What to expect when you’re NOT expecting.
By Amornrat Sidhu
Young Couple: We have news!
Friend, Aunty, Uncle, Acquaintance, and Any Relatively-Older Indian Person: You’re pregnant!
Young Couple: No, actually we are…*insert any celebratory event*
Friend, Aunty, Uncle, Acquaintance, and Any Relatively-Older Indian Person: Oh! Well, maybe now you can focus on the next chapter! *Wink, wink*
This is an example of a conversation that young Indian men and women often have when they announce any new accomplishment—a new job, a new home, a new degree, getting a new puppy, literally anything. This is especially common when a husband and wife have been married for a few years or if a woman has turned the ancient age of 29 years old. And God forbid, the couple ticks both of those boxes…
DELETED SCENES IN YOUR FAMILY REEL…
We’ve all been witness to floods of maternity photoshoots, videos of innovative gender reveals, and stories about how being in labour was truly a labour of love. But how about what goes on behind the scenes? Well, to be frank, it isn’t anyone’s business.
Your choices and timeline for starting a family (or not having one) is nobody’s concern, yet they still become a subject of discussion in the community — anytime, anywhere. And so, we hope that this read will make all of us a little more sensitive towards the unseen challenges that individuals face on the journey to parenthood.
UNSEEN BIOLOGICAL SCENES
While trying to start a family, a couple might be facing various health issues. Oftentimes, the more drastic the treatment, the more adverse the implications on family planning, and although lifestyle changes can help, they can sometimes take a long time to have an effect on the body. Meanwhile, as outsiders, it’s easy to think that a couple is not being ‘serious’ about starting a family, but little do we know….
POLYCYSTIC OVARY SYNDROME (PCOS)
Many adult women experience PCOS, which directly impacts fertility. Under normal circumstances, a woman’s body releases an egg every month. If the egg is not fertilised, the tissue that begins to line the uterus in preparation for the fertilised egg is no longer needed and the female body sheds it in what we know as ‘menstruation’. Women who have PCOS often have irregular periods or no periods at all, suggesting that they are failing to ovulate due to contributing factors like high androgen levels (a male hormone) and polycystic ovaries (where ovaries are enlarged, contain follicles, and do not function properly). When left untreated, PCOS can cause serious complications including cancer and metabolic disorders.
“I tried getting pregnant for six months before going to my doctor. She laughed at me when I said I wanted to get checked for PCOS and told me to wait for a year. I insisted even though I had regular periods, and it turned out that I did have PCOS which took a few months to treat.” – Gobi Aloo, 37, IT Executive
“I had PCOS and had to lose weight in order to conceive. The thing is, I wasn’t overweight, just a bit of a chubby bubby. I thought I had a normal, healthy body.” – Daal Makhani, 35, Operations Manager
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your throat that runs the reproductive show. Not only does it control several hormones that impact healthy body development, it controls how we use our energy, and how we maintain a healthy body temperature. When an individual develops issues with their thyroid, the symptoms are varied, but can include drastic weight gain or weight loss, hair loss and fatigue.
A blood test often reveals whether or not someone is suffering from a thyroid condition. Some women experience hyperthyroidism, where your thyroid is overactive. Conditions like Graves’ disease is caused by this increase in thyroid hormones. Others might experience hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. Conditions like Hashimoto’s disease can happen as a result, where the body attacks the thyroid.
“When I visited the doctor, I forced them to check my thyroid function because I just had a gut feeling. It turned out that although my primary thyroid hormones were normal, my body was indeed attacking my thyroid and if I didn’t do anything about it, I could develop Hashimoto’s disease which would greatly affect fertility.
“In fact, when I got my results the doctor said that I probably wouldn’t even be able to get pregnant. I ended up drastically changing my diet, not because I wanted to have kids immediately, but because I wanted the option when I was ready. I cut out lactose, gluten, sugar, and eggs to the best of my ability and took a plethora of vitamins that were meant to boost my immunity. However, if these lifestyle measures did not help, I would have to go on thyroid medication which would have life-long implications, including in the realm of family planning.” – Paneer Makhani, 27, Engineer
Another auto-immune disease that can affect fertility and family planning is early on-set arthritis, which occurs when a person’s body attacks their joints causing them to become very inflamed and painful. Medication prescribed to treat this condition, as well as other auto-immune conditions can greatly impact body function and play a role in disrupting fertility.
UNSEEN LOGISTICAL SCENES
LIFE GETS IN THE WAY…
“There were months where we used to argue on ovulation day. It was coincidental, of course, but that sometimes meant that the cooling off period coincided with the entire ‘fertile’ period. Frankly, the act could be soldiered through, but it takes two, and it makes you think, “Do I really want a baby to be born under these circumstances?” Then you get even more upset with yourself and your partner for a wasted month (opportunity).”– Moong Daal, 33, Administration Executive
THE TIMING IS OFF…
“My business schedule did not match with my wife’s fertility cycle. I had to travel every two-three weeks for work, and sometimes I was gone for months at a time. When the doctor asked how long we had been trying, it was diFfïcult to answer. The doctor also offered up unrealistic solutions like quitting my job.” – Seekh Kabab, 36, Owner of a Family Business
IT TAKES TWO…
“Fortunately and unfortunately, it takes two to begin this journey. But, if the guy refuses to do a sperm check due to his embarrassment, how do you move forward without jumping to extreme measures? Is it fair for the woman to have to take invasive tests before the man does just because of his ego?” – Mutton Biryani, 28, Teacher
UNSEEN PSYCHOLOGICAL SCENES
The question is: how do you oil an invisible machine? While it is true that you can ﬁ gure out what’s going on with your body using certain tests, blood tests, ovulation tests, etc. and enlist help from calendars and apps, while eating right and taking ‘the ﬁnal exam’ enthusiastically, there’s a chance you just won’t pass. And there’s a good chance you won’t even be sure what you did wrong…
FEELINGS OF HELPLESSNESS AND A LACK OF CONTROL
“My doctor and my friends both told me that stress and worrying about having a child can change the conditions of your body and make it even more difﬁcult to get pregnant. Like that advice isn’t going to stress me out? How do you live a stress-free life then? How much of it is acceptable? How much stress is below the ‘threshold’?” – Aloo Sabji, 31, Primary School Teacher
“Both the doctor and my husband used to tell me to stop fussing about when I was expecting to miss my period. And yet, if having an awareness about when I am ovulating increases my chances of success, then how can I, a person who can count, not automatically calculate the date of my expected missed period? Counting days is the one thing I can control.”
– Palak Paneer, 31, Entrepreneur
“I used to be both anxious and exhilarated while counting down to when I was supposed to know I was pregnant. I would take every tell-tale sign that I was getting my period and panic. I would Google symptoms and calm myself down with information that said that pregnancy signs are similar to those of an approaching period. It is truly a rollercoaster ride of emotions.”
– Tandoori Chicken, 31, Primary School Teacher
FEELINGS OF FAILURE, EMBARRASSMENT, A LACK OF PRIVACY
“I used to cry every time I got my period. Then, I put myself back together, only to cry again the next month.”
– Daal Chawal, 32, Tutor
“It’s a catch-22. You don’t want to announce to the whole world that you’re trying to get pregnant because people can easily think to themselves, ‘Oh, she isn’t pregnant yet. It’s been awhile.’ Yet, only by word of mouth do you get good recommendations that can help you wade through the all the misinformation. Sometimes it seems like you have to sacriﬁce your own embarrassment and privacy for good guidance.” – Chole Bhature, 34, Entrepreneur
“When you ask for help, no matter how understanding that person is, you can’t help but feel that you have only come to this point because you have failed on your own.” – Tikka Masala, 29, Business Executive
“Your friends, or the people around you will tell you that they got pregnant by accident, or almost right away. And here you are unsuccessfully trying for several years and overcompensating by saying that you’re not ready for kids…”
– Laccha Paratha, 34, Primary School Teacher
OVERHEARD AND OVERSEEN
“You’re going to Europe?! How nice…maybe you will come back successful!”
“Is your job stressing you out? Your body will only respond when the conditions are right, na.”
“If the honeymoon period isn’t over, then why is there no fruit? Wink, wink.”
“It’s been two years…it’s time for a blessing this Gurpurab.” *Aunty touches the young girl’s stomach and she is confused about what the aunty means by blessing.*