My Anxiety Told Me I Was Pregnant

How a panic attack led to a positive pregnancy test

I’d been up for far too long decorating for a Galentine’s Day party I was throwing the next say, my anxiety was through the roof, and I’d just convinced myself that I’d accidentally brushed my teeth with my hand lotion instead of my toothpaste.

My only reasoning behind this was the containers were similarly shaped and I was pretty sure they had both been on the counter when I was brushing my teeth. This was, admittedly, a flimsy premise on which to base this fear. But hey, I’d had panic attacks based on far less in the past.

(Side note — I’ve had health-related panic attacks after one of my actual health problems was misdiagnosed and mismanaged by medical professionals for about three years. More on that later. For now, the lotion.)

I hadn’t brushed my teeth with lotion, by the way. When I’m not in the throes of a panic attack, I can tell you that clearly. But I was panicking then so I called the Poison Control Center — you know, just in case.

So I checked and the nice lady on the other side of the line patiently explained to me that if I had accidentally brushed my teeth with my hand lotion the worst thing that would happen to me is that I’d have a slight stomachache.

Matter checked, I resigned myself to calm down and go to bed. So I went to bed, where I did not sleep.

“But what if I’m pregnant! What then?” my anxiety screeched in my brain as I laid there, totally not sleeping.

“I’ll feel better if I just check,” I reassured myself.

(Side note — I rarely feel better if I check, because my anxiety doesn’t respond well to rational explanations. It will just find a way around it. It’s a creative bastard like that.)

But, I decided to check anyway.

I had a few early pregnancy tests stashed in my dresser drawer. I grabbed one, headed to the bathroom, followed the directions and then two lines showed up on the test.

Two lines.

I read the instructions again, you know, just in case.

Yup, two lines meant pregnant.

It wasn’t exactly how I pictured the moment. In the commercials for pregnancy tests, the happy couple is always smiling or happy-crying as they hold the pee-covered stick in their hands.

I left the stick setting on the bathroom counter and stared at it. I just stood there, convinced that this was some other sort of nasty trick my mind was playing on me.

Surely, I was reading it wrong. I must have done something wrong.

After some time, I don’t know how long, I went to wake up my husband.

He was not pleased, because I’d already woken him up at least two other times that night for anxiety-related meltdowns. He’s a patient man, but this was getting to be too much.

“What?” he moaned as he rolled over, not opening his eyes. “I don’t want to wake up again.”

“You’re going to want to see this,” I said. “Come to the bathroom.”

“I do not want to see anything in the bathroom,” he said as he climbed out of bed, and well, frankly, I couldn’t blame him there.

I pointed at the stick in question and said, “It’s positive.” And after that, we spent about an hour just sitting on the couch staring at each other in various stages of disbelief.

From about June 2015 until a surgery in June 2018, my life was about pain and simply getting through the day without giving up and giving in to it.

The only thing my body seemed capable of doing was hurting me. The thought that it was capable of growing and supporting another human life seemed impossible and foolish to even think of, to even dream about.

My body didn’t even seem capable of supporting me. It wasn’t a life giver. It felt like it was slowly draining all the life out of me, all the fight out of me, through the pain.

I was barely living. How could I create another life?

I didn’t know it at the time, but there would be a solution one day — one MRI would finally show that no, the pain was not just in my head and that no, the pain wasn’t some vague “lady problem” that could be resolved with years of pelvic floor physical therapy. My problem was simply my hip. My femur bone was the wrong shape and it was pinching my nerves and sending shock waves of pain through my pelvis, my abdomen, my leg.

I had a surgery that fixed the bone to make it the right shape. The surgery also repaired a labral tear in my hip that had been caused by the bone rubbing on it incorrectly and wearing it down over the course of years.

And after surgery and the inevitable recovery period, I started to feel better. I could sit. I could stand. I could run. The pain, for the most part went away.

But the fear remained.

You start to be on guard and without even realizing it at first — you’re subconsciously waiting for it to happen again. Another bad thing.

You convince yourself that if you just pay attention this time, you can stop it. You can stop all the bad things. You become hyper-vigilant and you convince yourself that you won’t allow it to happen on your watch. Not this time.

If you’re thinking hmmm…that sort of sounds like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). You’d be right. I had that. I have that. I don’t recommend it.

I feel silly talking about it, like my experiences aren’t enough to warrant a disorder I thought was only reserved for people who had seen true horrors — like soldiers.

But whether I feel bad for having it or not, I do and it colors my perceptions of things. Like the positive pregnancy test.

Because people keep asking me if I’m excited and I suppose on some level, I am.

But I’m also — as I always am — terrified.

What if I have a miscarriage?

What if the baby is sick?

What if I’m too broken physically or mentally to do this?

What if I’m a terrible, terrible mother?

What if something bad happens again and it’s all my fault?

Because I’ve known women who’ve prayed time and again for a positive pregnancy test. I know couples who have had to go to far greater lengths than I did to conceive. I know women who’ve suffered losses more frequent and more painful than I can imagine.

I’m sorry that happened to them. I’m sorry having children seems to be so easy for some and so hard for others. I’m sorry some people who would make amazing mothers are disappointed time and again, while other people who do not deserve, or appreciate their children, seem to have them without even trying.

It doesn’t make sense. It’s heartbreaking and unfair.

I’m sorry if you’ve been disappointed. I’m sorry if you’ve cried at a negative pregnancy test or when you saw a mother mistreating her child in a store and thought “I could do better.”

I’m sorry I’m not as happy as I’m supposed to be.

I’m happy, I swear, but I’m scared too.

And for now, that will have to be good enough.

I’m a freelance writer and editor. I’ve written nonfiction children’s books, bar reviews, health care communications and more: https://ashleystrehlehartman.com/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store