Tuesday, November 4, 2014

the culture of motherhood: peeing on sticks

Ok confession time for all the moms – raise ‘em up if you’ve…

a)  googled the phrase “what’s the earliest I can take a pregnancy test”
b) taken a pregnancy test before reaching four weeks
c) bought some form of baby paraphernalia the same day as taking a positive pregnancy test

No judgement, me too. 

Especially for  women who have been trying to conceive, that typical two week wait before “finding out” might as well be an eternity. Even the possibility of having a baby is kind of a big deal and the need to know (and to know NOW) can be all consuming. 

It’s also rather cultural. While early and rapid pregnancy testing is certainly not an “American” thing, it is a first-world/wealthy-people thing. In rural Zambia, pregnancy testing happens a little bit differently.

Most of my neighbor ladies get the news that they are pregnant when that bump starts to appear and when caterpillars and fish finally start to smell gross. Only a percentage of women have the opportunity to miss their periods – cycles are so influenced by extended breastfeeding that many go from nursing to pregnant to nursing to pregnant without ever receiving a visit from aunt flo. Those whose periods have returned since their last child are not used to charting cycles or jotting down the first day of the LMP which eliminates thinking about probably dates of conception.

The general attitude towards "am I pregnant???" amongst my neighbor ladies is, “If I’m pregnant, I’m pregnant. And if I’m not, I’m not.” 

Rational. Accepting. Calm.

This is a far cry from the American woman rushing to the drug store, buying a test, pacing around the bathroom waiting to see the magical line appear, and then basing her entire emotional state on the result. From the percentages listed on the box assuring accuracy 5 days, 4 days, 3/2/1 days before a period is missed, its pretty clear that the pregnancy test manufacturers know that we simply CAN. NOT. WAIT. And for the most part, they're right. 

I’ve never explained this process to my neighbor ladies – I don’t care to furnish them with any more evidence that Americans are high strung. But I can hear their rebuttal now:   

“So you just needed to“know”… know what? Know that your body is producing hormones? Know that your chance of miscarrying is now one in four? You want to get all hyper just to be devastated if you loose it all in 48 hours? If you are going to carry the baby to term, God is in charge of that – no magic stick can predict the future. This is silly. Just chill.”

I’m sure that if my neighbor ladies knew more about the typical American pregnancy, they would aptly point out the thread of impatience strung through the entire process: in needing to know whether we are pregnant, in clinging to a due date; in reacting to wrong due dates with induction; in compulsive re-checking for dilation; in ripping the baby out when it takes too long. “Tsk, tsk, tsk. Ya’ll just can’t wait for anything, can you?”

Having had two miscarriages, and having tested too early on a dozen other occasions, I have to agree with my neighbor ladies that the over-priced, over-hyped pregnancy tests really aren’t worth more than the box they are sold in. They provide us with a false sense of security and a misplaced charge to start planning for what is, in reality, a rather unforeseeable future. And what’s worse, they set in motion the emotional characteristics of an unsettled, impatient, reactionary journey of motherhood.

Having absorbed at least some Zam-woman wisdom in recent days, Jeremy and I made a decision to cool it significantly after our last attempt to conceive. If we were pregnant, my body would let us know. And if we weren't, my body would let us know that too.

When I was three weeks late, throwing up and crying over insurance commercials, I looked at Jeremy, pukey and weepy and said, “who needs a pregnancy test?” We laughed, I threw up, and we continued on our merry, trusting way.

Now at ten weeks, having seen a heartbeat, we are being wise in making plans for the future, hoping in God’s good intentions for our family. We are certainly not living in an ignorant land of que sera sera. But we do notice an emotional shift now in this pregnancy, distinctive from that of previous – not presuming to know more than we do or extend our certainty/anxiety/hyper-activity beyond the bounds of what we know TODAY.

this is what we know.
Neighbor ladies – you’re right more often than you give yourselves credit for. Thank you for being beautiful pregnant women, for teaching us to listen to our bodies, and for doing it all with such calm and trusting spirits.


  1. congrats, Bethany & Jeremy! I had a feeling...!! :)

  2. Well first, congratulations!! Many blessings to the new little life, and your family!!

    And second - THANK YOU. This is just what I needed to read today. As I sit...waiting...wondering when I can buy "the stick"...contemplating the mysterious processes that we try so hard to control... But it all ultimately rests in our Father's hands, as you say. Thanks for the reminder. And thanks to your Zambian friends. They are gracious teachers.