“I can’t see the line. You’re crazy.”
“No, look, if you just tilt it this way in the light you can make it out.”
“Pregnancy tests don’t work like that. There’s either a line or there’s not. You’re not pregnant.”
“No, I’m pretty sure I am.”
My boyfriend, Mike, and I were huddled under the one good light in our apartment, passing the bit of plastic I had peed on back and forth. My period was just barely late and I had been experiencing almost nonstop headaches. I thought maybe I needed new glasses, but something in my gut was suggesting another reason.
Mike shook his head and handed me the test. “You cannot be pregnant.”
I ignored him and pulled out my phone. I could feel a surge of anxiety move through my body. I wouldn’t be more than four of five weeks along, hardly far enough to really start to feel pregnant, but I knew something was off. Something was different and I needed to know what it was and fast. This couldn’t wait and I wanted answers. At nineteen, barely out of my childhood home, I called the only person whom I knew would have an answer: my mom.
“Go to the emergency room.” My mom’s tone was clipped, voice tight. She was upset, which upset me. This isn’t what I had expected. I thought she and dad would float me another fifteen bucks for a second test. I thought she would tell me not to worry, there was no way I was pregnant. I thought she would make this go away.
“Mom, I don’t — ”
“Go to the emergency room. You’re on birth control, right? If you’re pregnant and on birth control this is an emergency. Go and they’ll give you another pregnancy test and we’ll go from there. Call me when you’re done.”
Hindsight being what it is, I think my mom would admit this was a bit of a drastic suggestion. Teen pregnancy can certainly be an emergency, but it’s the slow moving kind, like watching a wildfire from a distance eat up all the houses on the periphery of your neighborhood before it eventually consumes yours. It’s not like a gunshot wound, which would send you to the ER. And yet…
Maybe twenty minutes later I sat alone in the waiting room of the emergency room. Mike refused to come in with me.
“This is ridiculous. You’re not pregnant. This is embarrassing. Let’s just get another pregnancy test.” But I was resigned and therefore determined. I told my mother I would go to the emergency room, and ever the obedient daughter, I went to the emergency room.
And so, I went in, briefly, haltingly, red-faced, explained my predicament to the woman at the intake desk.
“Um, I think…I think I’m pregnant, but I’m on birth control. My mom said I should…come here.” Bless her soul, she said nothing, simply told me to sign in and that a doctor would be with me in a bit. I sat down and stared blankly at the ground until I heard my name called.
I don’t really remember much about my thought process in those moments before the doctor saw me. I can’t remember how long I sat there or how I felt, except for perhaps a bit ashamed. I knew this was a stupid way to confirm a pregnancy, but I was honestly petrified. A more rational decision didn’t feel available to me. In that moment, this was the best place for me to be.
A nurse called my name and led me into an exam room. She handed me a plastic cup, wet wipes, and instructions to go into the bathroom and fill ‘er up. I did as asked and my cup of urine was promptly taken away. I felt deflated. I don’t know what I had expected. Perhaps a blood test? An ultrasound? Peeing in a cup felt…insufficient. Isn’t that essentially what I had done at home and the results had been inconclusive? I feared I would be left in the same ambiguous position I had arrived in, though now embarrassed and with an irritated and infuriatingly right boyfriend.
Some time passed and then the doctor arrived. He was older, his face kind. He looked at me for a moment, not speaking, perhaps realizing I was quite young and nervous. He ran a hand through his thinning white hair and said, “Well, er, congratulations, I suppose?” Ah, yes, I thought, I’m not pregnant. Relief, mingled with something that might have been disappointment, started to bubble up. I was so taken up with my own thoughts I nearly missed the doctor finishing with, “You’re test came back positive. You’re pregnant.”
I cannot remember what I said. I can imagine a myriad of responses, all within a cheery, upbeat vein, because that is my natural response in high stress moments with strangers. Don’t let them see you sweat, right? I do remember being handed paperwork with a list of OB/GYNs in the area and that he wished me luck. I thanked him and went to check out, shellshocked.
During the walk from the ER back to Mike’s car, some of the shock sloughed off. A feeling of excitement started to filter in. I thought about what I would say to Mike when I got in the car. How do you tell your boyfriend he’s going to be a dad? I didn’t have long to think, so my announcement sounded an awful lot like, “I TOLD YOU SO!” as I handed him the paperwork from the ER declaring my genuine pregnant state.
I think I’ve only seen Mike cry three times in the thirteen years we’ve been together: on our wedding, the spring we had a particularly bad rough patch in our marriage, and the day I told him I was pregnant with our first child. I think he would prefer for me to say he was overcome with emotion, mostly joy. I think the truth was, like me, he was certainly overcome with emotion, but it was mostly fear.
We were babies and we were poor and were so frightfully stupid and naive. We were so stupid and naive that we didn’t even realize how stupid and naive we were. It’s taken me eleven years and nearly three kids in to realize just how unbelievable idiotic we were, myself in particular. I think I finally understand why my mother didn’t speak to me for nearly the entire weekend after I told her she was going to become a grandmother.