Year Four: When I Fell in Love All Over Again

Every year, for the past four, I’ve written a blog post around my wedding anniversary and only last year did it veer from that main subject on my Belle of Infertility page.

Year 1: What ACTUALLY Worked for Us in the First Year – “That’s my final claim to success in our first year of marriage: we checked in with each other on how we saw the second year, the third year, the fourth, because we’ve got a lot of years ahead of us and the plans are bound to change a hundred times… but it’s made it a lot less earth shattering to no longer be doing my rewrite alone, to be on the same page as my apocalypse buddy.”

Year 2: Two Vitally Important Years – “We both have pretty big personalities and, therefore, may have a lifetime of brawls ahead of us… but we’ll never have to worry that we haven’t met our match.”

Year 3: Coping (Belle of Infertility) – “I overcame so much and now I have to be Infertility Girl?!?! As if that’s not enough, my options are now postponed indefinitely due to a global pandemic?!?!

This year, officially two days into my third trimester with two baby girls, I look back on the last year and… zetus lapetus it had some highs and lows.

One year ago today, on our third anniversary, Jake and I got the call informing us of an IVF start date of July 18th after months of tears (mine) over the postponement of all elective procedures. By that time this year, those tears will have turned to ones of pure exhaustion as we try to figure out this baby thing… twice.

We spent our fourth year of marriage in lockdown, only leaving the house for work, grocery shopping, and occasional walks around the neighborhood, or the park if we were feeling particularly daring. We focused our energy and finances on fixing up our house… and making some very expensive babies, which I suppose means we also left the house for a lot of doctor’s appointments.

Pandemic IVF was certainly the most difficult trial of our marriage so far. While for me, 2020 made the top three on the list of the worst years of my life, I’m certain it ranked as number one for Jake. Regardless, it made us closer. During a time when the rest of the world seemed to be rethinking their marriages, ours seem to grow stronger. Jake has always been something of a hardass. I joke that I married Red Foreman of That 70’s Show. When we watched The Boys on Amazon, I realized that I found it deeply attractive that Butcher was such an asshole to everyone he met, but had such a soft spot for his wife and treated her with such tenderness.

Me: “Huh. I find it really hot that Butcher is such a dick to everyone but his wife. What does that say about you? What does that say about me?”

Jake helped his parents run a sprawling cattle ranch his whole life. His first job entailed working grueling hours in a grain elevator at 16. After that, he worked rodeos with his uncle. He drove a truck before entering the oil field, as a fluid engineer. He’s a manual laborer and a supervisor. Soft… isn’t really his thing. He’s not great with empathy and if you’d asked me how he’d handle my mental state in 2020, two years ago, I’m not sure what I’d have said… because 2020 was the year I completely fell apart… several times.

The last time I was as poorly off as I was in 2020, learning that I might not be able to have children and would have to go through IVF during an unprecedented global pandemic, I was divorcing Joffrey Baratheon at 23-years-old. There were a few days last year when I didn’t even get out of bed. I didn’t watch TV or read. I stared at the wall and thought about a future without a family, about the resentment that might grow between Jake and I, about losing him because of it, about being all alone. I thought about my parents and how different things could have been if they’d waited until their 30s to have kids, when they were stable in their careers and their finances and had had their fun during their twenties. I thought about how much I love my husband and how much fun we have together and how much healthier my outlook on romance would have been had I seen that in my parents. I thought about all that we had built together and not being able to share it with anyone.

When I was able to be more productive and positive, going on long walks, reading, binging Netflix shows, and taking on craft projects, I still didn’t eat for long stretches and rarely slept. At one point, I averaged an hour a night. I tried drinking to sleep and that… went badly. After my second or third drunken breakdown, I asked Jake what he thought of my getting a medical marijuana card for the anxiety, since I was unwilling to take any sort of medication after being prescribed 250 mg of Wellbutrin from ages 13-18, because my mother couldn’t handle me. It was something of an investment, but he agreed it was worth a try and I could finally sleep. Even when suffering from depression, THC gummies render you too lethargic to do anything about it and that helped me through the summer… through the failed pregnancy test that followed our first $15,000 IVF cycle, through the dread of the second cycle two months later.

… and all the while, Jake was there, when the pandemic meant no one else could be, whether they wanted to or not. In another year, my step-mother would have loved to take me shopping, my dad would have made me laugh with crass jokes over lunch, my step-siblings would have come to a cookout. All of this would have distracted me from our fertility troubles, but in 2020, not only was I heartbroken that I’d potentially never have a family of my own, I was isolated from everyone but Jake… and he was surprisingly up to the task. When necessary, he sat by my side on the bed and read articles on his phone, while I lay unresponsive. He took care of me when that Whiskey Sleep Therapy idea failed so miserably. He went for walks with me when I felt well enough, laughed with me, grabbed curbside takeout, watched movies and shows, helped me with household projects, and played board games with me when I was up to it, always ready and willing to hold me while I cried when the tides suddenly turned. He never made me feel bad for feeling bad and he was always willing to have a good time when I was able. My relentless hardass husband, who’s never been stellar with empathy, was absolutely my rock through 2020.

For my part, I’d love to acknowledge the strength it took to survive the trials of the last year. and I’m sure I would were it anyone else, but I will forever fear turning into my mother, a weak and pitiful woman, who loves being weak and pitiful. Needing Jake as much as I did often made me feel worse, like I was draining him and was too much of a burden. He hadn’t signed on for a wife who crumbled so thoroughly and seeing how strong he was through it all made me feel pathetic. Self-loathing added to my heartache and I often worried that 2020, as a whole, would scar me so badly that there wouldn’t be much of a wife or mother left.

Jake reinforced none of these ideas, though. He comforted me and supported me and encouraged me all year and through both IVF rounds. He kept track of my medications and administered subcutaneous shots and intramuscular shots, well over 100 by the end of the year. He sat in the car during doctor’s appointments and surgeries. He drove me to my monitoring visits during an ice storm. He celebrated with me at 4:00 a.m., when I got a positive pregnancy test and waited in the car during my ultrasound to find out if we were having one baby or two. He rejoiced over the premature news that we were having two boys and once again, over two girls, when the blood test came back. He fought with me over names and painted the baby’s room five times over Valentine’s Day, because the pink I chose was lighter than the beige that was there. He’s built shelves and hung curtains and redone the closet and assured me more than once that I will not be my mother.

Our fourth year of marriage was not an easy one, but it did, indeed make us stronger. In 2020, I saw something in Jake I’d never seen before, a tenderness and compassion I never saw my father hold for my mother and I honestly didn’t expect to see so soon. It may have been a tough year, but it made me fall in love with my hardass husband all over again.

I think I can do this…

So, this baby thing…

… I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. I’ve spent the last year trying not to think about babies, about motherhood, about how my life would change were I to have children. I couldn’t even entertain myself much of the time, because books or movies or TV shows inevitably led to tears about how I’d never be a mom. Now, here I am, six months pregnant with twins, trying to prepare myself. However, as a firm believer that all new parents have no idea what they’re doing, I haven’t been too stressed about my inexperience with babies or children under 10… except for one issue in particular.

Y’all, the human body is gross... especially other people’s human bodies. Whereas Jake struggled to share financial decisions with another person, when we first got married, I struggled to tolerate his bodily existence and still struggle to share mine. I wouldn’t even refer to my period as anything other than “being a girl” for that first year, and we’d already been together for two years, before the wedding day. Even now, well into a pregnancy for which the conception could not have been a less modest experience, I’m embarrassed to discuss any bodily issues, with my husband, the least embarrassed person about all things. My babies were conceived in a room with six people staring at my vagina (none of them married to me, I might add) and I can’t talk about postpartum issues without getting red in the face, because it all disgusts me! That’s right! My body disgusts me, so anyone else’s surely does and here in a few months, I’m going to be completely responsible for the functionings of not one, but two.

I’ll be honest. A year of pandemic fertility treatments left me with some abnormal parenting concerns. It forced me to detach from the idea of motherhood, so I worry about having my babies and feeling nothing, about thinking they’re not cute, about the fact that I had to Youtube “how to change a diaper,” because I have no idea what I’m doing and was too afraid to read the parenting guides when I had the time, for fear of jinxing everything. Of all these concerns, though, this one has been one of the most prominent. How can I be responsible for clearing my children’s airways, when blowing my own nose repulses me?

The year we married, I got food poisoning from grazing all night at a family pool party, when my step-mother reminded me at 2:00 in the morning, that the food had been out all night. The next morning, when I felt queasy, I didn’t want to tell Jake, because the library system had given us free tickets to the local theme park, the theme park of my childhood that I was too cheap to share with him on my own dime. You guys, I do not recommend riding every roller coaster in a theme park while suffering from the early stages of food poisoning… or really any stage at all. By the time we got to the car, I was feeling awful, but accomplished, as I’d ridden every single ride… and promptly projectile vomitted into a sack in the car… only to realize there was a hole in the bottom. Are Wal-Mart sacks actually manufactured this way?!?!

Me: “Just leave me on the side of the road to die!!!”
Jake: “Do you really feel that bad?”
Me: “Yes, but it’s just so gross! I’m disgusting!”
Jake: ::laughing:: “You’re not disgusting. It’s fine. I’ve seen you throw up before.”
Me: “Why would you remind me of that?!?!”

Even as a little kid, I was always grossed out by other people’s bodily functions. I remember seeing other children with runny noses and turning up mine. What was so difficult about making sure you weren’t covered in your own snot? At six years old, I “accidentally” forgot to have my permission slip signed to swim at the pool across from my daycare, because I thought it was gross that people peed in it. On top of all my innate distaste for the human body, the struggle that was my early twenties killed any and all baby fever I ever had, which only briefly resurged at the beginning of our fertility journey, before I forced it down to get through the process of conception. I have zero delusions of cute, sweet-smelling, perpetually smiling babies. In fact, I am quite aware that they’re often pretty revolting and until recently, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to be a compassionate and loving mom, when my kids were leaking from every orifice for whatever reason. Then, last month, Jake had major surgery, after failing to comprehend or communicate that that’s exactly what it was to his wife.

Y’all, Jake grew up on another planet, as far as I’m concerned. I am a suburbs girl, raised by suburbs folks, no matter how hard they pretended to be otherwise. Jake’s dad shoots strays abandoned on his property and I cry when animals die in movies. My sister-in-law has her own basketball court in her shop and I’m still hopeful Jake’s family thought I was joking when they heard me say “basketball cleats.” Jake looks at his Uncle Buck and sees John Wayne. I look at him and see Fred from Scooby Doo, because he’s always wearing an ascot.

We are, in so many ways, the definition of “opposites attract,” that when I learned a specialist was recommending complete reconstructive sinus surgery, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear the horrifying reason behind it. In the late 90s (that’s 1990s, not 1890s), Jake was loading a horse onto a trailer, when he was headbutted in the face, breaking his nose and… I kid you not… my father-in-law’s immediate response was to grab his twelve-year-old by the back of the head and reset the bone himself, never taking him to the hospital. Folks, we have a new rule in this family: old cattle ranchers don’t set broken bones; because for over twenty years, Jake lived with a nose that was, in the words of his doctor, “completely shattered” in all ways but cosmetic… a fact I did not learn until I called the morning of his surgery, nearly five hours after dropping him off at the hospital to see if he was okay.

We’d scheduled this surgery months in advance, but Jake, with all his cowboy bluster, had insisted that, while the doctor officially recommended he take three weeks off from work, he could go back after just 10 days and that that was only a precaution. Color me surprised when the surgeon explained that the surgery took three hours, because they had to completely rebuild my husband’s nose, that in the first few days, his eyes would likely completely swell shut, he wouldn’t be able to eat or change his own dressings, and he couldn’t bend over or move from the couch for a minimum of 14 days, because a nose bleed could be life threatening.

Me: “He… didn’t really explain any of this to me.”
Surgeon: “Well, I told him.”
Me: “No, I believe you told him and I don’t think he was ignoring you. I think he wasn’t hearing you. We’ve been having that argument for about six years now, actually”

I’m pretty sure Jake wasn’t hearing him, because the theme song to Walker Texas Ranger was going through his head as he pictured himself building fence two hours after major surgery.

So, there I was, five months pregnant with twins, rushing around town to find soft foods after only having just discovered Jake wouldn’t be able to eat for several days. I went to three different stores to find regular strength Tylenol, never having a chance to change out of my homemade Star Trek pajama bottoms and Crocs, before visiting my husband’s post-op room and he… was… miserable. Jake could barely walk to the bathroom, he was so drugged, when the nurse told me she’d show me how to change his dressing. My immediate thought was ‘ew… can’t he change it?’ Of course, I felt terrible for thinking that and watched with rapt attention as she showed me how to replace the gauze on the bandage that ran under his nose and hooked to each ear to manage nasal secretions.

Over the next few days, Jake and I made quite the pitiful pair. I was struggling to bend over myself, while he couldn’t lean forward too far or even open our patio door without feeling dizzy and nauseated. At one point, I put socks on his feet, knowing he’s weird about having his feet covered and wanting to make him comfortable, only to struggle to get back up and tell him that he’d just have to go barefoot until he was feeling well enough to put them on himself. While Jake sat miserably on the couch, feeling too poorly to even play video games, I exhausted myself doing the chores I normally do, along with the ones that Jake had been helping me with, his regular chores, and caring for my invalid husband.

Gramma: “Well, why don’t you just not do them until he’s better and can help you?”
Me: “So… I’m going to stop doing laundry and taking out the trash for three weeks or stop grocery shopping for three weeks?”

I was supposed to work that Saturday and Sunday, my one weekend for the month, and regrettably texted my boss that Jake couldn’t do anything for himself, I’d worn my very pregnant self out doing everything for both of us, and there was just no way I was going to make it. So it went, for several days, bringing Jake water and mashed potatoes and Jell-O and extra pillows, listening to him do all kinds of disgusting things to care for his nose and tell me all about the hardware and… other things… that were inside of it, and helping him change his bandage. I won’t lie. At no point did any of this get less revolting. I was still the girl who only made it one semester as a freshman nursing major. It just… didn’t really matter. Sure, the sounds coming from the bathroom to explain the bloody bandages that were all over it were still absolutely horrifying, but my husband was so miserable, that I was willing to do anything to make him feel better… even helping to clean up bloody snot.

The only point that entire first week, when I lost my patience, was the rare and uncharacteristic moment when Jake refused to take the Tylenol to keep the pain at bay.

Me: “I am five months pregnant with twins and worn out, but I will take care of you all day long, until you make this harder on me. Take the Tylenol or get your own water the next time you’re thirsty.”

He took the Tylenol and by the time I went back to work on Monday, he could get his own water and Jell-O… just in time for my second Covid-19 shot to knock me completely on my butt, once again rendering us an undeniably pitiful pair. A week from his surgery, Jake was still feeling pretty awful, but had mostly gained his independence, only requiring me to move his chair back and forth when he wanted to play his video games. Our poor beagle sat with his head on his paws for the full three weeks, wondering why Jake wouldn’t play with him in the floor, making us even more grateful not to have put this surgery off until after the babies were born. I cannot imagine how much harder those few weeks would have been on us with two infants or toddlers in the house… but now I know that when we do have two small bodies to care for, I’ll be capable of it, not because I’ll be immune to their various levels of repulsiveness, but because my disgust will be overshadowed by my love for them, just as it is for their father. Silver linings can be hard to see, but I’m glad for the reassurance that I can do this. Now, to YouTube swaddling.

Naming Humans

One downside to keeping my pregnancy a secret from my blog for the first 21 weeks, was missing out on sharing some of the milestones, like the positive pregnancy test, learning both babies were boys, buying a family car, learning both babies were actually girls, and choosing names.

Y’all, naming humans is hard. I spent six years substitute teaching and have worked in public libraries for ten. I have heard some objectively terrible names. I have met all of the following:

Merlin
Zeus
Corona
Stetson
Talladega
Suthern
Princess
I’munique
Imunique (no apostrophe)
Sir…

… and my personal favorite Ecstassi, followed closely by my second favorite, Tyranny. Even our own family members have occasionally shown poor judgement choosing names. I have a cousin who gave her daughter a city name, but chose one of the murder capitals of the U.S. That’s far better than Jake’s cousin who named her son after a popular beer and brand of gun, resulting in his family’s refusal to call him by anything other than his initials. To this day, Jake insists we’re naming our first Budweiser Browning, a joke I’ve forbidden him to share with his cousin.

Ridiculous names aside, there are also the ones that just aren’t to our taste, but won’t get a resume thrown in the trash for sounding like a joke. Personally, I hate gender neutral names, traditionally male names for girls, or traditionally female names for boys. While Elliot might give someone pause, when a woman walks into an interview, I find this popular trend harmless enough, but don’t like it, myself. Jake’s name is actually far more common on women and to this day, I think our wedding invitations look like they’re for a lesbian wedding, which is fine, but inaccurate. The same goes for the modern names I liked to call Suburb Names, like Kinley, Zaiden, Amberly, and any other name that wasn’t a name twenty years ago. My own name is the1987 version of these and while I don’t hate it, I’d prefer something more traditional, myself.

That was actually the one thing Jake and I could agree on, traditional baby names. We wanted something classic, preferably not in the top 10, but not too bizarre or hipsterish. For girls, we didn’t want the names shortened to male nicknames, the reason we ultimately vetoed Charlotte. Although we loved Lottie, there’s no telling whether or not she’d be called Charlie or decide for herself that she preferred it one day. Since we both hated that very common nickname and couldn’t decide on anything that sounded good with it for Baby B, we nixed what was once my favorite baby girl name.

Twins threw us for another loop. Not only did we have to name one baby, but two. We wanted classic names that sounded good together, without a theme, meaning no color or flower or jewel names in pairs. That took Violet and Scarlett off the table, though we both loved the latter, we just couldn’t think of anything that sounded good with it.

Jake: “What about Charlotte and Scarlett?”
Me: “I want a divorce.”

Rhyming names were absolutely off the table.

At one point, I had a list of over 30 baby names and Jake suddenly seemed to hate all of the names ever, though many were ones he’d agreed on previously. If he did like one, he didn’t like anything I thought went with it. He liked Maeve, but noped all of the one syllable names I suggested for the other baby, like Blair and Pearl. If he liked a longer name, he hated all of the inevitable nicknames, such as Josephine, Susannah, Gwendolyn, Eleanor, or Evelyn. He’d suggest that we not nickname them at all, and I had to insist that that’s not really how that happens. If we chose a long name and didn’t choose a shortened version, ourselves, other people would. No one is going to say Josephine in its entirety, when they can call her Jo… which we both hated.

Having just finished The Mandalorian, I had been calling the babies Mando and Grogu at work, since I hadn’t shared the genders. I began calling them the same at home, just to have some way to refer to them and had started to wonder if that might end up on their birth certificates, as Jake nixed every option. Even if we both liked a name, we often couldn’t come up with a good mate, such as with Alice. I couldn’t quite define what I thought made a good pair, but I think it came down to syllables and time period. Blair and Genevieve just sounded odd together. Jake’s inability to get excited about any names actually started to upset me and make me think that he was angry they were both girls. It became a real source of contention between the two of us.

Me: “Poor Mando and Grogu.”
Jake: “Stop calling them that!”
Me: “Stop vetoing everything else!”

One name had actually been on the table a year ago, but Jake had decided he didn’t like the nickname I suggested. It was four syllables long and not common enough to have an obvious nickname, but I wanted to choose one for ourselves, knowing that no one was going to consistently say the whole name. Not only was it a classically feminine name not in the top 1000, without being too weird, it was also the name of the town where my family originated. I’d really grown fond of it. When my good friend Sarah, one of the few who knows the names we ultimately chose, suggested an alternative shortening, I looked it up and realized it was actually an official nickname for our uncommon choice. Jake loved it. Now we just needed something that went with it, which likely meant another four syllable name.

Naming twins is exhausting.

For years, I’ve had an old name I loved, that no one has ever liked, as it’s virtually unheard of, today. It’s the name of the heroine in my favorite classic horror novel and I’ve suggested it several times to Jake, always receiving a hard next. It does, however, have four syllables. While the name we’d chosen is more common, they are both classic and Southern, from about the same time period. After tentatively settling on the first name, on the condition that we could come up with a good match, I suggested this one, once again, assuming I’d get the same response. Whether it was to shut me up or because he was actually starting to come around, I’ll never know, but this time Jake was willing to consider it. He asked that I give him a week to think about it, since he didn’t really care for the nickname I suggested and it didn’t have any obvious other one, save for the one from the horror novel and he hated that one. I agreed.

Over the next week, I began to think of our girls by these names and their nicknames. Consistently worried that I’d never grow attached to my babies, out of fear that something would happen before they were born, I was attempting to develop a connection by thinking of them as individual little people… and it was working, despite the fact that we hadn’t officially settled on the names. No more than one week later, I demanded a decision from Jake.

Me: “I’m starting to think of them by these names. I can’t help it. It’s the only way I feel connected to them . So, if you don’t like them, then tell me and we’ll start that fight. Don’t just let me continue thinking of them by names you’re going to veto, though.”
Jake: “If I agree to that one, then when we have a boy…?”
Me: “I’ll give you preference on boy names. I get veto rights, but you can ultimately choose.”
Jake: “Okay. We can do those.”

I don’t even care if I just somehow wore down the most stubborn man alive or if he was afraid I might be serious when I shifted from Mando and Grogu to Elsa and Anna (the more likely scenario). Our babies have names. I ordered customized wooden cutouts of them the next day and since Jake is far too cheap to change his mind after spending that money, they’re official. In the last few months, I’ve been able to connect far more to the little girls growing in my belly, now that I can better think of them as individual humans. Everyone thinks we won’t want more children after twins, because of the stress and expense, but if anything, it’ll be due to the necessity that we name them.

I’ve forgotten how to apply makeup.

The pandemic hit at an all time low for me. Jake and I had just found out that we were going to have to go through IVF over the summer and I… wasn’t handling it well.

… more than once, I called in late, because I couldn’t pull it together.

Even during the month before Covid-19 hit my state, the only reason I bothered to dress nicely and do my hair and makeup, was that it made me feel more capable and put together, at a time when I desperately needed it. So, when the library closed for an indeterminate amount of time, my sole goal, in regards to appearance, was to maintain my weight and basic hygiene. During those six weeks, my daily uniform consisted of athletic shorts, tank tops, and ponytails… not even cute, perky ponytails, but the Founding Father kind that’s worn at the base of the neck.

Indeed, I did look like a young Mr. Feeny for most of 2020.

When the library reopened, I felt little motivation to achieve more than the bare minimum summer dress code of denim capris and t-shirts… and a mask. Whereas I might have considered applying concealer and mascara before, I saw no point while revealing barely an inch between bangs and mask. Makeup is expensive and we were about to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments. Furthermore, customers weren’t even allowed in the building and Jake was just happy that I could get out of bed in the morning. Who was I trying to impress?

I began my first IVF cycle in July and was far more concerned with taking my temperature thirteen times a day than I was with not wearing Crocs to the doctor’s office. Makeup was literally the furthest thing from my mind, at this point in time, and it sort of became habit. Even a year later, no one can see my face, unless it’s during a Zoom call from home, and that usually means a remote program or staff meeting. My teens don’t give two figs how I look, as long as I entertain them with elaborate D&D battles, and my coworkers see me in all my barefaced glory every day, when I’m allowed to remove my mask at my workstation. When customers are allowed in the building, all they can see is eyes.

Humans, circa 2020

Sure, I apply some concealer, when I look especially exhausted… because it has been an exhausting year, but I never see anyone outside of basic grocery shopping and Amazon returns. Jake and I literally entered a restaurant less than five times last year. Date nights consisted of s’mores in the backyard and Netflix. We didn’t even see our families more than once or twice. Halloween came with an ice storm and record-breaking power outages. I didn’t even get to wear a costume, because a) I had an ultrasound and didn’t want to receive bad news while dressed like Darkwing Duck and b) everyone had hunkered down in preparation for the storm, so the library was even more empty than usual, on a pandemic Saturday. Thanksgiving consisted of sweet potato pancakes and turkey sausage with my grandparents on Black Friday, all of us in jammies. New Year’s was just the two of us at home. Christmas was close family only. We were even snowed in on Valentine’s Day and spent the time painting the babies’ room, sewing quilts, and making stuffed waffles.

Now, here I am, fully vaccinated in a state where anyone who wants one can get their Covid-19 vaccine, able to enter the world again and y’all… I’ve forgotten how to apply makeup.

Not having taught myself to use eyeliner until 23, I’ve always been something of a minimalist, when it comes to makeup, only truly investing in decent products in preparation for my wedding at 29. Before that, all of my makeup was from the drugstore and I was fine with it. I’ll never forget marveling over how Jake could choose me, when I met his friends’ wives, who took two hours to get ready for Wal-Mart, when every bit of Maybelline and Revlon I owned was in my purse.

Even now, I only wear Bare Minerals foundation and eyeshadow, buy my mascara and eyeliner in black or brown at Sephora, and almost never wear lipstick. I have clear skin, easy hair, and I’m cheap. I’ve just never felt the desire to spend the time or money on perfecting tips from YouTube tutorials; and although I married a cowboy, who’s used to women with big hair and glitzy jewelry and bright eyeshadow, fortunately for me, he prefers the low maintenance look, along with the attitude and budget that comes with it.

All that being said, I do like to dress in feminine clothing, despite my inability to tell you any trendy brand names or styles. Years after the cancellation of The New Girl, I still tend toward Jessica Day style dresses, long hair, and bangs… though I do cut them myself. Now that I spend my mornings nursing pregnancy headaches, instead of screaming on the bathroom floor, I once again have the energy to dress up in cheap Amazon maternity dresses and accessorize with the jewelry I’ve accumulated over the last 15 years. I even straighten my hair, the one style technique I’ve mastered… before donning my mask.

Now, here we are, able to see our vaccinated friends and family once again, sans masks, according to CDC guidelines. In fact, this weekend, Jake and I are visiting the family ranch for the first time, since we begged for money for fertility treatments last March. I look like a tabloid snapshot of myself! This ranch is located in the land of big hair, turquoise, and people who haven’t been wearing masks for the last year, and I don’t even know how to look human anymore.

I must admit that, after all the ways that Covid-19 has kicked our collective butts, this threw me for a loop. I’ve been alternately praying for normalcy and breaking down because we’ll never see it again, so it never occurred to me how awkward readjusting to it would be, when Earth began to reopen. I have to say, though, it’s a good problem to have and maybe it means there’s an end in sight, if we can start to worry about dressing appropriately and forgetting how to wear makeup.

Why We Don’t All Just Adopt

Ever since Jake and I began our infertility journey, I’ve realized that the world is full of people who can have healthy children for free, and usually don’t want them at all, telling other people that they should just adopt. I can’t actually speak for all couples who’ve sought fertility treatment, on this or any other issue of course, but I can share a few facts and explanations for why this “solution” isn’t as simple as people seem to think. I can also do so with a clear head and little emotional charge, which you’ll be fortunate to get if you actually suggest this to someone struggling to get pregnant. Spoiler alert: don’t.

To be clear, I am not telling anyone not to adopt. Adoption has proven to be a wonderful option for many, despite its challenges. It’s also just not a feasible option for many others, who are rarely given the opportunity to articulate why… or are too hurt to do so, because “Why don’t you just adopt” is a really hateful thing to say to someone dealing with infertility. I’m not the first one to discuss this and here is an article from Psychology Today that makes many similar points, if you don’t think I’m qualified to outline the reasons I found that adoption wasn’t a realistic option for so many people.

Adoption from Foster Care
When Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option to conceive, we did consider other possibilities, not just because IVF is unimaginably expensive and invasive, but also because it’s not guaranteed to work and we wanted children, even if they weren’t biologically ours. I started by researching adoption from foster care, assuming that these children would need homes the most and knowing that the process was low cost to free, when compared with other options. I quickly found out, however, that my home state is surprisingly honest about how difficult this process really is, how long it can take, the children available and the challenges they face. Adoptuskids.org spells out some of the same information, highlighting the fact that all of the children in foster care have dealt with loss or trauma and have the emotional issues that come with it, are an average of eight-years-old, often come in sibling groups, and may have special needs. Some resources even advised not entering a foster situation if your hope was to adopt in response to infertility, because the primary goal of foster care is reunification. Children aren’t usually placed in foster homes to find new families, but for their birth parents to have a chance to improve their situation and, ideally, take their children home once again. So the people who are most often asked “Why don’t you just adopt?” are actually being told that adopting from foster care really isn’t for them. This is the perfect version, as advertised on foster care websites, depicting pictures of cute, healthy, white toddlers on their adoption day, with no horror stories included.

As with IVF, however, you can’t mention the words “foster care” without hearing or recalling someone’s horror story and in the last year, I’ve heard several of them. I won’t spell out the firsthand accounts I’ve received, not just because they aren’t my stories to tell, but because you can ask around to find plenty of your own if you wish and every experience is unique. I also have no desire to paint DHS or the foster system as being run by mustache-twirling villains. It’s an underfunded and understaffed government agency without a lot of people waiting in line to become case workers or foster to adopt… often because of these stories, creating a vicious cycle full of people who are doing their best. The abbreviated version is that it just doesn’t always work out and when it doesn’t, it’s devastating. I know there are foster care success stories and I’m happy for the ones who can share them, but clearly this is not an option for everyone (and is arguably a poor option for some) and there is no shame in that. I’d imagine that those who have adopted from foster care know the challenges and aren’t asking people why they don’t “just” do so, themselves. It takes a special person to foster or foster to adopt (not the same thing) and it’s okay that that doesn’t describe everyone who wants to be a parent, as well as those who don’t want to be parents.

Tribal Adoption
In my state, you can flip a coin as to whether or not someone will claim to be native to one tribe or another. My own mother was adopted before the Indian Tribal Welfare Act, which I personally support as an effort to maintain children’s tribal roots, in part because I can’t actually claim mine, due to how my mother was adopted in 1960. I’ve heard many similar stories from those who don’t have their official cards and know just as many who do, so tribal adoption, around these parts, is a popular option. In fact, a good friend and coworker just finalized the adoption of her little girl from a tribe native to my state. She’s a registered member, herself, so it wasn’t fraught with the risk so inherent in trying to adopt outside of the tribe. I’m sure you’ve heard of these court battles and the arguments for why ICW should be abolished, but if you haven’t, it’s a very charged topic around these parts and one I can’t discuss dispassionately, so I won’t try.

The short story is that tribal adoption is an option worthy of consideration, if you’re a member. Results and processes vary by tribe, but it is often a simpler and quicker process. Even then, however, it’s not without risk, as there are still many hoops to jump through, before finalizing and you could inevitably lose custody before that point, as with any adoption process. My friend has actually decided not to adopt another child, specifically because she feels so lucky not to have had her heart broken the first time, after multiple failed infertility treatments. If you’re outside the tribe, you’re generally warned to steer clear of this option, as there are so many more ways it can fall through, in favor of a member, whether you agree with the policy or not.

Private Adoption
Private adoption is what most people picture when they hear the word “adoption.” They think of a pregnant teenager or young woman who’s unable to care for an infant and seeking a loving family, as seen on their favorite sitcom. Private adoption was used as a plot device on Friends, Sex and the City, and Modern Family… because that’s what infertility is to media, a plot device. The problem with these depictions, of course, is that they grossly misrepresent the process, from the waiting to the financial aspect to the risk of the adoption falling through.

Let’s start with the waiting. According to this source, the wait is between two and seven years for a healthy infant. It’s very difficult to find other figures, as those reporting them are the agencies looking to make money off of their services. Each step in the process is discussed independently and time estimates are rarely given, in part, because every situation is so unique. The reality of private adoption is that there are many more waiting parents than there are available children and it is very difficult to pin down a timeline. If it doesn’t work out, you’re that much older when you have to seek other options.

Then, there are the failures. It’s difficult to say how common failed adoption matches are, because no one is keeping track. One attorney estimates, however, that at least 50% of adoption matches fail, with scams to get money (while planning to keep the child) being difficult to prove, but not uncommon. He goes on to say that he feels that it’s become more and more common for adoption matches to fail, while more of the financial burden now falls on the adoptive parents, not the agency, estimating that number to fall somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Creating a Family displays surprising transparency, publicly reporting that their success rates range anywhere from 60% to 93%, depending on the year. This, of course, means that anywhere from 7% to 40% of matches fail.

This horror story is a terrible fertility clinic waiting room read and shares the tale of what one couple went through for their ultimate successful private adoption. Most people know, even through the grapevine, the story of a birth mother who changed her mind, either through the birth mother herself, as is the case with my step-brother’s nephew, who once had eager adoptive parents waiting for him… or through the heartbroken adoptive parents, such as with a high school teacher of mine. I’ve even heard the miserable recounts of a close friend who once worked with an adoption agency and had to assist in reclaiming adoptive children from their new homes. These women aren’t the villains, however, for deciding to parent their own children. It’s just a risk of a very difficult process, so it’s no surprise that said process is no one’s first choice.

Finally, the expense of private adoption must be considered. There are testimonials all over the Internet, in blogs or message board comments, sharing individual experiences, but I can’t validate those numbers, so I’m going to quote some average figures, such as adoption.org’s $30,500 to $48,500 for an agency adoption and $25,000 to $38,000 for independent adoption. American Adoptions, however, reports a higher figure, with a national average of $43,000 and their own averages of $40,000 to $50,000. Some estimates cite costs as low as $20,000. There are of course some very happy families built through private adoption, but the fact remains that, even when considering only the financial aspect, it’s simply unreachable for many Americans.

International Adoption
International adoption is actually not a favorite suggestion of those who lack an understanding of how involved all types of adoption are, often getting the response that there are “plenty of children here who need homes.” See above. For years, however, it was a go-to for people who wanted to avoid the complications of these other options, while still having the opportunity to become parents. It was often cheaper and came with less risk of having a birth parent attempt to reclaim parental rights. I remember looking at international adoption, more than 10 years ago, and seeing that adopting from Ethiopia only cost around $15,000 and was one of the cheapest and easiest options.

The landscape of international adoption has changed drastically since I last considered it, something I also discovered while researching in a fertility clinic waiting room. Today, all of the countries that were once so popular for international adoption (and still allow it) limit their available children to those with disabilities, sometimes mild and others severe; while only allowing the rest to be adopted locally, by their own citizens, who will raise them in their native countries and cultures. There’s merit to these policies, but they severely limit the options and it now costs much more for international adoptions.

Previously, in Ethiopia, only abandoned children were available for adoption internationally, which meant they often had severe disabilities. The cost was around $32,000 – $45,000. In 2018, however, the country ended international adoptions, as did Russia in 2012. Adoption from China costs anywhere from $27,000 to $37,000 and limits their available children to “special needs” and “special focus,” respectively children with one or more medical conditions. Only single women (as opposed to single men) are allowed to adopt, and must have a net worth of $100,000 or more, while married couples only require $80,000. Applicants’ BMI cannot exceed 40. Guatemala specifically limits their prospective parents to heterosexuals and discourages any single man from adopting. The estimated cost is $25,000 to $38,000. This is irrelevant, at the moment, because the U.S. doesn’t currently allow adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam, or Nepal. Other, more obscure countries, often have trouble meeting U.S. immigration regulations, regardless of their available and waiting children.

In the past, some beautiful families have grown through international adoption. As you can see, however. this is no longer really an option for most Americans, considering the cost, limitations, and even immigration horror stories.

Our Reasons
That’s it, y’all. Those are all of the options for acquiring a child, without fertility treatments, short of a relative dying and leaving you one in the opening plot to a family friendly romcom. Jake and I discussed all of the above options, before moving forward with IVF and what it came down to, for us, was that we wanted the absolute assurance that the child we were raising would remain ours. We didn’t care about the genetics or appearance so much as we cared about knowing they couldn’t be taken from us. We also found that even one of the most expensive fertility treatments was still cheaper than most forms of adoption.

IVF and other similar options are not without risk, believe me I know. You can spend thousands of dollars on a failed procedure, as Jake and I personally experienced, or six figures on multiple failed procedures, which we fortunately did not. It’s emotionally, financially, and physically devastating, but of all the risks, from bankruptcy to cancer, having your child ripped from your arms isn’t one of them. For most couples undergoing fertility treatments, it’s not an obsession with pregnancy or having a child that looks like them or an inability to love a kid who doesn’t share their bloodline… you know, the things people who often don’t want any children (and therefore don’t want to adopt either) accuse us of thinking. They just want to be parents, without threat of having the title stripped from them, often after heartbreaking years of trying to conceive naturally.

If it came down to (a) spending tens of thousands of dollars on invasive medical treatments or (b) walking into the Baby Pound that my Gramma adopted my mom from (which people seem to think still exists today) and taking one home with the assurance that no one would ever show up to reclaim them, many people who want to be parents would choose the latter. It’s not 1960, though. I’m pretty sure the hospital administrator in charge of my mother’s adoption wasn’t even entirely on the up-and-up and my Gramma still feared for her family every time the doorbell rang, until her daughter was eighteen. So, it wasn’t even all that simple then.

Sure, most of us do want babies, because we’re complete monsters for wanting to be there for all of the firsts and know that our children weren’t traumatized, before coming under our care. If we could adopt healthy toddlers or young grade schoolers, though, even having to help them overcome some trauma, knowing they’d remain ours, many of us would! That’s just not really how the system works. As for teens, they’re totally my jam, from the nerdy, funny ones to the angry ones smoking pot on the library patio and calling me a bitch. Still, I know that it takes a special person to work with them for even the amount of time I do and I don’t begrudge someone for not being able to do it day in and day out, with any age child.

Adoption has created many happy families, but it’s not without challenges. Not wanting to take those on, as Plan A, after receiving the heart wrenching news that they can’t get pregnant, doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Not wanting to fight these battles, if there’s an easier way, is really no different than not wanting to fight the battles of having children at all, which is also a perfectly acceptable life decision. Quite frankly, unless you’ve adopted several children of your own, you should probably keep your opinions on the subject to yourself, because anyone who has likely knows that it’s just not that simple.

Thirty Thousand Dollars Worth of Babies

It’s the big reveal, y’all, the reason 2020 was so painfully wretched for Jake and me: two rounds of pandemic IVF.

Jake and I stopped trying to avoid pregnancy in December of 2018, when I had my IUD removed. We’d purchased our own home, were doing well in our respective careers, with Jake anticipating a promotion soon, and were well on our way to having our finances under control. I was 31 and Jake was 34, with our two year wedding anniversary coming up in May. Considering the average time to get pregnant is three to six months, we were right on track with the plan we’d outlined before we got married, the plan my OBGYN had approved, the plan that would allow us to have up to four children before we turned forty, if we so chose. Most importantly, I finally felt like an adult who could consistently care for herself and could realistically consider the possibility of caring for another human.

… more or less…

It wasn’t until April or so that we decided to begin trying in earnest, not having been too disappointed about having a few extra months of childfree existence as we waited to see what happened. We felt we were ready (or as ready as anyone can be) for our lives to become about children and family and all the craziness and exhaustion that entailed, so we began timing things in hopes of a more deliberate pregnancy. By June, I’d bought some dollar store ovulation tests, not wanting to waste the money on a giant box of strips from Amazon, when surely things would happen naturally soon enough. It was September, the month of my birthday, when I began to truly worry and asked Jake to get tested, even if we had to pay out of pocket. My doctors had all reassured me that there was likely nothing wrong, based on bloodwork and annual exams, and that it was just a matter of time… as long as there was nothing wrong with Jake. I’d been encouraged to just “stop trying” and that it would happen when I “least expect it,” advice I still find moronic for a woman in her 30’s. I thought I’d heard the last of that terrible adage while dating.

No. I wanted real answers, even if those answers were that I just needed to be patient, backed up by medical proof. So, off Jake went to our family doctor, with strict instructions from me to tell him that we’d been trying for over a year, despite it having been just shy. You see, for some reason, doctors are still insisting on the stipulation that a couple must be trying for at least a year to get tested for infertility issues, despite the rising instances of infertility and increased possibility of difficulties in one’s thirties, coupled with the more rapidly dropping chances of achieving a successful pregnancy, once they do figure out something is wrong. Regardless, the doctor scoffed and insisted that there was no need to test Jake, although he was ready and willing to pay out of pocket because “90% of the time, it’s the woman.”

That’s not even the statistic! The correct numbers cite that men are the sole cause of infertility in 20%-30% of all cases and a contributing factor in 50%. Not only that, but testing a man for infertility is far simpler and less invasive than testing a woman. We were willing to private pay for something as simple as Jake having an awkward moment in a clinical room and the doctor scoffed and blamed me, without any evidence to back it up!

By October, I was crying hysterical tears, certain that something was wrong. I begged Jake to see another doctor and he scheduled a seminalis for January. The holidays were a little bittersweet, as I watched other people’s children enjoy the magic, wondering if I’d always be on the outside of that scene. I tried to keep my spirits up, telling myself that everything was fine, but the day before Valentine’s Day, Jake came home to tell me that he had around 1.5 million sperm… and that 40 million was average. Our only hope of having children was IVF, my literal worst fear since I came to understand what it entailed in my teens. We didn’t know if Jake was the only factor or if IVF would even work, just that the average couple spends just shy of $20,000 per cycle and they’re advised to plan for three cycles, for the greatest odds of success. You can bet I called the office and got us a new doctor.

I won’t get too statistics heavy on you, but the summary of IVF research is that there just are no guarantees. Each cycle has a 20% – 30% success rate, overall, and that varies based on the type of infertility, the age and health of the woman and even the man, and the clinic. There are online calculators that will tell you your overall chances, but they’re hardly conclusive and backup the idea that a couple should plan for three cycles for the best chances. My stats were quoted as having a 56% chance of success after the first cycle, 75% on the second, and 85% on the third. Some research suggests moving on after three cycles, as the odds begin to decrease, while others suggest pursuing up to six. Some recommend transferring two embryos, while others warn against it. What it comes down to, however, is that there are really too many individual factors to provide anyone with accurate predictions. Every couple going into IVF is looking at a gamble of tens of thousands of dollars.

This was, of course, a devastating blow. Jake and I had just gotten to a good financial place in life and had no idea how we’d fund potentially multiple rounds of IVF. We couldn’t fathom a life without children and, honestly, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how very much I wanted them. I thought about the Easter and Halloweens, Christmases and birthdays we’d miss, the sleepless nights and tantrums we wouldn’t have, the first steps and first words, that first painful “I hate you”, the sports games I wouldn’t get to pretend to enjoy, those insufferable holiday pageants and “graduations” from the first half of second grade, the first broken arm and the first broken heart, the first wedding and grandchild… all of the bad and all of the good. I remembered that awful party in 2019, when all of Jake’s friends’ wives acted as though I were invisible the second they realized I didn’t have children. I pictured a lifetime of being excluded for something I couldn’t control.. and then Covid-19 hit.

They say that God never gives you more than you can handle… and I’ve linked the blog I kept during my infertility treatments to testify to that not being entirely true, as I received the news that all elective procedures had been suspended for an indeterminate amount of time, just a month after receiving our heartbreaking news. Then we found out that the financing company our clinic used had gone under, dealt with family disapproval of borrowing funds, and discovered that when we could move forward, we’d have to sign papers agreeing that one instance of fever or a directive from the CDC could forfeit the entire cycle with no refunds, because we weren’t just dealing with IVF, but Pandemic IVF.

I survived 2020, but it was in much the way I survived my early 20s. I am not stronger for it and I can’t even say I pulled myself through it, this time. Nope. Jake was the string to my kite, y’all. He is the only thing that got me through the breakdowns, the days of lying in bed staring at the wall, the shots and the horrible symptoms that came with them, the mood swings and outbursts, either stress or medication induced, I’ll never know. I was legitimately concerned I might have bipolar disorder after I got so angry at Jake for touching my donut, that I hurled a plate across the room, into the sink, went to the bedroom and completely broke down. That will chip a Corelle dinner plate, by the way.

… and everyone else gets to have kids the fun and free way.

It was not an easy year, especially after that first negative pregnancy test indicated an entirely failed cycle, having transferred two embryos with none left to freeze, after spending $16,000. Always having been the “go hard or go home” type, I told Jake that since I was turning 33 in a few weeks, I wanted to pursue another cycle… right now. So I found myself finishing one IVF cycle in August and starting a new one in October. This time, we’d told no one. It was during an historic ice storm that wiped out power across the state, that I sat at home praying we’d keep ours, with over $1000 worth of medication in the refrigerator, funded through a combination of credit card debt and liquidated investments. If we had to stay with family, we’d have to share that we were trying again and open the door to their hopeful expectations, once more. It was awful enough breaking the news to them the first time, while coping with it ourselves.

I spent election day in surgery, alone due to Covid-19. After our initial telehealth consult, I’d had every single appointment alone, in fact, with Jake often waiting in the car. I was by myself for the first egg retrieval and now the second, finally breaking down post-op and crying that I wanted Jake and I was never going to be a mom. Of the many low points in 2020, that could have been the lowest. It was miserable and going home to listen to my clueless Gramma rant about Russia taking over, while high on hydrocodone, didn’t help.

I’d once again transferred two embryos, with Jake in the car, but was able to freeze six this time. I prayed and cried through the pain of ovaries expanded to the size of clementines, still taking an intramuscular shot of progesterone in the hip every night, along with all of the symptoms that came with it, such as fatigue and shortness of breath (while wearing a mask), crippling headaches, and the spasms of pain from nerve damage that persist today, knowing it could all be for nothing again. For the first eight days, I took a prescription to keep me from getting OHSS, an even more painful and potentially life threatening condition that develops when the body over responds. It caused such severe dizziness that I couldn’t drive or work.

In many ways, 2020 was the most difficult year of my life and back-to-back rounds of pandemic IVF was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through… except that it worked the second time. That’s right, tomorrow I am 21 weeks pregnant with not one, but two babies, approximately $30,000 worth, due in July. I haven’t shared, because I was waiting for my 20 week anatomy scan, for fear of jinxing it, but all is well. I blogged a lot more than it seemed last year and for anyone suffering from similar struggles, I’ve linked Belle of Infertility. I can’t claim it’s always uplifting or that I always intended for it to be read, but thus far, it does have an HEA: twin girls!

One year ago today, I received the email that the library was closing its doors and all fertility treatments would be halted, for an indeterminate amount of time. Today I am fully vaccinated and tomorrow, 21 weeks pregnant with twins! For the purposes of this blog, their pseudonyms will be Violet and Scarlett, two names we strongly considered and ultimately vetoed for the color theme and the inevitable shortening to Vi and Scar.

Hey, Jude

2021 has not been a difficult year, comparatively, for Jake and me. In just the first two months, we’ve received a few financial windfalls, bought a new car (with far less friction than The Great Car Fight of 2019), and have both received our first Covid-19 vaccinations. We can have lives again, y’all!

Now that I’ve given credit where credit it is due, I can share how, just eight days into the new year, I experienced one devastatingly unavoidable tragedy. I had to say goodbye to what was once the only boy I’d ever need: my thirteen-year-old beagle, Jude.

I got Jude on Christmas Eve of 2007, just months after my ex burned down my house and killed all of my pets. I was 20 and Jude was six weeks old. At the time, I had a yard and high hopes that my life was headed in a stable direction.

Of course, that’s not how it all panned out. The next few years held seven more moves (because that’s what happens when your ex lies about paying the rent), a miscarriage, the death of a child, literally countless bottles of Everclear, my graduation from college to an empty job market, entry into graduate school, and ultimately a divorce during my first semester, (between jobs substitute teaching and cleaning rec equipment at a community center for minimum wage). These were not good years and, as I’ve written in detail, Jude was not unaffected. My ex was psychotic and abusive and, with me at school and work during his refusal to attend either, my poor Jude bore the brunt of his cruelty.

When Jude and I emerged from the rubble that was my early twenties, we were both worse for the wear. I’ve shared my own trauma, but Jude showed all the signs of a dog abused. Despite my busy schedule not really changing, he developed horrible separation anxiety. I’d leave in the morning and he’d howl at the window as I drove away. When I came home, he’d still be in the same spot, waiting for me. I hope he didn’t spend all day staring, but instead recognized the sound of my car, but I guess I’ll never know. As I’ve admitted in the post linked above, I had no business getting a dog at the time in my life I got Jude… but there we were and rehoming him would have been equally cruel, if not more so.

For years, Jude was petrified of men. I’d invite my guy friends over to my apartment and find myself forced to crate the normally sweet and docile beagle, for fear his aggressive barking would turn to biting. My time was limited, working two jobs and going to graduate school, but I ended every night with Jude by my side, often into the wee hours of the morning, as I did my homework. He slept in my bedroom, preferring the blankets on the floor to my incredibly uncomfortable $300 twenty-somethings mattress, but I called him up every morning to snuggle, before I went to work. I took him on late night car rides and fed him people food, to his detriment, surely. He played in my Gramma’s yard whenever we had the time and camped out in the bathtub with me during tornado scares. I used to say that I wish I trusted anyone as much as that dog trusted me. He even let me bathe him, despite the terror of bath time ingrained by my ex, as long as I sang him through it.

When I met Jake, I took Jude for weekend visits to Wellston, where he’d curl up on Jake’s work coveralls, finally trusting a man, too. He was the ultimate vetting tool as he grew to love Jake as much as I do. Jake, having the typically rigid view of pet rearing that comes from a cattle rancher, showed gentleness and care to Jude and all of his little abused puppy issues, from his food insecurity to his disdain for having his nails clipped. I regret not having more time with my boy when we were both younger, but more often than not, he was the focus of the time I did have. As much as I wish he’d had a better life, it comforts me to know that Jude was so central to mine, that I could literally tell the story of my adulthood trough pictures of him, alone.

There was/were the study sessions and craft marathons…

… the consoling after bad dates…

… the times we got snowed in and someone even got a fancy hand-crocheted sweater…

… the single girl holidays…

… the summers when I worked only twenty hours and simply didn’t know what to do with the rest of my time…

… hangout sessions at Gramma’s house…

… late night drives and exercise…

… the literal moment I got the phone call promoting me to full time librarian…

… obtaining the financial stability to buy the occasional frivolities…

… finally meeting a man worth loving…

… getting a new buddy…

… major life changes with a big move and a wedding…

… more new buddies…

… and finally owning a home, with a great big yard.

Up until his very last day, Jude was by my side, as our lives got progressively better, supporting me through it all. He may not have been the only boy I’ll ever need anymore, but he was my best friend for so very long. After coming home one Friday night to realize that he could no longer move the back half of his body or uncurl his front foot, my rational brain took over. I’d promised us both that I’d never let him linger for the sake of my own feelings, so I called the 24 hour vet, wrapped him in a towel and silently cried as Jake drove us to the city. I fed my boy one last cheeseburger, grateful he could still eat and stayed by his side, tossing the mask so he knew it was me, petting and kissing on him, as he closed his eyes for the last time. I woke the next morning, devastated that I’d had to make the decision to say goodbye, agonizing over whether I’d called it too soon, so grateful to have a husband who would bury him while I slept, as I’d asked. I cried on and off for a week, knowing that despite my love for the others, I’d never love another animal as I did my Jude.

A Lot Can Happen in Ten Years: February 17th, 2011

February 17th, 2011 was a Thursday… three days after Valentine’s Day and four days after the one year anniversary of the death of a baby I loved. I was 23 years old and living in a mostly empty apartment, after drunkenly throwing out, quite literally, everything I owned, save for my clothes, my bed, an 80s dining chair, and my TV and television armoire, on Christmas Eve. I had no real furniture, no dishes, and no kitchen appliances that didn’t come with my apartment, because he’d touched those things. Life was bleak, as I drove to the county seat, where I sat alone in a judge’s office, tearing up because my life wasn’t supposed to be this way.

At 23, in the South, I was bombarded with social media posts of engagement rings and wedding portraits and announcements of new jobs and new homes. I was even beginning to see a regular flow of ultrasound pictures and self-righteous mommy wars posts… and here I was, listening to a surprisingly compassionate judge explain my state’s laws for remarriage after divorce and thinking about all of the plans I’d had for my life, five years earlier, and how this so very much was not one of them. I was utterly humiliated and completely defeated.

I’d filed the paperwork for my divorce almost three months earlier, but had waited to finalize them until my taxes and FASFA were submitted. I was hyperaware that I’d screwed my life up plenty and, as a graduate student who has always excelled at delayed gratification, wasn’t about to put my educational financing in jeopardy, even if it meant remaining legally married to a psychopath for a little while longer. I hadn’t seen my ex since the day I both bribed him with a cellphone and threatened to call in his warrants, just to get him to sign my car over to me and sign the divorce papers. I was aware that he’d been breaking into my apartment, during the 60 hours I worked each week on top of school, to steal anything of value… but didn’t have the energy to care much or do anything about it, other than drive around with my valuables in the trunk. I’d spent close to my last dime having a paralegal draft the paperwork, to make sure it was done correctly, and was focusing every ounce of energy on keeping my head above water and scraping together the funds to finish the process. That was easier said than done, as I handed over what little cash I had in exchange for as many certified copies of the divorce papers as I could afford.

I left the courthouse and went straight to the Social Security Office, where I officially reclaimed my maiden name on my card and followed it up with a trip to the tag agency, where I did the same with my driver’s license, before stopping by the bank. With no time or money to eat, I barely made it to Walgreen’s to get a new passport photo and requested a name change on that, too. If I recall, it took the last of my budgeted divorce money and cost me $110. Every other 23-year-old I knew had Spring Break travel savings and here I was draining my divorce fund. I went home, defeated and heartbroken, and changed into pajama bottoms and an old high school team t-shirt… yes, I remember what I was wearing that day… and instead of having a good cry, I went to work. I’d already taken off from substitute teaching to run those weekday only errands. I couldn’t afford to lose a day’s worth of minimum wage earnings from my job cleaning rec equipment at the Community Center with my hard-earned bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science education. I couldn’t have chosen a more ironic specialization if I’d tried.

That was exactly ten years ago and it simultaneously feels like someone else’s life and also not that long ago. I remember parts of it so vividly and others are a haze. Within a few months, I moved into my single girl apartment, where I felt safe for the first time in far too long. I didn’t recover overnight, though. I slept with a .357 revolver in a pink gun sock, for several years, in fact. I’m actually not sure if I put it away until I met Jake, the first man to share my bed, and realized how very, very dark that looked. I had nightmares. I developed the occasional stutter, which all research tells me is trauma induced.

In the beginning, I felt like I was taking three steps forward and two steps back, emotionally and financially, but that still equated to progress. I got my first half-time circulation job with the library system, but found myself inexplicably entangled in a lie of omission to my coworkers, deliberately letting them believe I was a spoiled white girl who’d never known a day of hardship in her life. I lost a bunch of weight and started dressing cute and dating, but had no idea how to go about it and never did quite learn how to spot when someone was flirting with me or return the exchange. I slowly built up my credit score, while also taking out the maximum in student loans just to get by and consolidate the debt left over from my divorce.

Ultimately, I graduated from the MLIS program at 25 and was promoted to half time librarian. I had a thriving social life and plenty of hobbies, though I was still working two jobs and rarely got any sleep. I spent the school year saving every dime I could to survive the summers without substitute jobs, the first time I’d find myself with any real free time. I think those summers might have been the best thing for me, as I read by the pool in my $20 drugstore lounge chair, took the dog on long walks, and had dinners of snack foods while yarn bombing the living room during a Vampire Diaries binge.

In time, I made my peace with God and went back to Church. I continued to date, while I tried to figure out if I really wanted marriage and family or if I’d just been told so all my life. I still remember the day I realized, with 100% certainty, that I wanted to get married again and have children. I was subbing an elementary music class during the last week of school. I never subbed young children, unless I really needed the money, but I was looking at three months without jobs, so I took what I could get. That day, there was an assembly, seemingly just for entertainment, where Ronald McDonald did slapstick comedy as the kids roared with laughter while their parents watched from the sidelines. I realized that, although the comedy was childish and stupid, the parents were enjoying their kids’ delight so much, that they were laughing, too. I looked around the gym I’d spent my own elementary school years loathing (never the athletic type) and wondered if I was going to miss this, having children and watching them enjoy moronic assemblies, my husband by my side. I decided to get serious about dating and met Jake approximately one year later. Six months after that, I got my first full time position in the library system and a year later, I had an engagement ring.

Jake and I have been married for almost four years now, together nearly six. We own our own home, in a different town unique to us both, have little debt, and promising careers where we plan to stay, exactly ten minutes from our front door. We have great friends and close family relationships. I still have the occasional nightmare about that time in my life, when I didn’t know what the future held or even what I wanted it to hold. Getting divorced at 23 was easily one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and I was not emotionally or financially equipped for it… but I did it anyway. I shudder to think where I’d be if I hadn’t had the nerve and now, ten years later, I know that I would have been 33 regardless. This way, I’m 33 and have an amazing life. So, for anyone reading this, trying to drudge up the courage to change your life, be it by filing for divorce or going back to school or starting a new career or relocating, just know that time is going to pass either way. It’s up to you where it takes you and a lot can happen in ten years.

There are no positive spaces on the Internet.

I’m sure I’m not only speaking for myself, when I say that 2020 was an isolating year. The shut-downs began in mid-March in my area and, despite my Gramma constantly quoting Trump’s claims that we’d be “wide open by Easter,” it wasn’t long before I was beginning to realize this wasn’t going away until we had a vaccine.

I worked the last Sunday the library was open, March 15th. We closed for two weeks, which quickly turned to three, then four, then six. Fortunately for my husband and I, my library system paid every single employee their full pay and benefits and didn’t even assign us any work, while we were at home. I was luckier than most in my field… than most in general. Regardless, this all happened on the heels of some really difficult personal issues and suddenly… I was all alone. Jake is an essential worker and never had a single shutdown-related day off, which was certainly for the best in the long run, but in the short-term, sort of just left… me, dealing with some really tough stuff during a pandemic.

Those days have mostly blurred in my mind. They were a series of Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart trips for presumed essentials, because the idea of not having access to something was freaking me out almost as much as the rising virus cases. They were hours of playing Netflix in the background, while obsessively reading the news. They were endless walks around the neighborhood, accompanied by audiobooks. They were pings from apps about the rising cases and paranoia that my job wouldn’t be there when this all ended. Mostly, though, they were lonely. I’d gone from seeing my teens three days a week, to not knowing when I’d ever see them again. I’d gone from having family nights and weekends, dropping in on Taco Tuesday with my pals from the West Side Library, seeing friends and coworkers daily, attending meetings and breakroom potlucks, to the occasional text message conversation and talks with my Gramma that always ended when it got political. Easter was spent at home, with Jake, attempting to enjoy a beloved family holiday with a Sad Ham for two and a Zoom call with my family. Not that the rest of the year was leagues closer to normalcy, but the solitude of those six weeks, even for a proud homebody, was devastating.

It’s been about three and a half years since I deleted my Facebook account, a decision I’d advocate for most and March of 2020 was the first time I’ve ever genuinely considered returning. At least with Facebook, I’d be able to connect with family, see their updates, message them, and maybe feel a little less alone during a pandemic. Then I remembered my previous social networking experiences and thought about all of the political articles, rants, and conspiracy theories I’d be treated to, by both my extremely left and extremely right family members, who have little to no understanding of basic social media etiquette.

I thought about the time my crazy redneck uncle told my high school friend that he wasn’t “no better than” him, just because he had a “two dollar degree”… without knowing that this man had no more than a high school education and was a former marine. I thought about the digital slap fights between women who didn’t even know each other in high school, let alone today and the family gossip based entirely on speculation from social media posts. I thought about the mommy wars and the inevitable comments about how women without children had no idea how hard all of this could be, the comparisons of busy schedules and stress. I noted how awesome it was that, after three years, my family had finally accepted that I was no longer on social media and every piece of news, from family parties to family deaths, was going to have to be delivered over the phone… as it should be, and I didn’t want to ruin that progress. It was already a difficult year and all of the above were not going to make me feel better. So, in lieu of social media, I clung to strangers like a lifeline, through various subreddits.

I started with a subreddit that I’d previously frequented in phases, one populated by somewhat traditional women, that focused on dating and improving your marriage. At first it was fun and I felt like I was socializing with real people. Then… it turned and comments were made about how women shouldn’t work if they have children and women who didn’t want them would live lives full of regret, so I wrote a snarky comment about how the subreddit was no longer for me and left.

Next, I tried to connect with my fellow librarians, since I missed interacting on a professional basis at work. This was probably my second to briefest attempt to connect through Reddit, because libraries can be politically toxic, ironic for a profession rooted in serving all. By ironic, I mean wildly hypocritical. After ignoring the inevitable politics in posts and comments for a few weeks, I saw one directed at teen readers advisory. That’s totally my jam… or so I thought. This post was from a straight, white man, asking for book recommendations that starred straight, white boys, who were progressive and inclusive and championed their minority friends, be they Black, gay, trans, what-have-you. The comments were filled with criticism about how boys should be able to look up to female leads and tangents about how books have historically only starred boys. Riiiiiight, but do we really want the only male heroes young boys look up to to be the kids from Lord of the Flies? Boys should make do with female leads, even though you’re arguing the reverse is a disservice? Are we not allowed to have role models that everyone can see themselves in, or is it just white males? Aside from these terrible arguments, there were entirely unrelated rants about the lack of representation of lesbians in YA fiction and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to talk about helping teens, all of them, not just the ones that made my resume look or gave me conference talking points. I just wanted to bond over the profession I’d missed and in just a few weeks, Reddit had made me want to leave it altogether.

So, I decided to try something a little lighter in the Gilmore Girls thread. What could possibly go wrong in sharing a fandom?!?!? Y’all, in 2020 I learned that all fandoms be fucking crazy. People wrote pages about how every single character was abusive or narcissistic or sociopathic or ::insert WebMD diagnosis here:: for fucking Gilmore Girls. They attacked me for saying I thought Melissa McCarthy’s modern-day projects were crass, for thinking Dean was alright in the early seasons, for liking Emily… and they fought each other over the exact same topics, viciously. Really?!?! Am I the only one who thinks that I shouldn’t have to thicken my 2020 raw skin to discuss Gilmore Girls?!?! But folks, I’ll tell you… it was nothing compared to the Harry Potter fandom.

I made it a day, y’all. I made it one day in the Harry Potter subreddit, before someone tore into more for a very mild defense about how Draco Malfoy was just a kid and a pawn to his family. The response was a half-page long and went on about how when this person was a teenager, they knew better than to do the things Draco did, that they weren’t bullies, because they were more self-aware. Instead of replying that they might not have been bullies as teenagers, but certainly were now, or writing a lengthy comparison to the Malfoys and organized crime families, I deleted my comment, left the feed, and never returned. Apparently the Harry Potter subreddit is moderated by Lord Voldemort, himself.

In the meantime, even the subs I followed for some light pick-me-ups, like r/interestingasfuck and r/aww and r/crafts became hostile. I stumbled on an anti-Catholic rant in comments, others about how people who won’t let their dogs sit on the couch were abusive, and when I shared a photo of an art project my library teens did, someone left multiple comments about how I could have done it differently and it could have been improved.

Finally, r/romancebooks, which had been a surprisingly fun and accepting space over the course of a few months, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Previously, tastes ranged from Pride and Prejudice to rapey drug dealer porn and all were accepted, if not shared. Then Bridgerton hit and newbie fans to the genre joined, lacking an understanding of how very many sub-genres it possessed, and the judgement sky-rocketed. Even authors only a few steps off the beaten path, like Kristen Ashley and Joanna Wylde, were being vilified for “romanticizing abuse” and posters were theorizing about how the authors themselves must have horrible personal lives and joking about egging their houses. Excuse me, but has anyone ever checked in on George R. R. Martin’s sister, to make sure she hasn’t been sold to rapey horse lords? How about Stephen King’s kids? Are we worried they might have been butchered by some ancient folklore creature? No? Then I guess it’s only women we judge for their art and men get a pass. After another poster began harassing me on my last post, I’d had it. I rage quit Reddit. I deleted every username and installed blocking software on my laptop, phone, and workstation computer, so I couldn’t even browse absent-mindedly without a username.

After the Reddit debacle, I searched for a replacement, but all of the less popular forums seemed just as hostile. I even messaged a friend and asked, point-blank, “Are there any good, supportive forums online, or is everyone a jerk?” Her immediate response was “Everyone’s a jerk.” This was the same friend who tearfully messaged me when someone called her a bad mom for working, on a Dave Ramsey Facebook post. I had to point out that this woman was clearly not spending her time engaging in interactive puppet shows, if she was tearing down other moms on Facebook.

Twitter was out, because I thought I couldn’t possibly care less about celebrities. Their Covid-19 Poor Little Rich People attempts to relate to the common man proved me wrong. Instagram is just as bad as Facebook, unsurprisingly as they’re both owned by Mark Zuckerberg and are notorious for causing FOMO and body issues and just general judgement toward all women. The only perk to Instagram is the lesser degree of political commentary and even that can crop up seemingly out of nowhere. Even BoredPanda, a feel-good site with articles about cute little animals, is politically out of control in the comments. Why can’t I look at pictures of kittens in peace?!?!

So, I finally accepted the truth, at 33 years old: there are no supportive spaces on the Internet. Adults will forever lecture kids and teenagers about cyber bullying, as they type out hateful messages to people they should be building up, on Instagram and Twitter and Reddit and Facebook.

I left Facebook years ago and I’m reminded that I had the right idea, as I not only feel less criticized and frustrated without any of it, but have more time to do the things I actually care about, like read and sew and work on my digital photo albums. Hopefully, that list will soon include interactions with Real Live People, so I won’t feel the need to grasp for human connection online. At the very least, however, I now have more time to entertain Future Belle and you people.

Happy New Year?

If you’ve followed my blog for over a year, you know that I love New Year’s… and I’m fully aware that no one loves New Year’s. When I was a little kid, I was always confused as to how this was a holiday. There were no presents and we didn’t see my extended family. We just… stayed up late and the next day was no different than the one before. New Year’s paled in comparison to Christmas and Thanksgiving and Halloween. Why were we celebrating this? How was this celebrating?

As an adult, I tried my hand at many different types of New Year’s Eve celebrations. There was the night I went downtown, stayed with a friend and a handful of people I’d never met in some guy’s apartment… who wasn’t actually present. Huh. That might not have been entirely on the up-and-up. It was the first time I almost got my ass kicked in a public restroom… got thrown out of a bar for napping… nearly got my friend in legal trouble by screaming “I can’t do coke, I’m a librarian!” on a city street… the first time I got high… the night I realized I was definitely straight, when a woman kissed me. It was that crazy night I felt I had to have, but knew I’d never want to relive… and I was right.

The next New Year’s Eve, I rented a room at a casino with a friend and had some less crazy fun, with low stakes gambling and bar food, ending the night in a less than luxurious bed that had at least a 50% chance of not having been the site of a rape at one point.

In the years that followed, I learned the best New Year’s celebrations involved small gatherings, with food and alcohol. As I got older, I nixed the alcohol, preferring to start a new year hangover free. In what now seems no time at all, I’ve come full circle from watching the girl who played Mary in our Sunday school play, dance naked in some guy’s apartment, to spending New Year’s Eve with my husband and our favorite junk food. That’s been just fine with me, as we’ve spent every December 31st since we got engaged, celebrating Jake’s dad’s birthday, in his home town. At most, we’ve gone to see some of his high school friends, but overall, we’re boring thirty-somethings, whose children will one day look at our celebration and declare “Why are we celebrating this? How is this celebrating?”

As for New Years Day, now that’s always been a time of reflection and goal setting. I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post for every new year since I turned 25 and started this blog, highlighting my accomplishments from the previous year and declaring what the next one’s will look like, because I love New Year’s resolutions… and I’m fully aware that no one loves New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I didn’t just make a list of 2020 goals last year. I cited goals for the next ten years by opening the decade with a post on how I wanted Belle of 2030’s life to look and well… I think I can safely say that she’ll declare 2020 took a lot out of her, to put it simply.

I posted a little less last year, even taking a five month hiatus at one point, and while I plan to give some more details as to why later, I’m pretty grateful that last year’s New Year’s post gave me ten years to work on said goals, because I’m not sure very many of them were accomplished. I know 2020 was rough on pretty much everyone and I was no exception. There were days when I didn’t get out of bed, weeks when I barely ate, hours of watching the same show or movie on loop, because I found something that wouldn’t upset me. It was a difficult time and honestly, I think my biggest accomplishment of 2020 was getting through it. One thing I can certainly tell January 2020 Belle, is that I do love Jake just as much now as I did then, maybe even more so, because he was there during one of the most difficult times in my life, when I quite frankly wasn’t able to hold it together. He was the string to my kite, y’all.

I cautiously say that things have begun to look up, not just in my personal life, but globally. Covid-19 has multiple vaccines and my being phase two in my state gives me hope that I’ll be able to get it in the next month or two. The divisive election is over, where ever one may stand. Cases aren’t going down, but there’s hope that they will soon. That dim grey lining leaves a pretty bleak outlook on the New Year’s resolutions front, but I’ll give it a go:

  1. Be healthy. Stay healthy, mentally and physically.
  2. Get the Covid-19 vaccine, as soon as possible.
  3. Keep your job. Do well at it. Save your money and put any stimulus money toward debt.
  4. Call family.
  5. Go back to church, when it’s safe.

That’s all I’ve got, folks. I’m so grateful that I finished 2020, I can’t really muster up any more than that for 2021… not even me. So, on January 28th, I say… happy new year? I hope.