I went about my day, dropping Angie off at school, going to work, driving home, picking her up, making dinner, cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry. Somewhere in the middle of all that, anxiety crept back in. When Angie was busy with homework and James was distracted in the office, or when they were both asleep, I slipped into the bathroom to take another test. Over and over, I felt relief. I felt something else too, something a little harder to explain.
I have just taken a pregnancy test, my sixteenth this month. Excessive, I know. But my breasts are swollen and my period is late. I’m queasy and tired. It could be the flu or a stomach bug, but my gut instinct—or perhaps my fear—tells me it’s much more than that.
At this point, the test directions are carved into my brain. Replace the cap and lay the stick on a flat surface. Watch as a pink tint moves across the result window. I set the stick on the counter next to the sink, near a blob of toothpaste left behind by my daughter, Angie, who is still asleep in bed, one arm wrapped around her stuffed cow. She’s already nine years old. How can that be? I feel like I was just here, waiting for a different pregnancy test, with a different result in mind.
Two lines means pregnant. One means not pregnant. I glance at the clock, the mirror, my cuticles, anywhere but the business end of that stick. I don’t want to jinx it.
Three minutes to wait. I sit on the toilet seat, trying to picture myself with a swollen belly, eating saltines to stave off morning sickness, taking care of one child while creating another. The first time around, my nausea was unbearable. Then, after the nausea subsided, heartburn kicked in. Relatives told me the burning sensation meant Angie would have a lot of hair. She didn’t then, but she certainly does now.
Once or twice a year I feel like this, queasy and exhausted. Rationally, I know these feelings are just stress, the residual effects of trying to balance parenting and working, of navigating Los Angeles traffic and the Trader Joe’s parking lot, of managing play dates and art classes, of trying to find a little writing time and saving something at the end of the day for my husband, James, to whom I have been married only two years.
But the irrational part of me remembers the end of my first marriage and the strain of raising a toddler alone. When that part takes over, it commandeers my mind and my legs and sends me running to the bathroom for another test.
Angie’s father left when she was two years old. He fell in love with another woman, which came as a shock to me then but isn’t exactly surprising when I think about it now. After eleven years of marriage, we had begun to drift apart. Our lack of a sex life should have been my first clue, but sometimes in life you see what you want to see.
Two minutes to go. I fidget with the cardboard box, careful not to make noise that will wake my family. James is still in bed too. Soon, he and Angie will be up. They’ll be hungry. Depending upon the outcome of this test, I’ll make breakfast, probably pancakes. Maybe I’ll put some oranges through the juicer.
Yesterday, I noticed a woman standing at a crosswalk with a small, ponytailed girl who was dancing as they waited for the light to change. They reminded me of my daughter and myself, the way we used to be, and for a moment, there was a pull in my chest. I yearned for something, but what? Another child? Or was it the desire, however impossible, to go back in time and enjoy my daughter without the pressure of single parenthood, without the stress of divorce or the heartbreak of a broken relationship?
The previous fifteen tests all came to the same conclusion. No surprise, really, since I’m on the pill, but I didn’t trust the results. The tests were faulty, or I took them too early in my cycle, when there weren’t enough pregnancy hormones in my body to render a positive outcome. I peed on stick after stick, feeling a wave of relief with every solo pink line. I went about my day, dropping Angie off at school, going to work, driving home, picking her up, making dinner, cleaning the kitchen and doing the laundry.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, anxiety crept back in. When Angie was busy with homework and James was distracted in the office, or when they were both asleep, I slipped into the bathroom to take another test. Over and over, I felt relief. I felt something else too, something a little harder to explain.
One minute to go. I inspect my pedicure and think about our last family vacation, when the three of us went to Hawaii for Christmas. At night, after Angie had gone to bed, James and I made love with the windows open so we could hear the ocean waves crashing against the cliffs. There was something magical about it. The rhythm of the Pacific. The warm, wet island air. Our bodies moving slower and more sweetly than usual. I came home thinking we had made a baby. But that test was negative too.
James understands my hesitation and has never suggested we expand our family. Yet, whenever my period is late, he shrugs, as though a pregnancy wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Whenever we encounter babies, I point out how cute they are. I love their awkwardness when they’re learning to walk and the sounds they make when they’re happy. But my infatuation is fleeting. It never lasts more than a few minutes – an hour, tops.
Once, when we were in the early throes of a long-distance relationship, he sent me a picture of himself holding his baby niece at the neighborhood pool. The photo was mesmerizing. At the time, I thought it was because of his muscular torso, chiseled by years of playing football, or the way his swim shorts hung low on his hips. Now I realize what attracted me was his arms, the way they enveloped the child, how they held her up and implied security.
James and I have something special, something that will last. But what if I’m wrong? What if we have a baby and he leaves? I’m afraid to be that woman again—alone with a restless toddler, in a rented apartment, staring at the kitchen table and wondering how to make it through the day.
James and I didn’t get together until later in life, when we were both 40. While he has been a superb father, giving Angie an independence that counteracts my overprotectiveness, he and I missed out on most of the things couples do before they have children. We’ve never been on a trip by ourselves. We’ve never left the house without a plan and a cache of snacks in plastic baggies. When Angie eventually goes off to college, he and I will be in our fifties, and while it will be difficult to say goodbye to our daughter, I look forward to being alone with him. Having a baby now means we’ll wait even longer to discover the world together, just the two of us, finally.
On the other hand, I often wonder what he’d be like as a new dad, fumbling, as we all do, through the years he missed – waking in the night, changing diapers, washing sippy cups and falling asleep with a baby on his shoulder. I want to give him that. Or rather, I wish I wanted to give him that. I keep waiting for the feeling to come – not only to come, but to stay. So far, it hasn’t.
Maybe that’s why I keep taking pregnancy tests. I’m sad that I don’t want to give my husband a baby. I’m disappointed by my own apprehensiveness. So I reside somewhere between one pink line and two, between relief and wonder, unable to accept one result but not willing to give up on the possibility of the other.
Three minutes pass. I check the stick, toss it into the trash and go to the kitchen to get started on those pancakes.
Wendy Fontaine is a Pushcart-nominated writer whose work has appeared in Hippocampus, Passages North, Readers Digest, Literary Mama, Role Reboot and elsewhere. In 2015, she won the Tiferet Prize for Creative Nonfiction. She teaches journalism, lives in Los Angeles and is currently seeking representation for her memoir, Leaves in the Fall.