Wal-Mart isn’t someplace I normally associate with life-changing moments. Although if you’re going to have a public freakout Wallyworld does have a lot to recommend it: Not only can you buy tranquilizers, Natural Calm and fuzzy socks (just me?) but it seems like there are always a bunch of people around to call 911 if you actually make good on your promise to pass out. Yet when I decided to start hyperventilating, I went into the bathroom to hide. Nothing like a public restroom to guide you! Instead of two-roads-diverging-in-a-yellow-wood ambiance, I had two stalls in a peeling yellow bathroom. (If you mis-read that as “peeing” know that’s how I first typed it. I’m not sure I was wrong either way.)
Guiltily I took the bigger stall, the one with the large blue disabled placard on the front, because, by golly, I needed my space — if not for my person, at least for my huge emotions. Plus I was the only person in the bathroom. And I was totally prepared to bolt out with my pants around my ankles should I hear a wheelchair rolling in. Promise.
As I sat down on the toilet, my body threatened to betray me by doing the nervous pee. See, anxiety makes my bladder hyperactive and, ironically, the thing that was making me so anxious needed me to not prematurely pee. I squeezed my knees together and Kegel’ed as I pulled the box out of my purse. (I hadn’t stolen it, I’d just hidden it directly after I purchased it, in case I saw anyone I knew. You would be shocked at who you run into at 7 a.m. in a Wal-Mart.)
I tore open the box and stuffed it in the trash slot, not even bothering to rescue the directions first. Who needs directions when you’ve taken as many of these things as I have? One line negative, two lines positive I muttered under my breath as I stared at the plastic wand vibrating in my shaking hands. This tiny piece of pink plastic had the power to rewrite my future, to obliterate my plans, to show me again that I am not, after all, the captain of my fate.
Don’t be so dramatic. This moment could change my whole life.
Not really, of course. What was done was done and no amount of closing my eyes and chanting in a yellow restroom stall was going to change that. But as long as I didn’t know I had plausible deniability and could pretend that it wasn’t what it was. Or wasn’t. One period, four weeks late equals a fifth child? I knew someday math was going to come back and bite me in the butt! (I had just always assumed it would be the humiliation of not being able to calculate my own change during a power shortage at the store.)
By now I am a seasoned pro at pregnancy — you can tell by how often I work words like “cervix check”, “tummy fur” and “the search for the lost piece of placenta (he was in up to HIS ELBOW)” into casual conversations — and I wondered how I’d missed all the signs up to this point. In fact, the thought hadn’t even crossed my mind until my sister pointed out that I probably ought to take a test. I’d been so busy exulting in finally, for the first time in over a decade, being free of diapers, of not waking up to the sound of puke hitting the wall, of getting to sleep in on Saturdays because everyone could pour their own cereal (even if they fight like rabid puppies over it). This freedom was glorious. So glorious that the brightness had blinded me to the .3% failure rate of my IUD.
I couldn’t be pregnant again. Certainly I would know it! As I uncapped the test and prepared to do my best to aim my pee at the tiny target I reviewed my usual tell-tale signs? Peeing a lot, nausea, and larger boobs. I sighed. Of course thinking about them made me want to do all three at the same time. Balancing the test carefully on top of the toilet paper holder, I cupped my breasts in my hands trying to decide if they were bigger. I considered calling my husband at work to ask him if he’d noticed but thought better of it when I remember his office has an “open” floor plan – “open” meaning no walls, of course, not “open” meaning you can discuss your wife’s breast size next to the developer’s lab. There’s always a text but I had a feeling any text involving boobs would be woefully misinterpreted.
Yes, I decided finally, I think they are bigger! My stomach lurched. (Morning sickness?!) But perhaps the chest enhancement was simply because I’d gained weight recently. (Weight gain?!) Does Wal-Mart have maternity clothes? At the rate this pregnancy was progressing I was going to need some before I could make it out of the store. Except of course you’re not supposed to wear maternity clothes any more – the newest trend in pregnancy fashion is to wear “real” clothes the whole nine months. Panel pants are for wusses! (Very comfortable wusses who like to enjoy the odd the Chocolate Extreme Blizzard, thank you very much.)
Rescuing the test from the toilet paper holder, I decided to just bite the bullet and do it already. I clenched the grippy end between my fingers and…
My bladder had performance anxiety.
I took a deep breath and imagined waterfalls, Chuck Norris, lemonade, Vladimir Putin, giant canyon swings and other things guaranteed to make me pee. A few drops came out and sprinkled the test. And that was it. I hadn’t waited long enough since my last pee! I hadn’t drunk enough water! I hadn’t done air jacks and deep back squats, darnnit!! You’re supposed to hold it under the stream for 5 seconds and I got maybe 1. Staring at the slightly damp stick I wondered if I should just stick it in the toilet to pick up any residual pee. Perhaps the cleaning lady would choose that moment to come in and see my teary eyes as I stood over the toilet, stirring the bowl with my useless, expensive plastic stick and call the psych ward for me?
Instead I settled on just re-capping it and shaking it around, banging it on the wall for good measure. Then I set it down and waited to see if any lines showed up. No lines equals failed test. As I waited I began to think about what would happen if two lines did show up. I’m 36 now so I’d officially be a high risk pregnancy just due to my “advanced maternal age”. (Thank you for that, medical establishment.) But of course the baby would be fine, right? I’m very healthy…ish!
And she would be a girl. I have three boys already and Jelly Bean would love a sister. If the universe was going to wreck all my plans by knocking me up this late in life it would have to give me another girl. (Because that’s how babies work. Someone tell king Henry VIII.) I would name her Lark. Isn’t that the cutest, happiest, slightly hipsteriest name for a little girl? Lark. A little baby bird that flew in the window, just like J.M. Barrie’s original Peter Pan. I closed my eyes and pictured a bald, chubby baby… who was buck naked of course because we’d given away every single baby thing the second Jelly Bean grew out of it!
Crap, I don’t even have a crib anymore! (Although Son #3 slept his first three months in a laundry basket which, if you think about it, is really just like a trendy Moses basket but way more durable, with ergonomic handles and perforated so they can’t smother. In hindsight I should have had all my babies sleep in laundry baskets.) Nor did I have a car seat, diapers, clothes, sippy cups or those ridiculous binkies that make your baby look like they have big buck teeth. Just then my eyes lit upon the weekly mailer that someone had left on the floor. Baby items were on the first page. Would Wal-Mart dare put product placement in my pee?!
Had it been a minute yet? I tried to will myself to look at the test but I couldn’t do it.
How would I tell people I’m pregnant? I mean, after the first two people kind of stop congratulating you. After #3 people start to ask you if you know how birth control works. By #4 the only people who will meet your eyes are the ones who look at you with a mixture of pity and horror as if to say your vagina is a clown car. (Which isn’t to say that we didn’t want and love all four of our kids. They were all planned. We were happy about it, even if I did get a lot of “Oh my you certainly are… busy!”)
The real question was how would I tell myself I was pregnant? My husband and I were done done done. When people asked (because oh yes they ask!) if we were having more I’d point to my uterus and loudly say “This shop is closed!” Because classy. The truth is that I deeply did not want to be pregnant again. And it’s not just the whole another-mouth-to-feed (with my poor, gnawed on boobs). But pregnancy is a hormonal roller coaster and my post-partum anxiety has gotten worse every time. I feel like I have no resources left for the rest of my kids, for my husband, for me. It takes me a long time to come out of that hazy fog. Plus, we’ve already lost a daughter to a genetic disorder (and had a traumatic miscarriage) – pregnancy is crapshoot for us every time and I was terrified to roll those dice again.
But what about little Lark? Would she think I didn’t want her? Of course I’d love her (eventually). It would all work out. My future would re-sort itself out like a new hand of cards. It would be fine. I will be fine. I picked up the test.
Two lines. Pregnant.
So I burst into hysterical tears. In the dirty bathroom. In Wal-Mart. No. I will not be fine. There is no worse place to be alone than in a place called a “supercenter” — it is the center of all that is super! I was not super. I bolted out of the stall, leaving my glaring pregnancy test on the top of the pile of paper towels in the waste bin. Whoever came in next would witness the residue of human drama. I didn’t even stop to buy a car seat.
At home, I sobbed to my husband as I choked out the words. Because he is awesome and a rock, he took it a lot better than I did. He comforted me and told me how it will all work out. We talked about our battered minivan, our battered finances. We talked about how a baby would fit into my jobs, my body, my life. The pieces would make a different puzzle but they would still fit together.
And then he asked, “Are you, you know, sure that you read the test correctly?”
Anger ripped through me. This was not my first pee-flinging rodeo! “Of course I did! It’s simple. One line just means the test worked. Two lines means you’re preggo. That’s how every pregnancy test works.”
To prove it I marched to my purse and pulled out the second test (because like jet engines and clean underwear you should always have a spare) and handed it to him.
“Are you sure?” He looked at the box. One line and a plus sign equals pregnancy. He held it up. “Did you have a plus sign or just two lines?”
Chagrin. (I am an idiot. Who doesn’t look at the picture ON THE BOX?)
And then a whoosh of hot emotion went through me like a backdraft in a fire. Or like peeing my pants. (There may have been actual pee involved, ironically.) In that one moment the image of Lark went up and out of my arms and into the sky, settling among the stars. I looked for her in the empty space inside me. Did I miss her? Could I miss a baby that never was? I would have loved her. We all would have.
And then I was crying tears of relief. I’m not pregnant! My life clicked back into sharp focus. Everything had changed yet nothing had changed.
I had no plus sign. Not pregnant.
Post-script: Then I rushed to my computer and started Googling What are the symptoms of perimenopause? Because Mother Nature is still four weeks late for our monthly brunch of red meat, chocolate and raspberry leaf tea — that doesn’t happen for no reason. And also because apparently I must have something to worry about.