Pregnancy Test

Monday, January 15, 2024

This test is open-book.
This test is timed.
Group work is not allowed.

      You are pregnant, which is a great surprise. You never expected to become pregnant, because
      [select one of the following]
            a.      You’re a virgin
            b.      You’re not a virgin, but your father thinks you are
            c.      You’re not a virgin, but you know the ins and outs of things—birth control statistics, ovulation windows, the protocols for using and safely disposing of a condom—and you were very, very careful, and yet
            d.      You are not a virgin, but you are a Christian, and you knew it was a sin and that true love waits, but you thought it was true love, or hoped it was, which is what God is, and anyway you agonized over it profoundly late at night with the moon dappling your bedspread and your blood burning firehot in your veins, and in the midst of your agony an incandescent voice in the back of your mind blazed YES, and you were innocent or stupid enough to believe that YES meant yes, do the human thing you desire
            e.      You do not have a womb.
      But anyway, now, despite a–e, you are pregnant. Half the people in your life are thrilled, and the other half are mad. The mad ones are: [disappointed] OR [personally betrayed] OR [upset not at you, but because they themselves cannot get pregnant and so they feel like assholes in a complicated way when they cannot offer unresentful congratulations] OR [pissed off because now you cannot go to Burning Man like you promised] OR [because they are your boyfriend] OR [because they thought you were allied in lifelong childless adventurousness and now you are sailing off and leaving them behind on a suddenly lonelier shore].
      (This, as it turns out, is a long-answer question. “Why are the happy people happy?” is a short-answer question, and the correct answer is mostly, “Because they like babies and think yours will be cute” [“. . . while also fulfilling the biological imperative, Mom”].)
      So. Choose the correct answer given the considerations above:
      Will you keep the baby?

      Here, for the sake of the calculus, are the factors you are working with: The baby is healthy. It is the sex you always secretly wanted, even though you never consciously realized you had a preference. You are financially solvent enough to make it work—perhaps not comfortably, but still, work. You are not a terribly ambitious person and so don’t have particular dreams this might derail; and you have, for all intents and purposes, a support system that will keep you from drowning and your kid in diapers.¹ 
      But still. A baby?
      A baby!
      You have never given much thought to babies. Your cousin Lyra had one last year she and her boyfriend named, I kid you not, Gawain, which your mother cackled about once she’d hung up the phone. “If I had a kid with Lyra,” said your dad, “I’d say I’m Gawain down to the corner store, and then never come back.” At which your mom whipped your dad on the forearm with a potholder, because Lyra was her sister Angie’s daughter, and even though Lyra was a dope, Angie had a hard time of it and nobody got to pick at her but kin.
      Fuck. What are you supposed to name a baby?
      If you picked d at the start of the exam, your options are mercifully limited but boring. There’s John/James/Peter/Paul/Andrew/Matthew OR Mary/Sarah/Rebecca/Ruth/Deborah. Or if you want to get really crazy, Azariah/Boaz/Lazarus/Ezekiel/Zion OR Rizpah/Hazzelelponi/Mahlah/Tryphena. Admittedly if you picked d, “get really crazy” has not likely been your brand up until this point. But this is a whole new you, isn’t it! Or. . . a whole new y’all?
      You are plural now.
      You need to sit down.
      “How are we feeling?” your doctor asks at your next appointment. (Not an ultrasound—just a little dip with the baby Doppler to hear the hummingbird heartbeat, still whooshing away, despite everything, at 160 beats per minute.)
      You can’t bring yourself to give the correct answer: o̶h̶, j̶u̶s̶t̶ b̶r̶i̶m̶m̶i̶n̶g̶ w̶i̶t̶h̶ t̶h̶e̶ b̶l̶e̶s̶s̶e̶d̶ m̶i̶r̶a̶c̶l̶e̶ o̶f̶ l̶i̶f̶e̶. Instead, select any and all of the following that might possibly trick your doctor, a full-ass adult with a medical degree, into telling you what on earth you are supposed to be doing here.
I am feeling:
      □   terrified
      □   confused
      □   mistaken
      □   too young for this
      □   too old for this
      □   like a nauseated petri dish
      “That nausea should fade soon,” says your doctor. “The dissociation, too. We’ll do an ultrasound at your next appointment, take a peek at all those little fingers and toes.” She jazz-hands at you. “That usually helps new parents feel more attached.”
      You like your doctor. She is relentlessly upbeat, considerate, ready with the facts but never overwhelming. She uses gender-neutral language, and doesn’t give you shit about the fact that there seems to be no father in the picture,² that you seem both pregnant and extremely alone. You wish she could help you raise this baby. (If you answered b or d, in particular, things are not great at home.)
      You say, “I hope so.” And maybe your doctor can see the bleakness in your face, because she lowers her gloved hand to yours.
      Softly, she says, “I know this wasn’t what we were expecting for ourselves. You do have options, you know. Would you like me to go over them?”
      You would not —
      I̶)̶ ̶A̶b̶o̶r̶
      You would not
      I̶)̶ ̶A̶b̶o̶r̶t̶i̶o̶n̶
      Stop —
      Here are your options:

      I) Abortion³
      II) Adoption⁴
      III) Raising this bundle of cells from embryo to fetus to infant to toddler to precocious preschooler with light-up sneakers and an outsized love of the planet Neptune to child to gangly prepubescent to heartbreakingly-beautiful-but-can’t-see-it-in-themselves young person to full-blown human whose relationship with you might be good or terrible or nonexistent and by any means unimaginably complex, and whose graduation you may beam at and wedding you bawl at or who you may bury in an early tragic grave, or who may be by your side as you wither into an old age that seems only imaginary and from television and like there will be a tremendous amount of ass-wiping, and this person may be the person wiping your ass, for which you will have such tangled feelings of shame and guilt and gratitude that it will transcend anything you currently know, and this feeling, this one, will be the one that carries you into some great unknown: something like love.
      “It’s completely up to you,” the doctor says, to your cosmic dismay. “At the end of the day, it’s your body, and your choice.
      “And also,” she says, tossing her egg-colored gloves in the BIOHAZARD bin, “You’ve got to decide soon.”

      (Disclaimer: If your doctor were truly a great doctor, she would tell you to go see a psychologist, and that psychologist would say helpful, hard-but-true things like, “Ideally, you would have figured out how you felt about having a baby before you got pregnant, but, well, we can’t change the past; we can only change the future and what we do going forward into it.” But in this case, it is a bit of a cheat. And also, it’s dreadfully boring to watch characters figure out their feelings by talking about them in a rational way. And so for narratively convenient reasons, your doctor does not recommend therapy. [Perhaps in her childhood her parents were murdered by therapists—leaving your doctor remarkably few tools for processing her trauma., [And yet, by deus ex machina, here she is, admirably well adjusted and practicing medicine.]])

      So instead, you go see a psychic.
      This particular psychic is recommended by your Aunt Patricia (an unlikely member of your support system, but a good-hearted and loyal ally your family doesn’t talk to much anymore and who spells magic with a “-ck.”⁵) Patricia has never had children herself, and when you tentatively bring this up, her eyes, which are large and brown and brimming with soul, crumple a little. “It was never in the cards,” she says, and then, firmly, “But that’s okay. I’ve spent my life playing the hell out of the hand I’m holding.” Patricia met this psychic in Sedona on what you’re pretty sure was an ayahuasca retreat, from which she also came home with a rattlesnake fang necklace and a joyful, erotic soul bond with a twenty-two-year-old chainsaw carver named Durant and his girlfriend Leticia. So… you can’t argue with her logic. “It’s natural to feel confused,” Patricia says. “This is a big decision. The biggest. Not that everyone’s fate is tied up in biological destiny, but still. Also you’re a [Pisces/Libra/Gemini], and you want to gather all the evidence you can before making a decision. It’s natural, honey. You’re doing the right thing.”
      When she calls you that golden word, honey, something inside you cracks wide open, down to your childhood. You squeeze your eyes shut, feeling carried and warm. Like you did when you were little, riding in the backseat of your father’s car in winter. Knowing that you could drift off to sleep and he would still know every right turn, every stop. To carry your body safely home.
      You go to see the psychic.
      You’re expecting a hazy back room shrouded in veils and crystals, but the psychic’s office looks a lot like a dentist’s, though with more comfortable lighting. There are fake plants and Ikea tables, and magazines strewn about promoting the benefits of organic diets and moon phases. The psychic himself wears white linen and, yes, a beaded prayer bracelet and, yes, okay, a man bun. But he has nice, smallish teeth and shakes your hand like he has an MBA, and you think, Maybe this will be okay. Maybe this man is not full of bullshit. Maybe he can, despite all odds, tell you what the stars or your dead grandmother or your future self believe you should do, and you will be relieved of making this unwanted decision yourself.
      The psychic makes you a cup of tea with herbs that smell like summer-cut lawns and settles you into a blush-colored settee. Then he says, “You’re looking for an answer.”
      “Yes,” you say, relieved. This is all you want. You did not ask for this pregnancy. You are not ready to deal with the responsibility of it. You just want, more than anything,[6] for some wiser and greater power to steer you out of this situation as cruelly as it steered you into it, so you can go on living your normal life.⁷
      And so the psychic says, “Have you tried asking the baby?”
      Have you what?
      “Have I what?” you ask.
      He smiles at you with the patience of a thousand chakras and says, “Have you tried asking the baby if it wants to be born?”
      Holy shit. Of course.
      “No,” you say, your voice tinged with excitement. “Can we do that? I mean, right now I think it technically doesn’t have much in the way of brain waves. But—is that an option?” Is it, possibly, the option?
      The psychic smiles his even, white smile and says, “It doesn’t hurt to try.”
      He has you lie down on the settee, and he lights some candles and waves some sage and lines crystals on your trembling, barely rounded belly. With each one, your hopes waver higher:⁸ hematite for wisdom, amethyst for clear spirituality, unakite for connection between parent and unborn child. He places the last one just above your pelvic mound, and tells you to relax. “I’ll be moving your energy to clear any blockages between you and the baby,” he says, “to open a clear channel for communication. You may feel something, and you may not. The important thing for you to do is keep an open mind and see what comes up. Try not to have any preconceptions or judgment. If a clear thought or image manifests, I’ll help you interpret it at the end.”
      So you lie back and wait for your baby to tell you if it wants to be born.
      And you wait.
      And you wait.

      You know you are not supposed to think about anything in particular, but as time goes by, and this man with nice teeth waves his hands over you in a room smelling of smoke and amber, you get a little bit impatient and embarrassed. Come on, baby. Why won’t you answer? DO YOU WISH TO BE BORN OR NOT?

      Disclaimer: Group work is not allowed.
      Which means—?
      All questions must be answered by the test-taker.
      It is your body, your choice.
      Which means—fuck.

      Final question: Essay
      Use the work above to inform your response.
      When the psychic stops waving his hands over you and smoothly plucks the crystals from your body and asks if you saw anything, you say:⁹


[1] If you answered a or e above, your support system is a mix of delighted scientists and activists and adherents to a bizarre if cheerful new religion called Mama + [your first name]-ism.

[2] For the purpose of this test, you need not name the father, but do factor in all or any of the following: He was not ready for this / he absolutely feels tricked / he reacted so badly that it called all of his previous behavior toward you into question and you don’t want to see him ever again / he doesn’t exist / he’s going to Burning Man without you, where you may roll a D20 to see if he successfully hooks up with your friend Allison.

[3] You are not just angry about this. You are outraged. You never, ever asked to be in this situation (I mean, especially if you chose answers a or e, come on), and now you have to decide if you want to be a murderer? For Chrissakes! (If you chose d, this test writer apologizes for taking the Lord’s name in vain.)

[4] You get that adoption is meant to be a morally appealing out, but the prospect of going through the next six months of, let’s be real, nonconsensual bodily disfigurement that climaxes in having to push a writhing football out your vagina — and then not getting anything out of it — seems cosmically wretched.

[5] If you chose option c above, you are permitted to roll your eyes here.

[6] Even more than the Mama [You]-ists want your milk to come in. (Which is, creepily, a lot.)

[7] Which was admittedly a bit boring, perhaps, but there is an underappreciated glory in boring—your life not as a rich and varied treasure trove, but as one single diamond whose different facets you can hold endlessly to the light, finding daily new beauty and not asking for more.

[8] With, yes, a gradual waning of skepticism/fear of the Satanic if you’re a c or d kid.

[9] This, then, is what you’ve been trying to avoid putting into words: the sense that you are at the beginning of a new chapter, one enormous and momentous that you did not choose, and which, if you let it, will spur you into a life you did not choose, but which is, again, enormous and momentous.
Or else you can end it: not a chapter, but a short story, like the ones you read in school — the elusive literary kind, whose brimming meaning ended so abruptly that there was nothing left for you at the end but to stare at the blank space that came after, trying to understand how you felt.

Monday, January 15, 2024