Time Check: 4 pm or thereabouts Day: Sometime in November 2013 Place: Drug Shop in Headingley, Leeds
I walked up and down the pregnancy section of the drug store. It had all manner of strange things; vitamin boosting pills, cod oil, pregnancy test kits, cotton and other hospital essentials, thermometers, maternity breast pads, maternity sanitary pads…the aisle seemed to go on and on. I stopped at almost each item and read all the instructions and information on the labels, analysing them like I was about to make a do or die decision.
In truth, I had no idea what I was doing there. I had gone to get a few clothes for winter from the charity shop I liked visiting. Instead, I had ended up in the kids section thinking how cute each item looked, before deciding I needed to get some things for Diana and I as we tried. What things, you ask? I have no clue. It just felt like the kind of thing a trying man ought to do. So I walked out and headed to the drug store and spent about an hour walking back and forth the pregnancy section without picking anything. Eventually, I figured we would do well stocking up on pregnancy test kits, so I picked up the most expensive ones and headed to the counter. Somewhere in my head, I had come to the conclusion that our child, when they came, deserved the best we could offer. And that an expensive test kit was somehow a good way to start. Please don’t ask me to explain. Nange simanyi.
Buying a pregnancy kit is a bit like buying condoms. No matter how justified you are in buying them, you always feel pretty awkward; like a naughty child that’s been caught pants down…literally! You know you are a fully grown adult with all the right to have sex with whomever you agree to have sex with. You are wearing a ring, which should make it obvious that you are married and therefore perhaps even more entitled/obliged to buy these things, but still, as you approach the counter, your brain starts to come up with explanations for the items in your shopping basket. If the cashier smiles at you as they do with every other customer, your mind will swear it was an evil, knowing grin. I picked up my kits, shoved them as far down my backpack as I could and started walking home.
I was smiling to myself.
We had a few days to go to our fertile days and I was pretty pumped. Before you get married, society tells you that you are not yet a real man. When you get married, you are told the real man-badge lies in having a child. In some cases, that having a child is not enough. You must have a son. And then, you are told you haven’t truly started living until you have a second child. After this, the pressure eases, but you are still not yet a certified man. You must experience the school fees hustle to belong to the Man Club. Then it’s the teen years. Then graduation. And before you know it, your children are adults, they are getting married and you are still not a man.
Again, at the back of your mind, you know these are impossible, unrealistic and inconsequential yardsticks by which to measure yourself. But still, crossing one or two of them feels like an achievement. Like you now belong. There is something about being human that makes us want to be a part of a larger unit; a clan, a tribe, a country, a race…something beyond the individual. And when that something expects you to be with child, you (consciously or not) want to meet those expectations. It didn’t hurt that I am a kids kind of person. If I am at a function that has kids, I generally tend to gravitate towards them and away from the adults.
And so I smiled to myself. Excited about the prospect of being a father in a few weeks’ time. Of doing all the things I dreamt of doing with my kids. And yes, if I was being totally honest, of fitting into society’s expectations.
Trying for a baby can be an exciting time. You get to learn of all manner of diets, positions and theories. Some were helpful, while others were outright ridiculous. I remember someone telling me that we could determine the sex of the child by which position we assumed. I thought it was laughable that someone would think so, until I found out several people I knew swore by it. In any case, neither of us was so passionate about the sex of our child as to get caught up in that chatter. Another person told us we had to pray before, during and after making love. Child-making, apparently, was a spiritual battle, not just a coming together of lovers. One that we needed to approach with prayer and (in some cases) fasting.
At the start, our attitude towards the whole process was pretty laid back. Yes, it would be good to get pregnant immediately, but given that we were in a foreign land, were very busy with study and had no job secured, we didn’t mind if it happened later on. Because of all the horror stories we had heard about morning sickness and mood swings, we were particularly concerned about how it would affect Diana’s study. When she talked to her course leaders and they told her it would be possible to complete her research from Uganda if it came to that, we were even more excited.
Month one came and went. Nothing happened, but we were having fun.
The second month came and went. Nothing happened. It didn’t really matter. It would happen eventually, we told ourselves.
For many couples we knew, trying to have a baby translated into the lady stopping to take whatever pills, injections, or other such family planning method they were on and proceeding to try. More often than not, they were told by their doctors not to be too disappointed if nothing happens in the first three or so months since their bodies (ie the woman’s body) were readjusting…rebooting to factory mode if you will. We had heard of stories of this process taking months or even years. But since my wife had never taken any pills, injections or other such family planning regime, we didn’t think this applied to us. Of course it may take a month or two, maybe three to get our timings right, but given how accurately we had avoided getting pregnant thus far we were pretty confident we would get it right sooner than later.
The third month came and went. Then the fourth, then the fifth…
There’s a lot that is said about the stress women face when they are not getting pregnant as expected. Very little is said about men. So let me let you in on our side of the story.
As a man, I grew up in a world that assumes that when it comes to sexuality, it’s the women that need to work on things. Men are thought to be fine by default. Infertility is generally something society ascribes to women. If a couple isn’t having children, people will turn to the woman and ask what the problem is. The only time men may be looked to is if they are not able to get it up. And more often than not, even this is attributed to inexperience, being with the wrong woman, nervousness…everything else other than the possibility that he might be infertile.
But for the man, the thought is there and it won’t go away.
What if I am impotent? What if I have really weak sperms? What if I am not big enough to have kids (and because of my limited previous experience, had not previously been made aware of it)? What if I am the reason my wife is not conceiving? Because society has made sexual gratification a yardstick for men to determine their manliness, these questions- and particularly the possible answers to them – go right at the core of your sense of self-worth. And because male interactions generally rotate around exchanging tales of bravado and macho-ness, men tend to be far less prepared to face infertility than women. They are scared, but men are not allowed to be scared. They are worried, but men are supposed to take care of their business without wimping. They are confused, but men are expected to figure things out. So we do what we do when unsure and afraid; we close up. We get into our mancave and while in there, build up walls of steel.
Things get even more complex if, like me, you are a Christian man. On top of all these questions, you begin to wonder whether there is some kind of sin involved here. Or some spiritual angle to your situation that was hitherto unknown to you. Is it because of something you did before you got married? Or maybe that inappropriate look you gave a certain miss. Perhaps it was something you said, because as the bible clearly says, the tongue is a powerful thing, possessing the power to create or destroy. I wasn’t used to having my faith presenting me with more questions than answers. I reassured my wife daily that all would be well, but I wondered to myself if I was lying to her.
Looking back at those moments, I now see how easily men’s fears can be buried behind walls that are seen by the world as coldness or insensitivity. While I am pretty sure I did my best to be emotionally present for my wife, I fully understand how a man could choose not to. It’s not him lashing out at his wife. Sometimes, it’s all he can do to keep his act together. Because what is a man without the act? In our society, not much.
And then, it happened.
I had spent the night at uni working on my thesis. When I came back, I went to the bathroom to get a quick bath and head to bed. As I lifted the toilet seat, a pregnancy test stick caught my attention. Even as I type this, my fingers tremble as they did then. It was a white stick with a pink handle. As I held it in my hands, my eyes made out the positive sign on that was in blue.
“Baaabe?!!” I screamed, expecting more of a yes or no than a response to the call.
I held the stick hand rushed back to the bedroom where my wife sat in the bed, smiling that naughty smile that has got her in trouble so many times!
“It’s positive” I said.
“Yeah” she said.
“Why didn’t you call me earlier?” I asked?
“Actually, I was also unsure. I did the test and I think I didn’t wait long enough. I just put it there and went away. When I came back, I saw it was positive. So I figured I would leave it there and let you find out by yourself.”
I wasn’t really listening. My heart was full. We were pregnant! We were having a baby.
No matter how many times you imagine that moment happening, the reality is always much more beautiful. I turned to my wife and said something I had said before to her.
“I need to get drunk”
When we started talking seriously about trying, I had told her that before we got a baby, we had to do a few crazy things otherwise we risked being unable to brag to our kids about our very adventurous times as youth. We mentioned a number of things that we had never done that we thought would be very embarrassing when telling our kids. Never being drunk was up there for me.
And there in our bedroom, we knelt and prayed.
Our hearts were full and our dreams were true. We were having a baby. Or maybe two. Heck, for all we knew, we could be having triplets. We started talking about what would happen if it was a boy. My wife had a long list of ideas. We talked about what would happen if it was a girl. I had an even longer list!
That night, I was supposed to meet up with some of my friends at uni. I proposed to my wife that we go out instead. She said she didn’t feel like it and would rather I went out with my friends. I didn’t need much encouragement to party. But about two hours into the night, I couldn’t stand the thought of being away from my wife. And kid. Or kids… I jumped into a taxi and headed back home. My wife was already asleep and as I snuggled up next to her, I reached out and started talking to our baby. We couldn’t wait to meet him/her. We loved him/her.
In the morning, we decided we should do the test again. Together this time. Yes, we knew, but we hadn’t known together. So I went out and got more kits. This time, far from feeling a little embarrassed, I was hoping the cashier would ask me how I was feeling. She didn’t, but I was on cloud 9. I rushed back home with the groceries for breakfast and a set of three sticks.
We did the test again.
It came back negative.
As we had not had our periods yet, we figured we could wait a few more days. We had a positive stick and a negative kit. We prayed and we hoped. We hoped for the best and prayed against the worst. Surely God had not brought us this far to leave us. Surely we had not celebrated in vain.
A few days later, with our hope rising, the periods came.
That month came and went. Nothing had happened. Our joy it seemed, would come in the morning. But for now, the night was dark and full of terror.
Still we hoped.
Our Story Of Waiting To Be Ramya’s Parents Part 2/8
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