Good News but WTF

Ever since I got back from Turkey, I’ve felt down. The awful trip home put a bad taste in my mouth. I’ve been jet-lagged as bad as I’ve ever been in my life, and to top it off, ragweed is at all-time record highs in Oklahoma. I’ve been sneezing and blowing my nose and generally feeling gross. I somehow felt “more pregnant” before the bad trip home. Afterwards I didn’t feel much of anything.

When I started getting The Tireds in the afternoons again (a fatigue unlike any other I’ve experienced) and feeling nauseous in the mornings, a little hope perked up. But of course that could just be the progesterone supplements mimicking pregnancy symptoms.

My doctor in Turkey told me to wait until September 18 to test – the 18th day of gestation, or four days after my cycle was due. (The extra progesterone would stave off a new cycle anyway, so a missed period wouldn’t mean much.) I’m amazed I held out until September 15, but that’s when I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to know, one way or another, and I knew pregnancy tests had a high degree of accuracy by the 15th day of gestation.

I dreamed early that morning that I took two different types of pregnancy tests, and they both came back as huge in-your-face positives. As I was realizing it was a dream and waking up, I tried my best to hang on to the dream. It seemed cruel to have to face the uncertainty again after such a lovely dream.

It was almost 6am when I woke up bursting to pee. I collected the pee in a cup, sucked up a dropper full, and placed three drops on the test strip to see if there was any hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by a portion of the placenta after embryo implantation) in my system. The liquid washed across the strip, and the reference stripe immediately turn a dark purple. But there was no whisper of color whatsoever on the line that would indicate a pregnancy.

I felt gutted. Like all my insides had been scooped out. All that was left was a thin voice of denial: “Maybe it’s a bad test. Maybe I tested too soon after all. Maybe the embryo implanted late. Or maybe…”

I looked at the test again. A faint line was starting to emerge. I hadn’t realized you have to wait and let the line develop like an old-timey photograph. I knew the instructions said to wait three minutes, but I thought that was to build suspense or cover the company’s ass. I’d never had a positive pregnancy test before, so I had no frame of reference. They’d all started blank and stayed blank.

The line was pale but it was unmistakably there. I knew enough to know that any line at all, no matter how faint, was a positive. But I hadn’t realized the line would be so faint on day 15. I didn’t know the hCG numbers at that point were only in the low hundreds, and would (hopefully) double and double again in the coming days until it was in the 10,000s. So I kept squinting, willing the line to get darker. When it stopped developing and was still pale, I google-imaged “15 dpo pregnancy test results” (dpo = days past ovulation) and saw that I was in the normal color range.

That’s when I finally started to get a little bit excited. Except that I had been so devastated a few moments before, it was hard to recover quickly. I slipped back into bed to wait for Ahmed to wake. He did around 7am, and I led him into the bathroom and showed him, anticipating his excited response. But he just stood there, seeming paralyzed. Of course, I realized, he also didn’t know that a very faint line was good news. So I told him, and he hugged me tight.

Needless to say, we did not sleep again.

We didn’t tell anyone yet. False positives are rare, but they do happen. Chemical pregnancies, or very early miscarriages, are common, and so are miscarriages (or ectopic pregnancies) in the first trimester in general. Around 20% of pregnancies are thought to end in miscarriage. That’s why most people don’t announce pregnancies until around week 12, when the chances of serious complications or loss drop into the single digits.

I knew I’d announce earlier than that, and if (God forbid) something bad happens, I’ll just be honest about it. It’s part of life, and the fact that most people don’t talk about it can make it pretty lonely when it happens to you.

But the first few days are the most tenuous, and we wanted to keep it between ourselves a little while longer.

The next morning I tested with a different kind of pregnancy test, and the result was much stronger. The second blue line was unmistakable. It felt so weird and wonderful to keep acing these tests – effortlessly – after failing them for so long. Again I left it on the counter in the bathroom, but this time I fell asleep before Ahmed woke up.


He told me later that he almost had a heart attack when he saw it, because he thought it was supposed to have a plus-sign instead of just a second line. Luckily the directions were printed on the test itself, so he figured it out quickly.

Later that day (day 16 of gestation) we went to the hospital to get a blood test to confirm our pregnancy once and for all. I was jabbering to Ahmed about what different hCG levels meant (according to my distinguished internet research) – how a couple hundred would be fine and 400 or more might just mean twins.

We were called in quickly, and my blood was drawn by a nurse. When she asked how I was, I said, “Hopefully pregnant!”

We went to lunch at Miss M’s, where we ran into my step-dad and talked about Istanbul travel and Tulsa real estate. When we got back to the hospital, my stomach was tingly. Home pregnancy tests are highly suggestive, but blood tests are definitive. This would be it: whether we were officially pregnant or not.

I went back to the lab to look for the nurse who’d done my test, and she beamed a huge smile and pointed me back to the front desk. It seemed from her demeanor that it was good news, and my spirits lifted.

We signed something at the front desk, ripped open the envelope, and unfolded the report.

There was no hCG level listed at all.

Instead it said: “Reference Range / Units: Negative.”


The bottom dropped out of our stomachs. We were too stunned to react. We just stood there, staring at it, like it must be some kind of joke. But it was there in black and white. It was all over. Definitively.

Finally Ahmed tried to hug me, but I shrugged him off. No. Something wasn’t right. Why had the nurse smiled at me like that? She didn’t strike me as a sadist. And how could we have had two false positives on two totally different types of pregnancy test? One false positive was almost unheard of. Two was simply ridiculous. And as far as I knew, hCG levels could not drop from “strongly measurable on a home pregnancy test” to zero in a matter of hours.

Totally numb — and once again totally in denial — I marched back toward the lab and stopped the woman who had directed me to the front desk.

“We literally had a positive pregnancy test this morning,” I said. “How can this be negative?”

She said cheerfully, “Oh, it’s positive!”

“Uh… wut?”

“See here where it says AB Positive? That’s your result. Don’t pay attention to that other part.”

“That other part” looked an awful lot like where the result would be expected to be. I assumed “AB Positive” meant something about my blood type, even though my blood type is A positive.

“Why does it say negative? And why isn’t there an hCG level?”

“Oh, we didn’t test for the level. We just tested to see if there’s hCG in the blood or not. The ‘Negative’ just means we don’t have a reference range for that.”

I looked out the glass door, where Ahmed was still trying to collect himself, and I wanted to punch everyone in the hospital. How could they do this to people? What if I hadn’t already taken two different pregnancy tests even though I wasn’t technically supposed to? What if I wasn’t a busybody control freak who “asked to speak to the manager” when I got a blood test result I didn’t like? What if we’d just gone home and cried our eyes out and I’d drunk a bottle of vodka and stopped all my medications?

How about this: “Reference Range / Units: NOT F***ING APPLICABLE.”

Thank God for denial, is all I can say. I was shaking I was so angry, but there was nothing to do but run out and give Ahmed the good news. He almost collapsed with relief.

We were both too agitated to be excited as we drove home.

I’m sure it’ll sink in once we’ve calmed down.

But yeah. At least for now, we’re officially, if cautiously (and furiously), pregnant.

6 thoughts on “Good News but WTF

  1. Like you, Pamela, I want things to make sense. I can’t stand it when humans create chaos/heartache/ confusion/ unnecessarily because of some stupid method or communication screw up. But you can’t fix stupid! Enjoy your fabulous news and relax in the love you have for each other as you enter this new chapter in your lives.


  2. Congratulations to you, Pam and Ahmed! It’s ridiculous, I know. I reckon the AB is something to do with an Antibody test to detect the hormone. The “Reference Range” in this case is the “normal” result which is “negative” for most people who don’t have B-hcg floating around in their blood. There certainly is huge room for communication and quality improvement here. You’ll have to ask for “quantitative B-hcg test” to get that number value. Good ol’ Haskell! I remember kicking around on the grounds of the school there once upon a time…


    1. Thanks for the explanation. That actually makes sense. But I think we just saw that big giant “Negative” and then didn’t really see anything else. 😛 Especially since we didn’t realize we weren’t getting a quantitative test and expected a number to be there.


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