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Plus or Minus One

Last month I had to take a test. It was tying me up in knots, even though there was only one question on it.

Story was eight months old, and Mark and I had been trying to conceive again ever since my period came back, at four-and-a-half months postpartum. Maybe this will seem to you like we were in an unnecessary rush, but if so I suspect you are not a woman over thirty-five with undiagnosed fertility issues. It had taken us nearly two years to get pregnant with Story, no one had ever given us a reason why, and ever since then I’ve felt like there is no time to lose.

So, this pregnancy test. I was creeping up on day 40 of my cycle, which by normal standards would be over a week late. But my cycle, since coming back, had been lengthy and irregular. The last month I had gone 37 days. But still, basic math will tell you that 40 is greater than 37. And it had been almost three weeks since I’d detected an LH surge in my urine, indicating probable ovulation.

But I couldn’t take the test. I could not do it. Every time I contemplated doing so, I would think back to how I used to feel when I’d take a preggo test while we were waiting for Story. How my heart would hammer for that entire five minutes while I was waiting for the test strip to develop. How my hope would slowly shrivel and die.

And the worst part: how it refused to ever die completely. A negative didn’t really mean no, a desperate little voice inside me always piped up after the initial tears were done. It just meant that the test wasn’t  sensitive enough to detect the level of HCG currently in my urine. In a day or two, who knew?

Except I knew. I did. My rationality knew, and my experience, and a certain brittle, furious pessimism that was slowly rotting my heart. It was only my hope that did not know. My hope was a freakin’ moron.

I had eventually stopped taking pregnancy tests, because I just couldn’t deal with the endless rise and fall of hope. Curtailing the tests didn’t really end the hoping, of course, but it made it marginally less acute. But now here I was, one baby richer, but still dearly wanting more children. Day 39, and no period. If my cycle didn’t end soon, I was going to have to take a test.

I found myself somewhat annoyed that I will never experience a pregnancy test the way you might see on a television drama. I’ll never wait for the test to develop while being all tittery with my girlfriends, or all kissyface with my husband. I imagine my pregnancy test experience will always be me alone in a bathroom, grim and afraid.

It made me wonder how many women take theses tests in fear and pain, instead of in joy and anticipation. I’m not talking about the women who are hoping not to be pregnant, though they have their own troubles, I know. I’m talking about the women who want it badly, even desperately. Quite a lot of us, I think, look forward to these tests with nothing but dread. Three that I’m sure of. A friend who suffered two subsequent miscarriages during two subsequent Christmases. A cousin who gave birth to a beautiful, stillborn baby boy. And me.

And I suspect it of others−women who I know have suffered trouble in the baby-making department, but with whom I’m not intimate enough to really get into it. And there must be even more in my circle of friends, women who have had these problems but would never think of telling me. In fact, if I had to make a guess at the number of women who like those tests vs. the number of women who loathe them, I’d slant the scales toward the latter.

So, where were we? Day 39. A Thursday. By this point I’d just about convinced myself that I probably was pregnant, but the thought of taking the test was still too much for me to face. By the time I’d gone to bed, I’d decided that if I still hadn’t had my period by Saturday, Day 41, I’d muscle up and pee on the damn stick.

But in the morning, there was blood. Not a lot. Only a trace. I asked Mark to take care of Story for a bit, and went back to bed and was sad. I may have cried. And eventually Story went down for an early nap and I fell asleep with her.

When I woke up, it occurred to me that a trace of blood was no more than I’d had in the early weeks of my pregnancy with Story. There had been some slight spotting, in week six, and again in week nine or ten. A trace of blood didn’t mean squat.

Clearly, it was time to put an end to all this nonsense. I took the test. It was positive.

That was fast, I thought. It had been only eight months since I’d delivered Story, only three or four since my periods had resumed. I’d been monitoring my LH levels ever since my cycles came back, and this month had been the first time I’d actually detected a surge. It seemed like we’d caught the first egg.

Having Story, I thought, had healed me. The cause of my infertility had never been diagnosed, but perhaps it had been some hormone problem, corrected by my pregnancy, or some malformation of my cervix, which had been corrected by the delivery. Whatever it was, it looked like it was in the past.

When Mark came home for lunch, I told him, and that evening we celebrated. We started making plans. The baby would be born in mid-May. We thought we’d tell the family about it at Thanksgiving, and perhaps around Christmas we’d find out the sex. I’d make the new baby’s Christmas stocking, and after the big gender reveal, I could embroider his or her name on it while the rest of the stockings hung by the chimney.

But in the morning, blood. A trace−ok, more than a trace. A large trace. I wasn’t too worried, having been through the spotting with Story, but just to be on the safe side I called up the midwife who had delivered Story, all the way back in Atlanta. (Love you, Charlotte!) She talked to me about herbs, and about taking it easy. We talked several times through the day, as the bleeding got worse, as it got darker, as I had to put on a pad.

I also spent a bit of time in the dark bowels of the internet, googling terrible things like “how much bleeding is normal” and “how do you know if you’re having a miscarriage.” I read any number of forum posts from any number of women who were right in the thick of it− all that pain and fear that I remembered from the years before Story. I knew what they were going through. I’d been one of them. But having Story had healed me, in more ways than one.

That night Mark and I bought a bunch of silly snacks−jelly beans and animal crackers and string cheese−and went for a long drive while the baby slept in the back seat. I told him that things weren’t looking good−not 100% disaster yet, but pretty worrisome. We held hands and reassured one another we’d be fine. We went to bed, and when I got up to pee in the middle of the night, it seemed like the bleeding might be tapering off. I allowed myself to hope that maybe we’d just had a near miss, that was all.

But in the morning?

Blood. And I knew that it was done.

That day I was mostly calm, and mostly agreeable, and mostly all right. Not entirely, but mostly. And ten days later, so as to allow no confusion of the issue, I took another test. My heart didn’t hammer. It just sort of put itself on pause. And when I got the expected negative, I nodded, and threw it away, and that was the end of it.

Maybe. Well, mostly. Or not at all.


  1. becky wrote:

    Oof, Jane, I’m so sorry. I’ve been there and the waiting/googling is truly the dark night of the soul. I’m sending you a hug. Hang in there. xo

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Kelly wrote:

    My heart was in my throat the whole time reading this. I still have hope that your story has a happy ending. I am so very sorry and wish there were more words to make you feel better xoxoox

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Permalink
  3. jane wrote:

    Thanks, Becky! You’re wonderful. Yeah, the internet is hell. It’s nice to have the information, but no one can ever tell you what you really want to know, which is: how will this end for me? And of course there is always some person who will tell you about how she dealt with your same exact situation, and everything was fine. But really, I am doing fine–writing this post got me down a bit, but basically things are good here.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink
  4. jane wrote:

    Thanks, Kelly, you’re a doll! The fact is, my story does have a happy ending. I want more kids, but if Story is all I get, well, she’s pretty great. And there’s every reason to hope we’ll have more.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 10:28 pm | Permalink
  5. Karen J Massey wrote:

    Jane and Mark, my heart goes out to you both. You are very special people. You are often in my thoughts and always in my heart.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Permalink
  6. jane wrote:

    Thanks, Karen! I love you!

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink
  7. jane wrote:

    Becky–also, I should have said, I am so sorry you went through a miscarriage too. I do remember when that happened, though I didn’t know you at the time, only Matt. I know it’s been several years, but I’m very sorry for your loss.

    Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  8. Jean Sieverding wrote:

    Jane and Mark~~My heart goes out to both of you. Please know how much we love you, and are praying that everything will go the way you want it to. Take care!

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 8:14 am | Permalink
  9. jane wrote:

    Thanks, Jean! We are both doing good and really appreciate your prayers.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  10. Mary Campbell wrote:

    Jane and Mark — I can’t imagine the disappointment. Jim and I will keep you in our thoughts and prayers that another little
    Kalmes joins your family and Story has the opportunity to be a “big” sister.

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  11. Liz Sanders wrote:

    You are surrounded by prayers of comfort.

    Friday, October 5, 2012 at 6:33 pm | Permalink
  12. Star wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this. I visited your blog thanks to the blog roll on Suburban Matron, bye, Star

    Friday, November 30, 2012 at 2:29 am | Permalink

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