Leaning over the plastic stick, I sighed. I examined it from different angles, put it up against the light of a lamp, exposed it to direct sunlight. But still, no second line was visible. The test was negative. It was the fifth pregnancy test I had taken that morning.
My husband walked by me in the hall and noticed me holding the test. “You have to stop this! This is insane!” he said, looking exasperated. Having witnessed the same sad scene countless times before—he’d even examined a few sticks himself—he was done.
I told him to leave me alone, and he closed the door, shaking his head at me. I knew he was right. This was insane. Trying to conceive had become an obsession, an all-consuming addiction that was taking over my marriage and affecting my life.
No one knew the extent of it or how deep I had fallen down the rabbit hole. I still had two more pregnancy tests hidden in my purse, and I would take them both in secret later that day.
I was never supposed to struggle to conceive. I come from a long line of fertile women, women made to be mothers. With my first daughter, I got pregnant without even trying. One week before taking a pregnancy test, I knew I was pregnant. I was that in tune with my body. The day the test confirmed it, everyone rejoiced and celebrated, but it was expected. It’s what was supposed to happen to the granddaughter of a woman who bore 14 children. The pregnancy was smooth sailing, and both the labour and delivery were textbook. The ability to bear children was coded in my genes.
The first six months without any results, I put it all down to stress. We took a trip to Cuba to disconnect and unwind and figured that by the time we got back, I would be pregnant. No dice. Sixth months later, the tests were still coming up negative. Something was wrong.
The day we visited our family doctor to speak about our inability to conceive, I broke down crying for the first time. I had been in denial for a year, and to be sitting there in our doctor’s office, telling him we had been trying for this long with no results made it all too real. We were referred to a fertility specialist, and that’s when my obsession began.
Over the next year, we were poked and prodded and underwent a battery of invasive tests, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with my husband or me. Unexplained secondary infertility said our doctor, which is a fancy way of saying: We know there’s a problem; we just don’t know what it is.
Nine artificial inseminations followed, and we did three IVF cycles over four years. For each, I would purchase pregnancy tests to take daily during the last ten days of my period. I started by buying them in bulk online, and with 60 tests in a box, I convinced myself they should last me at least six months. They were the cheap paper strip kind.
What started as one each day soon morphed into taking one in the morning, then one at night. Later, I was taking three per day, sometimes four. Convinced the strip tests weren’t sensitive enough, I switched to name brand tests, which, most of the time, I hid from my husband. He was already voicing his disapproval of me taking the cheap tests, and these name brand tests were costing us a fortune. I used a separate checking account, so he couldn’t see what I was up to.
Impatient with online delivery waits, I switched to buying tests at our local pharmacy. I went on different days at different times to avoid getting the same cashiers. But soon enough, I was a regular. To mask the real reason for my purchase, I would include random household items, like toilet paper, dishwasher soap, tissue paper, candles, body wash, snacks. Most of the time, we already had these things in the house, but I wanted to make the pregnancy tests look like an afterthought and not what I was really there for.
Being a stay-at-home mom gave me the time and liberty to take tests throughout the day. But at night, with my husband home, I had to be more careful. I would do sneaky things, like hide the empty pregnancy test boxes inside old cereal boxes and throw the lot in the recycling bin.
I had two miscarriages during those years, which only exacerbated my behaviour. I had seen those two lines appear twice, and twice I had lost the endgame. Instead of being discouraged or spiraling into depression, the yearning to see those two lines again grew even greater.
Our last attempt in trying to conceive was successful, so in some ways, my pregnancy cured me. But, when I sat down and did the math, I calculated that I had taken around 650 pregnancy tests in those four years I was trying to conceive—650 tests!
To this day, I think of that number, and I shudder. Would I still be taking pregnancy tests had I not conceived when I did? How much more would have I been willing to spend on my obsession? Would have I been able to stop? I guess now, I’ll never know.
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