Happy birthday to me: the surprise pregnancy test

For my 36th birthday last week, I was lucky enough to do many of my favorite things: I got a massage. I went for a run. I made crepes for breakfast and opened sweet cards from my kids. I ate ice cream cake and went out for a nice dinner.

And I did one thing I was not expecting: I took a pregnancy test.


The only thing better than an ice cream cone is many ice cream cones atop an ice cream cake.

As I described in more detail than you probably wanted in my last post, our road trip to Asheville over Memorial Day weekend had a very unpleasant start. I got sick ten minutes into our drive, and puked my way across the state of North Carolina.

But even as I knelt in the parking lot of a McDonald’s off I-40, I knew there was one upside: stomach viruses are usually quick. Within 24 hours, it would be over. And by Sunday night, it seemed like it was. I ate pizza for dinner and wanted to stop at every ice cream shop we passed.

But it wasn’t. Not completely. Even after we returned from our trip, waves of nausea would hit me out of the blue. One minute I’d be making breakfast for the kids, the next minute I would be running from the kitchen, unable to look at their banana and frozen waffles.

Now, a vomiting woman of childbearing age always raises some suspicion of pregnancy. And if you knew me in the early days of either of my pregnancies, you know that this random food aversion was even more suspicious.

The Backstory: Noah

I got pregnant with Noah the second month we tried; however, it took me a while to figure it out. My cycle was out of whack, so I had trouble counting days. After an negative pregnancy test, I flew to Chicago for a work trip and behaved as a non-pregnant person would: enjoying food and drinks the first night and way too much coffee during the next day’s meetings.

After the meetings, I squeezed into the middle back seat of a cab with three male coworkers and headed to O’Hare. It was a warm day, and I could smell that someone had been smoking in the cab before we got in. I was reading the USA Today from the hotel, biding my time stuck in late afternoon traffic on I-94, when I suddenly felt ill.

Car sickness, my co-workers told me as I begged them to roll down a window. None of them could ever read in the car. Though I had always been fine reading in cars, I assumed it must be some combination of that and all the coffee.

We made it to O’Hare without incident. I was feeling better and had a drink with the guys while we waited for our plane. On a trip to the bathroom, I discovered I had my period.

Pat and I continued to “try,” and about a month after my trip, a pregnancy test came back positive. I did the math, and determined I was just a few weeks along, due late January 2009. I scheduled my first doctor’s appointment the earliest they’d see me, eight weeks along.

My first trimester was fairly typical: I only threw up once,  but I was perpetually disgusted by the smell or even sight of random foods. I had the sense of smell of a bloodhound. I couldn’t handle the odor of coffee or beer, which seemed natural. But I also couldn’t bear peppermint tea and ice cream, two of my daily staples. I’d purchase something – Italian Ice or salmon filets or salad greens – thinking it appealed to me, and then not be able to look at it five minutes after I got home. I lived on cheese and vegetable sandwiches, strawberries and Saltines.

It was during the sonogram at my eight week appointment that I discovered the incident in the cab was more than car sickness. It wasn’t my period I got at the airport; it was implantation bleeding. And I wasn’t eight weeks along, I was twelve.

The Birthday

It was with this very clear memory that I assessed my situation last week. The vomiting. The nausea that had persisted in the days following. But I had my period since we last…oh. It was lighter than last month, wasn’t it? Light enough to be implantation bleeding? Oh my God.

On my birthday, I made it until about 4:00 until I started feeling bad. I’d gone next door to retrieve Noah for swim team practice, and when I returned I was overwhelmed by the smell of the flowers outside our front door.

“Ugh, geraniums!” I called to Pat as I entered the house. “Do you smell those?”

In the kitchen, I was hit by a waft of coffee from Pat’s mug. My stomach turned.

“Yuck, your coffee!” I said.

He gave me a long look.

“You need to get a pregnancy test,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said in a tiny voice. “I do.”

We started at each other, eyes wide.

I had always held out a glimmer of hope of having a third child. That said, it was more of a fun thing to think about than something I actually believed I’d go through with. As much as I liked imagining another kid – what his personality would be like, if she would have blue eyes or brown – I was also looking forward to moving on to the next stage. To leaving the baby years and baby gear behind. To adventures as a family of four.

And really, even if I wanted to have another, Pat was very clear in his desire to only have two. I often got a little sentimental, say, packing up baby clothes, and would ask him, “Maayybeee???” But he was sure.

“No. Our kids are amazing, but two are enough.”

Now this. A pregnancy test.

“Can you take the kids to swim team practice?” I asked him. “I’ll go to Target now.”

My hair was still wet from my post-run shower and I was wearing no makeup. I looked the role of a woman buying pregnancy test, like someone who had been up all night worrying. On the way to the store I tried to think about what else I could buy. It would be so awkward to buy just the pregnancy test.  But I couldn’t come up with anything. Sure, I had been to Target the day before, but still, how was it possible that we needed nothing else?

Beer, I thought, we need beer.

No, that looks weird. A pregnancy test and a six-pack. That suggests I am either going to celebrate a negative result (which I would) or have a baby daddy who is really going to need it to handle a positive one (which would also be true).

Ice cream. No. Too cliche. I might as well throw in the DVD of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

I went with Tums. If I wasn’t pregnant, maybe they’d help. If I was, I’d definitely need them.

I  arrived at Target and moved quickly through the aisles. I tucked the bottle of Tums and a Clear Blue Easy 2-pack into my palm, with the most innocuous side of the box facing out, and made eye contact with no one as I walked to the check-out lanes. I surveyed the cashiers and selected an older woman finishing up with the one person in her line.

I tried to be casual as I placed my items on the belt. The cashier scanned them and placed them in a plastic bag. Then, suddenly, she reached back into the bag and pulled out the pregnancy test box. I froze. As she looked at it, I realized I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring. I felt like a guilty teenager.

“Two dollars off,” she said, peeling an instant coupon from the box and running it across the scanner.

“Have a good day.”

Back at home, I fumbled with the box, sure I was going to somehow damage the test while prying it from the foil wrapper. I read the instructions. It seemed like a hundred years since I had done this.

I went into the bathroom and peed on the stick. I set it on the toilet tank, then went out and sat on the bed to wait.

I’m not even going to think about it until I see the results, I vowed. But I couldn’t help it. I bet it’s a girl, I thought. I just had a feeling. She’d be due in late January 2015. That would be pretty good spacing; Rory would be almost three, just like Noah was when he was born. The boys could share a room, and I’d make one of their rooms a sweet little nursery for her. What were my top three girl names again?


I went to look at the results.

A few minutes later, I heard Pat and the boys come crashing into the kitchen from the garage.  I went down to the kitchen to greet them, all in wet bathing suits, draped in damp towels and lugging all the insane amount of pool gear children require. Noah was still wearing his goggles.

“Hi.” Pat looked at me, trying to read my face, his eyebrows raised.

“Nope,” I said.

“Wooo,” he exhaled, relieved. “We would have been fine,” he added. “But, phew.”

And relief is what I felt too, mostly. That negative test was in many ways the birthday present I wanted the most. A still-recovering body stays intact. Plans – loosely defined as they are – go unchanged. Energy remains focused on the the two fantastic boys who require lots of it.

We went out for a nice birthday dinner and I enjoyed my glass of wine. By the end of the weekend, the nausea had subsided. But I’ll admit it took almost that long for me to stop thinking about little pink bathing suits and wondering about what might have been.