Now they've invented a pregnancy test with a curved handle, so you don't get pee on your hand? Listen, if you're not ready to get pee on your hand, you definitely aren't ready for motherhood.
Jordan paused as she scrolled down the Facebook feed. The pink pregnancy test stood out, stark, minimalistic, against the black background.
—I don't bat an eye at a little pee!
—Can't remember a day where I wasn't peed on at least a little! #twinmom
She didn't use fancy tests with curved handles. Instead, she spent $9.89 on a box of 50 HCG test strips. They sat under her bathroom sink, tucked behind the towels. Two tests were hidden in the medicine cabinet behind a jar of night-cream. Four rested at the bottom of the waste basket.
Annoyance welled up to a dull and familiar resentment. Unsubsiding and relentless, it clouded her vision.
She plodded down the stairs to the kitchen where her husband sat catching up on the news before he abandoned reality to immerse himself in his obscure world of philosophy. Mark faithfully woke at 5:30 every morning, starting the coffee before his run. He was a creature of habit. If Jordan woke early, she enjoyed her first cup of coffee in an empty house. If she got up with her alarm at 6:45, he would be in the shower. If she ignored her obligations and lingered in bed, she would find him sipping from his own mug and reading in the kitchen. And if it was a particularly bad morning, perhaps because of a late night and one too many drinks, or just that familiar feeling of insatiable exhaustion, he would bring her coffee in bed.
You might be a parent if the tiny humans in your house completely ignore you and your offers to assist them until you sit down on the toilet. Then all of a sudden there's a national emergency.
Jordan paused, then typed I don't know how you do it. Looking up from the screen, she scanned the room, head cocked as if listening for the sound of tiny human feet thumping against polished wood floors. She had wanted a dog—well, any pet really—since she and Mark first moved in together six years ago. Surely a pet would alleviate the silence a bit. They were both in graduate school when the thought first struck her, but their schedules were variable and unstructured, not at all suitable for the responsibility of keeping a living creature alive. At times, they would drive cross-country together to attend a conference, or spend 24 frantic hours in the library chasing a deadline. But then the swells would calm, the clouds would part, and they would cocoon themselves in the apartment, lying in bed, reading articles, discussing metaphysics and epistemology, and making love. One morning, as they lay amidst tangled sheets and crumpled pages of course work, both still sticky with perspiration, she turned to him and stated, "I want a puppy."
Mark scoffed. He gently tucked a stray curl behind her ear. "If we had a puppy, we would have to get dressed to walk it. I refuse to welcome anything in our lives that requires you to be clothed any more than is absolutely necessary." And before she could respond, he was at her mouth. She sank into him and the question was no more. A puppy was inessential.
It was almost eight when Mark got home. Jordan could hear him from the bedroom where she sat, computer in lap, scrolling through file after file of slush. A few months ago, she was thrilled to accept an internship from the only journal that had ever published her work: a single short story titled "Mismatched Socks." But as days turned into months, she realized the job wasn't exactly what she had expected. The slush was more slushy than she had anticipated, and the internet beckoned—message boards, social media, YouTube. It was all whining, and it grated on her nerves. She wanted to pull the words off the pages and fling the letters at the soft gray walls of the bedroom, ripping each sentence apart and retreating into the swells of sheets and blankets beneath her.
The clanging of pans informed Jordan that Mark was preparing dinner. She didn't call down to him, and he didn't call up to her.
Hi!!! I stalk the message boards on a daily basis but have never actually posted... I guess I'm looking for a little encouragement. My whole life I waited until I was ready, and now at 33 when I'm finally ready it does not seem to be happening. TTC has become such a chore. Please send me some extra baby dust. So sick of testing and disappointment.
—I definitely relate to how you feel. Just remember, that even though you feel like losing hope, keep pushing. It's important to stay motivated and inspired! Good luck. I know, it's really tough. We gotta struggle. Lots of love honey, sending baby dust.
—How long has it been? I tried for 12 months before seeing my naturopath. It made such a difference.
—My cousin just announced she's pregnant. She knows what I have been through. I just can't believe she could be so insensitive. I try to be happy for others, but she doesn't have her shit together and I do. I just don't understand! Baby dust for us all.
She read the words a second time, then a third. The last comment, from username Southernbelle, was oddly soothing.
Jordan noted that the comment was made over a year ago, and her mind began to wander. What was Southernbelle doing now? Did the baby dust settle in her uterus to provide a nutrient-rich medium for a finicky cluster of cells? Or did she accidentally inhale at the wrong time, sucking dust into her sinuses where it mixed with mucus and fed trapped bacteria.
Southernbelle. She clicked on the icon by the name—a small, chubby, golden-haired cherub with fluffy wings. Southernbelle asks about progesterone supplements. Southernbelle pontificates on the validity of gender predictions based on time and date of conception. Southernbelle comforts a woman who suspects a chemical pregnancy, suggesting that perhaps her period was just late. Southernbelle rants about the uselessness of friends with children advising, "Don't worry. It will happen when the time is right." Southernbelle.
Her most recent post, dated three months ago, was just an emoticon—an old school smiley face made out of a colon and a parenthesis. She left it in response to ElleM's post informing the group she was leaving because she was at last expecting her long-anticipated bundle of joy. She wanted to thank everyone, assuring them that she never could have done it without their support.
Why did Southernbelle disappear? Her mind wandered. Did that last post push her over the edge? Maybe she stopped trying? Maybe she found a bottle of vodka and washed down her prescription of Xanax. Maybe she found a bottle of vodka and washed down her prescription of Clomid. Maybe she just found a bottle of vodka.
Feeling eyes on her, she looked up from her phone. Guiltily, she swiped the screen away and set the phone by her side.
And before she could even murmur a word of recognition, he was sliding under the covers, his mouth slightly cocked to the side, his eyes opened wide. His bare toes brushed the arch of her foot. He reached out and slowly tucked a loose lock of hair behind her ear, allowing his fingers to linger in the soft, naked indent right behind the lobe.
"So how about some baby-making?" He leaned in to kiss her jawbone. Jordan pulled back, instinctively.
"Baby-making? Oh come on, Mark! Where have you been?" His foot withdrew from her leg. "It's the 23rd. I ovulated last week."
Silence. Jordan's phone buzzed against her hip. Mark paused, then rebounded.
"Let's call it practice then." But it was too late.
"How can you be so fucking disconnected? You read dense philosophy once, and it's committed to memory for life. But you can't remember when I fucking ovulated. You realize I'm counting every minute of every day, right? I scrutinize my body for changes, interpreting every twinge or cramp as a sign. And here you are, just meandering through life hoping to get laid!"
He recoiled. Confrontation was never his thing. He preferred instead to disappear to his study for the night and pretend like nothing had happened the next day.
"I shouldn't have said that." His eyes focused on an empty spot on the wall. "I just wanted to feel close to you."
"If you want to feel close, try caring."
My oblivious husband just stares when I am crying about a friend announcing her "oopsie" pregnancy. Isn't he jealous too? Or when I get another negative pregnancy test, how come he is not on the floor ugly crying with me. Doesn't he feel crushed? I'm doing this alone. #mendontgetit"
Jordan opted to work at the corner cafe that morning, needing an escape from the echoing, empty rooms at home. But replacing the vacuum of her empty nest with mid-morning hipsters turned out to be less than productive. A bearded man in flannel sat a table over, Foucault's The Birth of the Clinic open in front of him. She had taken a seminar on Foucault. The Archaeology of Knowledge had driven her mad, but it also filled her with something satisfying. After her first attempt at it, she ranted to Mark about the long sentences, the gibberish, the supercilious pomp dripping from each ridiculously complex statement. But then, as she slowly untangled the twisted threads of logic in her mind, the message began to reveal itself.
"Power. Knowledge. Madness. Sexuality." She overflowed with excitement as Mark wrapped his arms around her. "Are they real? Or are they merely parts of speech obscuring hidden assumptions, assumptions that, I don't know, limit us? No. They govern our ways of thinking. They shape how we understand the world!"
His eyes were full of life that night. He knew to give her space to think, to make connections, to explore, while simultaneously eliminating all physical space between them.
But at that cafe, in that moment, seeing the book, it felt like a different lifetime. She opened her phone and snapped a picture of her latte: #needmycaffeine. Ten minutes later. she had eight likes. Then another ping and a comment.
—I am soooo envious! I had to get up three times last night! And then this morning was so hectic that, once everyone was clothed and fed, I realized I forgot to feed and caffeinate myself!
Jordan couldn't help herself. She was never big on willpower, but she counted that as one of her charms. Mark relished watching her savor the cheese plate at a local bar, indulge in one too many glasses of wine, or smirk at him before pulling her dress over her head and climbing into his lap. But Mark was not there, in the bathroom, as she clutched the flimsy cardboard stick between her legs. Of course, he wasn't there. It was five days before she expected her period, or rather (fingers crossed), five days before she even had the chance of glimpsing a faint second line. She knew when she had ovulated, and she knew first morning urine was the most likely to yield an early indication of pregnancy, but there she was anyway, sneaking off before dinner to pee on yet another stick.
The test laid out carefully on the counter top, she reached for the soap dispenser, then paused. Her heart raced. The test didn't look like the other tests. Jordan picked it up and held it under the light. Her heart palpitated. It pushed against her lungs, making it difficult to inhale. Yes, this test definitely looks, hmm, different.
Ladies, I need your advice. Does anyone see a second line here? I swear I see something. The picture doesn't really capture it. What do you think?
—Sorry, hun. Looks negative to me.
—I don't know. I think it's there. Look, I messed with the picture and inverted the colors. I think it's a little clearer.
—Just an evaporation line. Not red like the other line. A real positive would have a tinge of red. Test again later? Good luck.
She tucked it in with the others in the back of the medicine cabinet, planning to compare the test with the next. She would be sure to wait and use morning urine next time.
"Jordan! We're going to be late!"
Looking professorial in a sports jacket and jeans, Mark offered his arm as they walked into the party. They were celebrating a colleague's promotion to associate professor. Jordan didn't recall Mark ever mentioning him before, despite the small size of the philosophy department. In fact, now that she thought about it, she wasn't really sure where Mark was in the whole process of climbing the academic rungs. She used to know these things—all the details of his work. But she swept her uncertainty aside without hesitation and straightened her blouse. Anyway, he seemed to be enjoying his teaching this semester. Well, he wasn't complaining at least. And he was young. He had plenty of time to catch up with his colleague.
Jordan sat silently through dinner. She wasn't used to sitting back and letting the discussion, the pointed remarks, the angry defenses, sweep by her, but her thoughts were elsewhere. They were at home: in the medicine cabinet, under the sink, in the wastebasket. Was it a positive test?
She glanced at Mark only to discover he was absorbed in conversation. How could he be so focused, so passionate about something so obscure, intangible, meaningless? Frustration welled up from deep inside her, churning, bubbling. It poured forth, she imagined, from her empty uterus. It oozed from the egg that traveled down her Fallopian tube at that exact moment, its journey uninterrupted by a needy bombardment of eager sperm. She pushed back her chair and whispered, "Excuse me" into her distracted husband's ear.
How do you cope? I just want a baby so bad. We're mere hours away from the testing window and my husband is chatting away with his buddies about God knows what! How does he care so little? Anyone else feel like they are in this alone?
She sat on the closed toilet, fingers clasped so tightly around the phone her knuckles were white. The sound of chatter and laughter seeped under the door.
Ping. —They have no idea what it's like. But you're not alone.
She pressed on the comment with her fingertip, selecting the small red heart.
It had been about 10 minutes, but she was confident she was not missed at the table. Her attention turned to Google as she waited for her desperate Facebook plea to garner more attention.
How long does it take to get pregnant?
How long does it take to get pregnant when you are 32?
Common causes of infertility
Treatments for infertility
A loud and sudden rapping on the door pulled her from the rabbit hole.
The post amassed 16 likes and 5 comments, which she perused as Mark drove, right arm propped over her shoulders, absentmindedly twisting a loose curl around his finger. They sat in silence. He pulled off the highway, and someone online offered their experience of trying to conceive for years before becoming pregnant with twins. He made a left just past the university, and someone suggested herbal supplements to increase fertility. He turned onto their street, and someone expressed their frustration at their three-year-old's defiant behavior.
As they pulled into the driveway, Mark turned to her, paused, and asked, "So, Julie's off on some crazy tangent in her work, huh?"
Mark pulled the keys from the ignition and looked at her again. He stepped out of the car and headed to their front door.
Jordan collapsed into bed, spinning slightly after three glasses of wine. Exactly 28 months ago, she recalled, she had tried giving up drinking altogether. The decision was made right after they had attended a concert at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. It was contemporary music, and they sat on smooth concrete stairs under an Ellsworth Kelly masterpiece as they listened to what sounded like an amateur musician tuning his violin. But as she leaned into his solid form and breathed in his scent, she couldn't think of anywhere else she would rather be. Suddenly, she was aware of his breath—a rhythmic, slow inhale, exhale. She felt the pattern latch on to the off-key notes of the violin before they ran through the length of her body. This was it. This was the moment every piece of her life had been leading up to. This was what it meant to love. She desperately wanted to halt the passage of time, but simultaneously grasped for the future, a future comprising moment after moment of being with Mark.
After the concert, they walked hand in hand through the Sierra sculpture in the courtyard. The torqued spiral framed the impossibly clear night sky, stars bright and cold, and before she knew it, she was in his arms. They grasped at one another, somehow understanding.
"I want you." he whispered. "I want everything. I want our life to grow. I want to put our baby in you."
The smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the crisp morning air, easing her into consciousness. 6:08 a.m. Her alarm had yet to go off and there was nothing urgent spurring her on. She stretched, spilling over onto Mark's side of the bed—he wasn't there. He would be a few blocks from the house by then, not even a mile into his run. As her senses sharpened, however, she recognized that familiar twinge of discomfort from her bladder—fresh morning urine!
And all at once, she was alert and out of bed. And then the familiar position, perched on the toilet seat, stick between her thighs. Her heart raced and her hand shook as she held the test under the stream of urine. She would have guessed, when she began this journey, that the anticipation, the anxiety, the terror, would fade with each negative result. But that was far from the truth. Each month held the possibility of giving her what she needed. Of guaranteeing stretch marks, sleepless nights, sticky hands, tantrums, and the head of a sleeping child on her shoulder as she stroked delicate brown curls. She reached for her phone as she waited.
Morning commute isn't easy, but when Penny sings her face off on the subway, it's not so bad for those 5 minutes. #itsallworthit
—What was the song of choice?
—Some song from My Little Pony haha
Swiping the post away, she felt a wave of adrenaline coursing through her veins, feeding each hungry cell. Two minutes left. She typed in her own update:
Du mußt dein Leben ändern.
The sky was a dusty-grayish pink. The thick glass of the bathroom window pixelated the view, and on a whim, she snapped a picture. The window frame, only slightly visible in the picture, seemed to suggest to Jordan both possibilities and limitations. And the dust, Southernbelle's dust, passed through the glass and settled on her arms and cheeks.
She attached the picture and tapped post.
That was all she could manage before turning her attention back, two minutes left on the timer. Line? Lines? One was dark pink. Next to it, something, maybe? She held it up and shook it gently, as if urging a developing Polaroid. Setting down the test in frustration, she attacked the medicine cabinet in search of yesterday's. The jar of night-cream, shoved aside, crashed to the floor and cracked a tile. But then she had it—a side-by-side comparison. There was a difference. Maybe. Probably. The indiscernible second line from yesterday was ever-so-slightly more discernible. Positive? Am I pregnant? The pounding in her chest radiated into her fingertips and earlobes, drowning out the rest of the world. This could be it!
She abandoned the tests on the marble vanity and the jar of night-cream under the toilet. In her slippers, no bra, hair amiss, she walked out of the house.
This TTC stuff is a serious business—here I am, in line at Walgreens, in my slippers, about to spend $25 on an early response test. Wish me luck.
She fumbled with the credit card. She clutched the bag, so light it felt almost empty. She climbed into the car, phone in hand. She pulled out of the parking lot. She felt the buzz and looked down: Where are you? She slammed into a car.
The baseline resentment she had grown so accustomed to welled up, threatening to overtake her. Jordan sat in a makeshift room, a bed cordoned off from the ER by curtains. She didn't need to be there, she was sure of it. Her head throbbed a bit, and her wrist was already turning a deep shade of plum, but that was it—insubstantial, temporary.
A nurse pulled the curtain back, and there was Mark. She scanned his face, but couldn't get a good read. He looked more or less put together. Not frantic with worry. Not rushed and upset or flustered.
"Jordan, where have you been?"
"I just needed to run to the store. I thought I'd be back before…"
"No," his voice rising, "This year. Longer, really."
She tried to swallow, but couldn't. Blood rushed to her cheeks, and she felt the lump on her forehead throb. She didn't have an answer.
"You're not you anymore. We aren't us."
She reached for him, her uninjured hand extended out, palm up on the rough blanket. He ignored it. Jordan exhaled slowly. "I just want this so badly."
"But you don't want it. Not really." Mark was oddly calm, his voice level and rehearsed. This was not the first time he had initiated this conversation. It must have played through his mind dozens of times before. "I'm not sure what you want. But I know what you don't want. You don't want this—this marriage, us. We are a routine, a charade."
She couldn't comprehend his words. "This is what we want," she insisted, her voice clear and measured.
And for the first time, she saw it—pain. It wasn't obvious, but it was there, lurking darkly behind his eyes. She couldn't take it in, make sense of it.
"You are better than this!"
She was suddenly aware of the volume of his voice and the proximity of the patients around them. She nodded as his words clamored around her. She wanted to communicate, but she didn't know what to communicate.
As she sat there, noises slowly filtered through the walls. Beeping from a monitor. Shrill squeaking from a gurney's wheels. She swung her legs over the edge of the bed and slid her feet into her slippers, as if she had somewhere to go.
Something about her indecision softened Mark. The intensity in his eyes waned.
"Jordan." And then even softer, stepping forward, "Jordan. I wanted us to grow. I wanted a life with you. Maybe that means a baby. Maybe it means just us."
Her eyes were fuzzy. "I had no idea this would be so hard, or so lonely." She blinked hard, expecting to blink away tears, but there were none.
Sore and bruised, they arrived home. She headed for the bathroom with the fancy test. She got a little pee on her hand.