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Between the reality of being six weeks pregnant by a guy I'd been dating for two months and the fantasy of pushing a baby stroller down Columbus Avenue with a wedding ring on my finger were a lot of possibilities. All having much to do with Griffen Maxwell's reaction to the news.
The Ideal Conversation:
Me: "Griffen, I'm pregnant!"
Him: "You've made me the happiest guy in the world." (Drops down on one knee.) "Will you marry me?"
The problem with that scenario was that Griffen had yet to throw around words like exclusivity, let alone phrases like I love you. And according to my older sister, Ally, that was a good thing; it meant he was normal. "You can't love someone you've known for eight weeks," she'd told me.
But you could.
Ally saw things going more like this:
The Realistic Conversation:
Me: "Griffen, I'm pregnant!"
Him: "Waiter -- check, please!" (Runs out of restaurant, never to be seen or heard from again.)
I wanted to have more faith in Griffen than that, but as my sister had pointed out with another piece of unsolicited Ally-wisdom, I didn't really know-know the guy. Not in the way you knew your husband, she'd said, or someone you'd been with a long time. "Ordering in Chow Fun for two and tipsily watching Fear Factor or a Yankees game before sex one night during the week and one night of the weekend does not knowing a man make, Sarah."
Which explained why I'd been stalling for the past half hour. At this very moment, the man in question was sitting across from me in Julien's Brasserie, where he'd taken me to celebrate my twenty-ninth birthday. But instead of my throwing around words like zygote and phrases like Diaphragms aren't one hundred percent effective, I was talking about the food.
The Actual Conversation:
Me: "Griffen, how's your salmon?"
Him: "Delicious." (Forks a bite and leans across the table to slip it between my lips. Smiles that amazing smile.) "Aren't you going to try the champagne, birthday girl?"
There was my in. He'd unwittingly provided me with my segue into why -- despite our knowing each other for only eight weeks -- he would be tied to me for the rest of his life.
"What makes you think he wouldn't want to be?" friend and co-worker Lisa had asked a few days ago on our lunch hour as we sat on a park bench, staring at pigeons and tossing them most of our sandwiches. "Maybe he's more crazy about you than you think."
Ah, the support of a best friend.
"Sarah doesn't need bullshit," our friend Sabrina had cut in. "He hasn't exactly been acting like a guy who's madly in love."
I repeat: Ah, the support of a best friend. In Lisa and Sabrina, I had exactly what I needed: one who coddled and one who told the truth.
"Mmm . . . " Griffen murmured as he sipped his champagne, closing his eyes for a moment. "Good stuff."
Tell him, I ordered myself. Tell him!
Wish I could chug the entire bottle, Griffen, but, alas, no bubbly for me for the next seven and a half months -- I'm pregnant!
Thing was, as Griffen Maxwell of the dimples and pale brown eyes went on to tell me a funny story about an idiot news anchor (he's a television news producer) -- "She forgot to say allegedly murdered and now the station and network are being sued for millions!" -- and stabbed his spinach salad and sipped his champagne and grimaced at the escargots I thought I had a craving for but now couldn't bear the smell of, I wasn't quite ready to change his entire life.
Which was exactly what one quarter-inch, horizontal pink line on the stick of a home pregnancy test did to me four mornings ago in a bathroom stall at work on an ordinary October Monday. Before that pink line, I was the usual me, fretting over whether my story ideas for Wow Woman magazine -- where I was a junior editor -- were good enough for the weekly staff meeting and my boss's overplucked eyebrow, which rose whenever she liked an idea, as though she couldn't believe a member of the underappreciated junior editorial staff had thought of it. I'd spent the previous evening coming up with five good concepts, including "Thirty Things To Do Before You're Thirty." I'd been particularly attached to that one, since I was about to turn twenty-nine and had done absolutely nothing on my list. But I could . . . take that solo trip to Paris! Go to a movie alone on a Saturday night! Read Middlemarch! Open a Roth IRA! Have sex in a naughty locale!
What wasn't on the list? Have a baby!
Because five nights ago, when I made up that list, I couldn't have a baby. I couldn't even fathom it, not even in the abstract -- not yet, anyway. My salary, my roommate, my penchant for vodka and cranberry juice every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, my lack of a serious relationship, let alone a husband, my distaste for milk, green vegetables, flabby abs, doctors with rubber gloves, pain and the unknown all negated the concept of baby.
"Jesus, Sarah, ever heard of birth control? What the hell is wrong with you? What are you, seventeen? If you need money, just ask, okay? Where would you put a crib in that shoebox of an apartment -- in the kitchen next to the litter box? Do you want to move in with me and Andrew? How could you be so careless? What did your gyno say? Is she an OB too? Do you feel pregnant? How come you're so goddamned fertile, anyway?"
Those were my sister Ally's rush of questions, which followed a long silence when I told her the news at three o'clock this morning. I hadn't meant to call Ally, hadn't meant to tell her at all, at least not right away, not before I had a handle on it myself. But after tossing and turning for hours last night, with Griffen's potential reactions getting scarier and scarier, I'd grabbed the phone and sobbed into it. After two hours, Ally had gotten me to stop crying and extracted a promise to call her the minute I decided what I was going to do. I knew what I was going to do, but you didn't tell a lawyer that. You told a lawyer, one like Ally, anyway, that you'd think over your options very carefully.
And yes, I had been using birth control. I'd been fitted for a diaphragm a few years ago that hadn't seen the light of day in a year and a half, until Griffen. I used it every time we made love. Fifteen times, to be exact. Griffen and I had settled into a twice-a-week pattern, on Tuesday or Wednesday night and either Friday or Saturday night. And during our second week of dating, when I didn't even know if he had a middle name, we'd gone back to my apartment for a nightcap and unknowingly made a child.
I was amazed that no one could tell. Moments after the pink line changed everything, I'd stared at myself under the fluorescent lights in Wow's bathroom mirror for ten minutes, puzzled that I looked and felt exactly as I had before the pink line. Same blue eyes. Same dark brown, just-past-the-shoulders straight hair. Same teeny-tiny scar above my lip. You couldn't tell. Couldn't see it. Everything was the same.
"Your boobs are bigger," Lisa had said, staring at my reflection.
"And your feet are gonna grow half a size," Sabrina had added later.
But I looked the same. I felt the same. Just as I had when I'd gotten my period for the first time at twelve and lost my virginity at nineteen. I'd been walking around pregnant for six weeks and didn't know it. Miracles big and small were in the making in my own body, and I'd been eating bagels and taking the subway and having sex and complaining about work and my sisters as though nothing out of the ordinary were happening.
It never occurred to me that I might be pregnant. The only reason I even took the pregnancy test was because Lisa, who got pregnant once and lived in fear of it ever happening again, insisted. Lisa always kept a kit in her bathroom medicine cabinet and her desk drawer at work. She was on the pill and made her live-in boyfriend use condoms during ovulation days, but if her period was even a half hour late, she took a home pregnancy test for peace of mind. So when I'd whispered in the elevator on our way up to Wow's offices that I thought my period, which I rarely kept track of, was late, but that I wasn't worried because I had wicked PMS, Lisa looked at me very closely.
"Are you tired?" she asked. "I mean, really tired? That's a surefire symptom of pregnancy."
Of course I was tired. Who wasn't? I worked ten-hour days at Wow Woman, trying to outdo my rival for a promotion and impress our boss and come up with story ideas such as "What Your Eye Shadow Says About You" and "Is She Really Your Friend?" and assigning and editing those pieces (and sometimes writing them myself. Two weeks ago, the senior features editor had gotten herself a job at Elle, so there was an opening. My competition for the promotion and I both had four years at the magazine (we'd started as editorial assistants the same month), but until this past Monday, I'd thought the job was mine-all-mine. Danielle Ann (yes, that was her last name) was seven months pregnant, and our boss, editor- in-chief Astrid O'Connor, wasn't exactly sympathetic to exhaustion, bathroom breaks, doctor appointments during work hours or maternity leave.
Note to self: reveal pregnancy to boss at last possible moment.
"And has your appetite increased?" Lisa had wanted to know as we walked into Wow's loftlike office. "And are your breasts rock-hard yet really sore?"
"Yeah, and it's called PMS," I'd said on my way to the bathroom to make sure that my makeup, shirt, skirt, tights and shoes were Astrid-proof.
Astrid O'Connor knew that Wow's staff made crap money, but she expected you to dress creatively-stylishly-on-a-budget if you worked for a women's magazine. If she didn't approve of your skirt or your lipstick, she'd stare at the offending item for a full ten seconds (which felt like an eternity), then turn her back and walk away. Before Danielle announced her pregnancy, Astrid had assigned her the "How To Dress Stylishly on a Budget" piece, since Danielle was the most stylish of all the junior staff. After the big announcement, Astrid glanced at Danielle's maternity shirts, elastic waistbands and comfortable shoes with the word sloth in her eyes.
Self-Astrid-proofed, I'd disappeared into a stall only to find Lisa handing me a Know Now home pregnancy test under the door.
"For me," Lisa said. "For my peace of mind, okay?"
If you want to waste the eleven bucks, I thought as she whispered the instructions. I did as she said, then placed the stick on top of the toilet paper dispenser.
Lisa squeezed into the stall with me and stared at her watch. "Have you been super moody lately?" she asked.
"I'm not pregnant, Lisa. What you're describing is called PMS, and I've got it big-time."
"Okay, okay," she said, eyes on her watch. "Ding. Time."
"Be my guest," I told her, gesturing at the stick.
Lisa picked it up and stared at it, her eyes wide. "Um, it doesn't look exactly like the one on the back of the box."
I elbowed her in the ribs with a "shut up."
"Sarah --" She held out the stick to me.
I unlocked the stall door. "C'mon, we're going to be late for the staff meeting."
Lisa pulled me back and latched the stall and I expected her to shout out, April Fools! even though it was October. But she didn't. She stared at me, then started gnawing on her lower lip. When her hand began trembling, I took the stick and looked in the little square.
And there was one life-changing quarter-inch, horizontal pink line, a bit fainter than the one on the test box, but there nonetheless.
I grabbed the box and read the bold print. The appearance of a pink line, no matter how faint or broken, indicates pregnancy. See your doctor . . .
And then I dropped down on the toilet bowl, staring at the pink line that wasn't supposed to be there.
With a very serious "I'll be right back," Lisa went to tell Astrid's assistant that I'd gotten violently ill in the bathroom after eating a bad scrambled-eggs-and-bacon sandwich from the deli on the corner and that she was taking me home in a taxi. Five minutes later, the two of us were sitting on a bench in Union Square Park, where we didn't move for two hours, except to get up to hug Sabrina, who came rushing over the moment Lisa called her with the news that I was pregnant with Griffen Maxwell's baby.
"Embryo!" Sabrina corrected. "It's not a baby, it's an embryo!And after it's an embryo, it'll be a fetus! It's not a baby!"
Even in my state of numbed I'm-pregnant shock, I understood that my dear friend Sabrina was telling me that I had options to consider. Choices.
The only choices running through my mind on that park bench were nature's: Would the baby god pick Griffen's wavy blond hair or my poker-straight dark brown? Griffen's light brown eyes, or my blue ones? His dimples, or my lack of them? The Solomon aquiline nose or Griffen's Roman one?
"Embryos don't have hair or eye colors!" Sabrina practically shouted when I wondered those thoughts aloud.
But they sort of did, and that was when I burst into tears and wished more than ever that my mother was alive, so I could run straight into her arms and be the baby. Was I going to have a baby? I was going to have a baby. I'm pregnant, I thought over and over and over. I'm pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant. Pregnant.
"I guess we can't go to Princess for their killer margaritas," Lisa said, and we all turned to look across the park at our favorite trendy bar.
"We can if she's going to have an abortion," Sabrina pointed out.
And then they both looked at me, and I bit my lip and shook my head.
"Earth to Sarah. Earth to Sarah."
I glanced up from my picked-at filet mignon in béarnaise sauce to find Griffen Maxwell smiling that smile, the one that had led to sex on our second date.
"You were a million miles away," he said, taking another sip of the champagne that I wanted to chug. "Trying to figure out what I got you for your birthday?" He eyed the bright red gift bag next to him. Silver tissue paper puffed over the top. "It's something you hinted you wanted '" he added, surprising me even more than he had by getting me a gift in the first place.
That reminded me of the "Is He Your Boyfriend or Just a Guy You're Dating?" quiz that Lisa had written for Wow a couple of years ago:
Q: You've been dating for six weeks, but aren't exclusive. For your birthday, he gives you:
B) A gold bracelet.
C) Dinner and a movie.
D) A book.
I'd given it my best guess, C, which turned out to be the He's on the Way To Becoming Your Boyfriend answer. Answer A meant he was a jerk. D depended on the book. The History of Western Civilization from the bargain bin meant he didn't care about you but knew no present meant no sex. The hardcover you'd mentioned you wanted to read when you were browsing Barnes & Noble together meant that he not only liked you but was a good listener (not that Griffen and I had ever browsed a bookstore together). B meant he was a potential stalker.
I'd been right about C, except for the movie part, but Griffen had also gotten me a present.
Maybe Lisa was right. Maybe he was more committed to the relationship than I thought.
Tell him, I ordered myself. Tell him right now.
I opened my mouth, but slid in a forkful of steak.
I opened my mouth again, but the waiter came over, granting me a twelve-second reprieve. And while Griffen ordered another bottle of Pellegrino, I stared at his Roman nose and hoped the baby inherited it.
My stomach churned. How would he react? Unlike Ally, I didn't think Griffen would run screaming out of the restaurant, never to be seen or heard from again. I also didn't think he'd drop down on one knee and offer me the ring of my choice in Tiffany's (I rented Sweet Home Alabama a few nights ago).
Copyright © 2003 Melissa Senate