The hardest part is waiting to know. Your life is scheduled, familiar, and then it’s not … you pass into uncertainty, into muddied time. Are you? Could you be? How can you know?
It’s known as either “The Pregnancy Possibility” or “The Pregnancy Scare,” and whether you’re filled with hope, dread, or ambivalence, it means combing your body for clues, feverishly counting and calculating days on your fingers and calendars, and running to the bathroom every five minutes to check.
(“Let’s see, we did it on Thursday after that party, that was the 25th … “)
Or worse, refusing to run to the bathroom to check. I’ve known women who’ve set timers for themselves, only allowing bathroom breaks once every hour. But then they feel a trickle or a tickle, and they find themselves, defeated, pulling down their pants yet again, searching for the tale-tell touch of color that will tell them that they aren’t. Preggers. Knocked up. With child. Expecting. Baking a bun in the oven. Pregnant.
I’ve been there myself, waiting to find out, through two unfounded pregnancy “scares,” plus one unwanted pregnancy and one deeply desired one—and I don’t know which is harder to live through, the dreading or the wanting. There’s nothing quite like that uncertainty to drive a woman crazy. I don’t know which is more stressful, thinking you’re pregnant and not wanting to be, or hoping you’re pregnant, and not knowing if you are. Am I, or am I not?
It seems a little diabolical that every early pregnancy symptom can also be explained away by something else.
- Late period? Stress or normal irregularity.
- Swollen breasts and belly? Premenstrual syndrome.
- Nausea? Stomach flu or food poisoning.
- Intense hunger? PMS or … intense hunger.
The most common cause of a missed period is pregnancy, but exactly when does a late period become “missed?” Making it even worse are hormones. If your period is just late, you may be flooded with premenstrual anxiety. If you are pregnant, well, there are those hormones making you feel obsessed. I told you: Crazy-making.
Methods of Verification
When you suspect that you are pregnant, it does little good to know that we live in an era where we get to know the results relatively swiftly. In our mother’s and grandmother’s eras, you had to wait until the pregnancy hormones in your urine, injected in a rabbit, either killed it (pregnant!) or didn’t (not pregnant!). Now, of course, we have four or five ways of knowing if we are pregnant, all without offending our animal rights sensibilities:
1. Intuition. I swear I know exactly when I conceived, both times. (OK, the first time was a no-brainer, but that’s another story.) Many women just have a feeling. Perhaps it’s a change in the body; perhaps it’s something larger than that. Of course, intuition is often wrong, and it’s likely that just as often women think they’re pregnant, and they are not.
2. and 3. Urine tests. There’s the doctor’s office urine test, and there’s the laboratory urine test. Both of these are virtually 100-percent accurate if done seven to 10 days after conception. Of course, you’ll need to go in to the doctor’s office or the lab, and they sometimes make you wait until your period is a week late.
4. The blood serum test. This is the most informative of all the tests, because it tells you not only if you are pregnant, but how pregnant you are. Blood serum tests take a little of your drawn blood and measure the actual level of the pregnancy hormones, so you can estimate your due date pretty effectively (the urine tests just register whether or not the hormones are present). Since blood tests are more expensive than urine tests, a lot of HMOs don’t want doctors to order them.
5. And, of course, the home pregnancy tests, otherwise known as HPTs. HPTs are urine tests that you do in the privacy of your own bathroom. Stop by any drugstore, and you’ll find many brands of HPTs on the shelves, ranging in price from $6.99 on super-sale, to two for $17.99. My favorite HPT advertises “keepsake results,” which means you can take the little urine-dipped positive result (or negative result, too, I guess) and encase it in a little plastic heart. Your first addition to the new baby book (Aww).
Because you get to do the test yourself, when you want to, HPTs are the best thing to happen for women since birth control accessibility and the death of the corset. The problem with HPTs is that they give a lot of false negatives. The other problem with HPTs is that they are expensive (especially if you’re like the Energizer bunny, as many women are, and keep testing, and testing, and testing … ).
Wait. Hope, or dread. Time slows when you are awaiting the results of a pregnancy test. I remember the sinking feeling of acknowledgment in my gut when the nurse told me I was pregnant for the first time. I remember nine years later, holding the phone to my ear and staring at my reflection in the bedroom mirror as I waited for the nurse to come back to the phone with my blood test results. “In a minute I’ll know, and I’ll know how I feel,” I told myself.
It’s positive. That means you’re pregnant,” the nurse said into my ear, and the waiting, the hoping, the continuous checking all turned into a surge of hot joy. I held the phone and stared at my face in the bedroom mirror, watching my life change before my eyes, my belly filled with possibility.