Ask anyone with a uterus what it feels like to have their period come late and they’ll tell you the same thing:
It’s fucking terrifying.
But what is it like to face the prospect of an unexpected pregnancy — make decisions, tell loved ones, face this most common horror — and then realise you’re … not?
Casey* came home at 12am to find a positive pregnancy test that she’d left admittedly “a little too nonchalantly”. When she had looked at it that morning, she could have sworn it was negative.
“The frustrating thing when you’re Googling ‘how accurate are pregnancy tests?’ is the fact that all the results are just ‘incredibly accurate’. Because that’s not what the people who are Googling it want to know. You want to know, for example, that if you leave a used negative pregnancy test out for long enough, it can turn positive. Which would’ve been really useful information to have before I crawled into bed with Mum and started crying.”
Abigail* was using the contraceptive Implanon (a small plastic rod which is inserted into your upper arm) after terminating two pregnancies. Though Implanon was effective in preventing pregnancies for her, doctors didn’t mention a very rare side effect: phantom pregnancies.
“It was a couple of months after the insertion and I began noticing several symptoms I had felt before. My breasts went up a cup-size. I was starving all the time, primarily for fried chicken and Mexican cuisine, which had happened in my prior pregnancies. I was crying in the shower, I was in fits of laughter before bed, I felt both hopelessly sad, hopelessly in love with everyone around me.
“I also had this overpowering desire to have children — a completely foreign feeling to me. I was walking around work picking up customers babies, applying for babysitting jobs, even spending time in
the baby sections of department stores crying over mini socks and puzzles.”
Two weeks before her boyfriend was due to move overseas, Rachel’s* period was late. Very late.
“Initially, I wasn’t too concerned. But when it didn’t come on Tuesday, I Googled ‘how much does a pregnancy test cost?’ On Wednesday I had to ask myself, who would I tell? Who would take me to the clinic? Most importantly, how would my mother respond? On Thursday it still hadn’t come. I arranged to meet my boyfriend.
“I knew that I probably should tell him, but I didn’t want to. He was going overseas in a week and we hadn’t even discussed whether we’d be going long distance or not. What if he thought I’d intentionally gotten pregnant as a way to guilt trip him into staying?”
Casey says her Mum made great small talk with her boyfriend as they were waited for the next pregnancy test.
“My boyfriend and I turn up for the appointment and I go in alone, leaving Mum to sort of half joke about the situation with my boyfriend. And, maybe its policy but they told me about keeping the baby and fostering options. And I’m just here bawling my eyes out, saying; ‘No, I know I want an abortion. I know I want an abortion’.
“I pee in the cup for the second pregnancy test and the doctor is a little confused. She says its negative. I was frustrated? Relieved, but frustrated. Better than the alternative; but … really? I had to go on this emotional journey over something that hadn’t actually happened.
Abigail “threatened to sue” the family planning clinic when she thought she was of the 0.01% of cases where Implanon was not effective.
“My boyfriend at the time — 7 years my senior and not ready for a child with an 18 year old — was very concerned, occasionally checking to make sure I hadn’t removed the rod to trick him into having a child with me like a deranged soap character.
“I took a pregnancy test. Peeing on a stick sucks. Positive. What the fuck.
“We went straight to the ultrasound. No heartbeat. I was… surprised? That weird mix of relief and shock. The technician — though trying to hide it — was perplexed.”
Casey now works next door to the clinic she had chosen for her would-be abortion.
“Sometimes I cry a bit about it. It’s weird mourning a decision that you had to make — and then it resulting in nothing. I guess it’s reassuring. That I could face pregnancy and it to not seem so bad.”
The doctors put it together that Abigail was having a phantom pregnancy — exhibiting all the signs of pregnancy right down to the release of the pregnancy hormone that had made the positive test.
“I rode the wave — I felt like a special experiment, I tried to convince people that I’d been abducted by aliens — I enjoyed being big-breasted and over-eating. I enjoyed freaking my boyfriend out.
“I can’t remember when it ended. It just did. I do remember feeling a little loss that my quirk was gone.”
For Rachel, the experience has shaken her deeply.
“An hour before I had to meet him, my period came. It was an overwhelming sense of relief, but the confusion of how I’d respond in a situation of being pregnant didn’t disappear.
“It completely made me rethink how I’d respond in a situation where I actually was. I’m actively pro-choice and thought previously I’d abort a child to fully pursue my professional pursuits. I now have no clue. I thought I’d want to tell my significant other everything, confide in my wise mother and use the support networks around me to deal with the situation. I didn’t do any of these things.
“My idea of how I thought I’d respond was completely challenged over my four days of anxious agony. In the meantime, I will sip wine.”
*Names have been changed