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Planting the Garden
by Forrest Seymour
The other evening, as we worked at our matching computers, Nancy happened to mentioned that she might be pregnant. Now, we had been trying, so this was not exactly out of the blue. But I was a little taken aback, and, resting my cramping hands, did a little calculating. A few questions confirmed that she was only two days late.
"Well, OK then," I conjectured wisely. "We'll just wait and see," and I returned to the flickering screen, conversation over.
In many respects I aspire to be like Nancy. For one thing, she nurtures friendships with other women with a care I find hard to attain. Immediately upon the heals of my wise comment, meant as it was to end the conversation and avoid stressful conjecturing, Nancy was on the phone with an old friend and neighbor, discussing the intricacies of her bodily rhythms.
"Hey," Nancy called from her side of the office. "Denise has a home pregnancy test in her medicine cabinet. Should she bring it over?"
"At two days late?" I was skeptical.
"She says it will work."
What could I say?
Two hours later we knew; two days late and we know we are pregnant.
What do we do with this information? In the old pre-home test days my recollection is that when a partner brought up the hope (or specter) of pregnancy, I usually figured her period was just late for a few days, then later guessed maybe she'd just skipped that month, despite whatever assurances the woman would give about how flawlessly regular she was. The anxiety of these waits (some dare call it denial) was spiced by the degree to which the pregnancy was planned or not.
Now we know. Two days out. No time for denial, or anticipatory anxiety, or shared hopes. We just know. I'm not usually much of a Luddite, but this seems somehow wrong.
I've heard it said that as a culture our ethics are not yet up to things like genetic engineering, that technology has sped past our ability as a society to consider the implications of the changes in its wake. I think, on a smaller scale perhaps, the same goes for home pregnancy tests. What are we supposed to do with this information?
We were chatting over coffee the morning after the test with Dan, another neighbor, with whom we are planning our bi-annual bi-yard party.
"I guess you may want to fix up that fence," he said, motioning with his eyes to the side yard we share, "if you do have another kid."
What could I say? Should I pipe up with, "hey, you know, Nancy is pregnant!" Somehow it feels wrong to say so, after all, she is barely pregnant.
Most miscarriages occur in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. Often times women may miscarry without even having realized they were pregnant. These miscarriages tend to be due to genetic problems with the fetus which prevent the pregnancy from truly taking hold, at least this is what the medical profession professes. What if Nancy miscarries? Should all our neighbors know? Should we lie by omission?
After dropping Emily at her pre-school I chatted with Peggy, the mother of another pre-schooler, who let it be known the week before that she was pregnant. She knew we wanted to have another kid, so I told her our news. What the hell.
"Gee," she said with concern. "The Clinic said they usually recommend you don't tell anyone until after three months. I'm already 13 weeks."
What is all this hesitation about?
It's about control and risk. By withholding information we try to control the degree to which our friends and family enter our lives. If we miscarry early, nobody knows, we just deal. By focusing on our rights to privacy, we consequently isolate ourselves from the potential love and support of those around us. Such a protective stance may be in part based on a real fear of rejection rather than love, of interference rather than support. Our local clinic seems to think this caution is best. But by not reaching out to our community, by not telling, we fulfill the prophecy of our fears; we reject before we risk love; we force those around us to interfere in order to be involved.
Being pregnant is a vulnerable position to be in, even without early pregnancy tests. When current technology is added to the mix, becoming a parent is rife with risks. In her fascinating book, "The Tentative Pregnancy," Barbara Rothman points out how amniocentesis testing interferes with parents ability or willingness, during the first several months, to engage with a pregnancy which they may well terminate due to the test results. Early at home pregnancy testing increases the size of this "tentative" window, and it is a stressful window to stand in. It is no wonder we may resist telling others we are pregnant. We may not want to face the fact ourselves.
To not tell your community that you are pregnant for 12 weeks may seem like a denial of the existence of current technology. Or it may be a futile attempt to deal with the stress current technology yields. The slumbering radical in me notes that by keeping people apart the status quo is protected from organized resistance. Adding to this paranoia is the observation that there is a lot of money to be made by encouraging people's impatience: $232 million is home pregnancy test sales in 1994, $347 million projected for 1999.
My experience of becoming a father has been one long lesson in humility, of what I may have some control, and of what I have little. When our yard party finally happens, I look around at my community of friends. Many of these wonderful folks I knew only a little or not at all, until the life of my daughter somehow brought us together. With another child on the way, I have to wonder who my community will be in another five years. Who is my community becoming? As a parent I have so much less control over my life than I formerly felt I should. This is both a sadness and a relief.
There are of course many voices which warn against our telling our daughter of the pregnancy so early. But we heed them not. We tell her on a Saturday morning so we'll have the weekend to talk her though it. She pauses upon hearing the news, then bursts into tears. Eventually she sobs her reluctance to be a big sister. But by the next school day, she has turned the corner. Despite her young age she too is learning to accept the things she cannot change, and on Monday morning in pre-school circle time, knee to knee with her three to five year old peers, she announces she has a "share."
"I'm going to be a big sister," she tells the room full of attentive kids and teachers.
"How do you feel about that," one of the teachers gently asks.
"I have mixed feelings," my four year old responds.
So does her dad. But with a little help from our friends we'll make it through.
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