From the editors: in this week’s essay, adventurer Ada Kenney takes a humorous look at pregnancy loss and being on the fence about motherhood.
“Everything happens for a reason,” say stupid people, in a world where there are starving orphans, kicked puppies, and Justin Bieber. I usually respond to their cliche with my own: “I’m sure you mean well.” Reasons are innate, but lessons are created as they are learned, so instead of looking for the reason implanted in traumatic and unnecessary events, I try to draw a lesson. At least that way I’m in charge.
It was Wednesday, and I was working. While struggling with a free downloadable worksheet that refused to be downloaded, saved, printed, or copied and pasted, the thought sprang into my mind that I was supposed to have gotten my period around Christmas. I remembered packing for my pilgrimage to my parents’ house and noting that I’d have to buy tampons when I got there. In all the holiday cheer, I had forgotten to note that I hadn’t needed them. I’m pretty sure the clock in my classroom slowed to a halt as I waited for dismissal.
I had never bought a pregnancy test before. Usually a comparison shopper to the point of neurosis, I immediately chose a two-pack of the only brand whose commercials I hadn’t hated. When I took it to the register, along with an Arizona Iced Tea, the cashier told me, “Be well.” I stared at her, trying to divine her intent, and then left, confused, panicking. What could she mean by this? It was weeks before I found out that it was a corporate slogan she was required to say to every customer.
In the bathroom, waiting: not me. Not this. Not now. And not with him.
But it was. Faint but positive.
He texted while I was on the phone with my best friend, numbly saying all the same things as all the other women who’ve gotten this same surprise. He suggested dinner at our favorite restaurant. I accepted, always having been one to get things over with. The sooner he arrived at my house, the sooner I could tell him and not be alone with it.
Divorced, he already had three kids, not a single one planned. As a veteran of this conversation, he reacted with impressive stoicism until I confessed that this was the last thing I wanted. We both assured each other that this wouldn’t change anything between us, that this was nothing, it was a blip. On the way to the restaurant, relief bubbled between us until we were positively buoyant over the kebabs.
The next morning at 5:45, I took the other test. I knew, the way that you know these things in your thirties, that pregnancy tests are more accurate first thing in the morning. All of your friends are trying to get pregnant now, so you know this without ever having tried to find out, just like you know about perineal massage and meconium and diaper blowouts. The test was positive. Strongly, solidly positive.
At work, I asked a coworker to watch my classroom so I could run to the ladies’ room between first and second period. And there was blood. I gasped out loud. “This is some prank, uterus!” I felt like yelling. “Way to scare me!” I shook my fist at it. In response, it cramped.
Back in my classroom, the cramps intensified. I’ve always been kind of a jerk about period pain. I go running during my period, I would say to other women. I go snowboarding. I go to the beach. You can’t just give in and lie down. Go kick biology’s ass! In karmic retribution, biology kicked mine. My momentary elation in the bathroom became ridiculous. Of course this was no period. This was a miscarriage.
Somehow I survived the teaching portion of my day, white-knuckling the desks as I bent over to inspect student work, leaning against the bookcase as I addressed the room. The students left and I collapsed on the carpet of my classroom. Sweating through my teacherly cardigan, I made a desperate phone call to my primary care provider, whose receptionist told me to call 911. Even in my haze of panic and pain, I knew I couldn’t afford to pay for an ambulance ride, so I called the only person possible.
Romantic comedies will have informed you that nothing is more clarifying to a relationship’s status than a positive pregnancy test. They are wrong. It is the emergency room visit that is the true test. In the waiting room, he told me about the kidney stones he had once, so that I would know that he knew what this was like. We sat without touching or looking at each other. When they called my name, he escorted me to the desk, and then stayed in the waiting room.
It’s a frightening thing to be a confident, adventurous person and suddenly be completely at the mercy of strangers in scrubs. Although they gave me some pregnancy-safe painkillers and the pain began to abate, I was still helpless as only fear can make a person. Was it ectopic? Was I going to die? Was I going to be able to pay this bill? I once moved to a foreign country where I didn’t speak a word of the language, and went to a coed public bath; here I was unable to bear being seen by a student nurse because he was a man. I went camping alone, even after seeing that movie where James Franco cuts off his arm, and here I was cringing at the sight of blood. Enduring a catheter, a blood draw, a transvaginal ultrasound, and worst of all, the kindhearted congratulations and comfort of every staff member I encountered, all for the sake of a baby I didn’t want, I lost the shape of my self and became a whimpering blob.
After five hours, I hobbled, bloblike, to the waiting area, where he was reading NBA.com on his phone on the hospital’s free wifi. He looked up. “Let’s go,” I said, and walked away.
In the car, I explained what the nurse practitioner had told me. Blood and urine tests had been positive for pregnancy. But there had been nothing on the ultrasound, although it could be too early to see yet. I didn’t mention what I had seen just before the ultrasound. In the toilet. It would be kindest to call it “tissue.” I would have to go back for another blood test in three days’ time.
“So we just spent five hours there to find that out?”
Like I said, clarity.
Coworkers called and emailed to ask how I was, and I ducked them. What do you say? “Well, I might still be pregnant, or maybe not. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess!”
Three days of couch and Netflix later, I wasn’t. I returned to work with a brisk none-of-your-business tone to my “thank you for your concern”.
Voice mail has never been my forte. Speaking into a void and knowing I’m being recorded is apparently my kryptonite. At the beep, I turn into a babbling moron with no awareness of social niceties or normal human speech patterns. But no message I’ve ever left has been more awkward than, “Hello, Planned Parenthood, I will not be needing my appointment on the 29th because I have had a miscarriage.” It’s like the setup of a sick joke. But worst of all, it robbed me of the chance to choose whether I would go through with it. I wasn’t a proud, bold feminist choosing her choice and keeping the government out of her body, but I wasn’t a proud, bold New Woman discovering the glory and power of motherhood either. I was just empty. I hadn’t even known I was a vessel.
Everything happens for a reason, idiots say. Find your lesson, I say. But what could I learn from this? I could live in fear of my body and its functions, building a impregnable castle of mistrust around myself. But hermitage isn’t for me, and risk is far too attractive. I could decide not to have sex again until marriage, but then I would have to find and marry a man who doesn’t believe in sex before marriage, and they all seem to be really interested in the word “dominion.”
I never planned to have children, but I never planned not to. I figured it would happen if it happened, and if it wasn’t meant to be, it wouldn’t. As it turns out, this is like going to the grocery store, hungry, without a list. You grab whatever looks good, thinking that in this way, you’ll be fulfilling your desires and really living, instead of what is sustaining, what is vital, what could possibly be your last meal. You overspend and end up with junk food and random luxuries, because YOLO! But since you do, in fact, only live once, maybe a list would’ve been better. It may be as risky to admit you want to find love as it is to move to a country where you don’t speak the language, and it may be as daring to admit you feel joy listening to a baby giggle as it is to snowboard your cramps away.
And if you can’t find everything on your list, that’s okay. At least you looked.
Ada Kenney is the pseudonym of a lonely liberal in the Bible Belt. She enjoys the great outdoors, microbrews, creativity, and anonymity. She still hasn’t decided about motherhood; maybe she’ll adopt from the next big trendy country.
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