I feel the heat first. It rouses me from disorienting, sticky dreams. The walls of my hotel room are an earthy reddish brown, like the interior of a tandoori oven -- steamy, close, and designed to intensify and tenderize its contents. I'm slow-roasting. My thoughts are slow and muddy -- this heat! How can anyone think in this heat? -- and as I rub my eyes and look out my window, I remember. Oh my God, I'm in India!
I've just traveled nine thousand miles to arrive here, a rural pocket of northern India near the border with Pakistan, to have a child. I have come here under the direction of a fertility specialist to whom I've only spoken over the phone, to undergo IVF treatment and have children at last, with the help of an Indian surrogate I've never met. There is no guarantee that any of this will be successful.
I slide open my window to relieve the stifling heat in my room. This, it turns out, has the opposite effect. As hard as it is to imagine, it's actually hotter outside. While the inside of my room is baking, it is nothing compared to the sopping, still air of the street. The humidity is a wall on this windless day; the atmosphere is completely and eternally inert. These are the dog days of Indian summer.
When I open my window, I not only invite in the heat but also the carnival of life in the street. All five senses are immediately assailed with a riot of sensation -- color, noise, pollution, heat, incense -- and everywhere the incessant, high-volume hum and honk of village life.
There's no doubt about it, I'm not in the Bay Area anymore. The urban comforts I have come to rely on are nowhere in sight. My smartphone is perpetually losing signal, and I don't imagine that there is a latte or a martini or even a good roast chicken to be found within five hundred miles. Anand is a district located in the state of Gujarat, which is strictly vegetarian. No restaurant, hotel, or self-respecting citizen serves beef, pork, chicken, or fish, even to a foreigner like me. Gujarat is also a dry state, no alcohol allowed, though if I had a drink in this heat, I swear I might pass out. But, after the day I think I'm about to have, I might be willing to risk it.
I look up the street and then down, trying to get the lay of the land, but it's a jumbled puzzle of honking and yelling and rumbling, and unexplained explosions in the distance every now and again, explosions that nobody seems to pay much attention to. I can't make any sense of it. There are no cultural landmarks to guide me, no familiar sights, sounds, or smells. I feel as if I have been dropped on a foreign planet. A dry, screaming-hot planet with no cheeseburgers.
I sigh, turning back toward my cramped hotel room. I am, after all, a capable and well-traveled woman. While in college, I interned with the Peace Corps in Washington, D.C., and at an international telecommunications firm --both took me to places I had never dreamed I would get to visit, from Guatemala to Mexico City to Hong Kong. After graduation, I went to Israel and lived in a kibbutz for four months, and then was off to follow a Spanish boyfriend to Madrid.
This knowledge -- the certainty that no matter how strange my surroundings, I will find friendship, laughter, and love -- is the only thing that is giving me courage right now. I cling to these thin straws of strength; they are a raft in a vast and unfamiliar ocean.
Let's face it, I am embarking on a bold and frightening new adventure.
Right now I feel like I'm having an out-of-body experience, or that I am trapped in a foreign film without the benefit of subtitles. I feel numb, and nervous, but very excited too. My emotions are as chaotic as the traffic in the streets, all traveling at max capacity toward a head-on collision with the unknown.
Even though I've been on planes, trains, and automobiles to get here, the full weight of my passage and of what I hope to achieve in this journey has not quite resonated until now. I've held off the full awareness of what's happening until this, the absolute last moment. I have no choice but to go forward. Truthfully, I think I only made it this far by closing my eyes to the sheer madness of the adventure. When you're facing something as intractable and incomprehensible as infertility, and you're feeling helpless and hopeless, denial can be your best friend. It's what makes it possible to run where angels fear to tread. My mom taught me that. I thought she was crazy the first time she said it, but now I understand the method to her madness.
Three elephants lumber nonchalantly past my window. They are as unremarkable and routine a part of this landscape as the children skipping by on their way to school, or the tangle of traffic in the streets. Behind them are strutting, screaming peacocks pecking in the dust for a few breakfast crumbs. On the corner a group of sacred cows linger, superior and detached. Wagons rattle on their way to the old town market, weighed down with mangos, watermelons, bananas, jasmine, roses, handcrafts, and spices of all varieties. Whole families linger on the sidewalks, selling a few sparse wares -- an embroidered pouch, a used tire, a flavored ice, or something fried -- and letting the morning roll untroubled into afternoon beneath the relentless July sun.
I'm exploring a brand-new frontier of emotional and ethical hills and valleys, without a clue as to where I'm headed. Except for this: I know that at the other end lies the possibility that my husband, Alex, and I will become parents; that I will finally, after so many years, so many hopes, so many heartbreaks, become a mother. So I'm willing to take the journey, and write the map and the guidebook as I go.
I'm at peace with Alex's and with my decision ethically, spiritually, physically, and emotionally. I know in my gut, the way one does in watershed moments, that we're doing the right thing. No matter what happens, we will make sure that we take care of ourselves, our surrogate, and hopefully, our soon-to-be-born baby. And yet...
Oh my God, I'm in India!