Sunday, March 5, 2017

Here goes nothing

The day started like any other.

Actually, that’s not true, but it did start like the day immediately preceding it and the one before that and the one before that.  I slept later than I’d intended, wandered through my house - largely empty with the exception of dozens of strings of Christmas lights and a well-decorated bar.  Imagine Gatsby’s house, the morning after a party – except much smaller and less decadent…. And probably cleaner, because it wasn’t the morning after a party…  The party had been two weeks prior, but as all the furniture, decorations and other aspects of the house that had made it a home had been sold or packed for months, the lights and their gilded suggestion of festivity remained. 

As usual, the day started with coffee: fresh ground, French press. Despite the perfect roast, the coffee turned my stomach and it looked like another day where breakfast would wait an hour or two.  I sipped my coffee and turned my thoughts to the task at hand: transplanting piles from the floor to the suitcases that waited with their mouths open, ready to whisk everything away to new places.

The pattern continued that I was only able to work for a few hours before becoming overwhelmed by exhaustion.  I napped fitfully on the air mattress that had been my bed for too long.  Trusty sidekick was stuck at work and my car had already begun its journey around the world without me.  It was only me and trusty dog left trapped in the depressing remnants of our former life with no means of escape. 

My mind returned to the strange events of the day prior.  I had reported to base for a PHA.  For non-army, this is an acronym for a periodic health assessment.  It is an annual requirement that every soldier have this physical exam every year to ensure that no new health issues have arisen that could interfere with a deployment.  To demonstrate the scope of this encounter, I will use a comparison like those you might see in an SAT question.  Here goes:  PHA is to comprehensive physical exam as a personality quiz in  Cosmopolitan magazine is to a true psychological evaluation.

Regardless of its limitations, it is a requirement, and, more importantly, a requirement that gets you in trouble when ignored.  So, dutifully, I completed the online questionnaire about my current health (yeah I totally get 8 hours of sleep every night even during residency), mental health (no, despite my ongoing depression treatment/pending move around the world/ general stress and anxiety, I feel great and am a well-adjusted individual), health habits (I obviously also make time to exercise for an hour each day, shop at the farmers market for organic produce and cook healthy, colorful meals that meet all of my nutritional needs), hospitalizations (this one required no embellishments, luckily), family history (just the typical everyone had cancer/heart disease/diabetes what could I possibly have to worry about), etc. etc..  Then I showed up and answered all of the same questions in person.  This appointment is also an important time to ensure that all mandatory vaccinations, preventative visits (Eg. Annual dental visit, biannual dental cleaning, annual optometry exam),  and labs have been completed.  Surprisingly, I had taken care of all the things I needed to!  Rare, but it happens.  I was unjustifiably proud of myself (like the sensation of folding your laundry immediately after the dryer finishes instead of leaving the clothes to wrinkle for weeks in the basket as you just extract the pieces you need from it until it is time to wash it all again).  In fact the only “we need to discuss further” moment came from my ‘lady health’ section. 

I could digress into a feminist rant about how every one in the world should be comfortable discussing periods because it’s a biological phenomenon that about half the earth’s population gets to experience.  I won’t though.  You’re welcome, currently uncomfortable male readers.

So the concise version:  doctors like your most recent encounter with this phenomenon to be less than 4 weeks ago… because that’s normally how it works.  Mine was 6 weeks ago.  I was unconcerned because contrary to what text books say it is not always every 4 weeks like clock work and mine clearly has never read a textbook and has often ignored its deadline for months at a time.  So it goes. 

The confusing thing was that my deployment status was red.  I was undeployable… because, according to the computer, I was pregnant.  But… I wasn’t.  I had never been diagnosed with pregnancy, because I wasn’t pregnant – which is what it is supposed to take to change deployment status.  Try as she might, the NP entrusted with deciding whether I was adequately healthy to go into battle could not convince the computer that I was not pregnant. 

Normally a few weeks late wouldn’t bother me.  Actually, normally I wouldn’t even notice, but its like when the crazy schizophrenic on the street points at you and tells you that you’re going to die today… for the rest of the day you are going to experience a lot of near miss events.  Suddenly, I was concerned… could I be pregnant?

I have always mocked those early response tests commercials; there is usually a woman on the screen at work or doing something around the house and then the voice-over “I can’t concentrate – could I be pregnant?” which has always seemed like a huge leap to me.  I often cannot concentrate for reasons unrelated to pregnancy.  Just the other day I was at work imagining the brownies I was going to make when I got home and couldn’t concentrate.  Sometimes I see something shiny and I can’t concentrate.  Often people are talking about things I don’t care about and I can’t concentrate… In exactly zero of those situations, my next thought was “I must be pregnant!”. 

Anyways, it makes more sense if the thought is already planted in your mind.  So I suppose I will grant their premise, but argue that they should make it more clear that she was already at risk for pregnancy.  Otherwise we are giving the impression that women are just wandering the earth wondering each day if they could be pregnant and biding their time until they fulfill their biological urges. Trust me, most days we have more important things to think about. 

But there it was… I couldn’t concentrate… could I be prrrrregnant? (Roll the R.  – the sound I am going for can be demonstrated in the video found here at 0:16… but you should watch the whole video.

This was not according to plan.

I had dreamed of what it was going to be like when I got pregnant someday.  I would pee on a stick, I would be thrilled.  I would find a way to break the news to my equally thrilled husband.  I would leave it somewhere for him to find and be excited.  I would wake him up early on Christmas, or his birthday or father’s day to share with him this exciting gift of what our future was going to hold.  I would have it together, we would be ready to be the idyllic suburban family.

None of it went according to plan.

I could not leave the house to buy a pregnancy test (no car).  Ironically, I’d saved one from a previous need (until now, I never understood why they sold them in packs… I’ve already learned so much on this little journey) but it had been packed with everything else I owned and was in transit to my new life in Hawaii at the moment… not especially helpful. 

So, there I was - trapped in my largely empty house with the company of the bar that was still stocked from my going away party… My going away party that was two weeks ago where I’d celebrated with friends and had champagne.  Another strike against my plan of perfect motherhood.  The bar continued to mock me as I worked myself into an internal panic (one of my strengths, although certainly not a useful one) about how if I was a currently mother, then I had already failed.

Trusty sidekick was still at work.  It was his last work day before I moved halfway around the world, our second to last day of residing in the same zip code at any time in the foreseeable future.  His case went late, the call team was busy and could not relieve him. I begged him to play the she’s-moving-far-away-and-I’ll-never-see-her-again card. He is far less dramatic than me and was also unaware of the internal panic stemming from a computer glitch the day before.  He did not play this card.  For no logical reason, this made me extremely frustrated. 

It turns out, frustration and panic play well together.

Finally, I snapped.  (It was also after 7PM at this point and all I had eaten that day was coffee and an apple- the house was devoid of sustenance and I had no way to acquire it… in retrospect, it was obviously the setting for the perfect storm). 

I texted him something along the lines of “ [ lots of angry faces] I HATE your program. And your program director and co residents and everyone who is contributing to you being still at work.”  (Sorry, guys I don’t really hate you!)

“You did tell someone right?”  

“Like someone above you knows I’m moving away in less than 2 days and you aren’t spending time with me.” 

“Despite the fact that I’m stressed and overwhelmed and extremely sad and I need you to pick up a pregnancy test cause I’m late.”

“This is why medicine is the worst profession”.

I like to text rapid-fire rather than in one long monologue.  Rants are better piecewise.  I feel that it gives the recipient a small look at what it is like to be inside my head: thoughts pinging around faster than you can process, making small dinging sounds as each new idea arrives, often riddled with spelling errors and autocorrect mistakes that are ignored as I press on desperate to follow the train of thought to where it will crash before I lose it. 

He really is quite lucky to have me in his life.

While it was potentially memorable, it was certainly not the cute and exciting way to break the news that I had hoped for.  But as is often the case when I’m emotional and hungry, things get said, chips fall where they may and then I have to just go from there. 

My rant was ineffectual.  No one materialized at my side.  Per usual, the world did not bend itself to my will instantly.  So I waited for another few hours refusing to pee.  I needed to be ready.  I would ace that test when the time arrived. 

Finally, T.S. pulled in the driveway and it was time to leave for dinner.  I ran to the restroom so we could be out the door as quickly as possible.  It wasn’t until I finished urinating that I saw the error of my ways.  My bladder was empty when he handed me that annoyingly bright pink box, but gosh darn it I was going to try.

I peed on the stick (as much as I could muster), capped it and set it on the counter, set the timer and anticipated a negative result. I had worked myself into an unjustified panic. There was no way I was pregnant.  Really, I was only seeking peace of mind. Confirmation of what I already knew to be true. We were meeting friends for dinner and drinks and I knew I would feel better having a glass of wine when I wasn’t wondering if there wasn’t a second life depending on my choices. 

Less than 10 seconds in, I glanced at the test.  Two very distinct pink lines met my eyes. 

I reassured myself that it was not the final result until 3 minutes.  I still had two minutes and fifty seconds where anything could happen.

When my phone signaled 3 minutes had passed, it was the loudest sound I have ever heard.  Two very distinct pink lines.  Defiant. Determined. Sure.

“Well, F***.  We need to go, we are already late to dinner.”  I yelled to T.S..

 I’m sorry mom and dad.  I said the bad word.  The word I am not supposed to say.  My only excuse for my actions is that big life changes sometimes call for big swear words. 

Trusty sidekick looked at the test and back at me.  We got into his car to head downtown and he assured me – “we will try a different brand, we will do another test in the morning, there is no way.”  (It is probably worth pointing out at this point in the story that we are both highly educated individuals with science backgrounds, thorough understanding of how a simple pregnancy test works and an adequate understanding of how one becomes pregnant… we were just in shock.)

We decided to stop at the pharmacy on the way to dinner.  This time we got the Error-Proof-Test, no more First Response… after all, Error Proof said it right in the name… There would be no errors.  Obviously we had chosen wrong in the first place. The first response is not always the best response, that’s just common sense, right?!

We piled back into the car to head downtown and I selected Pandora Baby Lullabies station to set the appropriate mood.  T.S. was not as amused by my cleverness as I was myself. 

We met our lovely friends for a dinner of sushi burritos.  (The perfect meal if you are in the process of moving and have no access to food and haven’t eaten in an entire day, FYI).  My life monopolized the conversation, my pending move, my career choices, my future in the army, and the most recent potential plot twist.  I swear I don’t actively seek the center of attention, things just happen!  Overwhelmed, still unsure and finally fed, we decided to call it a night sans drinks.  We played some board games (practically parents already!) and headed home. 

I had been drinking excessively all night. Excessive amounts of water and lemonade to be clear.  I was going to be ready to repeat that test when I got home.  I was beyond ready… I nearly repeated the test in the car every time we hit a bump and had to literally run to the bathroom upon arrival.  After finally relieving myself and properly adorning my second stick of the night, I decided I didn’t want to wait three minutes.  I was tired and retreated to the air mattress.  Jesus, take the wheel.

Science will tell you that results of an experiment mean nothing unless they can be duplicated.  One positive result alone is just an anomaly but repeated identical results indicate a true positive.

It was trusty sidekick who got to read the results that indicated a true positive.  I was already in bed when he appeared in the doorway, backlit by the bathroom lights.  A phone chimed.  He beamed “We’re really pregnant!”  

“Great.  Glad you believe me now.”  Just so lucky to have me.

I did take all 4 tests (each came in a pack of 2) just to be sure.  It was 4 for 4. We’re sure now.

So after finally convincing ourselves of results that most people would believe initially, we could move on from acceptance to the next step in the process: becoming parental.

Clearly we had our work cut out for us. 

It has been quite the learning curve as I’ve begun researching car seats and play pens, bottles and bath tubs.  I had imagined that by the time this happened to me, I would have gleaned this knowledge over my many years via the school of life.   I never anticipated that I might become responsible for another human life before outgrowing my full days of Netflix stage.

I was the second child in my family, so at the very least, my parents have had a working knowledge of how to care for a baby my entire life.  I have never asked them if I came at the ideal time or if I was planned, but I have always gotten the impression that they knew what they were doing.  I was naïve enough to assume that they had reached parenting age and innately knew.   My mom and I joke about all the things that she has done that have managed to “disqualify her for the mother-of-the-year-award”: the time I fell while she was tying my shoes and I got two black eyes, the time I passed out trying to get to my parents bedroom while feverish and she was pleasantly surprised to find me lying on the floor, the time she prepared us a jug of refreshing Kool-aid with salt instead of sugar… but we can joke about these in good humor because all of the big things were done right.  I grew up in a happy and secure home, I always knew I was loved – even when I was in trouble. I never wondered if I was wanted and I was never given the impression that I was an inconvenience.  From a very young age my parents used logic to justify the choices they made in my life and if I did it without attitude, I could ask them to explain themselves. They taught me right from wrong, how to work hard and how to love. 

I think the simplest measure of knowing that my parents did a good job is how much I hate saying goodbye to them.  I hope that someday baby girl will want me in her life just as much, because I certainly love her. 

I hope she will be under the impression that I have it all figured out and that I’m not completely making it up as I go along.  I will fake it until I make it and someday when she is much much older and maybe she is having a baby of her own I will tell her how I was scared and panicked and had to take 4 different tests.  I may even tell her that I said the F word.  I will tell her that my life was full of stressors and that the timing seemed like it couldn’t have been worse… and then hopefully I will be able to say, but look how everything turned out…

I definitely have my work cut out for me.  I have big shoes to fill, and I haven’t the slightest idea about how to turn a tiny drooling human into someone who cares about others, knows right from wrong and ultimately, hopefully, makes a difference in the world.  It’s a scary big thing.  Maybe the biggest I’ll ever do.  I wasn’t planning her.  I didn’t expect her and don’t consider myself ready for her.... Nonetheless, here goes nothing.

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