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Thinking of Amisha makes me realize I have bitter feelings for fate. She has the funniest and the cleverest anecdotes on any situation, can make a conversation out of any topic, even cars, football, watches, video games, Affordable Care Act, ISIS – anything.
But, babies? That’s something she isn’t good at making.
One evening in December, she left a message summoning me to Café Intermezzo in Buckhead. I called her immediately after reading the message, but she did not pick up. I was frantic after 4 missed calls when I finally heard her on the other end.
“Hey babe, you good to go tonight? Or maybe, we can try tomorrow? I need a drink, it’s sort of urgent.”
“What? Are you serious, a drink?” I asked.
“Yup, you heard it right. Actually, if you are tied up with something, I will be on my own. No stress, man.”
“No, no, no, it’s fine. Tomorrow is worse. I have to take the girls to Jingle Jam.” I felt dreadful as I continued after a pause. “Hey Mish.. Mish, you need to know something before we meet.” I stopped speaking.
“What? What is it? Oh, come on, are you..? How far are you along?”
I didn’t reply.
“Jesus, life is a fucking paradox!” I heard her say as she cut the conversation abruptly. I didn’t try to call her back, I texted her that I will be there at 10, but can understand if she didn’t want to meet. She replied with a just get there, I need company to drink. I grabbed the opportunity to get dressed up and put some make up on and warily took my husband’s car leaving my monster Chevy Suburban behind. As the mom, I almost never get a chance to drive Mark’s fancy car, so it’s going to be a good evening out on this ride I figured.
I had met Amisha 12 years ago when she came to work for me as an intern during my days at Ernst and Young. When I assigned her the product workbook management after the acquisition of a small landline company by our client at the time, Fairpoint Inc., she stunned everyone with how quickly she picked up the industry literature and inner workings of the business model. She excelled at the task of merging the smaller company’s products to be in line with our client database. She was famous for sending 4am emails assuring herself the role of a hard working go-getter. I knew I had made the right choice when I had interviewed her at a campus recruitment fair – something E&Y did annually in colleges like Georgia Tech to lure young talent for low wage but high demanding jobs. At 24, she had amazed me, her wit and spontaneity never to be matched in any setting since.
But, a lot has happened since. Including the both of us growing closer as family friends and apart as the size of my family grew bigger. Amisha, in her attempts to bear her own child in her own body, had gone through round after round of experimental IVF cycles, to get pregnant. It had meant countless hours of hospital visitations, sometimes 3 or 4 in a week for blood work to test her hormonal levels. Those levels mattered, she told me, because that determined if her eggs were good enough to be harvested from her ovaries.
First, let me put the letters IVF in perspective. One entire cycle of in vitro fertilization(IVF), is when an egg and a sperm are combined in the laboratory to make an embryo which is then transferred to the uterus of the woman who wants to get pregnant. Each full cycle of IVF takes 4 to 6 weeks. Two weeks later they do a pregnancy test for an HCG hormone. All times, the embryo refused to stick to the wall of Amisha’s uterus and she didn’t need the doctor most times to tell her that. Gopal, her husband drove her to the hospital while she suffered severe stomach cramps and heavy bleeding as she miscarried. The first time Gopal had called from her phone to ask me to come be with them, I had not checked my phone for 12 hours. After that, I never missed his texts those 5 remaining times he had needed me. These terrifying episodes might sound painful and impossible to any of us, but not to a desperate woman who wants babies of her own at any cost.
The past few years have been slow to pass for Amisha, especially ironic because her hormone therapy was designed in a way to speed up her egg releasing process, sometimes 15 to 20 in a month when the average woman can release one or two during her monthly cycle. At 30, she was diagnosed with Endometriosis. In short, she had already started off the journey with a range of hormonal disorders. We had stopped meeting frequently because of the different stages we were in our lives. With my three girls and their activities, it was impossible for me to take out time for myself, let alone reach out to a desperate friend. I knew she didn’t get my busy life, much like how I did not get how she had waited so long to have babies in the first place. For the same reason, we were getting nothing out of our meets, except for our snarky remarks at each others’ lifestyles. She had lost all her friends because they could not handle her temperamental issues and she stopped calling her mother who lived in India.
“There is a fucking sperm station in Palampur, my mom’s hometown. She told me Gopal and I should visit India and see if those centers can do something for us. Palampur? Come on! You know how I feel most times, Rach? It’s worse than having cancer. I feel constantly bloated and gassy. This life is lonelier than old age. It’s just desperate as fuck! All I want is just one baby, how unreasonable is that to ask God? Since when did that become an abnormal request for a woman to have?” She would beg me over phone.
It’s an evolutionary paradox. Indeed, it was. I was recklessly getting pregnant trying to bear a son for my husband without really trying as much as having sex for pleasure. It was literally like every time I slept with him in pure passion, a little baby girl walked out of me. I remember this journey, the life of every woman. Until I am ready, I will stave off getting pregnant! A life so complicated, first to avoid conception and then to induce it somehow, one ambition more passionate than the other. Most days, I felt like I was not up to it, if I had any urges, it was the urge to constantly mother someone. To nurture and to grow babies. My intense longing for motherhood and those well-meaning intentions were making my body a fertile ground, I would secretly rationalize with myself.
I parked and tried to spot her car in the parking lot. I stepped into Intermezzo, a boulangerie style restaurant, and looked around. The metal chairs, the warm candle lights, the toasty ambience, I am here for all that. Not to give moral support to a friend. The thought made me feel guilty. The desserts at the counter tempted me but I was going to have to run extra laps at the boot camp – yes, there are some for us pregnant mothers – next morning. One moment of misguided urges would land my consciousness into spiraling guilt. I should not fall for it, I decided.
There must be an Indian-looking girl sitting all by herself I told the usher. Out of the corner of my eyes from a table at the right, she sprang at me and the usher jerked his head smiling at her and left us alone. She looked at my belly eagerly. Almost immediately she looked away as if she realized she was taking an uncalculated risk by staring at the most obvious longing she has had for the last 7 years and the cause that had become her full time job.
“I needed a major chill out session, Rach. Am sick and tired of not being able to drink or eat the way I want to. Sick and tired of being scared, helpless and hopeless all the time. For a couple of hours I don’t want to think of babies! I don’t want to hear the words embryos, uterus or blood work. I am going to get drunk as hell, I don’t care what happens.”
She grabbed my arm pulling me to a cold metal chair across our small table and spoke about it anyway. “My metabolism has gone out of the window. I am size 12 now. If anyone tells me one more time to drink Green tea and eat organic, I am going to spit in their face.” She spoke in grunts and protests avoiding the usage of hmmmms and likes with the hatred she had for those words. Filler words are for losers, she would say.
“Girls gotta eat.” She said half-jokingly to the waiter who had stopped by and asked for a Nutella-Banana crepe and a chocolate and peanut butter cake and told him not to skip the frosting on top. I ordered a spinach cheese dip with bread. She ordered me a marble cheese cake, my favorite, despite my protests.
“So, what’s new with you? You don’t ever meet me anymore. Oh, it’s so cold, isn’t it?” I realized I was rubbing my palms together that prompted her to say that. I tried very hard not to tell her that pregnant women had higher body temperatures. But it would not have been a fair statement, with her hormonal treatments she was half as much pregnant.
“Mike’s offered me to move me up to Rochester. All expenses paid, you know. But Mark is not excited about that, he says what’s a Methodist minister from a Red state going to do there in New York?” I said before continuing. “Soooooooooooo, I guess I am going to pass up that promotion.” I drew a deep breath and winked at her almost guessing what her reaction would be.
“Wow, Rach, I can’t believe it? What about all these sacrifices you have made for Mark? And he still puts his career in front of yours? And what is Mike these days? He must be a Senior VP now? Is Vijay still hanging around?”
“I am fine Mish, you know my career goals. They are not so exuberant. Yeah, Mikey is Senior VP – procurement. He is one of the big guns now. OK, forget about me! Amisha, I need you to just relax. Please don’t drink. You have come this far, please don’t toss it all up. I am not being a good friend if I allow you to drink like this.”
I watched her hand eye coordination as I spoke. She avoided me and my bump and played with the candle on our table. Months and years of hormonal medications, egg harvesting sessions, ultrasound monitoring have left her pale and prematurely gray. Worse than cancer. I rethought. Must be. It’s a human body. Not a war zone or a science lab experiment.
She broke the tyranny of my thoughts. “Rach! Please, I am baked, my head hurts constantly. I went to the clinic three times already this week. Oh wait, you know what those mother fuckers call them now? Bleh. CENTERS FOR HUMAN REPRODUCTION. You know what, maybe I can use some euphemism?” She laughed. She had the habit of convincing herself and others around her with her ideas and suggestions and mused about her own decisions that she did not need help making.
“Do you remember that time in your childhood when your parents’ bedroom smelled that way and even when you were that small, you knew that it was a taboo topic. By the way, have you heard the news? Now Apple is following after Google and starting January, they are encouraging their female employees to freeze their eggs until they are ready to realize their dreams of motherhood. 20000 dollars in your saving account if you follow along in our effort to empower women and move forward the liberation movement. Delay fertility until when they are ready while still having the quality egg of their 20’s. Insurance policy for your fertility they are labelling it shamelessly.”
She made a gesture of banner, drawing her hands from above her forehead to the expanding them as if opening her arms.
“How about some flexibility and work life balance because they are working so hard for your company, you idiots? Go home at 5pm every day and enjoy some intimate moments with your husband and do what is supposed to be done in bedrooms? And not wait until your bodily liquids have to be frozen to be mixed up later in a lab. For people like me who find the lure of the Corporate culture and are on the fence with their career ambitions, this is pure poison. I really got into this because there were so many assurances given to me by my endocrinologist. There is a tax deduction available for treatments up to 10% pretax income. Seriously, talk about a doctor fucking with your business.” She continued animatedly as I sat there stunned by her raw thoughts. “Oh and guess what, funny thing, he now says that if we don’t succeed in this round, he wants to recommend going through egg donors of someone in their 20’s. And those will be an extra 5K or more on top of the 15000 per cycle. I don’t have that kind of money Rachel.”
I grabbed her arms with mine and she quickly withdrew it thinking of what public perception usually is at such sights. At this point she was crying, sobbing softly, appropriately enough for the time of the evening and the outdoor setting we were at. I told her she needed to stop and that I would drive her home.
It’s the strangest relationship we shared as girl friends. I felt this intense hatred and jealousy for her lifestyle, freedom and luxury to choose her will over time, like literally sitting on the toilet for more than a few seconds at a time. But, that was only until I met her and saw her face. A face that demanded examination and undivided attention. It made me feel like I could never leave her in any setting upset and heartbroken. By the time we got out of the place, she had called me all the names in the book including a shameless hussie. I didn’t mind. I might have felt that way because I knew that on both the roller coasters that she was on, the emotional and the physical, I was far ahead of her on a less bumpy ride in life.
If you are going to save for the IVFs, why buy this flat in Brookhaven? It’s so expensive I had argued with her. After I had my third girl, I stopped bringing them to the apartment and coming with my hubby as a family. I did not want her to go nuts with all the chaos that we would leave her with. The physical and the overwhelming psychological one of her own kids not running around on those floors and in every room.
“Where is Gopal? Is he outta town?” I asked her as I groped in her purse for keys.
“Oh, he left, I didn’t ask, he didn’t tell. I don’t care. I don’t even have the biggest hurdle of finding someone whom you love and want to make babies with. It was a mistake waiting for him to finish his PhD. I should have realized early on, that this is one journey you cannot control as a woman. What is really important for a woman? What should she aspire for? My lifestyle of a … ” She said walking inside and promptly walked into the bathroom. I heard her throw up.
When she did not come out of the bathroom, I walked in. She was wailing into her towel. I felt sorry for her. This was the closest she had confessed to what I had been prejudicial about her till now and was the only time I ever saw her cry. I stood along the wall for support and spoke.
“Amisha, motherhood is really overrated. Take my word for it. It is not an easy job to raise children. I don’t have time for myself. I don’t have time for anything! If this one turns out of be yet another girl, I think I am going to kill myself.” I said that aloud as I stunned myself.
“Look at you, you are 42 and you can pop out babies like it’s no one’s business. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriages. You don’t meet the statistic, do you? You are so screwed up! Well, literally too!” She shouted at me.
I told her that her sarcasm was hurting my feelings and that she should stop. Our eyes never met when I spoke and we sat on the floor at two opposite corners of the bathroom full of contempt for each other and cried – our sobs trailing off each other’s anguished voices.