Wendy is supposedly getting some props from the department store basement and has been MIA for more than an hour. Dean has gone for coffee, and Lexi and I are in Home Furnishings, surrounded by plastic flowers, plants, and grass-skirted mannequins. This might be the last project Lexi and I get to work on together because then we’ve got to split up so she can be bossed around by Wendy.
Lexi puts a fake azalea in her hair. “When do you leave for Jamaica?” she asks.
“I bet you’ll be so glad to get away from here.”
“Yeah, I totally need a break.” I stand to stretch my achy knees, then lean down into a rag doll yoga position. When the blood flows to my scalp, I relax my arms and let them sway. I slowly stand up and get lightheaded. I plop onto the display bedding and lean my head into the pillow.
“I still haven’t gotten my period.”
Lexi raises her eyebrows. “Do you feel like you’re getting it?”
“I feel totally crampy. I’m snapping at everyone. Last night I yelled at Adam for not putting his shoes away, and mine were on the floor right next to his!”
“You took that test last week, right?”
“I did, but what if it was wrong?” I’m becoming really good at whining.
“Those things are like ninety-nine-point-nine-and-a-half percent accurate. You sure you followed the directions?”
“God, I don’t know. All I know is I’m freaking out about everything these days. This whole holiday window catastrophe is on my mind. My sister and I had a huge fight last week and we haven’t talked since. I’m cranky and tired, and I’m annoyed at everything!”
“Give it a few more days. Try to get it off your mind. I think if you worry, it could delay your period. Stress can do strange things to your body.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I hope you’re right.”
We work in silence for a few minutes and then I tell her what I’ve decided. “Actually, Adam and I did discuss for real trying in the spring, but I’m hoping to delay it when the time comes.”
“Who knows? You could be pregnant now,” Lexi jokes.
“Will you shut the hell up! I thought I wasn’t supposed to think about that – all the stress.”
Dean walks in, holding steaming lattes, and sees me lying on the floor. “What are you stressing about?”
“I think she’s pregnant,” Lexi says, and starts doing the hula, irritating the hell out of me. Dean hands us our coffees, and Lexi says, “There better not be caffeine in hers!”
“I’m not pregnant!” I practically yell, and a few customers look toward our direction in the corner window. I lower my voice. “I’m just stressed, and you guys are making me stressed!”
“Hey, relax,” Dean says. “So what if you are? Don’t you want kids eventually? So you start a little earlier. It means you’ll get them out of the house that much sooner.” Dean looks at Lexi and they laugh, at my expense, of course.
“I’m not ready. It’s a huge responsibility. I’m about as responsible as a drunk in a liquor store. No way can I handle that now. I’m beginning to think being a mother might not be in my genes.”
“Well girlfriend, if you don’t think motherhood’s in your genes, you shouldn’t have let Adam into your jeans!” Dean says, and the two of them crack up.
I burst into a fit of tears and stand up so quickly I spill coffee all over my pants. Lexi jumps up to help me clean off.
“I’ve got it!” I yell, through sprung tears. Why is everything setting me off these days? I’ve never been like this before. I’m the one who can usually make a joke; I’m not one to crack under pressure. This person crying here, with coffee stains spreading on her pants, tears on her face – this person is not me.
I push past Dean and practically run head-on into Wendy, who’s carrying a massive bunch of plastic greenery.
“I found them!” she announces like she discovered a buried treasure and not just a pile of plants.
Through my tears, I manage to glare at her spitefully, and even though it’s not her fault I’m in this mood, I still can’t stand her, and the thought that she’s trying to get my position makes me loathe her all the more.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire?” she asks as I head toward the escalator. I rush into the employee bathroom where I stare at my reflection in the mirror, blotchy red face, tears still spilling. This is the first time it hits me, and I don’t need a double pink heart to tell me what I’m afraid I already know. I focus on my face, and realize what’s happening to me, and there’s nothing I can do about it. My life is about to drastically change, and there is absolutely no turning back.
This is a pinnacle moment, where the soap opera breaks for a commercial, where the final credits roll after ‘to be continued’ scrolls on the bottom of the TV. There’s no other explanation for my erratic behavior.
* * *
I don’t go back to Home Furnishings. Instead, I run to my office, grab my jacket and purse and go home. Even though it’s only one in the afternoon, I take two Tylenol PMs and slump into bed, pulling the covers over my head, trying to stop the thoughts from suffocating me.
When I wake from a dreamless dead slumber, it’s four-thirty. Instead of feeling rested, I feel sluggish and foggy. I shouldn’t have taken those sleeping pills. Shit, I should have taken those other pills – the ones that would have kept me from getting into this situation.
To confirm what I already know, I go to the closet, get out the second pregnancy test and repeat the actions I did less than a week ago. It doesn’t take three minutes. In less than twenty seconds, two intensely bright, glaring pink hearts emerge in the test windows.
I’m in the family room with all the lights off, wrapped up in a blanket, my knees pulled to my chest. After those blazing hearts showed up, I started crying again, and haven’t stopped since. It’s Thursday night, and I should be at The Living Room with Lexi and Dean. Lexi left three messages since I bolted from work and when I finally answered the phone, I told her I wasn’t feeling well, and I probably wouldn’t be at work tomorrow. Touch of the flu, and definite PMS, I assured her, which wouldn’t be hard to believe, considering how I acted at work.
Mom also left a message. “Calling to catch up on things, dear,” which usually means she had a shopping extravaganza or a new recipe to share. She mentioned she’d see us at Jana’s for her birthday. She probably wanted to drop hints on what she’d like. Oh, I’ve got a present for her. A freaking grandchild.
I hear Adam’s key jangling in the lock and see his shadow from the hallway when he comes in and turns on the light. He doesn’t see me right away, but knows I’m home because my bag, shoes and keys are in the foyer. His keys hit the kitchen table and the refrigerator door opens.
“Hey, are we out of beer?”
Some strange noise comes out of my mouth – it’s not really an answer, more of a whimper, so he’ll know I’m in the family room.
“What’d you say?” he shouts.
When I don’t respond, he comes into the family room. “What’s the matter?” He kneels at the side of the chair and touches my blotchy cheek.
Instead of the shock I feel, he is clearly elated. He brings me to him and hugs me tight and I begin to sob. Hard, swollen, desperate sobs.
“Honey, it’s okay, it’s okay.” He rocks me back and forth, like he’s already practicing for a newborn, and whispers in my ear, “It’s okay, it’s okay.” Oh, how I so want to believe him.
“I am so scared.”
“I know. I know.”
“I don’t think I can be a mom. I don’t know what to do? I’m going to mess everything up. And what about Jana? She’s wanted a baby forever, and here I am, pregnant, and not the least bit excited.”
He pulls me away and looks into my eyes. With such conviction I almost believe him, he says, “Everything is going to be fine. We have always known that someday we would have a baby, and I know it’s a little sooner than you wanted. And Jana… well, don’t worry about her and Josh. They’ll be okay.”
“I know,” I sniffle. “But, I don’t know anything about being pregnant. God, when I met with Claire, she was talking about all these tests they make you take, and tri-semesters and sono-whatevers, and some stuff you have to drink to make sure the baby’s okay, and then some other test where they stick a huge needle in your belly. I hate needles.”
“Well, then, we’ll have to start reading up on some things, and I’ll be here with you. I’ll help you any way I can. You know, we’re in this together, sweetie. I promise. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Yes.” He hugs me again. “Come on, let’s get you into bed, you must be exhausted.”
“I don’t think I can sleep. I slept all afternoon. Those Tylenol PMs wiped me out earlier.”
“You took sleeping pills? You sure that’s okay to do?”
“I don’t know? I never even thought about that.” And then I remember all the alcohol. “Oh shit. I drank so much last weekend, and at The Living Room last Thursday. And is it bad that I have been taking my pill now still, too? See, I’m screwing everything up already!”
“Go call Sarah. She’ll tell you what to do. And I’m sure she’ll be so excited, and that’ll make you feel better. I’ll go make something for us to eat, okay?”
I wipe away some of the threads of tears and then touch Adam’s shoulder. “Can you grab me the phone, and would you get me a diet Coke?”
Then I remember what Claire said about caffeine.
“Water instead, okay?” I ask as Adam hands me the phone.
* * *
“That’s awesome! I am so excited for you guys!” Sarah’s yelling into the phone and I can tell she’s jumping around her living room, thrilled at the news. I wish I felt the same.
After I explain that I am a wreck, I tell her I took some sleeping pills (that’s okay, it’s early in the pregnancy), and ask if I should I stop taking my pill (absolutely!), and quit drinking caffeine drinks (don’t be ridiculous!), Sarah asks me when my last period started.
“Well, I know I had my period the end of July but I’m not really sure when it started.”
“Just do the math then. What day was your period supposed to come, and count backwards twenty-eight days. Get the calendar,” Sarah says.
I go into the kitchen to look at the calendar. “Hmm, hang on… um… July twenty-fifth.”
Sarah mumbles numbers as she’s tapping on her own calendar.
“Okay, so you’re already six weeks pregnant!”
“How can that be? I can’t be that much already?”
“They base pregnancy on the day of your last period, not on the day you have sex. Then they count forty weeks from then to figure your due date.”
“Forty weeks? That seems like a really long time!”
“Well, look at it this way; you’re already six weeks into it, and only thirty-four more to go!”
“I am just in shock. What the hell am I going to do?”
“Give it a couple days to let it sink in. How have you been feeling?”
“Oh God, completely different, which totally makes sense. I’m freaking out at everyone, my boobs feel like they’re watermelons, full of pressure and ready to explode. I’ve actually been feeling crampy, and I’ve been cranky and demanding…”
“You’re always cranky and demanding,” Sarah jokes, and I attempt a laugh.
“Well, more cranky and demanding than usual.”
“I remember having cramps in the beginning too,” Sarah says. “That’s implantation. You’re moody and cranky because of the hormone surge. Believe me, honey, it’s all normal.”
“But I don’t feel normal.”
“Look, get some prenatal vitamins, and make an appointment with your doctor right away, okay? Promise me you’ll do that?”
I shake my head even though she can’t see me. “Yeah, I’ll call tomorrow. I don’t think I’m going to work anyway.”
“Okay, and listen, give Adam a hug for me, and tell him to give you one from me, too. Ellen, seriously, this is the best news, I am so excited for you guys. You can call me anytime you have a question or need anything, you know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I know. You’re always here for me.”
“I love ya, that’s why, you goofball!”
“Me too.” We hang up and I say a silent prayer that soon I will be as excited about my pregnancy as my best friend is for me.
* * *
The black strokes are oil-slick, thick and bold, and we are mesmerized. The painting is dark and daring, but simple, as if a child had been instructed to use one color. I didn’t want to look at it but couldn’t force my eyes away. Brushstrokes of belly and breast, that of a swollen woman, and although there were no lines in her face, she was clearly painted to portray agony. It appeared as if her body was readying itself, was sprouting from the canvas, preparing for something, or, rather, trying to escape from something.
“Oh, I didn’t notice that before,” Adam says.
A rush of crimson appears from the belly of the silhouetted woman in the painting, but it’s not just paint on the canvas. It pours out, splashes of it gush everywhere, blood-red lava flowing from the belly, drenching and staining. The painting was coming alive, arms were rising, legs shook, and a voice echoed in the stillness of the room – a desperate sound. The woman in the painting was wailing.
“Get it out! Get it out! Get it out now!”
I bolt up in shock and sweat and Adam leans over to my side of the bed, the room still dark with night.
“Baby, you okay?”
He can’t see me shake my head side to side, as I try to rid myself of the images.
“Yeah, bad dream. Go back to sleep. I’m fine.”
The next morning, after Adam kisses me goodbye, and reassures me again that everything will be okay, I call in sick to work. I truly feel a bit nauseous, but wonder if I’m conjuring up pregnancy symptoms already? I dial Dr. Keller’s office, feeling nervous, and almost guilty about being pregnant, which is stupid because I’m a twenty-nine-year-old married woman.
“Good afternoon, Drs. Keller, Benjamin and Harken’s office. This is Bonnie.” She’s cheerful, yet a little too chipper for me today.
“Um, hi. This is Ellen McMillan. I’m a patient of Dr. Keller’s. Well, actually, I’ve seen Dr. Benjamin too…” I don’t remember a Dr. Harken, but then I haven’t been there in awhile.
“Yes?” Bonnie asks.
“Well, um, I guess I’m… well, I took the Two Hearts test.”
“You’re pregnant?” Gee, she’s good.
It seems so surreal to acknowledge my pregnancy to someone else, but it’s also good that it’s out in the open, and I breathe out deeply, a bit relieved. I imagine alcoholics feel this way the first time they go to an AA meeting, stand up and admit their problem:
“Hi, I’m Ellen.”
“And I’ve been pregnant for a few weeks.”
Bonnie repeats her question. “Okay, when was your LMP?”
“LMP?” I ask.
“Oh, sorry. Last menstrual period?”
“Um.” What did I tell Sarah last night? “July twenty-fifth.”
“And this is a planned pregnancy?”
“Uh, not exactly.”
“Are you married?”
“Yes!” Good, I got one right!
“Were you using anything?”
Here’s what I think when she asks me this: Yeah, we used a penis and a vagina!
Here’s what I say: “I’m on the pill.”
“Okay. You’ve stopped taking the pill, right?” Bonnie asks.
“Good. Let’s see what I have available.” I hear Bonnie tapping at a keyboard.
“We can see you September twenty-third.”
“Shouldn’t I come in sooner?” I ask.
“We don’t schedule appointments until you are at least eight weeks along. I have a nine o’clock on September twenty-third?”
“Okay. What do they do at the appointment?”
“You’ll fill out a complete history and get weighed, have your blood pressure taken, and have your urine checked. Then, the doctor will examine you; do an internal. The doctor might check for the heartbeat, although it may be too early for that, and then you can ask questions. So, if you have questions, write them down. Women tend to forget what they want to ask when they get here.”
“Anything else you’d like to know, Ellen?” Bonnie asks kindly.
“No, I think I’m okay,” I sigh, a little more dramatically than I planned.
“You sound nervous.”
“Yeah. I have to let it all sink in. It’s a little scary,” I admit.'
“You’ll be fine,” Bonnie says. “Oh, and I’ve scheduled you with our new doctor, Dr. Harken.”
“I usually see Dr. Keller. Can’t I see her?”
“She doesn’t have any openings until the beginning of October.”
“Dr. Harken will be fine, thanks.”
Pregnancy Dream: I have a boy and Jana is telling me what to do with him. She’s acting like he belongs to her and she starts to try to breastfeed him. I scream at her to give my baby back, that she can’t breastfeed him because I have all the milk.
I don’t need a therapist to analyze this one. I’m scared to death to tell my sister I’m pregnant; that I’m having a baby, when all she’s ever wanted was to become a mom.