I found out I was pregnant the normal way: I peed on a stick. But I didn’t examine it right away for the verdict. My husband and I had been trying to conceive for a long time and during a difficult year, so I held off looking at the stick for as long as I could to give it plenty of time to think about its answer.
While I was showering, a beautiful magenta plus sign materialized.
I ran into our bedroom and pounced on my still-sleeping husband with a cry of joy. I tried to speak but ruined the moment by squeaking out the news in a choked, shrill voice. As I cried, he held me and called me sweetheart.
We were both so happy.
Like many 20-somethings, I have an app for just about every important thing in my life. I have a health tracker that I ignore, a budget tracker that I ignore, an app to pay my bills that I try to ignore, and a period tracker that I’m obsessed with.
Every week, I religiously tracked my mood on the period tracker along with my core temperature, the viscosity of various fluids, how often my husband and I were having sex, if sperm was present, etc. The app had more intimate knowledge of my reproductive behavior than my husband or any doctor.
On the day of my positive pregnancy test, I logged into my period tracker to share the good news. When I did, it suggested a pregnancy app that I downloaded immediately. It was full of bright colors and interactive graphics.
The app used words like zygote and blastocyst, which were not Pokémon names but developmental stages where brainstems or cell clusters form what would eventually become ears, kneecaps, nostrils, toes, lips and everything else.
With a quick tap on the screen, I could see how big my baby’s hands were, look ahead to what new and weird things my body would do in the coming days and weeks, and read blogs from new and seasoned mothers. All it asked of me was some basic personal information: email, address, age and date of my last period.
I typed in all that information without a second thought. According to my app, my baby was the size of a lavender bud: tiny, perfect and mine.
I miscarried a month later. It happened around 2 a.m. on Dec. 27, two days after our Christmas Day announcement to our families that we were expecting.
I had the perfect miscarriage. I’m not just saying that; the doctor used those exact words while she had her hand between my legs. At home, my body had shed the pregnancy, and my uterus had already tilted back into pre-pregnancy position.
The doctor assured me that in a day or two the swelling would be gone and everything would be back to normal. She was impressed.
I tried to feel flattered, but I’ve never been good at taking compliments. “Thanks,” I said.
The doctor had been treating me as if I were made of glass. When I described the mass I’d passed earlier that could have fit in my cupped palm, she winced with empathy and confirmed that it was unlikely that they could have saved the pregnancy.
“Yes,” I’d said in response. “I assumed so.”
Then she asked me a third time if my husband knew where I was. I didn’t blame her for her concern. My hair was unwashed, and I was swimming in my husband’s dirty sweats. I had already made a 3 a.m. Walmart run for feminine products and spent hours rotating between my room, the couch and the bathroom trying to ease my labor pains while I waited for the clinic to open at 10 a.m.
Yes, I was fine, I told the doctor, again. Yes, my husband knew I was pregnant. I hadn’t thought he would need to accompany me to get checked out, but I made a mental note to bring him with me if I ever went through this again.
After the doctor left, the nurse asked me if I was OK.
I assured her I was fine. I spent the next few weeks assuring people I was fine.
“One in three first pregnancies ends in miscarriage,” I would say.
Or, “I never really felt pregnant.”
Which was true. The most seemingly real thing about my pregnancy, oddly enough, had been the lavender bud avatar on my pregnancy app that had grown to the size of a chocolate chip before dying.
When I got home from the clinic, I opened the app and terminated my virtual pregnancy with the touch of a button. The app immediately responded with a consoling email and cleared my data. It was then, when the chocolate chip avatar disappeared, that I finally let go and cried.
As the months passed, I felt less and less fine about the miscarriage. It wasn’t that I had affected serenity or acceptance at the time. (I’d truly felt in control and somewhat detached.) I was grateful that my body had done exactly what it was designed to do.
But as time wore on, I found myself crying at unexpected moments or talking too defensively when someone who was unaware asked if my husband and I were going to try to have children. Meanwhile, all those milestones I had been anticipating came and went: first ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat, fingernail development, the gender reveal and so on.
Had I been pregnant, each phase would have filled me with excitement, trepidation and wonder. As each non-milestone ticked by, I lay awake at night imagining the little chocolate chip growing to the size of a walnut and then a peach as the sadness descended upon me and remained until I fell asleep.
I hadn’t realized, however, that when I had entered my information into the pregnancy app, the company would then share it with marketing groups targeting new mothers. Although I logged my miscarriage into the app and stopped using it, that change in status apparently wasn’t passed along.
Seven months after my miscarriage, mere weeks before my due date, I came home from work to find a package on my welcome mat. It was a box of baby formula bearing the note: “We may all do it differently, but the joy of parenthood is something we all share.”
I took the box inside and read the congratulatory card that gently urged soon-to-be mothers toward formula feeding. I pulled out the various types of formula and wondered about the nutritional quality of a product that could sit in the sun for hours before being consumed by a brand new life-form.
After packing the formula back into the box, I snapped a picture and texted it to my best friend. “Well, the internet still thinks I’m pregnant,” I wrote. “Maybe the mailman now, too.”
Then I laughed, because what else could I do? It seemed ludicrous that the only remaining evidence of my pregnancy was an erroneously sent product I’d never intended to use from people I had never told at a company I’d never heard of.
My husband and I had been careful to tell just close friends and family of our pregnancy. We hadn’t wanted to share the news beyond that tight circle until we were past the first trimester, for obvious reasons: We hadn’t wanted to explain ourselves if anything had gone wrong.
After spending months carefully managing our news, it was the internet, of all things, that bungled our plan. The same internet that seems to know everything about us – what TV shows we watch, which bras I prefer, what our political and religious affiliations are – had no idea that our baby had died.
This might have upset me. Instead, I laughed. And I found comfort in the laughter.
Part of me liked the idea that a data-hungry entity like the internet, which is so intimately involved in every trivial aspect of our lives, had completely missed the most important news of all. I also liked that our baby remained a piece of living data to someone.
As far as the internet is concerned, my pregnancy proceeded normally and I gave birth and became a mother last month. Two years from now, it will probably assume I’m dealing with potty training and send me samples of training pants. And in five years, it will surely come calling with offers of school supplies for my kindergarten student.
Where will it end? Someday it may think I’m panicking about an insufficient college fund and then express concern about whether or not my husband and I are embracing our empty nest.
In the end, though, it’s this thought I like most: My little chocolate chip, long since deleted, is indeed out there somewhere, drifting around in cyberspace, endlessly trolling the internet.
Amy Pittman is a reimbursement analyst at Tri-State Memorial Hospital in Clarkston, Wash.