It was the beginning of December, and I had just met my best friend's new baby. Joy filled the air as I talked with my friend, a first-time mother, in the hospital. I asked her all sorts of questions ("What was labor really like?" "Did you go for the epidural?"), watched her tackle a round of breastfeeding and marveled at the bond already forming between mother and daughter. Her pregnancy had been abstract up until that day when I was finally holding the physical manifestation of all those months of planning -- her family's precious new cargo -- a small miracle.
We spoke briefly about my own baby-making project, and I left feeling impressed that she had asked about me when clearly her whole sights were on the tiny package she'd just brought into the world.
Later that evening, I wasn't feeling so hot, and part of me wondered if maybe I was pregnant. I mean, it was entirely possible. Weeks earlier, my legs in stirrups, the doctor on duty was telling me, "This is the month. You've got a lot of follicles. Just be prepared. It might be twins." He inserted a syringe full of my husband's sperm (mixed with fancy chemicals to make it last within my body for longer than is natural) and -- voila -- I had been artificially inseminated.
Each night, I gave myself hormone injections in the stomach, flinching only remotely from the pain. I was used to it.
Then, the waiting game began again. And this game, win or lose, was coming to a close right around those early days in December. I had been here before and I didn't want to get my hopes up.
A day after seeing my friend in the hospital, when I still hadn't gotten my period, I caved and picked up a pack of three pregnancy tests at the drugstore. I knew now to buy them in bulk. It was cheaper, I'd been down this road before, and I always felt the need to test one more time a few hours later just in case the initial negative wasn't right.
That afternoon, home by myself, I took a test. One minute later, no dice. Ten minutes later, no dice. Not pregnant.
That was the beginning of December, the close of a long year. Holiday music filled the air at every coffee shop, department store, and often in my doctor's waiting room.
I called to tell the nurse that we hadn't been successful. With an indifferent tone, she said, "Well, I'm sorry. You should come in and we can get you on injectables right away again and schedule your next insemination."
"I'll have to call you back," I said.
That night, I cried harder than I had in a long while. I felt pretty hopeless about the situation. Even though we hadn't yet explored IVF, I knew it was the logical next step, whether I opted for another round of IUI (insemination) plus injections or not. I felt stressed out to the max, high-strung, and couldn't remember the last time my husband and I had just hung out, free of this baby-making obsession.
"You don't have to do it," he said.
I agreed. And we decided to give ourselves at least two months (or cycles, as they say in the fertility biz) free of doctor visits, hormones and ovulation calendars.
We would just be, whatever that meant. We'd enjoy Christmas. We'd book a trip to Amsterdam to see my brother. Maybe we'd get a dog.
At the same time all of this was going on, my grandmother's health was beginning to wane. After her Alzheimer's diagnosis in 1997, her physical body had held on for years. During the past four seasons, she hadn't spoken or really moved very much on her own, yet each time all of her vitals and organs were checked, she was in top-notch working condition. She sometimes made moaning sounds upon hearing her and my grandfather's favorite song ("Unforgettable" by Nat King Cole) or when seeing a family member, but other than that, she sat relatively lifeless most days, a small baby doll clutched in her hands, her one comfort.
At the end of November, I went to see her. As soon as I reached her hospital room at the nursing home, I shut the door, slipped off my bulky coat and boots and crumpled at her side. I bawled, grasping her hand, touching her face and begging her for a baby. I knew she understood, somehow. My grandma and I were very close. She was not your typical 1950s housewife. Growing up, I idolized her sense of style. She made her own clothes, and her children's, from patterns in Vogue magazine. She held fancy theme parties on a budget. She had a high school education, but never stopped learning. She had been reading Corelli's Mandolin when she noticed she couldn't really remember stuff the same way she used to.
By the end of December, we were receiving calls daily saying that her health was slipping and that she could go "any day now." We waited, watched the phone and prayed.
It turned out, Grandma held on for one more Christmas. Then, sometime during that first week of the new year, as I thought very deeply about my grandmother's influence on my life, knowing her light was fading, I began to feel sick and very, very tired.
One day, I checked the calendar and realized that "if" I'd ever had a normal menstrual cycle (in my life!), I was indeed late. Three or four days late, to be exact. I didn't want to get my hopes up. Later that evening, I said it out loud.
"I think I might be pregnant."
My husband couldn't betray his own smile. There was a flicker of anticipation in his eyes, too.
"Really? Tell me."
I told him about checking the calendar, feeling like I had the flu.
"I have two tests left over from last time. I think I'll wait one more day and then test."
We agreed this was a sound decision. Knowing how many ups and downs we'd already endured, we couldn't get too excited just yet.
The next morning (a day before I said I would), I waited until he'd left to get the paper and I dug under the bathroom sink for those other pregnancy tests. I reread the directions quickly, my heart beating faster, my hands clammy. I took a test, put the cap back on the stick, flushed the toilet and then sat down on the cold, tile floor.
I said a prayer, out loud, to Grandma. And then I checked the test. The window had changed color from white to pink and within seconds, a bright pink line had formed. Not pregnant, I thought.
I was already playing my runner-up speech in my head when I looked back at the test. There it was -- another faint line next to the brighter one. Yes, Virginia, there is another pink line.
The whole scene wasn't as dramatic as I had envisioned. I didn't burst into tears, mostly because I was in shock and not entirely sure this meant I was pregnant. I dug the instructions out of the trash can and read them again. Sometimes, one line might appear lighter than the control line.
The front door opened and my husband bounded in, newspaper under one arm.
"Well hi," he said, oblivious, "What's with the Ed Grimley dance?"
I was doing the pee-pee dance, quite literally, though not because I had to go to the bathroom, but because I'd just seen a positive result on the pee-pee stick!
"I think I'm pregnant!" I couldn't contain myself. I rushed back down our hallway into the bathroom. "I took a test," I called out.
He followed me. We both stood there staring at the two pink lines.
"That's a line, right?" I kept saying.
"Yes, it's a line. It's faint, but it's definitely a line."
I made him reread the same instructions I'd read, in which the packaging claimed that false positives pretty much never occurred, but that false negatives were frequent.
It was 7:30 in the morning and I felt alive, invigorated, refreshed. We hugged and kissed.
At 8 a.m., when my regular OB-GYN's office was open, I told the receptionist on duty.
"Day of last menstrual?" she said.
I told her.
"OK, you need to come in at 8 weeks, that's end of January."
"But, shouldn't I get a blood test to confirm I'm really pregnant?"
She giggled. "Oh honey, those tests are 99 percent accurate. You're pregnant. Congratulations."
I hung up.
About an hour later, my mom called with the news. Grandma had died peacefully. I like to believe that on her way up to heaven, she sent a baby girl down.