I checked three times before I saw it. The last time, I stared at it for a heartbeat, then another, then another, wondering, wishing, willing. When I saw the line, I thought I had willed myself into seeing something that wasn’t there. I stared and stared, set it down, came back, stared again.
Numb. Was there -? No. Could there -? Maybe. But how many times had I done this dance before, willing an extra line into existence in the pre-dawn hours, tile cold beneath my toes, cats creaking open the bathroom door, breath caught in my throat? How was this different?
But it was different. I took a picture. The camera would see what I could not. The camera wouldn’t lie, not to me. And sure enough – adjust contrast, adjust color, enhance, enhance – more substance than ghost: a line.
Numb. My heart raced. My palms sweat. I stank of adrenaline and fear. Not the response I had envisioned and dreamed for myself. None of the expected elation, the cry of joy, the sudden and thorough Knowing. Just numb, and, this can’t last.
I checked too soon next day. No line. My chest squeezed tight, resignation set in. I drifted through the morning before remembering to look again. No, wait, there it was. A breath of relief. My pulse picked up. Then numbness, fear. Tomorrow. I’ll know for sure tomorrow.
The blood test came back positive. The doctor sounded so excited over the phone. Yes, yes – thank you, yes, I said through deadened lips, pressing the phone close so I could hear over the rumble of engines. The shade cut cold as I huddled next to a building, the sun just out of reach. The doctor’s words should have made it real, instead I received the news as if it were for another.
Congratulations, I told myself over and over and over again, retracing my route. This made it all worth it, didn’t it? The years, the pain, the crying, the depression, the waiting. If only I could go back and tell myself it would be okay, it would all work out.
But if I did, she wouldn’t believe me.
Second blood test. Still positive. Something inside me loosens, unfurls. A tension I didn’t realize I’d been holding inside. I look up dates for the first time, repeating to myself that jinxing isn’t real, but I don’t believe it. I speak in if’s and probably’s. I hedge my sentences. What had seemed so simple to me two years ago turned out to be the hardest thing I’d ever done. I won’t make that mistake again.
I tell my friends. Justified, because I might need a shoulder to cry on.
Slowly, slowly, I stop expecting to see blood. I stop expecting cramps and the end of another dream. I unfurl further, testing myself. The waterbear has a neural tube today and I breathe again. The waterbear becomes a dot snail and grows a tail and I am so relieved that we have another day. Every new cell division brings us closer to another goal post, another chance at safety.
I look at clothes. I look at books. I look at timelines and expectations. I assemble a horde of images and knowledge. For someone else. A friend. A relative. Not me. I am so good at disassociating.
I remind myself: this is for you. This is me. This is real. This is happening. This is possible. This is possible.
I tell my wife that she’s a mom. I remind her to remind myself. We drive in silence, both nervous, hesitant. She puts her hand on me and we whisper stick, stick, stick.