IVF in India: Lessons in Immodesty and Bargaining
Alone, wearing a beige hospital gown, I lie on an operating table with a full bladder for over an hour. With my stomach in cramps and every emotion telling me to get off this bed and run to a bathroom, I wonder to myself, where the heck is the doctor?
Out of the corner of my eye, I spot two women sitting on the floor with their tiffins in front of them . Whilst they scoop up dal with their rotis, I call out to them, “Where is the doctor? What is taking so freakin’ long?” No reply comes as they are either too busy eating or speak no English. I lie there cursing to myself and wondering, how did I agree to do IVF in India?
Bargaining is the name of the game–whether when selling vegetables or the making of babies.
A love of adventure led me to dismiss the comforts and familiarity of the US and to instead choose the discomfort of learning India’s favorite pastime–to adjust. I knew that my health plan would not cover this procedure, so I decided to adjust to a world where nothing is fixed, except paying in cash.
Bargaining is the name of the game–whether when selling vegetables or the making of babies. Rarely will anyone quote you a price over the phone. Prices are instead custom made to fit each individual and change as frequently as tourists in a Goan guest house. Knowing this but trusting that my IVF treatment would be considerably cheaper in India, as are the medicines, I breathed deeply and said chalo.
My journey begins in Los Angeles with my now-estranged husband. We land in Mumbai during monsoon season and set off on our road trip to the neighboring state of Gujarat. A mere two hours by car from Maharashtra, the state in which Mumbai is located, Gujarat immediately announces herself when we cross into her. No longer do her roads feel like a ride on a porcupine, and no longer do drivers dip in and out of lanes as if they are stitching the hem of their mother’s too long salwar. Gujarat, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, commands order, unlike its chaotic neighbor.
Our first stop in the state of Gujarat is to Dr. Purnima Nadkarni’s clinic in Pardi, a small rural town. I arrive only knowing two things: that she is an acquaintance of my now-estranged husband’s uncle, and that she has a successful record in consistently getting couples pregnant.
As I sit down and wait for her to call me, I scan the packed room hoping to find some familiarity. I find none as I look upon the faces of the many young saree-wearing women, except for one couple who, I conclude, are Africans and in their forties, as I am. Before having a chance to speak with them, I hear my name called, so I quickly get up and enter Dr. Nadkarni’s office.
There, I am to have my first appointment and my first lesson in discarding my modesty. I am told to take off my clothes for the ultrasound. I looked for a dressing room but only see a small partition into which I enter.
After putting on a gown that apparently was worn by the previous patient, I join the queue for the ultrasound. To my surprise, the line is right smack in front of the bed where I sit while the doctor examines me. Every woman there watches as the doctor inserts the ultrasound wand in my vagina. Nameste, India!
After all of the preliminary tests are done and we have bought the syringes and other medicines I need to prepare my body for the treatment, my now-estranged husband and I begin our journey through the state of Gujarat. The foliage looks as if there is a Kmart special sale on green velvet. Lush greenery is one of the wonders of traveling in India during the monsoon, as well as the slight chill, making it feel like a dewy morning.
We first drive to Baroda, a surprisingly bustling cosmopolitan city. I look in envy at the women wearing sarees, decorated like tie-dyed rainbows. I have to have one. I find a shop selling them, and although they are just about to close, the shopkeeper agrees to allow me to browse through his collection, explaining to me that bandhani is the process used to achieve the look of the sarees that I’ve admired. I leave with a tangerine bandhani cotton saree, which remains one of my most treasured sarees in my vast collection.
By now, my now-estranged husband has become proficient at both navigating Indian roads and stopping promptly at twelve o’clock sharp to give me the daily injections to increase the number of eggs my body needs to produce for the IVF to take place.
A love of adventure led me to dismiss the comforts and familiarity of the US and to instead choose the discomfort of learning India’s favorite pastime–to adjust.
Indian roads do not call for formality as those in the US do, but instead are an extension of personal space. No one bothers to wonder why you have stopped along the road, so you can, as many do, park your car, drink your chai, and take your afternoon nap. If you are a man, you may even step to the edge of the road and pass water. Roads are even used for drying red chilies, and in the cities, road dwellers use the dividers in the middle to hang their sarees to dry. Even the animals believe the roads belong to them. During evening rush hour, it is not uncommon to see a family of cows sit in the middle of the road to people watch.
Absorbing all of this is how we spend our drive all the way to Mount Abu, which sits near the Gujarat border in the state of Rajasthan.
Having traveled the entire state of Gujarat, we return ready to complete the IVF treatment. We check into Hotel Happiness, located on Ring Road in Surat. True to its name, they provide us with relaxation and comfort for the two weeks we spend there.
As I now lie in wait for the doctor who is unacceptably tardy, I wonder if this treatment will be a success. I console myself by acknowledging the uniqueness of my situation.
Photo credit: Umang Dutt