My mother learned she was pregnant when 'the rabbit died'

Tracey Folly

*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a family member who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.

"Congratulations," the doctor told my mother on the phone. "The rabbit died."

What did the doctor mean by that? That's exactly what my mother wanted to know.

I can't imagine living in a world where I couldn't drive to the local pharmacy, grocery store, convenience store, or gas station and pick up a pregnancy test virtually twenty-four hours a day, but that's the world my mother lived in when she and my father were newlyweds.

"Does that mean I'm pregnant or not?" my mother asked the doctor on the phone. Newly married and just nineteen years old, she had never heard of the so-called "rabbit test." However, before the advent of readily available home pregnancy tests, that was the way most women confirmed their pregnancies.

The process entailed the potentially pregnant woman visiting the doctor and providing a urine sample, which was in turn sent to the lab for testing... and yes, that test involved an actual rabbit.

As the Washington Post explained, "Although rabbits were used for all manner of research, the 'rabbit test' became synonymous with pregnancy screenings, and the phrase 'the rabbit died' entered common usage as a euphemistic way of saying someone was pregnant (even though the rabbit always died during the test)."

And that brings us back to my mother and the day the literal rabbit kicked the proverbial bucket.

My parents saw Disney on Ice once a year when it was in town. It was a tradition that they started before they had children. Disney on Ice was a great show, and my parents enjoyed it immensely.

The last time they saw Disney on Ice without children, my mother felt a little ill. She told my father about it when she got home, and he helpfully reminded her she'd had a bladder infection a few months back.

My mother ignored her symptoms, blaming them on the bladder infection, but she continued feeling sick, especially in the mornings. She went back to her doctor's office and told him that the antibiotics she'd taken for her bladder infection weren't working, and furthermore, they had caused her to miss her cycle.

"It sounds like you might be a little bit pregnant," the doctor replied with a wink. He ushered her into the ladies' room to provide a sample in a little plastic jar and told her he'd call with the results in a few days.

When the doctor called, my mother answered the phone on the first ring. That's when he told her about the dead rabbit.

"Does that mean I'm pregnant or not?" my mother asked. She was stunned. "I didn't call to ask about a rabbit."

The doctor confirmed that she was indeed pregnant, which wasn't the news my mother wanted to hear.

"At that point, I just wanted to go back to talking about rabbits," she told me.

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