Why I Hate the Word ‘Mistake’
There is no other way to tell people you peed on a stick other than to say ‘I peed on a stick’. I’ve tried to think of an alternative way to describe what I was doing in the dimly lit bathroom that morning way back in August 2004, but I can’t. So, I was peeing on a stick. There, I said it.
I closed the lid on the pregnancy test and waited. I don’t think I felt particularly anxious. Perhaps I knew what the result would be already. As the moisture crept along the stick, the two windows at the other end gradually clouded over and I began to see a very distinct pink line. I was pregnant.
I promptly slid of the toilet and knocked my head on the bathroom sink. I was pregnant and now I had a headache.
The events that immediately followed this incident are a bit of a blur. A day or so later I found myself at the GP surgery being examined by a locum doctor. I climbed on to the couch and waited for her to tell me I was 5 or 6 weeks pregnant while she poked and prodded my tummy.
She took out a tape measure and held it up to my abdomen.
‘You need to go for an ultrasound to confirm things but judging from these measurement you’re about 18 weeks pregnant’.
To be precise, the scan a few days later put me at 18 weeks and 4 days. That’s 4 1/2 months. I’d only been pregnant a few days and I was already in my second trimester.
OK. I can read your mind. You’re wondering how the hell someone can be pregnant for 4 1/2 months without realising. Was I thick or something?
Well the simple answer is this. To begin with my periods didn’t stop, and I didn’t feel pregnant. At least not until right before I peed on the stick when I suddenly found myself throwing-up breakfast 3 days in a row.
I had filled out a little. I’d just been on holiday with my best friend and I’d complained of feeling fat but, like any good friend, she dismissed my whining. My boobs should have been the giveaway, but I didn’t really pay much attention to the fact they were spilling out of my dinky 32B bra.
Anyway, there was obviously someone else involved in all this.
Rewind 6 months. I was crazy about Carl (because somehow his Mr L.A. alias just doesn’t work with this kind of content). I’d had the biggest crush on him for what felt like forever. We finally got together at his birthday party and quickly embarked on one of those supposedly casual, but ever so heady and addictive relationships. I played it so cool but really my whole body ached for him on the rare occasion we didn’t spend the night together. We used to listen to Placebo and watch movies in his scuzzy student house and then have lengthy post-coital conversations while he sipped Jack Daniels and Coke and I smoked out of his bedroom window.
Carl was 23 to my 21 when, after not even 6 months of ‘sort of seeing each other in a casual but exclusive kind of way’, we found out we were going to have a baby together.
I remember there was a very awkward trip to the hospital together. The big scary scan where they check that the baby doesn’t have two heads or anything awful like that. It felt like an incredibly weird, uncomfortable date. All I can remember thinking while I lay on the hospital bed with cold jelly on my rapidly expanding middle was ‘I wish he would hold my hand’. The last time we’d seen each other we’d been rolling around in the nude, and now there was this awful, embarrassed gap between us.
Somewhere in all of this friends and family were informed, which brings me to the real subject of this post. I’ll never forget the first time the ‘A’ word was mentioned. ‘Why isn’t she having an abortion? She’s making a terrible mistake’ (because, you see, this comment was fielded by my poor mother).
Well, why wasn’t I having an abortion? I don’t know. The thought only entered my head in the form of a dismissal, as in ‘I don’t want an abortion’.
Then there were the ‘silly girl, what did she go and get pregnant for?’. I love that. I went and got pregnant. By myself. Neat trick.
The advent of the pill in the 1960s is usually constructed as a hugely liberating force for women. What is often overlooked is that it meant that women were now expected to take sole responsibility for contraception. Whereas men had previously had to have some involvement in the act of not getting pregnant (through abstaining or withdrawing) the total input now required from them was a simple ‘are you on the pill?’.
So, not only was the unborn child I was carrying a mistake, it was very much my mistake.
Even now, almost 6 years on from my daughters arrival, people, sometimes people I barely know, make these sorts of assumptions. Maybe I’m lucky. The man that impregnated me happened to be my soul mate. I’m lucky he was a decent human being who stuck around to see how things played out. I’m lucky that I would have coped even if he hadn’t.
Although my little family has gradually started to fit into the box that society has carved out for us and deemed acceptable, young people still wonder why I sacrificed my twenties and old people still frown on our unmarried status (although not for much longer I guess!).
When someone asked me the other day if Isabel was ‘you know, a mistake’ I laughed it off with the well rehearsed retort ‘I prefer ‘happy accident’ actually’.
But the verbal knife cuts far deeper than I let on. Sometimes I worry that the adult incarnation of my daughter will put 2 and 2 together and come up with 5, just like these ignorant individuals.
Maybe I’ll just show her this post.