There is a pregnancy of mine I haven’t written about before, for the simple reason that I don’t know for certain that it was actually a pregnancy.
It happened (or didn’t happen, as the case may be) after we’d been trying to conceive for about six months, well before our first miscarriage.
I was about to go on a friend’s hen do on day 29 of my cycle. My period would be due the day I’d get back. Before I went, I took an early pregnancy test, partly to ‘rule it out’ ahead of a weekend of drinking and late nights, but also – and I’m afraid I can’t be more specific than this – I just had a feeling.
The test was negative.
So that was that, I told myself firmly. You can drink. No need to worry. It’s a relief, in a way. Now you can really enjoy yourself. All the things you say when you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re not disappointed on some primordial, cellular level.
And yet, I didn’t feel as I normally do just before my period arrives. Nothing specific, nothing an internet forum could diagnose as ‘take another test hun!’, no nausea, no rock-hard boobs, no funny tang of rust in my mouth. And yet…
…a test that was negative three days before my period was due could still be a positive test by Monday morning, couldn’t it? That’s what the leaflet says, anyway.
I get a lift to the hen do with friends, one of whom is 14 weeks pregnant. We’ve been driving for about ten minutes when she asks if anyone else in the car can smell some strawberries she has in a picnic bag in the back: ‘I was worried they were a bit frowsy when I packed them, they smell really strong to me – like they’re going off – but I wasn’t sure if it’s just, you know, me being pregnant.’
My other friend assures her she can’t smell anything. I also tell her not to worry. But really I am thinking: So that’s what I can smell. Now she’s said it, the wet, red smell of strawberries is so thick I can taste it, their ripeness invades my nose and coats my tongue so that I think I will never taste anything else again. Could this mean…? No. Stop it. Stop thinking about it.
The strawberries get put in the boot when we stop for petrol. But there is more.
There’s been a minor drama behind the scenes this week, my pregnant friend, who is one of the bridesmaids, tells us as we cruise up the M1. There’d been a measles outbreak at the school where she works. And because she’d been on a school trip with one of the boys just before he was hospitalised with it, she’d been told there was a chance she could still come down with too. It was a small chance, and because she’d been vaccinated as a child it was even smaller. The more pressing dilemma, she explained, was whether she posed a risk to the other pregnant women coming on the hen do (there were several).
Measles, it turns out, is very bad news when you’re pregnant. In the end, the bride had had to message all the knocked-up guests to warn them and check they were OK with this (probably very small) risk.
Now I can’t help myself. I text my mum: ‘Do you remember if I had the measles jab?’
She replies straightaway: ‘Not sure. you probably did. why, you’re not pregnant are you?’
Can’t get anything past mum. ‘Haha. Don’t think so… not yet anyway!’
The possibility of a first grandchild hangs between our messages, like the three dots that bubble up to indicate the other person is still typing. Pending.
I spend the weekend half-enjoying myself, nervously sipping half-glasses of prosecco and leaving half-drunk drinks – bought for me by other people – in the loo when we go out. This is the compromise I settle on. I can’t let myself go completely, but I can’t let myself be completely sober for the weekend either. Somehow, I feel I have to show willing; as if I’m not allowed to behave as if I were definitely, irreproachably pregnant. Not yet.
Instead, for this one weekend, I am half pregnant, half not.
My period still hasn’t arrived by the time I get home, half-hungover. The next morning, I take another test. Nothing. Negative. Not pregnant.
It feels a little like loss.
Over the last three years, I’ve taken many pregnancy tests that turned out to be negative, but this is the one I remember most clearly. Eventually, my period arrives, seven days late. And that feels like a loss, too.
It’s not a precise mourning, as with a miscarriage, it’s more diffuse than that; softer around the edges. A little like how I’d feel at school when my friends all had crushes on boys but there was no one I liked. Not unrequited love, exactly, more a directionless kind of longing, but which hurts all the same.
Knowing everything I know now, I do look back and wonder if I’d had a so-called chemical pregnancy (which, incidentally, I wish we’d name for what it is – a very early miscarriage). But maybe it was nothing. Does it make a difference? Either way, it doesn’t feel like nothing.
It feels a lot like loss.
A small – and as time goes on not so small – sort of grief. The sting of a test you were convinced would be positive. The sorrow of negative test upon negative test. The loss of days, months, eggs, slipping by without consequence. The yearning that comes with missed opportunities. The loss of a baby ‘by Christmas’, ‘by summer’, ‘by the time I’m 30’, ‘by next year’. The empty pages of a calendar unfurling in front of you, drifting away, fluttering through your fingers. No end in sight.
The peculiar grief of blank spaces.