Let Me Tell You
This is how my fantasy went: Alone in our apartment, as morning sunshine hit hardwood, I would rest on the couch until the moment of readiness, when nerve outweighs fear, when the swell of inertia was enough to pull me up, my weight distributed evenly across both feet, and lead me into the bathroom to pee on a stick. As I dreamt it, there was no lapsed time, no incubation period for the urine to seep through the absorbent strip; the results were instantaneous, because today I was not merely, ordinarily, pregnant, but overwhelmingly so. When the plus sign, or the double pink lines, or the bold word PREGNANT appeared, unmistakable, I would drop down onto the lid of the toilet, or maybe the side of the tub, covering my mouth with one palm, gripping the test with the other. In jubilant disbelief I would shake my head soundlessly, beaming, eyes locked on that white plastic stick.
Eventually, I would pick myself up and float through the day. I would not call my mom, or text a friend, or blurt it out to the woman who made my latte every morning at Starbucks. For those hours, the fact of our baby would exist inside me and nowhere else. Before words were assigned to him, before the truth of her was uttered aloud, released into the air as one more fleck of knowledge swirling around the universe, the news would remain deep within me, in its purest form. That moment, after the thing is known, but before it is shared, would be sacred, unforgettable, and totally mine.
That was how my fantasy started: the pregnancy itself as point of entry, the knowing. But after the knowing was the telling, and that was the part I came to fixate upon.
The thought of telling my husband, Tim, exhilarated me, stoking my unspoken joy until I could rush home from work and wait for him to arrive. In my fantasy I was reclining on the couch, waiting in a silent, still apartment, eyes fixed toward the front door, listening for the twist of his key in the lock. When he walked in I would look at him, me knowing, him not; and I would observe him in the waning moments of his life Before. I would be calm, revealing nothing. We’d greet each other, chitchat about work, debate what to have for dinner. And then, at some point, my hummingbird heart would take flight, pollinating my cheeks with a flush of anticipation. My tone would change. I wouldn’t say much; the exact words weren’t the point. The announcement would be simple and quiet, maybe something like, “I have something to tell you,” at which point Tim would look up, and I would pause. “You’re going to be a dad.”
That was it. I would watch as his face changed, neurons firing, emotions igniting. His eyes would soften, brighten, glisten. His mouth would stretch into a stunned smile. We would embrace, exclaim, shake our heads in shock, reflexively move about, unsure where to go. We would talk and talk, clinging to the precise coordinates of that beautiful, perfect moment for as long as possible. The moment that separated life Before from life After.
This fantasy occupied my consciousness for months, curving my lips into a smile while riding the subway, waiting in line for that latte, washing my hair. I couldn’t quite place the tactile details of our future child—the arc of her glistening cheeks grinning up from the bath, the weight and warmth of his tiny body curled against my chest. So I let my mind dwell on what it could make sense of: Tim and me, happy news, a beginning.
The role this fantasy put me in—the knower, the teller—was another dimension of its allure. I had never had the opportunity to share something so meaningful. To change someone’s life with my words. It would be a position of advantage, reproductively, one in which I had never found myself. I had endured decades of inconvenient periods, biologically tasked with the planning and responsibilities that accompany my anatomy; now, finally I was being shown the power that came with it, a gift. This body I was born into would afford me a transformative power: to bear a child, grow it within my body, deliver it into the wild world. And it all began with telling my husband he was going to be a dad. Imagining myself as the architect of a moment so much bigger than both Tim and me took my breath away.
Unfortunately, my daydream hinged on the approximations accompanying natural conception: when I might be ovulating fed into when we might have conceived, which led to the mystery of when I might be able to test. Once we embarked on IUI, then IVF, and began synthetically triggering my egg’s release, scientific certainty controlled the process. The guesswork, and the potential to surprise Tim, was gone.
Indeed, it was now my duty—a duty that fought my most fervent beliefs about how getting pregnant should proceed—to report the result of every test, every step of the way. It felt like an intrusion, a loss of my fundamental right as a woman to learn on my own terms that I was pregnant, at a time of my choosing, all by myself. It was our news ultimately, but I still felt it needed to be my news first. Now, it wouldn’t be.
Once, or maybe twice, alight with righteousness and indignation, I made an independent decision to test, before our decided-on date. It’s my body, I can test whenever I want to. Who could possibly argue that I’m not entitled to that? So I did. And then I waited on the couch for Tim to get home from work, in a scene that looked very much like my fantasy—down to the quiet click of his key in the door—only this was that scene’s mirror image: everything was on the wrong side.
“It’s a no,” I declared bluntly, moments after we’d said hello, as Tim was still crossing the room toward me.
“What’s a no?” It took him a moment to orient himself, his face scanning mine for clues.
“I tested. It’s a no.”
“Wait, what? You tested?” He had stopped moving. “I thought we couldn’t find out until Wednesday…?” His face had fallen. “Are you sure?”
We were deep enough into the IVF experience by then for testing to be fraught; my taking it into my own hands almost felt dangerous. So many powerful emotions were on the line, both of us scarred by all the disappointments, and now, I had deepened Tim’s pain by not letting him brace for another.
His face hardened first, then his tone. “You can’t just fucking hit me with that when I walk in the door.” I avoided his eyes. “I get that it’s your body, but this is about both of us. I have a right to know what’s going on.”
I instinctively recoiled, defensive, but I knew I had been careless and blunt in my delivery. It wasn’t fair of me to surprise him like that, but none of this was fair. I was grasping for control of something—anything. Maybe testing was the only scenario in which I could be in charge.
That night, after more discussion, we agreed that from then on, Tim could be home for the testing. He wanted to be present so that he might be prepared. How could I blame him? I never revealed my fantasy, explained that finding out by myself mattered to me. It seemed too silly to put into words. Besides, at this point, it would be foolish to hope for anything more than the news itself.
The no’s continued to pile up, and Tim proposed a new protocol. “What if I go into the bathroom to check the test?” he offered, “instead of you. Or what if we both go in together?” I was familiar with this kind of logic, since I practiced it myself. It was based on the magical thinking we had both gradually adopted; perhaps if we went about this differently, the outcome would be different. A fresh pair of eyeballs could have the power to read the test and somehow change it. I believed in Tim’s strategy, but I couldn’t shake my conviction about how the process should play out. What if the next time was actually it? I still wanted to be the first to know and the one to tell Tim. “It has to be me,” I told him, unwavering in my fealty to this innermost fantasy.
Soon enough, though, I stopped testing at home altogether. The swell of anticipation had become too torturous, the heart-soar of possibility in those few agonizing minutes, the held-breath, the stopped-time, while my urine seeped through the stick. When the negative result appeared, as it always did, my spirit was crushed just a little bit more. The damage was starting to feel irreparable. Besides, once we were doing IVF, the fertility clinic was performing its own blood test, more sensitive than a home urine test, at the earliest possible date of detection. And until those results came in, I could still believe. I needed to hope now, more than I needed to know.
Eventually, I came to understand that surprising Tim was not going to be possible. I would never have those few, cherished hours with the knowledge of our baby living inside me, twinkling beneath my flesh. Now, a stranger would know before I did, and would share the news, if ever there was news to tell. Along the way, I experienced far deeper, more tangible disappointments: the failed cycles, the plans canceled, the mourning on behalf of my mom and dad, denied the gift of grandparenting my child. There were so many losses, but this one I never spoke of, not even to Tim. This one was all mine.
4 replies on “Let Me Tell You”
Such a powerful essay filled with such raw emotion and sensitivity.
I remember those terrible months so well. Cycle after cycle ending in — nothing. Like Amy and so many women over so many eons, the longing for a baby is like nothing else.
Eventually, my husband and I became parents of two children — one adopted, the other an “in vitro drop-out.” I ovulated too soon, the surgery was cancelled and, oh my goodness, I was pregnant.
Hopefully, Amy and her husband will find themselves parents one day. It’s definitely worth the agonizing wait and effort.
Beautiful, and heartbreaking.
Stunning. All the tiny, powerful ways our hearts can break.