her daughter Tara also lives in London and is in her second trimester.
Maybe you should talk to her?” I have no idea what I’ll talk to Tara about, but I call her anyway.
Tara has the voice of someone who is perpetually enthusiastic. “I highlyyy recommend UCL yaa, they’ve been great with us and I still can’t believe it’s all freeee in this country. Haan Chelsea and Westminster is fine only also. Ya yaaa, Nikhil and I defffinitely wanted kids – it happened at the right time yaa, we just couldn’t imagine our future being childless.” Childless. The word trickles down my spine, carrying the weight of an imagined normal.
I look around my one-bedroom apartment helplessly, then reach for the pack of Pregnacare that Adil bought me. ‘Expert Nutrition Through All Of Pregnancy – 19 Vitamins and Supplements’. The smiling blonde lady on the box resting her hand gently on her perfectly rounded stomach looks like a good mother. I feel like a good mother just taking the pill. There, see? I’m helping Safeguard My Child’s Dietary Requirements And All-Round Wellbeing Through The Whole Of Pregnancy. I place the box of Pregnacare prominently on the nightstand next to me before I fall asleep — part trophy, part talisman.
I am awoken by a familiar wetness between my legs. My brain, in autopilot, wonders if I remembered to buy tampons before I’m awake enough to realise I haven’t used tampons in three months. I sit up and drag myself off the edge of the bed. My blinds are open and the morning sunlight is streaming through the window, casting a spotlight on the reddish-brown stain on my white bed sheet. I stare at it in disbelief, pulling down my underwear to make sure I’m not dreaming. I dial 111 as I fumble over to the toilet and pull off my panties, trying to remember where I had read something that had said light vaginal bleeding is relatively common. I follow the instructions. I don’t have any pads, so I line my underwear with multiple sheets of toilet paper folded over and pull on two extra pairs of panties, packing another two pairs along with the orange pregnancy book and my headphones.
“Siri, call Adil.”
It is a different ultrasound technician this time, with a European accent that I don’t have the cultural knowledge to place. Adil’s hands are cold and clammy against mine through the ultrasound. “I’m so sorry Aditi.” She pronounces my name correctly. I wonder if she’s Spanish? I can see Adil’s face crumple without turning to look at him. This time, I don’t cry. I hear her say “if you can wait outside, my colleague will come get you shortly and explain the options going forward…” I feel the multiple silver rings I wear on my fingers dig painfully into my skin as Adil squeezes my hand.
I sit in the hospital waiting room, staring at a black spot on the white wall while Adil paces the corridor. All sound has faded into silence. I pull out my phone, tap open a search page and type in the word.
There are pages and pages of results.
‘A miscarriage is the loss of pregnancy during the first 24 weeks. About 1 in 5 pregnancies will end in miscarriage…’
I keep scrolling.
‘Sadly, miscarriages are a common complication….’
I click to the next page.
‘Often referred to as ‘invisible grief’…’
‘Readers on the pain of miscarriage: ‘In my head I was already a mum and then suddenly I wasn’t….’
I take a deep breath, look around to make sure no one can see my screen and hunch over, tipping my phone slightly towards me. I type slowly into the Google search bar:
‘Relieved to miscarry?’
The hospital sounds around me start to come back into focus. I hear the trill of a curtain being pulled open, the lilt of someone laughing. A midwife steps out. “Aditi? Are you ready?” I stand up and smile at her.