Getting Pregnant With Michelle Tea: Strong Numbers, Stronger Coffee

With a special photographic retrospective of me and caffeine.

In the late morning, while waiting for Nurse Angie to call, I get a call from Dr. Wendy, my beloved gynecologist. The results hit her office first: “You’re pregnant!” she declares happily. Dr. Wendy operated the robot that dug a giant fibroid from my uterus (‘Big as a baby’s head!’), and she installed the IUD up there when my healing went awry, and she tortured me with a hysterosonogram not once but twice, so she knows the drama I’ve been through to get to this state – a bonafide zygote attached to my uterine walls, and growing! Dr. Wendy gives me my HcG number, the digits that not only confirm a pregnancy but give some ideas about how viable it will be in the short term. I didn’t write the stupid number down so I can’t tell you what it is, but it was high. Considerably higher than it was last time, and last time it was double what the doctors look for.

“That’s so great!” I gush to Dr. Wendy. “Does that mean that both the embryos attached? Am I having twins?”

“There’s no way for me to tell,” she says.

After we hang up I sit, very still, at my yellow Formica kitchen table and try to feel if I have twins growing inside me. This is pretty advanced in-touch-with-your-body bullshit, and I’ve only been at all in touch with my own physicality for about five years, so it's a dead end for me. I wonder if Nurse Angie could tell me, and I wait and wait for her call until I get so antsy I just call the fertility clinic, and tell them I know I’m pregnant because my gyn called and now what do I do. I’m told to get a second blood test in two days, which I knew already anyway.

Two mornings later I’m up at 6am and headed across the city on a series of trains and buses to get my second blood test. Wouldn’t you know, I have the exact same phlebotomist and he goes on his exact same spiel about wanting more tattoos, allowing me the same peek at his upper-arm sleeve that he always does. It’s always the same day at the lab, the same elderly people shuffling in, the same CNN report on the TV, the same National Geographics in the magazine rack on the wall.

After my blood has been taken I’m insanely hungry and walk down to this restaurant that makes this great Middle Eastern breakfast where eggs are baked in a cast iron skillet with beans and potatoes and scattered with crumbles of feta cheese. I’m practically drooling walking down the street, so happy that this is the exact thing I’m craving, and I can get it! But when the skillet is set steaming at my table, my stomach clenches. Isn’t feta on the no-eat list for pregnant people? And the eggs aren’t cooked through, they are perfectly, deliciously runny, and aren’t runny eggs off limits too? And then there’s the coffee. I got one, a latte. I promise myself I won’t drink all of it, maybe just half, just enough to give me a little glow. As I dive into my skillet, I think about how I’m already a bad mother. I’m no different than any addict who thinks that whatever baby-ruining chemical she’s ingesting is somehow no big whoop. What if this coffee provokes a miscarriage? What if I get listeria or salmonella from the totally scrumptious breakfast I can’t stop inhaling? I am as powerless over my cravings as my mother -- who was allotted six cigarettes a day by her doctor while she was pregnant with me –- was over hers.

I feel like, if my mom smoked six cigarettes a day and I turned out all right, then surely I can eat my Middle Eastern breakfast. This line of reasoning doesn’t really make me feel better, though. Is this the sort of low-standard bartering I want to engage in as a pregnant person? I haven’t figured any of this out by the time I've cleaned my skillet, mopping up the tomato sauce with hunks of bread. I abandon my latte half-drunk.

Nurse Angie calls me right away. “I wanted to give you the good news first!” she says happily. It must be one of the better parts of Nurse Angie’s job, telling the people who just mortgaged their home to get pregnant that a little test tube baby is growing inside them.

Nurse Angie tells me what I want to hear: that my HcG numbers have more than doubled since the last test. This is very excellent! A low number can mean an embryo that’s just barely hanging on, a chemical pregnancy, one that’s not really happen or destined to stop soon. But these are big, fat, strong numbers! That little nub on my uterus is really growing!

“Do you think,” I ask Nurse Angie, “That I could have twins? And that’s why my numbers are so high?” I ask this question with both fear and excitement in my heart. Fear because, let’s face it –- people who have twins are fucked. You are totally fucked for at least the first six months, if not longer, if not forever. I know it’s the happiest fucked-state you’ll ever be in and you wouldn’t sell off one of them to the circus for all the dollar bills in the world, but still. You’re sort of fucked.

But twins! How magical! If one little jerk tottering around the house like a wild drunkard cracking you up is amazing, just imagine how fantastic two would be! I understand it is the addict in me that thinks like this: if a little is good, than more is great. It’s only ever gotten me into trouble. But there are many things I love about the idea of twins. They sort of keep each other entertained I’ve heard, which sounds good for my writing career. We get to pick out not one but two names -- very fun. (I’m digging Zsa Zsa and Ava if they’re girls.) If we’re ever going to grow our family, this would be the way to do it because I am never going through IVF treatment ever again, and Dashiell is adamant about not wanting his body to be a vessel for the miracle of life. It’s either adoption, or twins.

“There’s no way to know from the numbers,” Nurse Angie says. “I’ve seen very high numbers for singletons, and numbers smaller than yours for multiples. You’ll just have to wait for your ultrasound.” I grab my date book and we schedule the ultrasound. She also goes through the list of foods I need to avoid, triggering my breakfast shame spiral all over again. But then something Nurse Angie says snaps me out of it:

“Limit your caffeine intake to 200 milligrams a day.”

“So I can have coffee?” I practically scream into the phone.

“Oh, sure,” she says casually. “You can have a cup of coffee.”

“Exactly,” I say, as if I’m somehow negotiating with her, “that’s all I want, just one cup of coffee a day.”

Nurse Angie laughs. “It’s no problem, enjoy it.”

Oh, you bet I will enjoy it. There will be no more week-long meltdowns and losing of the mind this time around! I’m on Zoloft AND I can drink coffee! I am going to be the happiest, least hormonal pregnant bitch in town! Yeah!

I call Dashiell at work and excitedly tell her how strong our numbers are, how wildly pregnant I am, and how allowed to drink coffee I am. Dashiell doesn’t like it; like my mother, she would like to place me in a glass box for the duration of my pregnancy, wherein I never wear high heels, never walk with my normal, fast-paced stomp, never carry a shoulder-breaking bag full of laptop and hardcovers, and never drink coffee. I know that the stakes are higher for us as a TTC couple -– we’re using her eggs and donor sperm and the whole thing is medical and expensive. If a transfer fails, ‘trying again’ doesn’t mean we hop in the sack and get it on -- it means another multi-month regiment of drugs and procedures, with their attendant bills. But I just don’t believe our pregnancy’s success is hinging on me drinking a cup of coffee in the morning. Again, am I a bad mother already? Is this just my caffeine addiction taking priority over the life of my unborn baby? I’d like to think I was simply operating with common sense -– the nurse said I can have caffeine, I can have caffeine. To not have caffeine would be the hysterical, paranoid option. But I’m an addict, and I’ll always be an addict and when it comes right down to it, I can’t totally trust myself.