The book, authored by Rohini Rajagopal, is a retelling of her five-year-long battle with infertility.

Book cover of Whats a lemon squeezer doing in my vagina by Rohini Rajagopal
Features Book Excerpt Wednesday, March 10, 2021 - 11:42

It was a Saturday. We went to the clinic in the morning for an ultrasound to check if the follicles had burst. I was experiencing sharp ovulation pain on the right side of my abdomen, deceptively similar to menstrual aches. I assumed that the follicles had burst and the eggs were floating around waiting for their sperm beaus. But the ultrasound threw a surprise; the follicles had not ruptured yet. If in the last IUI my egg came too early, this time it was late to the party.

‘Let’s wait for some more time. We can do another ultrasound in the afternoon and then do the IUI after the follicles have ruptured. That way the timing will be perfect,’ Dr Leela suggested.

Ranjith and I went home and waited. At one in the afternoon we came back to the hospital. The second ultrasound had to be done in the main hospital facility because the radiologist was available in the IVF clinic only for a few hours in the morning. By now the scan showed that the lead follicle, a voluptuous 22 mm, had split wide open. We took the report to the IVF clinic, but Dr Leela was not available. So we continued to wait.

As with the first IUI, this time too there was a lot of waiting. The waiting exacerbated my anxiety. My hands and toes were cold and clammy, and my stomach rumbled and churned all day. I didn’t eat anything after breakfast. Having Ranjith around was comforting to some extent; I had someone to talk to and lean on. But it didn’t do much good for my jumpy nerves because what I was most worried about I had to face alone—the lemon squeezer.

IUI is now offered under general anaesthesia in some clinics. I would have gratefully paid the extra fees for being knocked out if the option had been available then, but there were no such alternatives. We spent all afternoon waiting for Dr Leela in uneasy silence. I did not want to go home or even to the cafeteria in the main hospital—what if we missed her?

At four, Sini, the Malayalee nurse, came out to the waiting area and motioned me inside. They had word from Dr Leela to prepare the patient; she would be in the clinic in half an hour. I undressed, put on the hospital gown and emptied my bladder. Sini brought a steel lab tray to my bed. There was an injection prior to the IUI. This was new.

‘This is to help the uterus relax,’ she explained.

Grateful for the tranquillizing medicine, I lay on my side while she pricked my buttocks, forcing the ‘relaxing’ liquid into my bloodstream. Like I said earlier, I am not scared of needles or cannulas, but that jab caused such a stinging, reverberating pain that I let out a cry in shock.

‘What was that?’

‘It’s an oil-based injection. They tend to be more painful.’ ‘Tell me about it.’

I got up and rubbed the spot vigorously with my hands, trying to soothe the sore skin and muscle.

Ithinekallum bhedam speculum aanallo,’ I told Sini. I preferred the speculum to this shot.

She smiled a knowing smile.

Soon, Dr Leela arrived and I went into the IUI room. By now the lemon squeezer was at the top of my mind, but I had come prepared to stand up to my fears. Not all women found it as gut wrenching as I did. The more relaxed I was the easier it would be for me and the doctor. Besides, I could not wish it away, and the only reasonable response was to take the speculum head-on. I started repeating some affirmations and motivational phrases looked up the day before in my head:

‘I am strong, brave and open to this experience.’ ‘My body can take this easily and effortlessly.’ ‘No pain, no gain.’

I locked my hands over my chest, folded my legs and closed my eyes, cutting myself off from the action in the room, silently reciting the phrases. There was the rustle and crackle of kits opening, the clinking and clanking of metal. Dr Leela spewed terse instructions to her crew.

In a few seconds the cold mass of stainless steel entered and I felt chafing inside as Dr Leela tightened the screws. But I kept my calm, concentrating on taking loud, deep breaths.

Dr Leela acted quickly, sliding the plastic catheter in without an iota of hesitation to slow down her rhythm. Someone brought the semen sample and it was injected inside. I kept my eyes closed and my breathing forceful, thinking all along, ‘When is the damn thing coming  out?’

In a few minutes it was over. The speculum was unscrewed and withdrawn. My muscles relaxed. I lowered my legs. My breathing eased up, even and involuntary again.

‘All the best. Let’s hope it works this time,’ Dr Leela said, before leaving the room.

I rested on the bed, quietly proud of having held myself together, all in one piece.

I faced the speculum many, many times after this with descending levels of fear and paranoia and ascending degrees of calmness and composure. It stopped being the central horror to confront and overcome in my infertility journey. It fell from its top-ranking position and jostled for space with the TVS, injections and pills—an unpleasantness, like a prickly cactus whose thorns brush against your skin causing discomfort but no injury.

A small mound of courage slowly accumulated in place of the disarray and helplessness. I told myself each time that if I can do this once, I can do it again. Yet, every time the speculum was wedged inside, time stood still. For the two or three minutes I had to last with a steel apparatus sticking out from my vagina, my body snapped to a state of extreme attentiveness while my mind tried to zone out, dissociate itself from the physical event. It never became fully easy, just progressively less difficult.

Excerpted with permission from 'What's a lemon queezer doing in my vagina?' by Rohini S Rajagopal, published by Penguin Random House. This book is available on for Rs. 340.

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