A little while ago, the universe conspired against me in a whole number of different ways to fuck with my body without my consent. My script for Zoloft ran out, and by the time it took the pharmacy in my hometown to refill and ship it to me, I was a few days lacking the serotonin my body desperately needs to keep me sane and level. Life was also shitty at the time in others ways-- stressful and full of drama that was neither mine, nor of my own making. It started to take its toll; I was constantly nauseous and dizzy. A morning hike turned into a battle to stay upright and cognizant. I also was probably a little anemic, due to the fact that living with a vegetarian was NOT doing my diet any favors in regards to my body's generous appetite for red meat, blood, guts, and protein. And I was having sex. Lots of regular, good ol' fashioned relationship sex. What a perfect Molotov cocktail for disaster and pee-dipsticks.
I first got my period when I was 12. I remember it vividly, because it was during the summer, and I was with my family and childhood best friend at our usual summer residence at the Jersey shore. For the rest of our vacation, I refused to go in the ocean, because I was SURE that I was going to end up the tragic victim of a shark attack based on the fact that I was now BLEEDING, dripping BLOOD UNCONTROLLABLY, from somewhere that I didn't quite understand yet. I was young. It was traumatic. I really, really hate sharks and their cold, dead eyes. But since that summer, my period had been something that came like Swiss clockwork-- you literally could have set Big Ben or international standard time to it, it was so reliable, down to the date and time of afternoon when it made its appearance. And there was none of this "skipped period" or "spotting" bullshit for me when I started out; my period RSVPed, and it made it its business to show. Punctually. Only once, the second month that I was on birth control when I was 18, did I ever spot between cycles. It was unsettling and odd for me, but I had a reason for it, so I sucked it up, bought more panty liners, and moved on. So I was properly freaked out when suddenly, last month, I started spotting a week before I was supposed to be due.
I let it go for a day or two, considering all the angles: Maybe my lack of Zoloft had impacted its buddy Ortho Tricyclin Lo, considering I take them both at the same time every day, and it was lonely and taking it out on me the only way it knew how. Maybe I had some internal trauma I didn't know about, a ruptured cyst or something. Maybe my lady bits where rioting against all this sex, as unused to routine as they were after all the dry spells of my life. Or, maybe, as I input all my bodily woes into the Mayo clinic's database of diseases and scrolled down the page, I was experiencing "implantation bleeding." AKA: Maybe I was well and truly fucked.
Small quantities of brown blood. Nausea. Dizziness. Higher Basal body temperature. I did the complicated and quantum physics and math of my menstrual cycle's peak performance and ovulation time and the history of my sex life and compared it to what not only Mayo, but WebMD, BabyMed, SteadyHealth, and Woman's Health had to say. It was not good, in the way that for the first time in my life, a mathematical equation coming out to equal the sum that it should was not something my mathematically-dyslexic self wanted to celebrate. I considered calling my mother to ask if she'd experience implantation bleeding when she got pregnant with me. I decided against it, and called a friend of mine who had been pregnant once before instead. We jointly decided it would be best to wait it out; see if my period made its real appearance when it was supposed to. We cited the Zoloft, the anemia, the stress as contributing factors. We didn't even entertain the possibility that pregnancy was a real option. I took my birth control every day with the fanaticism of a Southern Revivalist. We'd been careful. We'd been good. In my sexual history, if Ortho were to fail me and fuck me over, it would have happened before now. The ratio of possible pregnancy situations in my past compared to my present would have read something like 234:3. (That's probably not even a real ratio, and now you understand just how bad at math I really am.)
So I waited. The spotting waxed and waned, but nothing like my usual period showed. One day, at lunch, I excused myself to the ladies' room, and came back triumphant, sure that I had finally exited the danger zone, but later that night, the well dried up. Nothing. Nada. I was going on two weeks now refraining from sex because I may or may not decide to start bleeding. It was killing me. Finally, my friend convinced me it was time to do the damn thing and know for certain, instead of continuously directing disparaging remarks down toward my belt and being a general ostrich with my head in the sand. "I blame the Holocaust," I told her. "If it wasn't for Hitler, those fucking sperm wouldn't feel as deep a need to survive." We went to Shaw's. She shopped for the week's groceries while I deliberated between spending $13 on a pregnancy test, or $6. On one hand, did I really want to trust something so important to a cheapo no-name brand? On the other, I was really freaking tapped for cash, and if it was negative, well...that would be a totally un-cool way to have wasted what could have bought me two dirty martinis. I settled for a middle-range option, and grabbed another box of condoms, too. Optimism.
In the checkout lane, specifically picked to get maximum hilarity out of what could otherwise end up being a pretty desolate situation, the teenage boy behind the register didn't even blink. My friend and I felt let down. When we got back to her apartment, I opened the box, and discovered that taking a pregnancy test apparently mandates a map the size of your average road atlas, and instructions as detailed-- down to the second and no-nonsense-- as taking your SATs or the bar exam in your state. After reading the instruction to DO NOT HOLD TEST UPSIDE-DOWN, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, OR ELSE YOU'LL SCREW UP THE TEST AND NEVER KNOW AND END UP ON 'I DIDN'T KNOW I WAS PREGNANT,' I handled it like a grenade whose pin had been pulled. And always tip-down. We debated peeing on it the good old-fashioned way versus using the cup method. She pointed out that I would then have a cup of pee to deal with. We both pulled a face. I tentatively journeyed into the bathroom to try hovering over the toilet without peeing on my own hand. Through the door, I commented that it would be a lot easier for men to be the ones who got pregnant and had to take pregnancy tests. She instructed me to be sure that I didn't wimp out and got a good stream on the tip. I didn't pee on my hand as I feared I would, so I was feeling a little bit triumphant when I capped it again and laid it gently to rest on the sink's counter. If I could not pee on my own hand while taking a pregnancy test, I reasoned, there was no way in hell I could have actually fucked myself over even more and be pregnant.
My friend instructed me that even though the test said it could be checked as soon as 2 minutes after, waiting at least 4 to get a conclusive result was even better. She knew what she was talking about, so we set a timer, and found a Youtube clip of the Jeopardy "thinking" song to wait to. There is nothing that really raises the class level of taking a pregnancy test like the thought of Alex Trebek and people dressed in tweed. My friend got a call and stepped out for a minute, and then it was suddenly me, Alex, my thoughts, and the bathroom door that was open just enough to see the toilet, but not enough to see the hidden test on the counter, diagnosis yet unknown.
Here's the thing: I knew as soon as I read Mayo's diagnosis for me what I would do if it was true. So, in one aspect, I knew exactly what I was going to do. But the more I sat there and thought as Jeopardy kept playing and the timer was ticking down, I realized that this whole shenanigan wasn't about me. The stress that I'd been going through, the intense fear at the thought that I may be enciente was not my stress, or fear of what I would do; it was fear of what another woman would do. And that, I realized, was much more; ten times more; a hundred, million times more fucked up and ridiculous than me actually being worried and taking this pregnancy test to be sure for MYSELF. In a perfect world, devoid of any other players or pawns, the fact that I was 22, in a stable relationship, and taking a pregnancy test would not have been so scary. In that same world, I would have been allowed to be potentially excited, and entertain the thought of other options besides my cut-and-dried one of abortion. But this is not that perfect world. There are other players in this one, and there are pawns. In many ways, my own pregnancy would not be about me. What is supposed to be one of the most significant times of a woman's life would not be made of joy and healthy levels of both fear and excitement; it would be full of strife and more stress and drama and endless questions and phone calls and arguments, and not all of them would be about me, my relationship, or my child, but about another person, another relationship, and another child. What it came down to was not the fact that I didn't want a child; it came down to the fact that I didn't want to bring a child into a situation as volatile as the one I'd entered when I started my relationship. Because it wouldn't be fair. Not to me. Not to a baby. Not to my partner. And, a little part of my mind reminded me, not to another woman. In that moment, Jeopardy's timpani drums striking merrily, I knew I had my answer, regardless of the test's results. My friend came back into the room. I was white and drawn. The timer went off.
The test was negative. I laughed, danced, and ate a big steak.