Epistemologies

by cbcabeen on November 5, 2011

Before anyone gets excited, let me note that this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage a couple months ago. I’m not currently pregnant.

“Maybe,” then “probably,” and at that point I joined the April 2012 birth board on BabyCenter. I’d fantasized about the moment I found out I was pregnant again. My face got hot when I put pretend conception dates into the due date calculator and I melted a little bit.

But that isn’t how it felt at all, because just like last time, there was no single romantic moment when everything was revealed. Instead, I watched mounting symptoms–nipples sore when Rebecca sucked, probable implantation cramps almost a week too soon to be my period, at six and seven days after I probably ovulated and certainly had sex–I declared myself 60% sure–then being thirsty a lot and peeing even more. Well, it was hot outside. I remember months when I must’ve had a natural progesterone surge and felt more crampy and sore-nippled than usual, and those times I’d thought, “If I’d had sex this month, I might think I was pregnant”–but this was stronger. In the background, whenever I paid attention, my abdomen felt full and heavy in a way I’d forgotten. 90% sure.

Ted said that speculating about pregnancy stressed him out, and that I should wait to tell him until I was certain. I decided I wouldn’t take a pregnancy test until at least a week after my period would’ve started, because by then there’d be no more chance of false negatives. When we got pregnant with Rebecca, I tested five or six days after I’d expected my period and got a negative, and Ted believed it. I kinda believed it, too. Even worse, despite Ted’s desire to be a dad, he’d been relieved when the test said I wasn’t pregnant, in an “Oh please fuck, not THIS month” sort of way. Now had been barely a month since his dad died, and I was worried he’d feel the same way again.

But that evening when Ted was out I thought about the signs and decided I was pregnant anyway–95% sure now. Rebecca and I went outside and sat in the pool, and the sky was so blue, and there was nothing wrong with the world.

On the April 2012 birth board, women who had the same estimated due date as I did were buying First Response pregnancy tests and some were starting to see positives, though most weren’t. I posted that I was pregnant, but not inclined to pee on a stick. Why bother, when my body was already testing for hcg and reporting to me directly?

My mind traced over the future until it had a patina. I showed Rebecca how to turn somersaults and I carried her to the park on my back, knowing I won’t be able to do these things much longer. I lost interest in reading about parenting toddlers or about anything else but pregnancy.

One person congratulated me as pregnant online, and said she probably wouldn’t take a test either. Can I say, without being too butt-hurt about the accolades of strangers, that people with positive pregnancy tests got a lot more congratulations than that? I could lie and say I took a test and they’d believe me, but the idea that a woman could announce it for sure, this early, solely on the evidence of her own body–that seems not to be part of their world. A couple weeks later, when the pace of the board had taken off, another person wrote about not taking a pregnancy test and got post after post of vitriol.

I think later some of the same women will rely on doctors to tell them how and when the baby can come out, how much it’ll hurt, and what positions to labor in–an approach that over all leads to more physical and psychological complications than following our bodies’ lead.  Maybe they’ll leave the hospital feeling concerned that the experts would put them in charge of caring for a baby, when they hardly know anything about babies.  It’s little wonder that they wouldn’t trust themselves to figure it out at that point. I wonder how many of the nascent mothers will parent the same way they approach pregnancy tests, and need someone else’s approval before they can read whatever signs are right in front of them.

There’s one more sign that I didn’t mention on the birth board, because I doubt it’ll help my case if people think I’m crazy. I felt a presence in the dark while I rocked Rebecca, someone weather-beaten but good-humored and strong. I don’t recognize him, but I think it must be one of the ancestors I called to bring us a baby. I half think that I am tricking myself. But if you ask me why I believe these things, a big part of the explanation is that I don’t think the standard secular paths to knowledge are entirely on my side or entirely good for people like me–I mean parents. I’m going to be wrong sometimes when I trust my own sense of things, but I’m okay with that. Every epistemology has its blind spots. I’m less eager to subscribe to an instrument of my own oppression, which is where I’d be going if I wrote off the clearest messages my body could send as unreliable.

Or maybe I have cancer, I said to myself. Freakier coincidences have happened than cancer showing up right when I’d expected implantation. Or a UTI? I don’t know what could cause the same symptoms I have, so I stay up at night in bed wondering whether it’s crazy to think I can diagnose my own pregnancy, because if I can’t trust my diagnosis, then these feelings could mean anything.  I remembered what I’d said before we knew for sure about Rebecca: If I’m not pregnant, then something is very wrong with my body and I need to see a doctor. But really, it’s ridiculous to think I’m not pregnant. Any other explanation stretches credulity.

Hopeful women online are comparing symptoms. One woman said, “I know we’re all trying not to overthink it,” as if you’re supposed to wait docilely until the pregnancy test and avoid attributing significance before that. Another thread asks what one symptom you’d had on previous pregnancies that meant you knew for sure. I didn’t answer, because it’s not one thing–it’s a mounting suspicion that shades into certainty–but maybe I’m not as alone as I thought.

I can’t think about anything but being pregnant, which means I don’t talk a lot, but Ted and I kiss more than usual. I wonder if part of the appeal of trusting pregnancy tests instead of your own senses is that it puts you and your partner on equal ground, and gives you a moment to celebrate together. I wonder at the ways that unshared knowledge seems unreal. I want to talk about it. Instead I tell myself that if I’m pregnant, I’ll have plenty more days to be pregnant in, no rush. All I need to do is let time wash over me. But oh, we mothers sail strange waters in these days that we don’t speak and don’t speak of.

Then fingers of nausea clutched at me when I tried to eat sautéed pea leaves at China Pavilion, and the same thing happened the next day when I tried to eat a salad, and the day after that the smell of Rebecca’s ketchup drove me across the table. I feel peevishly vindicated with each twinge in my stomach, because I knew I was pregnant all along. And I’m relieved. Nothing is wrong with me. I’m pregnant.

I told Ted a few days later, and he was happy, too. And I never did take a home pregnancy test.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

cbcabeen November 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

“I wonder how many of the nascent mothers will parent the same way they approach pregnancy tests, and need someone else’s approval before they can read whatever signs are right in front of them.”

Well, that sounds pejorative without explaining anything, doesn’t it? Let me fix that.

Helping parents trust their perceptions and problem-solving abilities is the first step in honing those abilities. I mean, it’s hard to cultivate ’em when the world around you implies you might not have ’em to begin with, and hospital culture leans unhelpfully in that direction of distrust. However, trusting your nascent abilities as a parent turns out to be important. As the saying goes, babies don’t come with operating manuals. Kids vary, and the heart of good parenting is responding to the kid you actually have, not the generalized kid somebody else did research about. If you can look at your actual kid instead of listening to the scary stories in your head about how well-meaning parents mess things up, then you’re in a better position to tweak your interactions and figure out what actually works for both of you.

Megan November 6, 2011 at 12:10 pm

This is a lovely essay. Thank you for sharing it with us.

I am very sorry for your loss.

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