It’s the first time in a long time that I’m not quite excited about my birthday. I love being a January baby.
There is something really glorious about turning a year older at the start of the year, as if the clean slate is being presented on so many different levels – not just for new year resolutions but also to create the space for one-more-year-around-the-sun manifestations. Birthdays have been sacred to me. They remind me that there is something so unique in each of us that is represented in the stars to the exact second that we are born. Whenever I look at the sky, and whenever I read my astrological birth chart at the beginning of each new year, it feels serendipitous, as if the stars knew exactly what they were up to when I was born.
It is a feeling of delight, to know that despite being so innocuous in this big, crazy universe, there is something singularly, specifically unique in each of us.
It is incredibly painful. I am almost delirious with pain, and the sedation medication is still roaring through my system. I am shivering uncontrollably, I can feel my teeth chattering, though I still don’t fully have a good sense of where I am. It comes to me in flashes, that I have finished my procedure, that some eggs would have been extracted if things had taken place successfully, but.
The pain. The cold. It is all too much to bear. I think I am whimpering for pain medications. I am begging, or maybe in my head I am, the lines blur between reality and imagination.
I wonder briefly about how my husband must feel staring at me like this, how I never show this level of pain or helplessness ever and want to apologise for putting him through this, all of this. But the words do not form, and only a strange mewling sound escapes from my lips.
I am not afraid of pain. Or at least, I have have never really been afraid of pain.
And yet, here I am. Trapped in its throes.
Completely and utterly vulnerable.
I hear the anaesthetist say that he is going to give me another dose of painkillers, that it is a drug that one can easily get addicted to. I’m already fading out as he is intravenously feeding it to me.
My feelings around motherhood remain complicated.
Having cancer has not changed that. Do I want to be a mother? On some days, yes, when I feel this great, overpowering sense of love for the daughter I know I will raise to the best of my ability. On other days, when I feel burdened by the expectations of it all, when I can barely take care of myself, I recoil at the thought of more work, more responsibility, little people, snot, the endless years ahead of teaching and caregiving.
Yet again and again, in this weird cancer journey, I come back to the same ideas about choice, free will, agency.
W tells me that it might be because my childhood was filled with crossroads where I never felt I had any choice to make; where it felt like life kept happening to me instead of the other way around. That I never really practised exercising my agency the way I am desperately aching to as an adult.
I nod, processing.
So when I am staring at another new fresh set of crossroads, my decisions are clear, that even if I feel like I have no choice now, that I will give myself options in the future. That while I may not have the answers around motherhood now, that I will be able to deliberate the questions with a clearer head next time.
I remind myself of this every morning, when I have three injections in front of me, and I methodically take them in my hand, pinch the fat on different sides of my belly, and stick the needle into me. I feel the pain, and I take a deep breath and remind myself that I made this decision, that no one forced me to do this, and that all decisions have consequences and that I am now facing them, staring straight into their eyes.
A little bubble of blood rises to the surface of my skin as I withdraw the needle.
It is my birthday tomorrow. I turn 32 years old. A few days after that, I begin chemotherapy.
I look at myself in the mirror when I take a shower after I get home from surgery and stare at the mirror, wondering how long my hair is going to last. The night before, my brightly coloured headscarves arrived in the mail.
I touched the fabric lightly, imagined it against the baldness of my head, wondered at how I will explore this next phase of this garrulous journey, the one where I begin to dig deeper into what it means to be a woman, how my notions of femininity can be redefined.
I shudder at the thought of facing myself in the mirror, at the thought of having to reckon with a body that has not felt like my own for so long now.
And yet, the other part of me, the part of me that is morbidly curious about all aspects of life, even the blatantly painful ones like this, that part of me looks forward to it, ready, waiting, calm.
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.
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