Our Pregnant Week
by Nadine Friedman
I went in for Q-tips. But at the Walgreens, I was reminded of the persistent, recent… bigness of my boobs, and the little nuggets I’d found on my last self-exam. My insomnia had been out of control, and I’d been crying. A lot. I’d missed my period in September, but that wasn’t strange. I always skip, with vague confirmations from gynecologists that my PCOS was culprit. I picked up the two-pack EPT anyway — plainly, I just felt eerie. I must have known, because when I was grappling with the immutable plastic wrapper over my bathroom sink, my hands were shaking.
The digital stick blooped an hourglass while the other, a ’90s standby, spread pink to indicate it was working. Minutes later, I was howling on my living room floor, faced with a faint blue + sign in one hand, and the digital’s definitive, tiny text — ‘Pregnant’ — in the other. I left the detritus of receipts, plastic, boxes and the digital test on the floor and got on my bike, the + sign burning a decision in my jacket pocket. I rode, trembling, with no cell, ID or money on me, just a pregnancy test. I hoped I wouldn’t get hit in my distraction — what an awful CSI:NY opener. I marched into my friend’s kitchen and laid the test on her counter, demanding she say the vertical line was too faint, that all the antibiotics I was on for chronic Lyme Disease (oh fuck, what about that?) created a false positive, that there was no way. Not a flincher by nature, she ignored that I’d basically laid a urine sample inches from her olive oil collection and we went through the facts. Jared and I had an accident the month before and I’d taken Plan B immediately, confident in its ability to perform its only role. It was the one time we’d had sex in weeks. I tried to figure out how to tell Jared. He’d be thrilled, I knew. He wanted to be a dad more than anything, and we’d been talking more and more about the future and its hypotheticals. I had to get home before him. Finding a plastic stick with the word ‘Pregnant’ lying on the living room floor wasn’t an optimal way to tell him. I zoomed home, called some feminists, cried more.
Later, we were on the same couch, different planets. Jared was shocked, thrilled and confused as to why, at the other end of the sofa, I soaked my shirt with tears and snot and listed all the reasons this wouldn’t work. I wasn’t well yet. We had no money. We weren’t ready. I wasn’t ready. And now I had to make a choice, and for all the Second Sex parroting I’ve done throughout my post-undergrad life, I didn’t want my freedom to choose. I wanted it just to go away, which isn’t really the hallmark of pregnancy.
I stayed up all night, guilty for disappointing him, horrified by my prospects. I couldn’t have a baby. The Lyme Disease — I’m septic, inhospitable to a child. Worse, I am a child. You can’t trust me. Selfish, stunted, I don’t want anything that relies just on me. I had a terrible relationship with my own mother. I wasn’t ready to eat carbs for the sake of another person. When the sun came up, I made an appointment with an OB/GYN to confirm the false positive. I made an appointment with my Lyme doctor, who’d say this wasn’t viable, as I’d just started a new, aggressive antibiotic protocol. My new insurance company wouldn’t cover this pre-existing condition. I’d call my father, who’d gently say this wasn’t the right time. Tuesday would be full of outs! Someone would tell me what to do and none of it would be my fault.
No outs. I was pregnant, my blood said so. At one point, as I lay in the stirrups, the OB, Jared and I all had our iPhones out, calculating conception date based on a particular episode of This American Life. At 4.5 weeks, there was nothing on the screen, but, abstractly yes, there was a scattering of cells hanging out in my groin. At the moment they wanted nothing from me, vice versa. I didn’t have to make a choice for a few weeks, she said. She also told me, with her hand on my ankle, everything I felt was normal. That motherhood was never exactly The Right Time. No out from my compassionate, impartial Lyme doc, either — plenty we could do, she said, if I wanted to keep it. Safe antibiotics, a 1% chance of passing the disease on to the baby. The insurance company? Totally fine, they said. “It’s a pre-existing condition plan,” the polite but confused gentleman told me when I said he was probably wrong. “You could have 10 conditions besides Lyme and you’d be covered. Thank Obama.” Jared and I sat over speakerphone as I lost another opportunity to avoid choosing.
Finally, my dad. He’d tell me what a bad idea it was. “Congratulations!” he said. Oh. Two smart, silly, creative people making a baby is a beautiful thing. We need more of that. Money would come later. For now, “It’s your choice, my daughter”.
No outs. Jared and I had to talk about it ourselves. I was calmer. Points and counterpoints and hours. He supported me either way. He understood the fear, as much as a man can. I asked if he’d stick by me, but we both knew he wasn’t the one we needed to worry about.
Began the brief period of Ambivalence with a Side of C-Cup. I told a few close friends, who had happy but restrained reactions. Jared told his parents. The concerns were equal — my health was paramount, as I was the real person here, but if there was a likelihood this would work out, what a joy this might be. I began to be infected with peoples’ love. With the sense that maybe my practical fears were a cover for insecurity. Maybe I could do it? With all the odds — the Plan B, the PCOS pessimism, Lyme, the One Time thing — maybe this little packet of cells, soon to resemble a Jordan almond, soon to resemble me and Jared, was snuggling in, sticking to my sides, sticking by me because it believed in me. I didn’t have ideal health. I didn’t have money. But I had love. Love is more than many mothers have. Mother? Girlfriend. Artist. Reluctant sick person. Self-centered fraud in therapy. Mother? I pored over thebump.com, a site I had visited probably as often as gunworld.com. I thought about names. I thought about how bad of a thing it would be to raise a tiny, brilliant boy to respect women, dress him in seersucker.
I rolled over and looked at Jared and told him we would go for it. I didn’t feel good, or happy. But I knew what the right decision was. I wouldn’t meet him in his cautious excitement, not yet, and asked him to be patient with me till I got there. I wasn’t happy, but I was right. He kissed me over and over. We discussed names and the benefits of baptism, which I had previously considered baby waterboarding for superstition’s sake, but is apparently an effective way of preventing a baby going to limbo plus a significant dollar amount in gifts.
I dazedly filled the progesterone and prenatal vitamins prescription. I got a crash course in acronyms and hormones from a midwife standing at the pharmacy. I asked the guy at the health food store what he recommended for juicing. I looked at us from the outside — to him, I wasn’t an immature, self-indicting, scared 31 year old who had been thrust a curve ball and was trying out new dialogue on a stranger, rehearsing. I wasn’t those things — I was just a pregnant woman from the neighborhood. I rode to the park and sat by the lake, watching the dazzling reflections over the water. I called my dad and Monday’s friend. She believes in miracles and said a baby is a miracle.
That night I started spotting. A rush of terror and protective love swept over me when I saw it.
The palette I won’t go into, but from what I gathered from the obsessives on the internet, this was common. Googling “spotting,” I was overwhelmed by the size and inconsistencies of message boards. “It’s totally normal, don’t worry!,” one board chirped reassuringly, the next page advising “Go to the ER immediately.” I should get off my feet ASAP, plus go for a nice walk. Creeped out, I searched “miscarriage.” Biologically it just happens, I learned, and also, it’s God’s will. Though the Internet offered such consistent insight, I still went through a roll of toilet paper that night, obsessively checking texture, color and changes. I called the OB who said to stay calm. I went from ambivalent to afraid.
More spotting, more toilet paper, more Googling. The irony of timing gnawed. I Facebooked Tamara, a midwife friend, who wished me well, “whether this pregnancy is what brings you to motherhood or is the pregnancy that makes you realize you want to be a mother.” But why would it show up at all if it wasn’t going to stick around? Why would it leave me the day I told it I wanted it? Jared played bluegrass into my stomach.
More spotting. Laid down. Jared prayed. I looked at the wall while he did it.
The blood became unmistakably red around 8 P.M.. I sat on the toilet and stared. I tried crying, because I figured that’s what you do: that weepy trip to the toilet that 1 in 5 women take in early pregnancy. It was okay. We had gotten attached to an idea. We’d never seen a heartbeat. There was nobody even there. Still, I sat and stared. He came home around 11. His crying made me really cry. I cramped, bearably, and we watched TV. I figured we were done.
2 A.M. it started. Blood. Pain. I couldn’t have imagined this pain. An hour later, I was too weak to get to the bathroom and could only lie on the couch, wiping myself pathetically, mounding the trashcan next to my head with red toilet paper and a little vomit. He sat next to my head, wiping blood from my hands while I pictured whirring blenders filled with shiny springs and razors inside me, of a pinball machine shooting a little ball made of fire. I saw a sickly yellow ocean. The waves would crumble into ochre parchment when a particularly bad contraction would happen. Hours. The on-call OB told a stammering, panicking Jared there was nothing we could do; the ER would give me ibuprofen. All we could do was wait it out. A natural miscarriage means endurance and certain suffering. It hurt to breathe or speak but I whispered apologies for whatever I’d done. The blood flowed black and red. Around 7 A.M., the cramps had slowed to about three minutes apiece. We got in a cab and returned to the same OB office where, not a week before, I’d sat confused and crying. But it felt like years ago.
I sat on a cotton pad to keep from bleeding on the exam table. Her tone was the perfect physician’s balance of frank and sad, and after conferring with my ultrasound, confirmed there was no longer any trace of anything. She was sorry, but reminded me that, on Tuesday, I wasn’t even sure I wanted it. That we’d meet again when the time was right. Some bloodwork, to confirm my body didn’t think it was pregnant anymore — sure enough, my once-blossoming hormone levels had shrunk to numbers I now imagined as pitiful, humiliating. A failure. We went home.
What I figured out, exactly a week later: that physical pain is very, very relative, as is the definition of health. I can see a reason to regain my health, outside wanting to get back into my former five mile runs/stay a size 8. I want to be healthy for a role bigger than myself. That Jared and I are in it, even if it’s blood and loss. That this is a loss, no matter when. That Tamara was right — this one forced me to see I want it.
Here’s what I don’t get — why this happened? Why it has to be so excruciating, that knife twist of trauma plus physical pain and all that blood that’s still flowing as I write and will continue to for another 10 days or so, a reminder I’m a woman and that we gotta carry so much? I also don’t understand why someone would ever try this again, knowing how terribly it might go. Today, I’m trying to let Sunday night become merely a haunting, while grasping at those few Thursday moments at the lake where I believed I was much more than myself. That I could, in fact, be grand.
Nadine Friedman, a writer and photographer focused on compelling social issues, can be read on Nona Brooklyn, F***Ed in Park Slope, BrokeAss Stuart and Biographile. She is currently compiling photographic portraits and biographies of individuals living with MS throughout the United States for a new book.
Photo by fritish.