I always hated playing with baby dolls as a kid. I preferred Street Sharks.
As a 27-year-old struggling opera singer, having children hasn't been on the top of my "to-do" list. My husband, Nick, and I occasionally feel that twinge of curiosity for what our spawn might be like when we see kids doing hilarious things (i.e. not shitting their pants or screaming), but then I remember we live in a studio apartment with crippling student debt. Having a baby wouldn't really fit in the mix quite yet. Plus, my two cats might kill it.
Since I hate myself and sex while on the pill, and am a crazy, all-natural hippie, I opt out of any hormonal methods of birth control and practice the Fertility Awareness Method (tracking your moon cycles), paired with good ol' basic condoms. Even though I track my cycle like a hawk, I'm too paranoid to ever go unprotected. And that's it. Trucking along for three years, I felt confident and in control.
Enter an extreme low-carb diet. After being gluten-free for a few years, on and off Paleo, I decided to go a step further and try this new ketosis thing I'd been hearing about. In a nutshell, you eat a diet that's 80-85% fat and almost zero carbs.
For a while, I felt amazing. I lost weight and had incredible energy. Then, I lost my period. I thought my body would adjust and regain its reproductive function, but I stopped ovulating altogether. I became terrified that I had Hashimoto's or some thyroid disorder (thanks, internet) and that I wouldn't be able to have children even when I wanted to. I tried seed cycling, exercise, Maca powder, meditation — everything short of animal sacrifice to naturally get my period back. Nothing worked.
I finally decided to go to the gynecologist and get my thyroid tested. She took my blood, not really listening to what I had to say about my diet effecting my cycle. All she had to say was that I was overweight and probably wasn't getting enough calcium. I said good day ma'am and left, disenfranchised with conventional medicine.
Back then, I was the manager of a very busy bridal salon that had recently experienced an explosion of new business due to a successful stint on reality TV. That's where I was when I got the call.
Gyno: We have your results. Your thyroid is normal. Congratulations! You're pregnant!
Me (inner monologue): SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT SHIT
Gyno: We'll have your HCG numbers in a couple hours, but you need a sonogram, and to set up some prenatal care, and blah blah blah blah blah blah pregnant blah blah...
I dropped to the office floor to join my stomach.
When experiencing trauma, I think we triage the situation by rationalizing how we got there and strategizing every moment thereafter. I attempted to pinpoint the moment of this supposed conception. As careful as I'd been, I've watched I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant and seen babies born despite 10 forms of birth control. Then came the guilt and shame for excess drinking, lack of vitamins, and eating lunch meat.
I stared making "the calls." I called Nick, also at work, now just as traumatized. Luckily, he kept his shit together despite my crumbling. I called my best friend and a midwife. I told my boss I'd been rendered useless the rest of the day. A girl I just hired came into the office and saw my state of panic, so I told her, too, along with all the brides in the store. Probably not a good idea, but I didn't know how to react or to process what the hell was happening. I told my parents by giving them a copy of the movie Alien later that evening. I am damn hilarious.
The numbers finally came in a few hours later: nearly 16,000 HCG. To those who've been pregnant, you'll know that to register on a home pregnancy test, you need a level of 100. A level this high either means you're about eight weeks along or pregnant with twins.
I took two home pregnancy tests at work and they both came back negative. I told this to the doctor, but she assured me the blood test was 100% accurate. Must be a fluke. The situation became serious and I needed a sonogram right away.
I had the sonogram at 5 p.m. that Friday. The radiologist had already left and was on his boat for the weekend. A very nice, albeit young, technician performed what should've been an easy and routine procedure, especially with levels as high as mine. She ran the wand over my abdomen for about three minutes, Nick and I waiting for some sort of confirmation in stifling silence. The tech said she needed to go trans-vaginal (aka inserting a dildo the size of a fire hose). Nothing.
Disappearing into the next room, the tech went to page the radiologist to no avail. He's on a boat, dammit. She couldn't legally tell us anything she might have seen, so naturally, I was having an internal meltdown. We left, having been told to wait for the doctor to review the films.
I looked to Google, combing the corners of the interwebs for an answer. Big mistake. Ectopic pregnancy or ovarian cancer seemed the only explanations for HCG that high.
I finally got a call from a doctor late into the evening, telling me that I would need exploratory surgery to find the embryo that had surely implanted itself on my fallopian tubes. I also needed another blood test to see if the HCG levels were continuing to rise.
I spent half the night roaming the neighborhood like a zombie. The next morning, I raced to have blood drawn before work and was instructed not to eat since the laparoscopic surgery was scheduled for the following afternoon. I spent the day helping brides choose their wedding dresses betwixt bouts of anxiety that my tube would explode at any moment.
During the few quiet moments I found for myself, I tried to feel connected to the life supposedly inside me. I couldn't quite find a direct line to "my baby." When my best friend was pregnant last year, she spoke of the overwhelming sense of connection, commitment, and awe that came after just a few weeks. I felt inadequate and like a failure as both a woman and, now, a mother. I'd missed out on morning sickness, cravings, excitement, and any shred of control.
The phone vibrated at 8 a.m. the next morning. My surgeon jumped right in with the classic line, "We have your results." This time, however, my HCG levels were — wait for it — zero. A big, fat nothing. YES, FRIENDS, NO PREGNANCY.
My original blood work had gotten switched with another patient's.
Admittedly, I took solace in the thought that some other poor wench out there was going through a cluster right along with me. She was probably getting positive home pregnancy tests and barfing every morning only to be told she's hysterical.
I skipped church that morning and bought wine instead.
Cue the slew of damage control.
My poor parents and in-laws thought they were about to be grandparents. I called the midwives to cancel my appointments. I called my close friends to put a stop to any potential baby shower plans. Then... me. I couldn't function mentally. Why did I feel such a sense of loss for something or someone that didn't exist? I'd convinced myself I wanted to be pregnant and now I wasn't. I felt like Wilson at the end of 1984. After fighting tirelessly against the establishment, he still ended up brainwashed and loving Big Brother. Then they shot him.
Ironically, I think this experience laid a foundation for the desire to procreate. I can conceptualize having a child without the world ending because I had to for three days.
That night, I drank a bottle of wine and ate brownies. Two days later, I got my period back. (I'm going to develop a regimen for amenorrhea that requires heavy drinking and dessert.) Best of all, I never saw a bill for that sonogram.