I knew my period wasn’t due to arrive until Saturday, but the wait seemed impossible. My husband and I had been actively tracking my cycles in hopes of conceiving our second child. With his birthday coming up, I had my heart set on surprising him with good news. I daydreamed of cute gift boxes filled to the brim with confetti and topped with a big, fat, positive test. I had boxes and boxes of pregnancy tests stashed under the sink — all different brands and styles — all boasting the same message: Results 5 Days Sooner! The second I entered that window, my fingers were flying. I tore open the first batch, my bladder full and my heart even fuller.
In my mind, I was so certain that we had successfully conceived this month. I triple-checked my tracking app and calendar, skimmed the packet of instructions, and went. The test was quickly negative. I blamed the brand and ripped open another. Negative. I told myself I must be too early, and one more day will show the true result. But for the next three days, I found myself, morning after morning (and afternoon and night), staring at one lonely line.
My tests were all yielding the same result . . . NOT pregnant. Surely if I were expecting, I would have had a positive test by now. The box said five days before your projected start date, and I only had two days left. My sadness started to lead my mind down a dark path. By the night’s end, I had convinced myself that my childbearing journey was over. Tears clouded the vision of me handing my husband the perfectly wrapped gift of life.
hCG and Pregnancy Tests
I never thought about how testing too early for pregnancy can damage the hopeful woman’s mental health. Even though the technology in pregnancy testing has evolved, the truth that every woman’s body is different stays the same.
A pregnancy test looks for a hormone only produced during pregnancy called the human chorionic gonadotropin, more commonly known as hCG. A woman’s hCG hormones rise – usually doubling every 72 hours – consistently until about week 12 of pregnancy.1 But this fact alone shows how different your results could be from one day to the next. Every stick can pick up on slightly different hCG ranges, with some requiring your levels to be, at minimum, in the double-digit range to even detect.
Many digital pregnancy tests can detect hCG up to 5 days before your projected start date. If a woman falls in that time frame, she would be considered 3-4 weeks pregnant. A normal hCG reading can range anywhere from 5-500 mIU/mL at that stage for any given pregnancy. Each number in between, a 495 number spread, could indicate a perfectly healthy pregnancy.
If you read through all the literature provided with your test, you would see that it may require a minimum of 25 mIU/mL in your urine to detect your pregnancy. It may take some women up to 5 weeks to cross over the 18 mIU/mL reading. This, in theory, would result in not getting a positive reading until a week after their missed period. This leaves a possible 12 days of false-negative readings when a woman could actually be expecting already.
The Spectre of Infertility
The stigma around infertility is on our faces every single day. It seems like every woman I know has dealt with some form of heartbreak of their own or someone very close to them. This is no surprise, considering the CDC estimates about 12% of women have difficulty getting or staying pregnant.2
With a rise in women feeling comfortable enough to share their journeys on social media, the thought of it happening to you is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. When I saw my negative results when I was hoping for a positive, I went through many feelings, including:
- Anger. “I am doing everything right and it was not working!”
- Terror. “What if I am experiencing infertility?”
- Sadness. “I just really had my heart set on this . . .”
- Disappointment. “What about all of the plans I started to make?”
- Exhaustion. “Will my mind ever shut off and let me sleep?”
But I was, in fact, pregnant. My negative readings were false. My hCG levels were progressing too slowly for my home pregnancy tests to pick up on before my projected start date.
Although my period did not come as expected, staring at all of the previous tests in the trash had my mind convinced it would. I was tricked into believing those little sticks over my own body. The gut feeling that I was pregnant was silenced by every single line. I pushed off every other symptom because the stick in my hand said, “NO.”
Then, a couple of mornings later, the day after a huge party for my sweet husband, I remembered I had one more test in my nightstand. Aunt Flow hadn’t arrived, but my bruised heart was scared to see another disappointing result. But there they were. Two bright pink lines. A positive test. We were having another baby.
Hindsight is 20/20
Looking back on that week after I had my sweet baby girl the following spring, I realized what a little bit of patience and listening to my biological instincts would have done. It was a week that I broke my own heart. A week that started my second pregnancy on a sad note when it never needed to begin that way. I took a pregnancy test too early and want you to learn from my mistake. Our bodies are wonderful and complex. The information they give to us is rarely false. Our internal excitement and ever-growing technology in this fast-paced world can rush us into wanting answers. But, sometimes, slow and steady is still the best way.