Worry became my prayer, my way of holding vigil. If I held this baby in my mind during every waking moment, perhaps it wouldn’t leave me. At this point, after two years of trying, I found it hard to believe that my body wouldn’t bleed, that I wouldn’t flush away this growing thing. Flushing was my body’s habit; it knew no other way, and so I spoke to my body constantly, instructing it—pleading with it. I closed my eyes and imagined nine months without bleeding. When I inhaled, I willed my organs upward, into me. I begged them not to let go, not to purge, cleanse, release.
By the time a blood test confirmed that I was pregnant, my period was four days overdue. “All your levels looks great,” the nurse told me over the phone. “You have no reason to worry.”
I had every reason to worry. My body had failed me over and over.
I could not use the bathroom without fearing that I’d find a bloodstain on my underwear, or that I’d leave a drop of red behind to spread in the toilet water, or that when I wiped I’d see a trace of pink. I could imagine these details so easily. To ward off my fear, I developed an elaborate set of rituals.
At work, I could only use the first floor bathroom, first stall on the left. It was a stall I’d rarely used before I conceived. I had never bled in that particular toilet, never changed a sanitary napkin there, and so I trusted that stall to keep me safe.
Wherever I went, I held my breath as I pulled down my pants. I stretched the crotch of my underwear between my two fingers and inspected the fabric for anything resembling blood. I learned to carefully wad the toilet paper before I wiped, otherwise the pink of my finger might show through a single ply and startle me. It would take me minutes to recover from the sight of what I thought was blood.
Because so far I had no pregnancy symptoms, the worrying was all I had, the only difference between pregnant me and me alone. If I didn’t worry, if I didn’t spend all of my mental energy on protecting this thing that was growing, then how could I be sure that it was there?
Sometimes I worried about my worrying. All those months as I tried and failed people had told me to relax. The implication was clear: worrying had made me infertile. This made me worry even more. I tried to talk myself down. I told myself that I was a worrier, that worriers before me had babies. I thought of pregnant women living in war zones, of domestic abuse survivors, of all the babies that had been brought to term in situations far more hostile than the womb of a preoccupied mother.
I told myself that in reality there wasn’t much I could think or feel that would kill this baby or keep it alive. If this baby couldn’t survive my emotions, well then this baby just wouldn’t survive.
On the surface I looked calm. That’s how worried I was. I was so worried that I couldn’t break the shell of worry, couldn’t say aloud how scared I was. No one knew about the first stall or the toilet paper.
Note: This is the second installment of my #memoirmondays series, where I post a scene from my memoir-in-progress. I don’t promise to move chronologically or reveal the whole story, but you can click on the Memoir Mondays tag below to read earlier installments.
Image Credit: Photo by Peter Almay, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, https://www.flickr.com/photos/csutka/3956855512