There’s a saying that if pregnancy were a book, they would cut the last two chapters. But how would the story begin? Whether planned or unplanned, I think it’s fair to say that the realization of every pregnancy starts with a sense of shock and awe. Former trial lawyer Lara Bazelon (sister of DoubleX ‘s Emily Bazelon) writes about this today in a piece that reminds me that sometimes we have no idea how our bodies work.
Tell me about how you found out you were expecting. Was it a planned surprise? Were you amazed? Incredulous? Or did you feel a Zen-like calm? Write to me at email@example.com
It wasn’t an accident, and yet the discovery was completely overwhelming.
My boyfriend and I decided to start trying in July. Everyone-which is to say my sisters, my mother, my best friend, and the fertility book I read-agreed it made sense. I was 34, with notoriously irregular cycles. It could take a year, they all said, maybe longer. And that was assuming there were no problems.
The book stressed the helpfulness of simple measures designed to maximize my fertility, like taking my temperature every morning. A slight uptick would tell me when I was ovulating and most likely to conceive. My boyfriend and I would have sex during that time and, abracadabra, baby!
The ideal time to start temperature-taking, according to the book, was on the first day of my period. The problem was that in the four weeks since I stopped taking birth control pills, my period had been a no-show. Every day I awoke ready to break out the thermometer only to realize, with growing frustration, that the precipitating event had not precipitated.
The whole conception thing was going worse than I had expected. I thought I would fail at first, but failure was becoming all too familiar. Since moving to San Francisco to be with my boyfriend, I had quit my job and failed to get another one, left my friends and failed to make new ones, and submitted my novel to a slew of agents only to have it rejected by each and every one. Still, I hadn’t thought my incompetence was so colossal it would prevent me from taking the baby steps that were critical to making the actual baby.
A few days later I confessed my inadequacy to my pediatrician friend, Liza. When she asked if there was anything to report on the pregnancy front, I replied glumly, “I’m still waiting to get my period so I can start taking my temperature.”
Liza appeared to have difficulty following my logic. “What makes you think you’re not pregnant now?” she asked.
I snorted. “I have to ovulate,” I explained, “and that can’t happen until I get my period. Then I’m supposed to take my temperature”-I stopped. On the other end of the phone, Liza was laughing uncontrollably. “What? What’s so funny?”
“Plenty of people ovulate after going off the pill without getting a period,” Liza said.
I tried not to sound surprised. “Yeah, well, I’m not pregnant. I’m premenstrual. My chest hurts. I’m bloated. And-OK, this is weird-but sometimes I get this metallic taste in my mouth.”
Liza was laughing again. “You’re pregnant.”
“No,” I insisted, “I’m not.”
But when I woke up the next day, still achy, still puffy, and with my tongue tasting like I’d just finished licking the kitchen sink, I was less sure. Bladder full, I raced downstairs to find the bathroom door closed and the water running. It was Monday morning, and my boyfriend was getting ready to go to work.
I went to the hall closet and pulled out the remaining pregnancy test in a two-pack I’d bought several months earlier. Back then, I was convinced I was pregnant, but that was only because I didn’t want to be. I re-read the instructions in the box, which gave me two choices: Plunge the stick into my urine stream for five seconds, or submerge it in a urine pool collected in a sanitary receptacle.
I ran to the kitchen in search of a sanitary receptacle and opened the dishwasher, relieved that we’d remembered to run it. In desperation, I grabbed the glass bowl that had held last night’s brussel sprouts, pulled down my pajama pants, and squatted on the kitchen floor.
I placed the brimming bowl carefully on the kitchen counter, took out the test stick and submerged it, careful as I counted from one to 20 to say “Mississippi” after every number.
It took about five seconds for the stick to give me one-word answer. Countless thoughts flashed through my mind. I was having a baby. No, we were having a baby. Way ahead of schedule. I considered our lives. Unstable was the word that came to mind. We didn’t even know what we’d be doing or where we’d be living after December. We weren’t married yet. We fought too much. We weren’t ready. I shut my eyes and remembered how my boyfriend and I had put our faces close together when we’d made the decision to try. How the nuzzling had turned into kissing, which in turn had led to-well, the things that had the P-word on the stick. Whatever our problems, we loved each other. We would love our baby. We would be good parents.
I walked slowly to the bathroom and knocked on the door. My boyfriend opened it, his lower jaw covered in shaving cream, a razor dangling from his free hand. His eyes were still half-closed, and he looked, as he always did on Monday mornings, like the world’s unhappiest camper.
“What?” he said.
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out.
I handed over the stick.
My boyfriend looked at it. I scrutinized his face for signs of panic but saw none. As usual, he appeared calm and thoughtful (good qualities in a dad, I told myself). I watched his chest rise and fall as he breathed, his Adam’s apple move up and down as he swallowed, then saw his hands reach for me. “Baby,” he whispered in my ear, “Baby, we did it.”
I pushed my face into his shoulder, heard the crackling of shaving cream in my ear. “I didn’t believe we could,” I whispered. “I didn’t think so.”
He held me tighter, and then we were kissing, gently at first, then frantically, the way we had in the very beginning of our relationship, when it seemed like there was only that moment we were living in and no other; nothing before, nothing after. And then he froze, eyes wide-open, a disbelieving china blue as he stared at something over my shoulder.
“Did you pee in the salad bowl?
Matt and Lara were married on October 4, 2008. Their son, Carter, was born on April 18, 2009. Lara’s still-unpublished novel, The Good Criminal , is about the relationship that develops between a young public defender named Abby and her client, Rayshon, who is accused of helping to carry out the murder of a DEA Agent in Los Angeles.
Photo of Lara and Carter courtesy of the author.