by Dana Norris
It’s a Saturday morning, and I think I’m pregnant. I go to the bathroom and unwrap a pregnancy test—pH paper inside a plastic stick. I sit on the toilet and awkwardly place the plastic stick under my urine stream.
I set the stick on the edge of the sink and watch my urine slowly move down the paper, saturating it, telling it things about my body that I don’t know. After two minutes, the stick shows my result. One solid pink line, the faintest inkling of a second line just to its left. But, is that a line? Or am I just imagining it? Do I want it to be a line?
I take a picture of the test with my phone and I text it to my sister: “What does this say?”
She calls me immediately. “It says you’re pregnant!” She’s happy and I’m skeptical. It doesn’t feel real. I mean, I just had my IUD removed a month ago. It’s too soon.
My husband is out getting the car’s oil changed. I text him. “Buy pregnancy tests. All different kinds.” He comes home with a new set of tests. I guzzle water and take them all, one at a time. Each test confirms the one before. There is a row of four pee-soaked sticks on the edge of my sink, all with faint second lines.
Five years ago, when I was twenty-eight years old, I decided I would never have children, ever. I had been dating a guy for six years, we were living together, and I wanted to get married with the fervor of a woman who feels she has nothing else going for her. I worked at an industrial supply company, had a boyfriend, and getting married appeared to be the only exciting possibility open to me. But my boyfriend didn’t want to have kids. To marry him, I had to know I wasn’t going to have children.
I had always assumed that I would one day have kids, but I assumed this the way I assume that I’ll one day fit into a size six or have a Roth IRA or not find cigarettes delicious—those are future difficulties for future Dana to handle. But now I’m twenty-eight years old and I need to make a choice. I start to experiment with the idea of not having children. I visit child-free websites and purchase books: Life without Children, Baby Not on Board, Child-free and Loving It! And in picturing my life without children I find something. I had been going to work every day, coming home, watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs, going to bed, waking up, doing it again, pausing only to drink heavily on the weekends. I’ve literally been waiting to get married and have kids to finally give my life some purpose. But now, now, it’s possible that I will never be a mother. And since children aren’t going to give me purpose, I need to find my own. I start taking writing classes, improv classes, going to open mics. I get into grad school. I start a storytelling show. I give birth to myself.
A year after I agree to a child-free existence, my boyfriend still doesn’t want to get married, and I’m like: for fuck’s sake. So I break up with him. A lot of my friends ask, “Does this mean that you want kids now?” I think: who knows? I’m single for the first time in years and, sure, the idea of children being a possibility is nice, but less because I have a throbbing desire to have one and more because I like not having to make the decision. I like that I no longer have to know what I want.
Then I meet my husband. He’s warm and a hundred times more nurturing than me and he wants to have a baby and when I look at him I want that, too. But I also have moments of doubt. I spent such a long time focused on the negatives of having a child. I’ll be physically exhausted during pregnancy, it’ll wreck my body, ruin my boobs, swell up my ankles, tear my vagina, and then when we have the baby it’ll be tethered to me, demanding food every two hours. I won’t be able to sleep or shower and the exhaustion will go down to my bones. And then the baby will grow up and maybe start shoplifting or develop a meth habit or be a whiny person who I don’t like very much. The whole thing seems so dangerous, so likely to result in a bad outcome. And how will I write with a baby? How will I perform? How will I do any of the things that I want to do? What do I, by myself, without the opinion of my partner, want?
I still don’t know. But it’s a Saturday morning and I’m pregnant.
I find it hard to believe at first because I don’t feel any different. But then days go by and I begin to feel a buzz around my edges—every so often there’s a tiny tug on my perception, like I just took some Nyquil and it’s kicking in. I realize that this buzzing is probably a result of the pregnancy. It becomes more real. The women’s restroom at work has private nursing rooms for new mothers. I practice thinking about being a mom. I practice scheduling time in the mother’s nursing room on my Outlook calendar. I’m tired because my energy is being diverted, but I’m also improbably calm. I realize that I, through no conscious effort of my own, am slowly building another person. I feel like I have company everywhere I go. My husband and I compare bellies in the mirror every night. I didn’t think it was possible, but I enjoy being pregnant.
It’s a Thursday morning and I have a meeting at work, a typical gathering of people sitting in a room and discussing the intricacies of customer payment patterns, and the meeting turns a little rough. My logic is questioned and my boss publicly notices a spelling error in a memo I wrote. I retreat to the bathroom afterwards with my iPhone so I can sit in a stall, check Facebook, and soothe myself by remembering that nothing at my job really matters. And while in there I see blood. I see a lot of blood.
I put down my phone, retrieve a tampon, clean myself up, and force myself to move air in and out of my lungs because I want to stop breathing. I want to stop my breath so I can stop my mind from telling me what this means. But I do breathe, so my mind slowly registers this new information.
It’s a lot of blood.
Which means it’s a miscarriage.
I’m having a miscarriage.
I have ten seconds before I start to cry and I need to find place to hide. I’m at work and no one even knows I’m pregnant but now I’m not pregnant, I’m having a miscarriage, but this is a place of business for business people and not a place for miscarriages and the women’s restroom has lots of my co-workers coming and going and they’ll recognize my shoes and they’ll hear me crying in the stall and they’ll ask each other, “Do you know what’s wrong with Dana? Oh—I bet she’s miscarrying.” And I can’t have that—I just can’t have it.
The mother’s nursing room is just around the corner, and it’s open. I stare at it and blink. I run inside and shut the door and sit in that small room with the clock and the fan and the table for the breast pump. I sit in a chair reserved for nursing mothers and I cry the way I bleed—without control, without seeming end. I use my cell phone and call my husband, who can barely understand me. I get it out, tell him we’re not pregnant anymore. He says it’s OK, it’ll be OK, and he loves me. I just cry. I hang up because I’m going to ruin my phone if I keep weeping directly into it. As I cry, part of me is surprised—we are really upset. Yes, we are.
Eventually I calm myself down. I need to go back to my cubicle. But, no, my face is a mess. Bright red, mascara everywhere. I call a trusted co-worker from my cell phone.
“Mary—it’s Dana. I’m in the mother’s nursing room. I need you to come in here and I need you to bring a box of tissues.” And Mary doesn’t even ask, “What?” She just says, “Yes,” hangs up, and runs to me with a box of tissues. She is a mother. I tell her that I’m miscarrying and she looks stricken. She hugs me.
I go home sick. I call the doctor. They say that I’m probably not pregnant anymore, but maybe I am, but probably I’m not, but I should use a maxi pad and not a tampon because my cervix is sensitive. I should come in for a blood test to make sure that I’m definitely not pregnant anymore, because I still could be. Even though I know. I no longer feel that tiny buzz.
I go to the doctor and they draw blood, twice, to compare the results. They tell me that yes, I did miscarry, that it was a chemical pregnancy, which means that I was pregnant, technically, but the embryo wasn’t viable and my body ended the pregnancy. They say that it’s a good thing, because it shows that I can get pregnant. They say that it’s a good thing, because when a pregnancy goes wrong early on, the body does the right thing in ending it. They say that I’ll be extra fertile next time. They notice that I’m crying. They close the office door and hand me a tissue and agree that it’s sad.
I keep crying, at random times, every day. My husband tells me it will all be OK and this is a setback, but it will be OK. And in my moments of logic I agree—the body knows best, and if the pregnancy isn’t going to go well, it’s best for the body to end it at the beginning, and we will get pregnant again one day, and I was so unsure that I was even ready for this.
But then there are moments after I’ve exhausted myself with tears, and these moments are so quiet and so visceral that they feel like a higher truth. I had someone, a life, and now I don’t. I feel the difference. It’s hollower. Emptier. Even though it was just cells, barely there. Cells that in past times, times when I was undecided, I would have done anything not to have. But this is different. Because I wanted it.
I didn’t know. I didn’t know how much I wanted children. How much I wanted that child. But now, at least, at the very least, I know.
I know what I want.
Dana Norris is the founder of Story Club, a monthly storytelling show in Chicago, Boston, and Minneapolis. She is the editor-in-chief of Story Club Magazine and she teaches at StoryStudio Chicago. She has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Rumpus, the Tampa Review, and her stories have been featured on Chicago Public Radio. You may see her upcoming performance schedule at dananorris.net.