It is 2022, New Year’s Eve.
It’s the first time in a long time that I am alone at home. I am alone with trusted steed Milo by my side; he is busy chewing on pebbles and being a welcome (and sometimes, very unnecessary) distraction.
I have just finished my injections for the day. I have started my IVF treatment, which has been strongly encouraged by several oncologists. You are young, they say. Think about the choices you want to have for the future. I nod. I smile. Mostly, I am exhausted.
On that particular day, my husband and I have been in the clinic for close to 7 hours. It is New Year’s Eve. It is impossible getting any appointments, getting anything done at the end of the year. And yet, here we are. We have finalised a plan.
Things are happening. I have many more injections to give myself.
It is 2021, New Year’s Eve. My husband and I are cautiously optimistic about the new year. Though we had gotten my father-in-law’s diagnosis earlier that year, things have been relatively calm, my father-in-law is responding well to treatment, and my husband is home after being away in Malaysia for several months. We have just returned from our long-awaited honeymoon in the Bahamas, ten full days of sea and sun and solitude.
We have gotten through a toughie, we say softly to each other. Next year may have its own challenges but for now, we are good. We share small smiles.
We are good.
We are good, we whisper.
We make a shepherd’s pie that evening – it is our tradition to make a New Year’s Eve meal together, that we would then enjoy with a glass of wine or a homemade cocktail. We prefer spending the evening at home, giving thanks to all that transpired, dreaming about what the future could look like.
We are enjoying bites of shepherd’s pie when my husband looks up from his phone with a stricken expression.
Your grandmother has passed, he said. I blink. My heart stutters. I frantically check my phone, see the message.
There is a sinking feeling in my stomach, a leaden weight in my heart. The last of my grandparents – gone.
I feel the familiar deadness of sorrow creeping in.
The shepherd pie congeals on my plate.
I don’t know if I want to be a mother. I don’t know if I can be a good one. I don’t know if the world needs more children, when there are plenty running amok, starving, hungry, suffering. I don’t know if unborn children need this world, which is increasingly becoming hotter, wilder, angrier, sicker – a wholly disintegrating landscape.
I don’t know many things.
But what I do know is that if I am to do chemotherapy, which is becoming more and more likely, there is a strong chance that I would lose the function of my ovaries. This time next time, even if I have a complete change of mind and want to birth ten children, I may not be able to, because well, chemo’s effects.
So maybe I don’t want children right now. But I don’t not want the choice of having children even more. If there is one thing that has come up again and again since the start of my diagnosis, is that I want agency. I want to be able to decide, over and over again, how I am going to turn up for myself. I am going to stand at the crossroads over and over again, and decide which path I want to walk on.
Believers of fate and destiny might say that this is foolish, that it is the human mind trying very hard to exert control over a life that is never really mine to begin with, since fate’s stronghold begins at the start of it all. Proponents of free will might cheer me on, saying that there is nothing more important than exercising individual agency, that it helps to mitigate the feeling of freewheeling that happens during overwhelming, traumatic periods like this. Both schools of thoughts may be right.
But in my case, it always boils down to what I can live with at this very moment, in the immediate present. And that, I am very clear about. I want to give my future self a choice. I want to allow my future self to be able to make a thoughtful, well-considered decision about motherhood that I am definitely not ready to make now, not when I am in the tornado’s eye. And so, that seals it. I will do the dreaded IVF.
There is something very hopeless about having to inject yourself with needles everyday. Even for someone like me, who has a very high pain tolerance, it is the act of stabbing yourself, of seeing little pinpricks of blood, of feeling the sharp pain, despite knowing that you are doing this willingly – there is a certain darkness about it all.
I have been swimming in this darkness for about two weeks now.
I see my body change, the pains appear in my lower back, the difficulty in peeing because my ovaries are swollen as my follicles are being stimulated at an extremely accelerated rate. I feel the way my moods shift, how the exhaustion settles in about an hour or two after I’ve had my injections in the morning. I sigh, sometimes I cry, most days I let it be, because it is a part of the process, because this was a choice I made, and so I will see it through till the end.
I am thankful for having this sense of responsibility drilled in to me at a young age, that we have choices, and we make them, and all choices have consequences that cannot be borne by anyone else other than ourselves. As a child, I hated this lesson, railed and rebelled against my parents for being hard taskmasters, for expecting things of me that most parents may not have of children at that age. Now, I am thankful, because that lesson helps me walk through this season with as much grace as I can muster, with little bitterness.
Even in the tornado’s eye, there are things to be grateful for.
I am internet hopping, as I do sometimes on weekends, quiet hours of the day where I play my favourite music (today, Tamil) and catch up on my favourite newsletters, explore tangential thoughts in my brain that I have been meaning to research, find out about celebrity gossip – the usual.
I chance upon The Marginalian’s newsletter which links to Nick Cave’s beautiful writing about facing existential hopelessness, about the immense power that each and every single human action has. I blink. I smile. I tear up a little bit.
I think about W’s relentless questioning about how I am turning up for myself. It reminds me of a tarot session with J, where we are talking about monsters, and J is recounting a scene in a film he liked, where the protagonist, running in fear while being chased, suddenly makes a decision to turn around and look the monster in the eye.
I think about what Nick Cave writes, about how the “human gesture is always a heartbeat away from the miraculous” and I think about me injecting myself everyday and looking up headscarves online, and I mutter, this is agency, this is how I am turning up for myself.
This is how I am a heartbeat away from the truly miraculous.
It is 2022, New Year’s Eve.
I am sitting at the dining table, making my insurance claims.
This is something they don’t tell you about disease – about the relentlessness of the business of medicine, about the depth of the rot of capitalism. About access and payments and the shark-like tendencies of everything in-between.
My husband is now cooking a NYE meal for us – today I do not have the energy to stand with him in the kitchen, preparing this meal by his side.
The words on my laptop are blurring.
It has been a long day.
My husband brings steaming plates of food, a delicious steak for him and lamb meatballs with spaghetti for me. We quietly eat our meal, before I say, well at least isn’t shepherds pie this time.
We look at each other, burst into laughter.
Even in the eye of the tornado, we find reasons to laugh. Even in the eye of the tornado, we eat good food.
Because what is left, if not the simple, immediate pleasures of life.
Over the years, Arathi Devandran has written for e-zines and publications on a range of issues, serving as a youth columnist, general observer of the human condition, and dissector of the specific experiences of being a South Asian woman in a patriarchal and parochial world. More recently, she has become interested in exploring themes of inter-generational familial relations and navigating the complexities of self-growth through personal essays and autofiction. Arathi is currently working on her full-length manuscript. Her work can be found here.
Disclaimer: All opinions and views here are my own.