As her marriage crumbles, the author gets pregnant in a very precarious time.
It was April, and I was tired. In-my-bones tired. Lids drooping, head-nodding-over-my-laptop tired. I would doze off in the middle of mastering spreadsheets. My speech slurred during meetings. This went on for days. Did I have mono again? The virus? Another “episode”? I took my temperature: normal. Was my throat scratchy? I had to be sick. Or was it allergies?
I’d already taken the test, but ten days later I figured: Why not rule everything out? My mind was blank as I held the plastic cup between my legs in the toilet. I knew this motion like a dance: tear the foil, collect the specimen, dip the stick, set aside it on a flat dry surface, wait two-to-five minutes for your results. It’s always negative. A few months ago, this had been an almost daily ritual. I’d bought the pack in bulk on Amazon, and this was my second to last one. What a waste.
Once, last November, I swore I saw a faint line, but that was with the blue ink from a store-brand pregnancy test pack. “Pink dye is the good dye,” my recently pregnant friend (and multiple pregnancy forums online) said. “You can’t trust the blue. It doesn’t measure the right hormones.”
Whatever that line had been, for days I felt holy, like a god, a human kiln. Like I had a purpose. That weekend, I walked around our small seaside downtown holding hands with my husband, the warm sun shifting the salt breeze. I closed my eyes and let him guide me, ingesting the light. I declined beer—just in case—and we sat in the backs of bars while I sipped soda and talked about what it would all mean.
“I feel like anything is possible and nothing else matters,” I said.
His gaze shifted down.
I could feel my cheeks flush. I hunted his face for a reaction, connection, but his eyes remained glued to his Red Stripe as he peeled at the label.
Even though I kept buying the same pack of tests, the line faded each day until I started to bleed.
December. No lines. So many fights. A decade ends and a new one begins.
Without a child, my husband and I were falling short of reasons to stay together. It wasn’t that we needed a baby to save us; we needed to prove we could create something beautiful.
In January, I went to my doctor to see what was wrong with me. I was late again and was praying—praying—but she had other concerns. She prescribed further tests: bloodwork and an ultrasound. In the large hospital, I discovered ultrasounds aren’t always topical.
“I could be pregnant,” I said, my voice shaking as I watched the technician smooth gel along the long plastic wand. “Will that—would that hurt a baby?”
“Oh.” She paused. “No. I mean, it’d be too soon to tell. And besides, this is what they’d use to check, anyway.”
I started to bleed the next day and got the results the following week: polycystic ovarian syndrome.
“Everyone has it,” my friend assured me. But my doctor said I probably wasn’t getting pregnant without help, which I knew anyway. What kind of help, I wasn’t sure.
It was still January. I’d been slipping. And the disappearance of the line welcomed the arrival of something bigger: a kind of struggle I hadn’t faced since high school. Falling hard and deep, I tripped on something I thought I’d buried. I’d sit in my therapist’s office barely audible, forgetting my sentences before then left my throat.
“What is this?” I asked, tears running into my mouth. “Am I having a stroke?”
“It’s called a major depressive episode,” she said.
I should have seen it coming—I was raised with depression as a first language. Preverbal, I knew how to recognize the forecast: sagging eyes; slurred speech; short tempers.
One of my first memories: I’m sitting in my plastic highchair in my parents’ farmhouse kitchen, pushing cooked peas around with soft knuckles, watching my mom as her shoulders shook over the sink, back hunched, silent sobs rolling out of her body. Years later, I’d learned she’d had a miscarriage—an unplanned second child lost. But in my family, there was always an excuse for sadness: My father’s father died. My mother’s father died. My father’s alcoholism. My mother’s powerlessness masked as rage. Sorrow slipped into our home like a fog and never had time to break. I couldn’t see through it. At nine I was cutting myself; at thirteen I stopped eating, hoping I’d disappear. My parents believed these acts were the melancholy of youth—or maybe they never noticed, stuck in clouds of their own. At fourteen, a Zoloft commercial on TV prompted me to talk to my mom about depression. My pediatrician prescribed antidepressants and therapy. I made it to college. I learned how to live. I thought I’d left it behind.
It was March. Two increased doses of Lexapro later, I could finally sleep at night. Nothing was the same.
“I’m going back to Maine once this is over,” I told him during our first weekend of self-quarantine. “I’m going to stay with my mom for a while.”
His eyes fell again. Something about my voice let him know this time it wasn’t a threat.
March faded into April, but the days were all the same now. I had stopped paying attention to my ovulation tracking app weeks ago, too sad to care when the hearts came and went on specific days that I was supposedly fertile.
Our marriage was ending, but love was still there between the agony and the outrage, just as confusing as the idea of dismantling a partnership with no shared property outside of a couple IKEA couches, a nervous terrier and too many memories to count. Maybe because there was nothing official to break apart, we didn’t know how to untangle; we still shared a bed, and on occasion, found each other’s bodies after fights that ended in tears and apologies—or games of cards doubled over in laughter enhanced with bottles of wine. We were stuck inside forever. We only had each other. We were friends. Everything felt surreal and impossible.
So then the test.
I held the wand in my hands as the results blurred and came into focus. I watched as the second line—a pink one—appeared for the first time in my life.
Thirty-two years of successfully preventing pregnancy, nearly a year of unsuccessfully creating it and now here we were.
I walked downstairs and into the kitchen, holding the strip with the thick pink lines. I extended it as an offering.
His mouth dropped. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” he said.
I burst out laughing. I started to cry. I sat down and we both stared in shock at what we’d done.
“Do I keep it?” I asked no one. I’m pro-choice. Isn’t that what this choice is for?
He cocked his head, mouth moving before words could form. “I…I’ll support you no matter what.”
I already knew my answer.
My dad has been sober for 19 years. He talks about kicking the “curse” of his bloodline. “I come from a family legacy of alcoholics,” he always says. “I swore to myself, the curse will end with me.”
Supposedly it takes two generations for addiction to leave a family. I wonder, then, will my child have a chance? If I kick depression, will they fall prey or have hope?
“I think you could do it,” my therapist said when I told her the news. “I think you will make a great mom, even alone.”
Yesterday, I rested my phone against my stomach, imagining the soft sound waves of the music vibrating deep into my uterus. A fetus cannot hear until the second trimester at the earliest, but I like to pretend. Mostly I want to apologize. I’m not doing a good job being their mom so far. So far, I’ve broken nearly all the promises I made to them when they were still unformed, just an egg inside my ovary: I’ll be in love. I’ll have support. I’ll be happy. I’ll be happy. I’ll be happy.
I pour the song into them as a new promise: I’ll get better. I’ll get better. I’ll get better.