The following is an extract from writer Sophie Heawood's upcoming memoir The Hungover Games. What happens when you suddenly find yourself on a path to single motherhood in your mid 30s when you're still trying to get to grips with caring for yourself? This is what Sophie was about to find out when her life writing about celebrities in Los Angeles was interrupted and she was brought down to earth with a (literal) bump.
You know how your life can develop a background hum, like a sound that you might hear coming from a fridge or a fan when everything else in the house has fallen still at night? A nagging feeling at the back of your mind that tells you that you have done something foolish which is going to make itself known sooner rather than later but you’re going to carry on pretending you haven’t? That there’s something about to fuck up in the future because you haven’t dealt with it? A debt that you didn’t pay, which has been multiplying all through your finances, silently. An infidelity that is going to catch up with you. A body that you buried in a shallow grave. Well, it was a Saturday night in Los Angeles and my background hum was getting louder. My whole body was waiting for blood to trickle down my thighs, and it still hadn’t come. I was waiting for signs of no life. That’s what waiting for a period is – waiting for a little death: a petite mort of the silent kind.
There were already some clues that something was happening, because I had interviewed the actress Amy Adams a few months before, in a hotel suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. She was promoting The Fighter, a film I had really enjoyed. She told me that when she had first moved to LA she was constantly going to castings and wanting to look pretty. She was broke and had previously worked as a barmaid in Hooters. Then she saw how attractive the woman who served coffee at 6 a.m. in Starbucks was, and she thought, holy fuck, this town – I’m going to need something other than looks. So, she explained, she had worked her arse off on technical skills and humour and timing, and it had got her there instead. I liked her immediately.
She had a one year old baby and told me she had truly enjoyed being pregnant. I’d never heard anyone say that before, so I asked her to explain. She said that it was the first time she had felt that her body knew what it was for, that she was so focused, so able to move forward and plough through everything she had to do, her form and her mind united in ambition for once. Something like that. And then, because we are women, trained to need social approval for our every thought, she had politely sought reassurance by saying, ‘Do you know what I mean?’ and I had replied ‘Oh yes, of course!’ and I had thought to myself, I have absolutely no idea what Amy Adams is talking about.
Fast forward a few months to January, where I was sober and ploughing through my todo lists like never before. It had dawned on me that month, sitting at my kitchen table and ticking stuff off, that I was achieving more in one day than I used to in two weeks. It was like I could focus for once, as if my body wanted to move in one direction only, forward, just like – hey – suddenly I remembered what Amy Adams had said, and I knew exactly the feeling she had been talking about!
A pink bougainvillea plant was growing all across my window from the yard outside.
Holy fucking shit.
I added these feelings to the hum. Pushed them down. Carried on. Another week passed.
And then it was the Saturday night where I strangely felt no desire to go out at all, and it was time to look back a month in my calendar and work out what inappropriate place I had last been when completely surprised to find I was bleeding into my knickers, because, despite having had this happen once a month since I turned thirteen, it had taken me by surprise every single time.
I counted forward on my fingers. Nine days late. Wow. I might have been an unpunctual sort but nine days seemed a lot. There was a twenty four hour drugstore one block down from my apartment. I rolled the thought around in my head for a couple of hours, arguing that it was essential I watch this new Obama speech on CNN and have important and significant thoughts about America as a political entity in a changing world, and find out the latest development in what would become the Arab Spring, and finally, at around midnight, my body put its own shoes on and trudged down to Rite Aid with a ten dollar bill. It was all I had. My credit cards, debit cards, English and American bank accounts – all were maxed out. In the shop there was a stand with every different kind of pregnancy test, but the cheapest I could see was fifteen dollars. Holy fucking shit again.
And then I saw it: the bargain basement test, the one that didn’t have anything complicated with multiple lines or something telling you how many days pregnant you were but instead a very, very simple system. If you were pregnant, the word P R E G N A N T would appear. It cost $9.99 and didn’t come with a spare like the others did, so you had to aim your piss right the first time. I bought it, went home, aimed my piss right the first time, and watched the word P R E G N A N T appear.
At 2 a.m. I rang my friend Diane in London, where it was Sunday morning at 10 a.m. This was not a time for texting. "Do you think," I asked her, after exchanging literally no pleasantries at all, "that you could ever be so premenstrual that all the preperiod hormones in your body are fizzing around so hormonally that they could make a pregnancy test come out as positive when really it means that you’re literally about to bleed?"
‘You didn’t pass biology GCSE, did you?’ she replied.
‘No,’ I said. ‘Or chemistry or physics. I went to a shit school and I blame the teachers.’
‘Mmm,’ she said. ‘I don’t think pregnancy tests give false positives, only false negatives sometimes.’
‘Yeah, but this was the cheapo one so it probably didn’t even work.’
‘Sophie, they’re all the same, you just piss on a stick.’
‘Mmm,’ I said.
‘So, you’re pregnant?’
‘Mmm,’ I said.
And then I went to bed, and as I climbed into it I said out loud, to nobody at all, there is no way I am going to get any sleep tonight, and as soon as my head hit the pillow I slept the entire night through.