New Years day 2002
The head throbs like someone is inflating and deflating it with a bicycle pump of pain. The mouth is as unpleasant as a worn and soiled pub carpet, (the bit just below the bar where drinks are spilled; cigarettes stamped out; chewing gum dropped; and soggy, smelly and damp because of the Resident Drunk can't be arsed to leave and loose his bar stool fighting through the masses to reach the toilet and has urinated by the bar), and as dry as if the carpet has been inexplicably sent to the Saharan desert where it gets crusty in the sun. I feel dreadful. Lindsey is sensible. She does not drink to excess.
"Well if you must drink so much…" I don't have the energy to ask her to keep her wise comments to herself. Nor can I remonstrate with her ultimatum. "This year we either go travelling or have a baby. Preferably both. In fact, preferably the later, but I'm not waiting around for you to um and arr about travelling". I force my eyes open and grunt at her. "Water" is the most I can say.
And then we hit the road and baby talk was put on hold. Until Vietnam. A similar ultimatum was issued in Sapa. You may recall tales of tears in Sapa. Well much of Lindsey's melancholia was due to her ultimatum. This time I was compos mentis. "Let's have a baby," she said. "No" I replied, "We can't travel with you with a bun in the oven". It wasn't that I didn't want a baby; it was just that to start trying for a family four months in to the trip would be the quickest way to issue a one-way ticket home. "That's not to say we shouldn't start trying whilst we are travelling…" I said. "But later, towards the end of the trip". And so with a calendar in one hand and pen and paper in the other we fought over when we should give this 'starting a family' thing a go. Lindsey was into lunar months, I was into calendar months. She said I didn't understand the woman's cycle, I said I didn't care. All I knew was we were due to go home at the end of January. Working three months backwards, because it is only after three months that they say you should tell people that you are pregnant (and in my curious mind I didn't want to faced questions about whether Lindsey was pregnant or not until we could give a definite answer), I circled the first of November. Proudly and triumphantly I announced, "That is when we shall make a baby." "Yes but it doesn't work as easily as that" said Lindsey. "How about the 6th of October, I'll be ovulating on or around the 20th ." "Ovulation smovulation. No idea what you are going on about. 1st of November. Alright?" Lindsey would precede my next words with "as always," I got my own way. And that was supposed to be it until that magical date. Names were discussed; (I favoured Ozymandias for a boy. Lindsey wanted Toby. Over my dead body would I call a child Toby). But it was for fun, passing the time in long journeys. We both agreed that we'd be in India when we would try and conceive. And if we agreed on one name it was that India would be an excellent name for a girl.
It happened as we were leaving Tibet. I'd guessed something was up, indeed I knew it by what was said in the email. Lindsey's sister went a round about way of doing it, but in an email sent just before we left Lhasa she asked Lindsey to ring her, giving specific times to ring. She'd only do this if there was something important to say. Lindsey wasn't so sure. I figured that sometimes I know her older sister better than she does. Five days later we were in Kathmandu. Shortly after arriving and eating we found an Internet cafe and went online and received the news that, as I expected, Lindsey's sister was pregnant. That was not all. Two other couple were also expecting a baby. This meant that all my friends either had or were on the way to having babies. Suddenly this screwed up my well thought out baby plans. The strict timetable whereby we didn't want Lindsey to be up the spout too early or we'd have to cut short our trip was up in the air. Lindsey was in full agreement, suddenly it seemed imperative that we should start a family now. The thought of returning home and facing a peer group whose sole topic of conversation from now on would be babies filled me with dread a loathing. It sent shivers down my spine. Imagine my mates saying "Sorry Marc, can't come to the pub tonight, can't find a baby sitter," and seeing them fixing nappies and pushing prams and the nightmare vision of all my friends in the park pushing prams was just to much. I was like a child, I didn't want to be left out. I wanted a baby so I could join their club. A heavy feeling and panic descended and the emotions ratcheted their way up the roller coaster ramp and for the next few days I was in a daze. We had to be quick! We had to bring our baby plans forward and start trying. The trip became irrelevant. In my mind it became essential that a baby came soon, otherwise we were condemning it to always being the looser, the younger and weaker against its peers. And this irrational pressure hurt. Something gnawed at me. It grew over the next few days. A burning knot tightened around my chest. A bulging lump in my throat and stinging in my eyes. I could sense my heart rate increasing, aware of it pounding like never before. I became conscious of my shoulders. They were tight and pulled up, I had to stop and focus to relax them, to bring them down from being bunched up and back. At first I couldn't put my finger on this physical manifestation of an unknown mental trait. It was fear, absolute blind panic, worry, and hatred, anger. But why. Lindsey tried to counsel me but I just screwed my fists up and balled at her and wept. I'd not known this since I was a teenager. I tried to get a grip. What was causing this? I rationally went though what it could be. Could it be intense jealousy? Maybe, but I'd like to think not. I am competitive, but not jealous by nature. Possibly it could be the fear of loneliness, of being left out- my closest friends having babies and us having none. Lindsey would delight and dote over their babies and I would be not only alienated from my friends but from my wife as well. I decided this was stupid, and besides, we were going to be trying t conceive anyway, what difference would a few months make? So what was it then? What was the cause of this pain? It was definitely fear, I knew that, but of what? And then it came to me. It was like the night before a school examination. It was the fear of anticipation, and the fear of failure. The fear of not being able to conceive, the fear of not being able to do it. And if conception is the examination then there was no set examination date. The human body is different to that. Ovulation comes when it does and the egg starts its journey when nature decides. We could try and predict it but it is in many ways a lottery. Oh a lottery. So I did some research and I became an expert on fertility and prediction methods. We bought a thermometer, every morning when Lindsey awoke she would whisper to me "thermometer." For her to move would increase her metabolic rate and this would raise her basal temperature, so she remained static whilst I inserted it into her mouth. We recorded the temperature every month and draw a graph of Lindsey's basal temperature wandering up and down through the month. I read about Lunaception, predicting ovulation by the moon which Lindsey's cycle was close to. I became a connoisseur of vaginal mucus, knowing my fertile sticky egg white from simple wetness. But I also know that in this lottery chances were slim, some books suggested only 25%. So I rounded this up to a more round number and called it thirty per cent. Out of every ten couples only three will conceive in the first month. And three of my friends had just done precisely that leaving Lindsey and I statistically condemned to a long wait. And it was that fear of being statistically excluded from the baby game that drove a stake into my mental and physical well-being. And it was that stake which would make it harder for me to produce healthy long tailed swimmers, which switched attention literally to the balls in my court. Did they produce healthy baby juice? More fear and anguish accentuated by Catholic guilt. Had I started masturbating too early or too much and drained myself dry.
We were walking around the Golden Temple in Amritsar and the Sikhs were friendly people and they came up to us and shook our hands and said "hello, what is your good name, what country come from you?" and we were happy. Then a young Sikh man barely out of his teens came up to us and started talking and said "please can I take your picture?" I said "yeah, yeah", and he was happy, even though the flash didn't go off and it was dark and the photograph would never come out. He said to me "you know I am a future reader and I can read your future. You are very easy" Before I could say "no, I don't believe in that nonsense" he had dived into a long monologue about me. "You are single" he said and I got the fear because I was thinking yes, we are single, Lindsey and me, no other, a single married couple. I nodded. "Yes, we are single," I said. He said "I told you", and my brain was ticking because I didn't think he was talking about married as opposed single because I had married plus one on the brain. Then he said, "you will have no luck" and I thought shit! That's it! It's all gone pear shaped. Never thought it would happen anyway and now this Sikh bubba has confirmed it, I will have no luck in conceiving a child. "You have good luck" he said to Lindsey. Well cheers mate that makes me feel even better I thought. My wife is going to have luck, she will conceive a child but not by me! And then he said to me, "You have no luck. Please sir, never gamble. You will never have luck with dice or cards". And then I realised that my mind had become corrupted and paranoid with this baby nonsense. We walked away, my mind had moved on, to thoughts of the bedroom.
Yet another friend unexpectedly wrote to me announcing he was a proud father to be. This is getting bloody stupid I thought. I sent him an email congratulating him and heard nothing back from him. A week later I wrote to him again, commenting on recent football results and mentioned nothing about his forthcoming fatherhood. He never received my fist mail, he wrote back to me with an aggressive tone. "Do you've finally got round to writing to me and all you've got to say about my becoming a dad is 'good news that Chelsea have gone third'". This was evidence enough that babies were going to take over the world I lived in back home. Unless we could conceive, I was going to be alienated from all my friends when we got home. We spent a full day in Delhi in the bookshops. We went into each bookshop and I hurried straight to the baby section and pulled out all the reference material I could find on getting pregnant. We couldn't have enough facts. I learnt that we should be taking lots of vitamins, and for me, zinc in particular. So we found a chemist and bought multi-vitamins with minerals and lots of zinc because zinc makes the sperm stronger swimmers. We decided that Lindsey should be consuming more vitamins as well, so we ask for multi-vitamins for her but they all had vitamin A in and studies have suggested that vitamin A should be avoided before and during pregnancy. So what to do. I now realised we should have bought those Vitamins for Pregnancy in Boots the week before we left the UK but I said to Lindsey "No, don't worry, we'll get 'em in India. Because if there is one thing India is not short of is babies and pregnancies and surely the vitamin thing will have hit them by now". But no, we could not find multi-vitamins without vitamin A and I was thinking this is no good. We're never going to have a child like this. Our diet is dirt and without supplements the little eggs are going to be weak and despite the strong swimming sperm that the zinc would aid we stood little chance of having genetic fusion. So we are wandering down Parh Ganj and were a little disheartened because all the chemists sold only multi vitamins with vitamin A and then I saw what looked like a chemist we had not yet visited. Avoiding the chaos on the street, we rushed into the shop and I was thinking yes, this is the place and when Lindsey asked the man behind the counter did he have any vitamin tablets without vitamin A he rolled his head which is a good sign and then he hands her a jar of pills. "Auyervedic multi-vitamins" it said on the label. Traditional Indian medicine, but not a word of riboflavin or Niacinamide or any other stuff that you see on the ingredients of multi-vitamins to be seen. "All natural" the man said. Natural health supplements sounded like a good idea, and India being a baby factory there had to be a natural baby-making supplement. "Got anything for helping make babies," I asked the old man behind the counter, and he just looked at me and stared and clearly thought I was mad and perhaps I was.
Lindsey's cycle was the good old Lunar twenty-eight. If we were not able to predict ovulation, we could at least menstruation and so a new worry engulfed me. Would she start bleeding, for the most obvious sign of a pregnancy is the missed period. With the twenty eighth day looming, it seemed like a dead cert that menstruation was on the way. Lindsey's tummy was hard and bloated and she felt inside that her period coming. On the twenty eighth day, we'd expected that as every other twenty eighth day she would wake up and a red present would have collected in the absorbent cotton between her legs. It didn't grace us with its presence. We went the whole day and nothing. Her tummy still felt tender though. Twenty ninth, a day late and not such a tender tummy and still no blood. I was feeling more positive. "Yeah Linds, you're definitely up the spout" I said to Lindsey. "It's funny how you have suddenly taken an interest in my monthlies Marc" she said. "I'm only a day late Marc. If you'd ever shown any interest before you would have known that it is not unusual to be a day, or even several days late". I ignored her and ran through my mind how I would tell my mother how she will become a granny, and I laughed at those damned statistics. Hey! I thought, it wasn't that hard after all. I even began to think it was a shame because whilst it was hard work at the time, three times a day was not so bad and the old fella was going to be sadly unemployed for the coming months. I'd recently discovered that there can be no nookie for the first three months of pregnancy. Thirtieth. Still nothing except uncertainty. And we began to bicker because it was all we talked about and were both frustrated and this was getting too much so we decided to take the test.
Tremendous significance and importance was placed on the blue lines. To be honest, I'm getting impatient; I want to know either way. The waiting is too much. Two days late and it is killing me. She is late; yet the signs in her body say that her period is on its way. Well why doesn't it bloody well hurry up, the suspense is too much. It is too much for both of us. There once was a time when a single thin blue line would have brought whoops of delight. Clear and negative and sighs of relief. This time the single line was dreaded. Please oh please let it be the tramlines of a positive result. We bought the test kit late in the afternoon. We didn't need to wait long; you can always rely on Lindsey to need a wee. So she peed into a bottle and presented me with her sample. I took the supplied pipette and sucked in the straw coloured liquid. With tester placed flat on the bathroom basin I dropped the proscribed three drops into the sample well and waited. The sample quickly flowed into the results window. "Go on" I willed it, "come on baby; give us two blue lines". The window was fully soaked. Slowly the first blue line, the 'control line' became visible. Thirty seconds, a minute, then two and nothing. No matter how much I stared and willed it, a second blue line never appeared. My heart didn't really sink, more a shrug of the shoulders and a "ho hum". Lindsey quietly nodded. And I ran the program in my head that I knew I'd run when we bought the test. A false negative was more likely than a false positive. The wee wasn't the first of the morning. "The first urine sample of the day is preferred" read the kit's leaflet. Lindsey had been drinking lemon soda before. "Drinking large amounts of fluids prior to collection of the sample can dilute hormone levels in the urine leading to inaccuracy in the test result" it said. Written on the box was "Store below 25 degrees C". Hello! We were in the desert in Jaisalmer and it was thirty in the shade. And maybe Lindsey's cycle wasn't the twenty-eight days that we'd thought. Maybe we'd taken the test too early. More thoughts. I said to Lindsey "It's definitely wrong. It's an Indian made test, it'll be of crap quality, low sensitivity, and bound to be wrong". And most crucially, I saw the single line, waited two minutes and saw what I wanted to see and threw the test away. If I'd read the instructions properly, I would have seen at the bottom of the leaflet "Wait for five minutes to confirm test is negative". A sly second blue line could have crept in when the kit landed in the bin and I never saw it! When I informed Lindsey of this an hour after taking the test, she ordered me to retrieve it from the bin. There were two lines. OK, the positive result line was on the pale side, but this could do nothing but add to my conclusion, dodgy result. So I ran the program in my head that it was a false negative and we were back to square one. Waiting. Not knowing. Day thirty-one and she was three days late and I was wondering what kind of cruel joke Lindsey's body was playing on us. I mean, the longer we had to wait for the blob, the longer we would have to wait before we could start trying again. I'll admit it, I quite fancied a shag, and until the blob had come and gone there was little chance of that. Day thirty-two. Four days late and the nappy between Lindsey's legs remained virginal white. She was feeling sick and I was looking after her and we attributed it to dodgy food, especially as it was accompanied by loose stool movements. But then a cruel voice inside me welled up and whooped with joy at her nausea. Whoopee-do! My wife is down with Morning sickness! Day thirty-three, and it was five days late. Lindsey woke me up and said "it is coming, I can definitely feel it". But it didn't come. Meanwhile the wait was causing me hair loss. For the first time, I detected the hair loss of a receding hairline! Day thirty-four. And it was almost a week late. Lindsey feared the result, but was done with waiting for her womb to let us know either way. We agreed that it was time to test again, so we bought four kits just to make sure. "But I don't want to know the result," said Lindsey. "OK" I said, "Whatever it is I'll say it is inconclusive". Back in the hotel and her bladder emptied and the wee wee was collected. I retired to the laboratory (the bathroom window sill) and got to work. I'd learnt from last time that a watched pot doesn't boil. So I dropped the drops, started the timer on my watch and together we left the bathroom and flopped onto the bed. Lindsey started reading, I started to play backgammon on my Palm Pilot. I won just as the bleeper bleeped five minutes. Walking into the bathroom was just like opening the exam results envelope. And what was the result? Lindsey didn't want to know either way. But it would be obvious by my face. Positive and I wouldn't be able to keep the smile from beaming, negative and the disappointment would be hard to hide. A second blue line appeared. My face beamed. "You are pregnant Lindsey." "I still don't believe it" she said.
So what's next?
Over the next week Lindsey repeated the test and every time was the same, a positive result.
My mood began to swing even more than before and I felt sicker than Lindsey. But then this was normal if that small paperback the Readers Digest is to be believed. Honestly, anything with the word pregnancy or baby on the cover and I was lapping it up. For me the Readers Digest was their DIY manual, I'd never actually seen the digest until Jaipur. The article read put my mind at rest.
"Mummies aren't the only ones who ride the hormone roller coaster. First time fathers undergo similar changes. Canadian researchers observed that from the first trimester to a few months after birth the twenty three papas to be who wee studied had lower levels of testosterone and the stress hormone cortisol and many had higher levels of esradiol, a hormone linked with maternal behaviour. This might help explain couvade syndrome where 11-65% of men with pregnant partners experience symptoms like morning sickness".
But what variability. 11-65%! Statistics hey? And pregnancy seems to be full of them. I met someone in India who during her pregnancy was given a test and told that she had a 300 to 1 chance of her baby having Downs Syndrome. This filled her with fear. But think of it as odds; would you back a 300 to 1 horse? In the litigious society we live in, hospitals are obliged to dazzle with facts and figures so the ambulance chasers can't have recourse later to say they weren't told. No doubt when we would have that scan we'll be full of the same fear.
Because this was only the first hurdle. Yet more statistics, the bane of the baby world, 20-30% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Shit! How does that happen? The fear. Does Delhi belly bring it on? How do we minimise the risks? For once we could do something to mitigate against the fear. We could return home to the UK, where we could be confident of medical care and fine food and Vitamins for Pregnancy. And that is why circumstances drove us to the medical care back home. We would leave India early, our plans for India would remain unfulfilled. Instead, India would become our plan. The growing poppy-seed of life in Lindsey's womb took on the unknown sex of a girl and she was called India. (Well we could hardly call her Pushkar could we!)