NOVEL: "Ladybird, ladybird"

Chapter 6 (then)

No one blames you directly, but you blame yourself. Because of the subconscious power of the rules of acceptance that society imposes on you; a burden, your civic duty, or whatever you want to call it. This pressure descends with the disturbance of an uncontrollable cyclone and it sits on your shoulders like a threatening monster.
Your ovaries – just the name is enough to make you feel like a hen – and their effectiveness or deficiency identify you in the social order of the human race. From the first demonstration of their existence at the age of twelve, I didn't like the inconvenience of being ruled by hormones and was determined not to let it stop me doing things, acting, playing handball, walking, jumping, going out. I hated those five days a month, the physical exhaustion, mental drainage, the handicap of the hostile manifestation of my gender. The leakages, catching you unprepared in the most inconvenient places and times, the mess of it, the stained clothes and its smell; as if all your insides were rotting away. After all - I could have spent my life without it (but I did not know that then). I got only the inconvenience of it, not its purpose. And that made it even more painful. The pain always started at the back of my neck, then moved to my wrists, abdomen and for some unexplained reasons all the way to my knees, at the same time casting a dim shadow on my intellectual brightness. The exhaustion followed the same path; it accumulated in the roots of my neck, behind the ears and spread towards my temples. The only difference was that once the exhaustion took over, it became a constant state.
I used to think that things happened when the time was right for them. No, they fucking don’t. They don’t happen at all, it doesn’t matter how much effort you put into something, how much hard work, sweating and swearing. You waste so much time just thinking, hoping without hope that you can actually have what everyone else achieved without any strain, effort or problem. You do your best and you still fail in a disastrous way; it doesn’t matter how hard you tried.
Society is not for outcasts bearing grudges. You just find yourself in a maze where everyone is moving on, seasons change, the Earth is going round and you are just there, left behind, forgotten and forlorn, just like a page from an old newspaper swept away by the wind on a rainy winter’s night. There is nothing as bad as this feeling of utter loneliness in a crowded world. Suddenly, you bring yourself into a mental state where you are incapable of rational thinking and you can’t get out of it.
“Why don’t you think of this situation in business terms, as if it was a project?” asked Jason. “But…Jason…I don’t really know what a cool-headed business approach really means. I was an actress before, remember? In a previous life…”
Jason approached every situation as if he was preparing another trademark case; systematically, methodically and thoroughly. He was very pragmatic and down-to-earth. I was neither of those. I was a foreigner; and a passionate force of nature itself.
“Start with identifying the problem, then think of the ideal solution you would like to find and finally establish the best method to get there… If you don’t find the ideal solution which is occasionally the case, you can always look for the second best, or you can change the process or simply accept defeat. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how well I prepare a case – I still lose. Not because I was bad or ill-equipped, but simply because someone else was better than me and had a better case! Sometimes we have to accept that certain things are out of our reach and not achieving them shouldn’t make us depressed, instead we should focus on other things!”
Oh Jason, I wish everything was so easy.
I was sitting in the reception of my usual hairdressers in the Walthamstow Shopping Mall and browsing through trashy magazines filled with pages of glossy photographs of pregnant celebs. A cute brownish girl stared at me while her mum talked away loudly on her mobile phone. I smiled hoping she would walk away, but instead she leaned forward and stared more intensely.
“And what’s your name?”
“Keira…”
“And how old are you?”
“Four.”
“And are you going to have your hair cut to look even prettier?”
“Yes, me and mum also!”
Her mum, an anorexic blond girl in her early twenties, put her mobile phone down and shouted at her:
“Keira, leave the lady alone… I’m sure she has enough of her own kids at home…”
“Actually no… I don’t have kids…”
The hairdresser called my name; I dropped the magazine on the coffee table and walked to the other end of the salon. I was not sure what I wanted anymore – just something shorter and tidier, and sharper, basically to fit my age.


***


When we finally accepted the existence of the problem and turned it into a project – as Jason insisted on calling it - we opened the door to a nightmare, to regular hospital appointments and time-consuming tests fuelled with arguments and constant tensions. Professional opinions were always vague and lacking a concrete solution.
One morning in early autumn we stepped into the waiting room of Whipps Cross Hospital joining a brigade of sad looking couples with hopeful eyes. The unsympathetic consultant - who I was going to see far too much of over the following months - and his inept spotty assistant - dug through our most intimate details as if they were conducting a survey on healthy breakfast or holiday preferences for a cereal producer or a travel agency. You dissociate from yourself and your most intimate things get a life of their own. When they reached the hot air of the consultant’s room, your problems did not seem to be intimate anymore or yours only, but just rough facts in a folder of medical notes… Jason and I didn't look at each other and I did most of the talking. The consultant was everything but sympathetic, just like an impersonal and matter-of-fact recording device.
“First of all we need to compile a medical history for both of you. We need to know everything about your gynaecological history, bleeding and cramping patterns, contraceptives used, terminations if you had any and so on…”
Everything? My body is still an equation with two unknowns for me, how can you possibly know or want to know everything? I know about its appearance, its movements, the position of the shoulders and presence on the stage, but not its inside, its functions or lack of them.
I answered as quickly and as accurately as I possibly could, glancing at both of them – the consultant who asked the questions and took notes in the folder of my most intimate bodily failures and his assistant who just stared bluntly.
“Any chronic medical conditions?”
“No…apart from this…”
“No Asthma, urinary tract infections?”
“No – nothing…”
“What about your lifestyle? Stress? Nutrition? Exercise?”
“Ordinary…I guess…”
“Clarify what do you mean by ordinary?”
“Stress is a normal fact of life, so I think my stress is within normal boundaries. I try to eat healthily and cook everything from scratch and…yes, I do some exercise.”
“What about your family? Any fertility-related problems? Genetic disorders? Miscarriages?”
“Nothing I can think of… But then, I’m an only child…”
“We will do some tests. This, this and this… We will take it from there. But in most cases it is difficult to figure out why it happens. Medical science can’t explain everything. Very often cases like yours remain unexplained. And – very often couples end up having kids… Eventually…”
Was this supposed to make me feel better, more optimistic? It did not. Instead it felt like approaching the wall of total and utter surrender.
I could still see you, my little ginger monster, kicking inside my tummy and playing with my fingers when I pressed onto it. Lara and Sophia just wanted to get it out of the way. And I could not stop cursing Mother Nature for taking away from me the right I should have been born with. That old bitch.
“I would like to start with a blood test, hormone studies, hysterosalpingogram and semen analysis… I would also like you to see a psychologist. Infertility can sometimes be caused by traumas that are imprinted in your psyche and stop your body from functioning properly. You can go for your first blood test straight away; next door to the right!” The middle-aged man had no empathy or softness in his voice. He got up and opened the door for us, not giving us enough time to think of any questions, get our breath back or just put our jackets on.
Whilst I waited for a blood test Jason vanished to make an urgent phone call to his office. I left the outpatient unit happy that the air didn’t turn into small bubbles, that my eyes managed to keep focus on the flu jab poster on the wall and that my legs did not crumple. I walked to one end of the busy corridor, then the other, but could not find Jason; it felt like being trapped in a human beehive. Ten minutes later there was still no sign of him. He had taken my bag and I embarrassingly begged a hospital guard to use his mobile phone for a few seconds as I did not feel well and had to find my husband. It went directly to the answering machine and I could only leave a message. I rushed outside, but he was not there either. I stubbornly stood, frozen still, in the car park opposite the main entrance to the hospital, under pouring rain that in no time saturated my jacket and glued my hair to the back of my neck. Could not care less. My tears joined the raindrops ploughing down my shattered cheeks. Jason came running through the hospital entrance and opened the car door. We had missed each other walking up and down the wrong walkways of the hospital labyrinth. One upstairs; the other downstairs. We did not say much more.
A couple of weeks later I was again hopelessly dragging myself along the hospital corridors. This time my destination was the deserted radiology department and Junction 8.
“Am I in the right place?” – I shouted.
A polite nurse showed me to the cubicle, explaining about the two hospital gowns that I had to wear one on top of the other, leaving my shirt on but removing my trousers and knickers. Literally half naked and barefoot I strolled down to the radiology room. I placed myself on the table with my naked arse touching the rough paper, as if I was just a piece of anatomy, a dead body in a pathology lab in some ghastly crime drama on BBC or ITV, the sort I spent far too much time watching.
“Heels together and knees apart, please…” ordered the young female doctor, her long blond hair in a plait. The chubby, tender-voiced nurse addressed the doctor with soft warmth, a gentle ease and affection only lovers can share. They did look like a couple. Maybe I was just making it up to calm myself down, but they still seemed so comfortable alongside each together.
The excruciating x-ray of my fallopian tubes – the hysterosalpingogram – left me disorientated. I’d always thought that something with such a threatening name would turn out to be even worse than it sounded – and I was right. My uterus was pumped full with colourless dye and a sharp and unbearable pain suddenly speeded through my abdomen. The pain soon faded away, but the shock stayed in my exhausted and frozen body.
“Are you OK?” asked the young specialist and her girlfriend - the nurse - automatically added:
“You are doing great”.
I nodded faintly, still lying on the examination table.
“Fine. That’s it. Finished. We’ll let you get dressed and you can go… The consultant - that’s Dr Gupta as I can see from your referral - will discuss the results with you at your next appointment. We will send them directly to him!”
After they left the radiology cubicle, all around me turned into a dark abyss. I trembled as I dressed myself and rushed to the toilet. Shivering and vomiting, I was unable to stop my body shaking and feeling hysterically cold. Sitting on the toilet I hugged myself with dead arms and cold hands. My legs gave up and I knew if I tried to get up I would faint on the yellowish tiles of a forgotten toilet in a creepy hospital. My lungs didn’t seem to be processing oxygen and my head was levitating away from the rest of me.
Twenty minutes later I forced myself to get up and walk into a gloomy autumnal afternoon. A man thinking he was Jesus shouted at me and started pushing religious leaflets into my open bag at the beginning of Wood Street. I ran away from him into Agnezka Sklep, a Polish deli, empty just before its closing time. The design of the sweets and biscuits reminded me of my childhood in Lovran. A sweet fix might sort the weakness in my limbs, I thought, as I bought a box of Jaffa cake lookalikes and opened them in front of the girl at the till. I had enough energy to find my purse in the bag, pay and smile. Just about. The Jesus from Wood Street walked away and I felt safe to go home. Rain was coming down in tiny drops… I should have gone home first and picked up the car after all and not come directly here from work…. My mobile phone was still switched off. No – I couldn’t talk to anyone now.
That night I had a nightmare of pregnancy tests with thousands of watery pink lines going in all directions and then tangling around my neck and strangling me.
The psychologist’s room looked slightly less clinical than our consultant’s. It had a larger window overlooking some trees, a selection of green plants on the window seal and a bookcase full of scientific titles on conditions of the human mind. The Psychologist - BA (Hons) Phil, Grad Dipl Psych, MSc Counselling Psychology - looked like an old university professor, which he probably was before joining the NHS for a couple of days a week. We sat at a 45 degree angle – I knew what he was doing as I used the same sitting angle when meeting with my team; it’s less intimidating than sitting opposite the table – and he had an open A4 notebook in front of him and a pen in his hand.
He started his unpleasant questioning straight after the obligatory introductions; after all he did not need to ask why I was sent there as he could see it from my referral.
“Tell me about your relationship with your mother…”
“My mother?”
“Yes… and your childhood memories and what kind of feelings they bring…”
A short history of our family emerged, reduced to chronology and statistics and stripped of any emotion.
“Are you angry with your father?”
“No, not really… I find it difficult to be angry with someone I met only once...”
“Do you blame him?”
“What for? I don’t know him!”
At the end of an irritating and timewasting 45-minute session, during which I could never figure out where he was going, he summarised my problem:
“You are blocked by the experience your mother went through… You were never a dominant part of your father’s life. Because of you, your mother lost her family connections. You have to disconnect yourself from it. You need to dissolve and remove these blocks. Your mother spent all her life working hard to provide for the two of you, and you are scared that it could happen to you and that history will repeat itself…”
No, I was not. Did not.
The psychologist said that was a great first session and booked me in for another one a few weeks later. He got up, shook my hand and opened the door for me. I ran towards the closest toilet at the end of the corridor and let my sickness take over. It took me fifteen minutes to stop shaking, warm up my hands and head back to the car park. At least I did not need to walk home this time. The autumn was getting deeper and darker and the rain chillier, announcing a gloomy and depressing winter.
The psychologist’s words were still echoing in my head. He was adamant that we controlled everything that was happening to us. If nonna Lucija heard such a theory in her time she would have died on the spot, convinced that the doctor was the devil himself. It was God who decided for us. And our fate was predestined before we were born; we just had to get along with it, be strong in the face of tragedies and other ups and downs given to us in this Vale of Tears.
“One day, Eugen and I will be together again, on the other side!” She used to tell me.
“Where is that other side, nonna?”
“On the other side of the clouds, my little one, on the other side of the clouds.”
And I never lost hope that you would – just like a miracle – land on my lap, my little ginger girl, from that other side of the clouds.