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Tanya Miller

© 2005

Hope: A Memoir

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it on the chillest land
And on the strangest sea
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
- Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is right about most things, but dead wrong about hope.

"Tonight's the night," I said to Richard, taking the thermometer from my mouth. As I'd been doing every morning for the past two years, I took my temperature first thing in the morning and recorded it on the chart beside my bed. Today, it read 98.2, five tenths of a degree higher than usual--the sign of an LH surge. I would now be fertile for three days. 

"Do we have to?" he groaned. Even though we hadn't had sex since this time last month, we both looked forward to the night's activities with a feeling of dread. For him, the pressure was on. Big time. If things didn't work right, we'd have to wait another whole month. An eternity. For me, it was just the start of an inevitable roller coaster ride on a thing called hope.

"Try not to act so excited," I said, as I shoved out of bed and headed for the bathroom to get ready for work.

"Maybe we should just take a month off," he called from the bedroom.

"Are you kidding? And waste another thirty days? If I have to wait another minute more, I'll go crazy!"

"This thing is making you crazy. Let's just take a break and see what happens."

He was right about it making me crazy, although taking a break would not help, since it was the endless waiting that was driving me crazy. Already, I was looking at the calendar, mentally circling April 26, two weeks from today. Already, I was swallowing my folic acid capsule and pouring myself the last cup of coffee I would allow myself that month. Already, I was telling myself that this month, I would not get my hopes up.

But that's impossible. Every time I refused a cup of coffee or a drink, I hoped. Every time I took a prenatal vitamin (just in case), I hoped. Every time I looked at the calendar, I hoped. It was impossible not to.

April 26. Every trip to the bathroom brought a mixture of anticipation and dread. I didn't want to look down, but I forced myself. Nothing. All day. But, I told myself at the end of the day, it's only one day. Don't get your hopes up.

April 27, 28, 29, 30. The same ritual every day for five days. Still I told myself not to hope. After work, I stopped at a little-used drug store, where I glanced furtively around to make sure no one I knew was in the store before slipping pregnancy test into my basket, along with toothpaste, hairspray, and Tylenol, trying to be inconspicuous. The last thing I needed was a small-town rumor.

It is impossible to buy a pregnancy test without hope. It is more impossible to perform the test without hope. I held the stick in a dribble of urine and set it on the bathroom sink to wait. I couldn't just sit there and watch, so I mopped the kitchen and bathroom floor. That way I would have to stay out of the bathroom until the floor dried. No point in looking too soon and having my hopes dashed for nothing. Finally, the floor was dry and I had no other excuse to keep me from looking at the test for one line or two. I steeled myself against hope. "You know it's going to be negative," I told myself. "It always is. So don't be disappointed." 

One line. 

I didn't cry. I never did. But all the life drained out of me and lay like a puddle on the bathroom floor.

Maybe it was wrong! How accurate can those things be, anyway? So I consoled myself. After all, no period yet. I'd just wait. May 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. I continued to face the dreaded trips to the bathroom, and still no sign. Every time I left the bathroom, I smiled a little more and laughed a little more freely. The test was wrong! I wasn't going to buy another one. What was the point? I'd just wait until I was absolutely sure and then I'd go to the doctor. May 6, 7. I'd never been this late before!

May 8. Hope stabbed me once again, and I bled.

I poured myself a stiff drink and curled up the fetal position on the couch, my body split in two by menstrual cramps, my spirit split in two by disappointment.

When Richard came home, I was still there. 

"I'm not pregnant," I said as he put up the foot rest of his recliner.

He looked at me with surprised confusion--why did I need to announce such an obvious fact? Clearly, he had not been plagued by the hope that I had. But then again, he's not the one who had to look for the signs. "No. Why, did you think you were?"

"Well, I had hoped."

Cruelly, by the next LH surge, about two weeks later, hope had made itself small again, but was already starting to grow. A weed that would not die. 

"Hope" is a thing with thistles--
That overruns the field--
And laughs at pesticides and hoes--
And never dies--at all--

And prickles--through the gloves--are felt--
And sore must be the hands--
That try to yank Hope up to save
The life robbed from the land.

Its roots grow deep into the earth--
I dig and dig some more--
Yet even when I think it's killed--
It's stronger than before.