When Anna and Greg decided to start trying to have a baby, Anna specifically made it a point that she didn’t want them to go crazy.
“I don’t want this to become a chore—I don’t want us to obsess over it all the time,” she said, but futilely, since Greg had already purchased a copy of What To Expect Before You’re Expecting and a basal temperature thermometer. Before Anna knew what was happening, he had set her up with an Excel spreadsheet to track her daily basal temperature as well as her cervical mucus and the position of her cervix.
“Why can’t we just count 14 days from my last period and then do it?” she asked.
“We need to know exactly when you ovulate,” Greg explained. “I dog-eared that page of What to Expect for you.”
For a while, it was fun. The expectation, the planning for sex, knowing that they had to do it. There was the excitement when Anna’s temperature would jump—although it was never as obvious as the charts in the books. She was fascinated with the changes in her body—the different stages of cervical mucus, and the way she could actually feel the tip of her cervix when it was open. She couldn’t stop thinking about the miracle that would be taking place inside her any day now.
She couldn’t get enough of the books. There were so many. She found that no matter what symptoms she had, she could find information in the books or on the Internet to back her up. When she had itchy spots appear on her hands, Greg immediately Googled “itchy hands pregnancy,” which of course returned a thousand hits. But it turned out her hands were just dry.
They both laughed about that one.
After six months of trying with no results, Anna went to the doctor. She explained everything they’d been doing, and showed the doctor the printouts of her Excel spreadsheets.
The doctor approved.
“Only six months? These things can take up to a year for healthy couples. I want you to continue trying—using your charts and your temperature tracking and everything—for another six months, at which point we can talk again about some of your options. In the meantime, no smoking, no drinking, no caffeine. Take your prenatals, get some exercise.”
Anna bought Costco-sized bottles of prenatal vitamins. She gave up her morning latte. She went for walks every day at lunchtime. Anna and Greg tracked and had sex, tracked and had sex. Each month when her temperature soared they would have sex one more time, as congratulations and for good luck, and then they would wait eagerly for her to exhibit morning sickness, breast tenderness, and the other symptoms listed by What to Expect Before You’re Expecting. And each month, she dreaded a little more the red line on her Excel chart that indicated the day her period was to arrive. Because every 29 days…there it was.
In the beginning, she took pregnancy tests all the time. But as they got to know her cycle, she stopped taking them. Until one November, when they had done everything just right, and they both admitted to each other that they felt very good about their chances this month. They snuggled and talked about the future carefully but with a gleeful elation. Anna felt like they were newlyweds, discovering something fresh and fascinating between themselves.
She couldn’t stop imagining how they would go about telling their friends and family. She knew you were supposed to wait through the first trimester, but she wanted to tell her parents at Christmastime. One night as she was falling asleep, debating whether she preferred the name Claire or Clara, she had the sudden thought that when (no, not when, IF) she got her period, it was going to be harder than ever.
The week arrived…the red line passed by. No period! Greg and Anna cautiously stared at the spreadsheet.
“How long do we wait until you take a test?” he asked.
“A week?” she suggested.
“I was thinking a day.”
They compromised. On the third day, a Tuesday, Anna slipped into the bathroom first thing in the morning. Her heart was racing in a way she hadn’t felt in years. She read the test directions twice and then followed them once. She set the stick on the counter and methodically washed her hands, then made herself brush her teeth for three full minutes. Then she slowly peeked at the pregnancy test, where she saw only one line…and couldn’t see a second one, as hard as she tried.
She wanted to just go back to bed, but Greg was sitting up. He read her face instantly.
“Maybe it’s too early,” he said.
“Maybe,” she said. She got back under the covers, started to move toward him, hoping he would hold her.
“Don’t worry,” he said. But then he got up to get ready for work, and they didn’t talk about it anymore.
That afternoon, in the office restroom, she saw blood in her underwear and let herself cry in the stall for a few minutes, before heading out for her lunchtime walk. She longed for a Diet Coke but resisted the urge.
That evening when Greg came home, she just said, “Blood,” and he nodded. They ate dinner silently, then watched TV, and then Anna went to bed early. When Greg came in he turned off the light and the two of them stared at their walls in the darkness, not sleeping much.
As the days went by the wounds scabbed over and they talked and laughed and made dinners and went for walks. She continued to fill in her Excel sheet, which was getting longer and longer. She created a new tab for the new year.
Those fertile days rolled back around, and Anna had planned a nicer-than-usual dinner. She had just put it in the oven when Greg came home from work, slightly early, and not very talkative.
“Everything okay?” she asked him. He nodded. “Okay, well, I’m going to jump in the shower before dinner.”
“Okay,” he said, and went into their bedroom. Sometimes he had weird days, she reasoned, although she hoped it wouldn’t interfere with their schedule.
In the shower she wished on every soap bubble. She used her “special occasions” shampoo. She had just rinsed out all the lather when the bathroom door opened.
“Hi,” she said, wiping a clean spot on the steamy shower door. “What’s up? Is something wrong?”
“No,” Greg said, and he pulled his shirt over his head, and then she saw the glint in his eye. It’s lust, she thought with surprise, as he slid back the shower door and stepped in with her.
They had only showered together once or twice, back when they first got together. They agreed sex in the shower was uncomfortable and overrated, and so it had quickly died out. But here he was, naked and aggressive—no, not aggressive, she amended quickly. Assertive maybe.
But Anna figured that this was what she had wanted to happen tonight, and she didn’t want to turn down her husband. He kissed her roughly, but she couldn’t quite make her lips match his, and he seemed frustrated by that. He slid his hand down the front of her. Then he abruptly turned her around and bent her over, and there was nothing she could do but hold onto the edge of the tub for support and try not to slip.
He could have been anyone, but she reminded herself that it was her husband. He loved her…even though it still hurt afterward. Greg was just trying to give her the best gift ever. Greg wanted what she wanted. They were on the same side.
In the retelling (if she ever retold it), Anna thought she would try to make this scene sexy, but the reality of it was just awkward. It was the harsh overhead bathroom light showing all the soap scum on the tub. It was being unable to think of anything besides the fact that she hadn’t had a chance to shave her legs before he came in. It was Greg taking her towel for himself when he left the bathroom, and how she put her dirty T-shirt back on to cover herself, rather than walk from the bathroom to their bedroom naked.
But mostly it was the silence between them, and how they didn’t talk about what had happened, even obliquely. Greg ate dinner heartily, but Anna felt embarrassed, had no appetite, and neither of them could really look the other in the eye.
Anna had almost suppressed her shame when she found her period a week late. She had been neglecting her spreadsheet and hadn’t been taking her temperature, much less checking her cervix. And yet, three different pregnancy tests said she was pregnant. She buried the tests in the bottom of the trash can, and made a doctor’s appointment.
When the doctor congratulated her, pointing out that they had come in under the year mark, Anna smiled and said how pleased she was. But as she slipped out of the office, she caught sight of herself in a mirror by the door—her face was pale and tired looking, and she looked away quickly. She was thinking about trade-offs in life, about the price you pay to get your greatest wish. She was thinking about not being able to look her own reflection in the eyes. She was thinking about leaving her husband, and wondering what it would be like to raise a child alone.
By day Syche Phillips works in marketing for a professional theatre company, and by night Syche writes. Phillips is currently pursuing my Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Phillips has had fiction, nonfiction, and poetry published in Seele Literary Magazine (UC Davis), Mused, and The Penmen Review. Syche Phillips is also a playwright and has had several short plays performed around the San Francisco Bay Area.