Thursday, September 15, 2016

Positively Negative

           When you are in college and take a pregnancy test, you don’t squint at a negative result to make sure a baby isn’t hiding there in the test window.  You just pee on the thing and probably on your hands and wait the 2-5 minutes the box suggests in the other room, leaving the test on the bathroom sink and hoping no roommates are around because you are too nervous to be in the room with what might be a total game-changer but you also don’t need the whole house to know your business. Then, when the time has elapsed, you sidle into the bathroom and sneak a look at the thing with one corner of one eye.  When the first glance reveals no extra pink or blue line (depending on the brand of the test and let’s face it, you probably bought a blue test because they are usually cheaper unless you are at the dollar store but you weren’t there, not in college, not for bulk pregnancy tests), you quickly look at it with your whole eye, probably both of them, let out a whoop of joy or a sigh of relief—or both at the same time, which is a really strange noise probably unique to college girls looking at negative pregnancy tests—wrap the thing in toilet paper, and throw in in the trash can.  You also probably flatten the box and toss it out somewhere less conspicuous.  If you bought a multi-pack of tests (because it’s actually hard to find a single test—except at the dollar store, where college you wasn’t), you might leave the box with the extra sticks in your boyfriend’s sock drawer just in case even though after this adventure you plan to triple-up on birth control methods and buy some extra morning-after pills to keep in your own sock drawer even though they’re $60 a pack because DAMN.  Of course if you are a real asshole, you and your boyfriend will break up before you’ve stashed the Plan B, and you’ll have a similar experience with a new boyfriend and you’ll be kind of broke but still totally ignorant of the family planning aisle at the dollar store, so you’ll go back to your old boyfriend’s sock drawer for the extra tests, and his roommate will catch you, and she’ll hate you for basically ever.  But I digress.
            My point is that reading pregnancy tests is a whole different thing when you really want to see a positive result—when you want to see that extra line or plus sign so badly, in fact, that you start taking tests days and days and days before your period is due to arrive.
            Hello, my name is Sarah, and I am pregnancy-test-a-holic.  I really, really like to pee on sticks.
            When I found out I was pregnant with Harry, I bought a cheapie blue-dye pregnancy test at the Walgreens on campus and took it in the bathroom of the State Historical Society where I was looking through the Planned Parenthood archives.  Then I took a digital test.  Then I took one at my doctor’s office and took like 3 more digitals while I waited for them to call me with the results.  That was my first experience with pregnancy tests when I actually wanted to be pregnant, and it was pretty fun.  The anticipatory 3-minute wait for the result to appear even though it came up positive right away, the way the results told me life would never be the same again—in the best possible way—the instant fulfillment of my wildest dreams—what’s not to like?
            It took a little bit longer to get pregnant with Jack and by then I was an internet message board lingo expert, and I learned that there are thousands of women online posting pictures of ambiguous pregnancy tests and begging each other to decipher a BFP (big fat positive) or a BFN (big fat negative).  I knew about evaporation lines (from the pee drying on the stick—these colorless lines appear after the time limit on the test instructions and are why the box tells you to not read a negative result after so many minutes (usually 10; sometimes 5) because women who really want their tests to be positive might pull them out of the trash to see if they really are negative and be delighted to find a shadow of a line and then heartbroken a few days later when their AF (annoying message board speak for your period, or your Aunt Flo) shows up).  I read about indentation lines (the place on the paper where the dye will go if the test is positive—if you squint at these long enough they can look like a line when there really isn’t a line) and of course the dreaded false positive tests.  When I was trying to conceive (that’s TTC in message board talk) Jack, blue dye tests manufactured by Inverness were notorious for false positives, and the gold standard for testing before your period was the First Response Early Response (FRER) pink dye tests that, according to internet lore, never gave false positives.  On those babies, a line was a line, no matter how faint.  So many message board participants told querulous posters hesitant to believe the hint of a pink line on their FRERs that a pregnancy test doesn’t measure HOW pregnant you are that this mantra got stuck in my own head, no matter how many pictures I saw of women stacking test after test after test in a line on their bathroom vanities, each one labeled 10 DPO, 11 DPO, 12DPO, etc. (DPO is days post ovulation, by the way).  These tests were shown to be proof that the pregnancy was sticking, that the lines were getting darker as more and more HCG accumulated in their urine, that pregnancy tests, were, in fact, measuring how pregnant they were. 
            Even though digital tests, the ones that say “pregnant” or “not pregnant” in unambiguous black letters, were common by then, internet crazies like me avoided them.  Some people claimed they didn’t like the fact that the display never changed as the pregnancy progressed, and companies have solved this problem—now there’s a digital pregnancy test that say “pregnant 1-2,” “pregnant 2-3” and “pregnant 3+” in addition to the dreaded “not pregnant.”  Some women said they liked to keep their pregnancy tests for their future baby’s baby book, and the digital display eventually turns off, making these sophisticated sticks bad keepsakes.  Nobody really said what I am pretty sure we were all thinking, though.  The digital tests are terrible because there’s not way to interpret the “not pregnant” as anything but exactly what it says.  We want ambiguity.
            After my first month of negative tests that I wanted to be positive, I definitely wanted ambiguity.  I started ONLY buying Inverness blue-dye tests, hoping the dye would bleed and I’d be spared the indignity of a stark negative and could at least have a pees stick to squint at for a few days until I got my period and couldn’t deny the “not pregnant” anymore.  Also, that company manufactured both the Walgreens generic test (the most convenient for me to buy) and the Equate brand pregnancy test (the cheapest one I knew about), so I had other reasons. 
            When I actually got pregnant with Jack, I knew I was pregnant because I gave myself all of the symptoms that the internet tells you come with early pregnancy—heartburn, queasiness, tender breasts, fatigue—way too early for a blue dye tests to be even falsely positive.  I bought the infallible FRER and was DELIGHTED to see a skinny pink line pop up right away.  I went straight to the doctor’s office to take one of their tests and FREAKED OUT when a nurse called a few hours later to tell me my test was negative.  I used FMU (first morning urine, which the internet assures me is the hormoniest of all urine)!  And I tested that same U with a damn FRER!  The test everyone on the internet trusts!  AND I GOT A LINE!  A pink line!  Luckily for me, the internet crazies were there for me, and a quick Google search showed that doctors’ offices don’t use FRERs because they are so expensive; instead, they use cheapie tests like from the dollar store.  This is where a light bulb went off in my head—pregnancy tests at the dollar store?!  If I wasn’t pregnant that month, I had a month of financially guilt-free testing coming up after my period, that was for sure.  I spent a couple of days taking pregnancy tests every time I peed and then went back to the doc with a cup of FMU and got the positive result I was expecting.
            I continued to get more manic about testing around my period as the years went on.  With Cooper I thought I was finally pregnant so early that I just went to the doctor and asked for a blood test.  My doctor, who had just humored my request for fertility blood work a month previously and had scheduled me for a follicular ultrasound the next month because it had take over 12 cycles to get pregnant with Cooper, told me to come right in and emailed me my results with a smiley face an hour later.  I peed on a stick after the fact so I’d have one for Cooper’s baby book since I had thrown all the others squinters away in a fit of negativity brought on my all that semi-ambiguous negativity.
            Cooper was such a great baby that we started trying for Dorothy when he was just 4 months old.  It took 5 cycles to get pregnant, though, so I had plenty of time with the big boys in school to take pregnancy test after pregnancy test—usually the blue dye ones because searching for a line was just more fun that staring at the stark white window of a line-less FRER which always showed either the pink line of pregnancy or a complete blank space that corresponded to the complete blank space that was my uterus. I also fell in love with dollar store tests, but you can’t pee on those.  You have to pee in a cup and then use the enclosed dropper to place exactly 2-3 (that’s what the directions say—“exactly 2-3” which is maddening because a range is really not very exact) drops in the sample window.  These are less convenient to take, say, at work or in a Target or Starbucks or library bathroom, but I started driving around with Dixie cups in my glove box just in case I had $1.06 and the urge to pee while I was running errands.  I got my first positive test on a dollar store test when Dorothy was on her way, but I also bought a pack of FRERs and a pack of blue tests just in case and also because my fellow internet test lovers said they always confirmed a dollar store BFP on a more expensive test.  Of all the kids, I did the worst job on her baby book, so I still have about five positive pregnancy tests, each marked with the date—late July 2012—in my top dresser drawer.
            Since Dorothy, I have been taking pregnancy tests—for fun—around the week of my period pretty much most months. It’s actually a pretty responsible thing to do if you aren’t using birth control and only sort of chart your cycle (I don’t take my temperature or anything like that).  Well, this past cycle, I just felt kind of off—really tired and not very PMS-y, which is odd for me.  Naturally, I decided to take one of the random blue-dye pregnancy tests I had laying around under my sink.  And to my shock, it looked pretty darn positive.  I mean, the line that completed the plus was really, really, really faint and shadowy, but it appeared in the 3-minute window and it didn’t disappear (a disappearing line is a negative result, according to my internet gurus).  Even Ben could see it.
            Which is when we both FREAKED THE FREAK OUT.
            I really thought my initial reaction to a potential baby #5 would be warmer and more maternal than ABJECT TERROR, but, alas.
            I ran straight to the store for a 3-pack of FRERs.  AND THEY ALL CAME UP POSITIVE.  And yes, I took them all in the course of about 4 hours.  No, I didn’t wait for FMU, and no, I didn’t wait 2 days for the HCG in my body to double.  But I also didn’t drink a ton of water because it is not my first time at this rodeo, and I didn’t want to dilute anything.
            So Ben brought home a pack of blue-dyes.  AMBIGUOUSLY POSITIVE.
            This was 5 days before my period, so we figured even a positive pregnancy test wasn’t a pregnancy yet and had some wine and scrutinized the faint, faint, faint lines.
            Here’s the thing.  I have taken a loooooot of pregnancy tests in the last 11 years, and negative tests are just that—really, really negative, Flatly negative.  Starkly negative.  There’s the control line and there’s NOTHING, glaring white nothing.  These tests?  Weren’t like that.
            But they were really, really, really light.  I could hear all of those message board ladies typing in all caps that a line was a line and a pregnancy test doesn’t tell you HOW pregnant you are, but I needed to read that sentiment, too, because I just wasn’t sure I could believe those faint lines, and Ben for sure was doubting them.  At first I got a little angry at him and was like, “Are you kidding me?  Do you KNOW how many pregnancy tests I have taken in this life?” But, he really didn’t know and now that he does, he pretty much thinks I am insane.  More insane than usual.  So, I did what any internet crazy would and Googled “faint BFP on FRER,” sure that I would find plenty of people who were pregnant for real after days of persistently faint pink lines like mine.  Instead, I discovered that sometime in the last year or so, FRER has changed their tests, and now false positives are so common that the whole peestick internet community is shocked they haven’t been recalled.  Basically, there are three schools of thought on this. Some people think the new curved handle (easier to pee on!) distorts the results window and makes you see a line where there really isn’t one.  Some people think that the dye is getting stuck in the test’s indentation line, making it hard to get an accurate reading.  Some people say the test is just so sensitive that it picks up trace HCG and gives you immediate evidence of a pregnancy that isn’t going to stick around.  Everyone agrees, though, that either your FRER lines needed to get darker, or you needed to confirm a faint FRER BFP by taking another test.  AT LEAST THE LINGO HASN’T CHANGED.
            I bought 8 dollar store tests            and started taking them over the course of the next couple of days.  At first, they were faintly faintly faintly positive.  Some in the 3-minutes, some closer to 5 or 6 minutes, but they never got darker even though my hormones were supposedly getting easier to test.  I bought another pack of blue tests, and these began trending toward negative, although there was a smudge of a blue line here and there.  Over the next couple of days, the dollar store tests started to be starkly negative.  I bought more FRERs, and they remained super faint, but that second line was THERE and it was PINK.
            Ben lobbied for no more testing because I must have peed on at least $150 this month.  We bickered good naturedly about who would have naming rights if these lines turned into a real baby.  We mourned the fact that we’d never be able to afford to go to Disney World our out to eat in a restaurant without a drive-thru ever again.  We kicked ourselves for getting rid of our infant car seat/stroller combo for the third time. And I don’t know about him, but I realized having another baby would be the most wonderful thing in the word.
            By the time I took the first of a two-pack of blue dye tests in the grocery store bathroom last night (I KNOW but I was there to buy the makings for cosmos in case last night was the last night in like 2 years that I could have stiff drink), I was really, really hoping for a positive.  The 37 other tests I took were just me trying to find out what the hell was going on.
            That test was positive-- faintly, shadowy positive, just like the pink test I took yesterday afternoon after the last dollar store test came back completely, no-joke negative.
            But I got my period this morning, right on time, day 28.
            (Ben was even happier than he was in college.) 
            The internet crazies would call it a chemical pregnancy. 

            Me?  I’m just thinking about how I bought a 2-pack of those tests but only used one, which means I have one left.  For next time.


  1. Aaaauuuuuuuugggggggghhhhhhhhjjj

  2. Ok, I get that it is oh so weird for a person whom you haven't seen in 15 years or so to be so invested in whether or not you're pregnant BUT I teared up when your period arrived. :-( It took a lot of self control not to jump to the end of your post to know where this was going but I held back because I didn't want to know that you weren't pregnant. I chalk my creepy obsession with Jedd babies to the facts that I am unable to have children and I truly think y'all are incredible parents.
    Crossing my fingers that you'll be buying lots more pregnancy sticks in about 20 days.

  3. Kim S3:51 PM

    So this month I started on Day 31. I had a tubal, so WTAF?? I have taken tests over the past 6 (6!!) years if I get a little nervous, but they have always been negative. I'm the crazy that consults back to them one final time before throwing them away. All of that to say this - I'm glad I'm not the only one. :) Also? I was one day away from taking a test this time.

  4. Anonymous5:36 PM

    My husband has had a vasectomy and I've taken a test. My sore-for-a-week boobs would've *sworn* it was possible. (It wasn't and we were fine with that, obiviously, but a little tiny part would've been happy tooo!)

  5. I literally held my breath reading this

  6. This was so nostalgic for me. I had 3 babies between 2008 and 2014,and was a total lurker on TTC boards. The evolution of test buying and test mania felt very, very familiar. And I had a tubal ligation after baby #3, but as my friend with 5 kids says, "So did I." !! I still get the urge to test, so maybe I can live vicariously through you.

  7. This was me every month! Fingers crossed the future holds whatever you hope for. A vasectomy helped me immensely even though a little part of me still wants to test each month. I love my babies and would have 3 more if I could and still afford college, Disney, weddings, etc.

  8. Husband's vasectomy ...obvi 😁

  9. How did I miss this post? I totally take pregnancy tests all the time- even though Brett had a vasectomy (which I could honestly kill him over because I. Am. Not. Done)

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