I Wasn’t Pregnant, So Why Does it Feel Like I Lost Something?

I bought myself a cheap pregnancy test, reasoning that the four dollars it cost was worth my peace of mind, even though I had technically bought that peace of mind two years ago, when we paid the co-pay on my husband’s vasectomy. Still, I get anxious sometimes. My period was late, and I’m never late. I’d been exhausted recently, falling asleep in the middle of the day. I’d been a little nauseated in the mornings, never mind that I had recently taken up drinking green juice on an empty stomach upon waking. So I took the test. It came back negative. I had my peace of mind.

A couple days later, I noticed the test was still sitting in the trash. It looked like it had two lines now, where there was supposed to be one (no doubt because it had been undulating in my urine for 48 hours). My period was still MIA, so in another fit of anxiety I sent my husband into the night to buy the expensive digital test. The one that would spell out “pregnant” or “not pregnant.” Can you really put a price tag on peace of mind? I asked rhetorically.

I took the test before bedtime, leaving it in the bathroom while the countdown timer flashed, proving I didn’t really believe I could possibly be pregnant. But when I went in, it said “pregnant” in neat, bold letters. I came out of the bathroom feeling kind of dizzy. My husband was already in bed. I didn’t move out of the light from our bathroom.

“It says pregnant,” I said.

“Does it really?”

He thought I was joking. I snapped and yelled at him to come look at it himself. I had not hallucinated the positive reading. It did, indeed, say “pregnant.”

It was late, but we stayed up talking for hours. I felt like my world was unraveling. How was I going to do the travel I needed to do for work while pregnant or with a newborn? How was I going to handle four kids when I so often feel I’m struggling with three? Why was this happening?

My husband, calm and patient, brought me back. He told me we’d figure it out. We tried to look on the bright side. A new baby. Maybe a sister for my lone girl-child. Our kids would no doubt be in love, showering a new sibling with affection. We had the financial means to take on another baby. We had the space. By the end of the night, we had already made space in our hearts. It would not be easy, but it would not be bad, either.

We looked back at the photos from when our last baby was born: being held by his older siblings, swaddled against my chest, stretching his chicken-like legs, a stark contrast to his linebacker shoulders and chubby, round face. I had lived these past two years with a certainty that I never wanted to do this again, but now that it had already happened, I had to face the fact that part of me did.

I made an appointment with my midwife to take another pregnancy test to confirm, though she told me the home tests are nearly never wrong.

But it seemed this one was.

She gave me one test, then another: both negative. She sent me for a blood test, which indicated no trace of HCG. I wasn’t, and had not been, pregnant. My period came the next day.

I was flooded with relief. I wouldn’t have to worry about another miscarriage while we took our family vacation to Disneyland the next week. I could ride the rides, enjoy my kids, enjoy my life undisturbed. I could dive into my work with renewed force. I could enjoy my book release without worrying about going into labor. We wouldn’t have to cancel our trip to Europe for our ten year anniversary. It was good news all around.

And yet.

I was flooded with sadness also. There was no baby. There never had been. But I was left with an inexplicable feeling of loss. I had made my peace with having no more babies, but over the course of a few days, I’d remade my peace with an entirely different future. One with four babies, and all the love and joy and sacrifice that goes along with that. I hadn’t expected another baby, but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t want one if it happened.

It was a loss that felt silly as I tried to put it into words. “I don’t want a baby, but I wanted the imaginary one yesterday.” “I’m sad I’m not having a baby that never existed in the first place.” My husband asked if I really wanted to have another baby, and I said no. I wouldn’t want him to reverse his vasectomy. I didn’t want to adopt. I didn’t want to intentionally bring another child into the world. I want the life I have now, with my husband and three children (who are almost all out of diapers and sleeping through the night), with my freedom and my work. I want exactly what I have.

The sadness is strange and full of emptiness. I thought I was pregnant, and now I am not. I had fashioned a future for myself that I must bury, like all versions of futures that were never meant to be. It does not mean I do not love my life. I am simply living this truth of life: that sometimes, it’s hard to let go of everything that could have been.

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from The University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, Glamour, Women’s Health, Babble, Yahoo Parenting and more. She lives in Reno, NV with her husband, three young children, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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