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71 Grams

Nicki Porter

You are many things, but you are no fool. The minute you see the faintest second line in the test window, you know to doubt its very existence. You have spent more than a year begging inanimate objects to show you any sign of new life in your body, and you know a pattern when you see one. You eye the line with the wariness of a hunter. Why now, after all this time, has your arrow reached its mark?

You pace the cold tile like a caged mountain lion until a soft sound in the distance tells you your partner is awake. You spring upon the bed, brandishing the test, and are relieved to hear he sees it, too. 

It is real. It is here. You haven’t imagined it. 

For the very first time, you allow a tiny petal of hope to bloom in your chest. 

You know the rules of this game, even as a first-time player. You play it cool. You do not tell your mother. You send one friend a text, heavily laden with caveats: Probably nothing; too early to say; we’ll see where this goes!

You know very badly where you want this to go, but you also know better than to speak it aloud. You corral the hope in your chest and refuse to look it in the eye. Hope is a luxury you cannot afford this early. You cannot think of middle names or spinning mobiles or tiny fingernails. 

What you can do is eat.

A person aged thirty-one to fifty years who is pregnant—which, technically, you are, as your doctor’s office said so when you phoned—needs to eat more protein, the necessary mortar required to amass new life inside. Cell by cell, brick by brick, your body lays the foundation. Every gram counts, your doctor tells you. A nonpregnant person needs forty-six grams of protein; you now need seventy-one. 

The internet tells you an extra twenty-five grams of protein is the equivalent of four hard-boiled eggs, or one hundred almonds. It’s three cups of quinoa, seven teaspoons of peanut butter, eight medium shrimp, eighteen medium oysters. 

This, of course, assumes you are already getting the recommended daily allotment of protein, which you—known breakfast-skipper, sporadic meat-eater, and scrounged-late-lunch enthusiast—are most certainly not. 

You pounce upon your pantry, dismayed at what little protein you find there. You have one job, and you are already poised to fail it. So you and your beloved go grocery shopping. You wander the vast splendor of the aisles, adding peanut butter granola bars (10g) and roasted edamame (13g) to the cart as tenderly as tiny onesies and thumb-sized pacifiers. You find a pasta made from red lentils (21g); you pause, squinting, at the everything bagels (10g), with poppy seeds the same size as the blastocyst currently embedding in your insides. (You are very, very careful to only speak of your blastocyst, not even an embryo until five weeks, and certainly not any four-letter word that begins with b and ends in y.)

You buy entirely too much at the store, but no matter—you will be on this diet for a while. At home, you unload each item with a quiet smile and feel a pinching like a tiny crab below your belly. You imagine a poppy seed nestling in, burrowing, seeking shelter within you, preparing to stay. 

On day two, the line appears again on a new test, so you begin tracking every food you place in your body. You wade tentatively into breakfast waters with yogurt thick, indulgent, and coconut-flavored (5g). You peel layer after layer of low-fat string cheese (5g) and text your mother.

You reheat leftover pizza (12g)—not your finest nutritional moment, but it needs to be eaten—and try not to look up your due date. Later you tear open a bag of roasted chickpeas (6g) and give in to due-date temptation: late July, perhaps early August.

At dinner, you ladle creamy tomato soup (1g) into a bowl next to a roasted chicken sandwich (16g) and try hard not to imagine your hands shielding a tufted head from the hot July sun or cradling a swaddled bundle in the soft rains of August. 

Before bed, you add up the numbers and startle at how much you’ve undershot your target. You scarf as many fistfuls of almonds as you can stomach and gain another five grams, but it isn’t enough; you’re ten grams in the hole. 

You lean your forehead against the cool glass of the kitchen cabinets and resolve to do better—eat more, move more, gain more appetite. Even though it’s only day two, you’re officially five weeks today and your blastocyst is now an embryo, no longer a poppy seed, no longer even round. It’s roughly the size and shape of a sesame seed, you learn. You pour a teaspoon of seeds into your palm and study each one. You inspect each tapered end and wide belly, all of them pale and achingly small in your hand. 

Day three: The line is still there. You permit yourself to tell one more friend, but then you vow that you won’t tell any others. And then you declare war on breakfast. 

Yogurt is not enough; clearly, eggs are warranted. You whisk them with fury, shaking the skillet and stirring its contents, careful to leave no wet curds in the pan—you did not spend this last long year dodging infertility only to have salmonella befall you now. You eat until you scrape the plate, triumphant: twenty-one grams of protein. 

Dinner is another decisive victory: seared salmon (21g), cooked to withering well-done out of necessity for the growing sesame seed within you. Broccoli, heaped, with crisp-edged florets and tender stems (4g); meaty portabellas, roasted and intensely flavored (0.6g). Finally, the pièce de résistance: a ramekin of white beans (12g), slow-simmered for hours until creamy, drizzled with olive oil and redolent with rosemary.

You end today exactly on target and fall asleep dreaming of bricks and mortar, cranes and scaffolding, feathering nests and broken eggshells and so many seeds sprouting within you. 

On day four, you finally say the word pregnant aloud to someone. 

You are out to dinner, and your server has just asked you how you’d like your pork chop—one of the few items on the wine-heavy menu that looks safe to eat—prepared. Apologetically, you ask for it cooked medium well, and the clumsy explanation tumbles out of your mouth before you can tug it back inside you. Across the table, your partner takes a soft breath at the sound of this new fact being brought into the world, ushered out of hiding, hanging above you in plain sight. 

Your server beams at the news, all glowing confirmation and soft reassurance, and tells you it’s no trouble, no trouble at all, before rushing off to put in the order. You stare, blinking, at your beloved, until slow smiles grow on both your lips. Your hands meet under the table, squeeze once, then release, reveling in the relief of hearing someone else outside yourselves believe this all might be real. 

On day five, the second line is the strongest it’s ever been, and you let yourself fall into the sweet realm of acceptance. You swan dive into hope, backstroke in pools of belief. You set your tests next to each other on the counter, neat soldiers at attention, and feel giddy watching the strengthening second lines wave at you from their windows: proof that new life grows within you.

You allow yourself to dream. You imagine holding up tiny pajamas on your annual Christmas Eve video call, your stepfather and little brother wide-eyed and beaming at this vision of Christmases yet to come, your mother laughing, your beloved’s arm around you. Your eyes drift to embroidered foxes and fawns when you pass the beckoning baby section at Target. You stir marinara and picture it splattered and blazoned on a bib; you cut carrots and see them grasped by chubby fingers in a high chair; you catch yourself staring at a petite cake at the bakery, imagining one lit candle flickering upon it. You are lost, adrift in dreams of what may be, what will be, if you can just keep feeding this sesame seed of hope in your belly. 

On day six, you decide that it’s fine to test just once a week. You crow to your partner how much more confident you feel, how ridiculous it is to wait for confirmation of a silly line every day. A few days later—when your official sixth week has arrived—you bounce into the bathroom to test. You, a pro by now, an old hand, an expert, set the test on the counter and wait.

And you wait. 

And wait. 

And wait.

You silence the scream in your throat. Surely there is a line. Surely this nausea rising fast in your stomach is proof that life still grows there. 

Your partner arrives with a flashlight. You inspect the test window together under a bright light. There is the faintest hint of something, but you’ve stared so long that neither of you can confirm whether it’s real or imaginary.

A plan is formed: Run errands. Go to lunch. Repeat the test. Because surely this is nothing. Surely this is not the undoing of a dream newly forged. Together you quietly eat drooping, soft-crusted pizza in the fading November sun and you see the ghost of a line every time you close your eyes. 

You go to the doctor for blood work. You cling to hope by way of every online message board you can find and you wait. 

And wait.

And wait.

She calls you the next day—one day before Thanksgiving—regret thick in her voice, and tells you what you already know, because you woke up that morning to find traces of a blood you shouldn’t see for another eight months. 

What you should do is sleep. What you should do is weep. What you do instead is delete the nutrient-tracking app. And then you cook Thanksgiving dinner. You cut butter into flour and cleave yourself from the sight of a small head shielded from the sun of July, the wet rains of August. You roll out pie dough and flatten every ballooning cry in your throat. You whisk eggs and suppress your victories. You simmer cherries with wine you can now drink but can’t swallow. 

You twist your hair in a knot and set the feast, too abundant for two. You don’t think of the unoccupied room downstairs, still unclaimed. You don’t think of all the people you will now have to tell of your failure. 

You think of how ten days isn’t long at all, barely more than a week. How 240 hours isn’t enough to warrant this swell of mourning in your chest. How little you’ve earned these feelings, pulsing like a river in your veins. How foolish you were, how poorly you played, how deep into delusion you let yourself drown. And how, when asked how many days it takes for a dream to feel real to its maker, how easily and readily you’ll answer: one.