Concise Reviews of Mostly Dated Shows I Watched or Rewatched During the Pandemic in 250 Words or Less

I, like everyone else, was determined to be productive when Covid-19 hit my country and the lockdown was implemented, in various stages. I was going to do yoga and all sorts of crafts and read all the books and workout and write and, and, and…

I did do some of those things. I walked a lot and on those walks, I listened to audiobooks. I hand-painted a cartoon portrait of my dogs in a bathtub. I painted and decorated the hall bathroom. I… bought a yoga mat and blocks. Mostly… I watched a lot of TV shows, old and new, good and bad. Here are my thoughts, limited to very mild spoilers only.

Lizzie McGuire: I loved this show as a young teen. It was less about relating to Lizzie, herself, and more about wishing I could relate to her very wholesome experiences, at school and at home. As an adult, I realize that this was a pretty sugarcoated version of the middle school years, though, and I’m thrilled that the reboot fell through. Duff wanted an “honest” depiction of life in your 30’s, claiming that the original show portrayed an honest depiction of middle school and I call shenanigans on that. Not once did one of Lizzie’s classmates fear pregnancy, because she swallowed after her first blowie… and that’s a big part of the appeal for me. Even today, I retroactively envy Lizzie’s home life, with her supportive parents and annoying, poorly disciplined little brother. It’s delightful to see that this is one of those shows you can watch as an adult and realize you now relate to the parents just as much as you once did the kids. They weren’t written as clueless or naïve and I’d say this is still a wonderfully hokey watch, that I can’t wait to share with my girls.

The Mandalorian: I’m not gonna lie. I far prefer Star Trek to Star Wars and have picked many a fight with my husband over who would win in a battle, Spock or Obi Wan… because I am cool. The newest installments to the latter have left me cold and viciously hating Rey, because women can be strong and independent, without being ungrateful assholes. So, I had little interest in The Mandalorian, beyond the cuteness of Baby Yoda, but my husband was really excited about it, as were my library teens… and Baby Yoda was still the primary appeal for me. I watched every episode of this series and I couldn’t tell you much about the plot, past “save the child.” One of my teens recently told me that the reason he loves it so much, is that it’s the closest thing to Firefly that isn’t Firefly. I disagree. Sure, the setting is similar, but the heroes aren’t warm or funny or even attractive and the villains are relatively bland. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan, you’ll likely love The Mandalorian, but if you can take it or leave it, you’re unlikely to feel any differently about this installment. Baby Yoda is adorable, though.

Once Upon a Time: This Disney/ABC family show is objectively terrible, overall. The CGI sets are laughably bad in the first season and the child actor gets progressively worse as his cuteness wears off. The storylines are engaging and clever in the beginning, but quickly become more about participation trophies and honorary mentions, as the writers work to include every Disney character ever throughout the seasons. Honestly, though, it’s still a really fun watch. It’s nice to enjoy a fantasy story that truly appeals to all ages, including fight scenes and love stories in equal measure, with absolutely no penis. Game of Thrones and True Blood have their appeal, but there is definitely a point where I feel like nurses see less dick. Once Upon a Time is not what I’d call good. It’s campy at times and goes on for far too long. I haven’t finished the show, but I’m absolutely certain that it jumps the shark, probably specifically the one from Finding Nemo, if the reviews are any indication. Still, it keeps me engaged, when I want some harmless drama and excitement… and can stomach the heroes repeatedly releasing the villains and being absolutely shocked when they do something evil, once again.

Big Bang Theory: Originally, BBT was a clever sitcom portraying a demographic often ignored… even if some thought the jokes just made dumb people feel smart. The show truly jumped the shark, however, when all of the relationships and female characters became its central focus. Penny was always a plot device, the Xander, a character to whom the audience could relate, as she asked questions on their behalf. She normalized the nerds and acted as the inevitable love interest. She had a purpose. Bernadette was an entertaining representation of how women can be smart and beautiful, though she received little depth as anything beyond Howard’s gal. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler joined the show, lighting the fuse that was its inevitable explosion. Amy was an offensive stereotype of female intellectuals: frumpy, socially clueless, and boring. She had to “fix” Sheldon, who didn’t need fixing as an asexual character, and refused to respect his boundaries… or those of anyone else on the show. While she did get progressively worse, it wasn’t just her. The jokes became formulaic and the focus entirely shifted, as happens to many sitcoms that run too long. What was once a tale of geeky men exploring their post-college years, became a failed attempt at a nerdy Everybody Loves Raymond with jokes about marriage and parenting dominating the predictable dialogue of literally every single character, including the no-longer-asexual Sheldon… because that’s how sexuality works. If I ever rewatch BBT, I’ll stop before the first wedding and recommend the same.

Friends: David Schwimmer carried this show. Whether you like his character or not, the actor was the best at physical comedy and delivery. From the first episode, Schwimmer sold Ross as the awkward, nerdy, doormat. Did everything about his character age well? No, but neither did a lot of things, so I’m willing to look at Ross through the lens of 1999, too. Not only did I enjoy Ross more, I found myself hating Rachel, especially past the “we were on a break” drama. She left a man at the altar and slept with him after he got engaged, slept with an ex after he groped her friend, was always a terrible employee, slept with her assistant, took advantage of her friends, treated Ross like a sweater she neither wanted to wear nor donate by stringing him along for years and sabotaging his every new relationship, and gave the father of her baby no actual say in his daughter’s well-being while simultaneously expecting him to do all of the husbandly things without the title. I shipped Chandler and Monica at one time, with their friends-to-lovers trope and enjoyed their storyline again, but now realize that Phoebe and Mike were the couple to beat. They had an adorable meet-cute with real chemistry. Mike accepted Phoebe for all of her history and annoying quirks, with zero embarrassment. Best of all, their relationship never had time to drag. Schwimmer might have been the comedic lead, but Paul Rudd was the real romantic MVP.

It’s a Sin: I thought this miniseries had six episodes. When I realized it was only five, I was relieved, because it was absolutely heartbreaking. When it comes to movies and TV, I’m basically a robot. Nothing but dead animals and babies makes me cry. The Notebook? Titanic? Schindler’s List? Nope. That being said, I cried during every episode of It’s a Sin and I mean tears streaming down my face. It’s such a compelling tale of a group of mostly gay friends, living in 1980s London, during the AIDS epidemic. The protagonists aren’t caricatures and neither are the villains, really, as the leads each leave home and make their way to London, where they can live their lives freely… until they start to fall ill, one by one. Surprisingly, religion is rarely addressed as the reason for the stigma against homosexuality (and AIDS by extension), which I appreciated, because it’s not necessarily as historically accurate in the 80’s UK as it would be in the US South. This show infuriated me as a librarian, as the main characters struggled to find any information on the mysterious illness killing people they loved. I’ve never been happier for such an amazing show to end. I have read criticism that the one (seemingly straight) character was the Token Straight Friend, but I consider that to be a horrible way to talk about allies. Plenty of straight people lost friends and loved ones to AIDS and this show did a great job portraying that, as well.

7th Heaven: At 10 years old, I wanted to be Mary Camden. All of my friends were slender, athletic, and had parents who made sure they bathed and their clothes fit. I never could seem to master any of those. I realize now, depressingly enough, that my mother wanted to be Annie Camden: wanted by her husband, respected by her community, with children who looked up to her, able to keep all the balls in the air… and she never could master any of those, herself. So, watching this show as an adult was bittersweet for me, as I recognized how far my mother’s life veered from what she wanted. While 7th Heaven might have hit a soft spot for me, though, it has probably aged worse than anything in the history of time. Every negative thing about the 90s is encapsulated in this show, from the most oppressive purity culture to low-key racism thought progressive. The Camdens controlled their children’s sexuality with an iron first, from first kisses to first times. They knew one black family, a most accurate example of Token Black Characters, as nearly every episode featuring them was themed around race… which was also true for all other non-white character mentions. It also went on for way too long. By season 8, all but a handful of the original actors had given up, and so did I. Nostalgia aside, there’s only so much time I can spend with early 00s churchy people, without having flashbacks of my own.  

Roswell: At age 12, I was obsessed with Roswell. I mean that I would be concerned if my child were so fixated on something. I work with teenagers, so that’s saying something. Having reached my adult height by sixth grade and still a few years out from my breast reduction, I remember watching Liz Parker stand in front of her mirror in her matching bra and panties, knowing I could never wear something like that, because the cute stuff didn’t come in my size. If I wanted to be utterly mortified, I could dig up the diaries where I introduced myself with my full name in every entry, just like Liz. Still, I think I’d have preferred to be Isabel, beautiful and in possession of alien powers, with two brother figures who wanted to protect her. Middle school Belle had issues and this show is a lot of what got her through them, so for that reason, Roswell will always have a place in my heart. Objectively speaking, though, it isn’t much different than many early 00s shows, featuring gorgeous actors far too old to play the dramatic and angsty parts assigned. It does, however, lack the clever wit of its more iconic competitors, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and doesn’t measure up in the sci-fi world to shows like Firefly, with a plot riddled with holes. It’s unsurprising that Roswell never made it past three seasons, but I don’t care, because those came at just the right time for me.

Smallville: I never intended for Smallville to be a good rewatch. I just wanted something mindless and campy and Tom Welling’s Clark Kent seemed like a good fit. I’d argue that this show is, overall, one of the worst in the Superman franchise. For starters, if Tom Welling can pass for 15 in season one, I can pass for Betty White now. Clark is supposed to be this gawky and awkward teenager, but no amount of stumbling or sputtering from Welling makes up for his age and build. Any teenage boy who looked like that would be the crush of every girl and invited to every party… once people realized he wasn’t a substitute teacher. It’s not that Welling does a bad job portraying Clark, it’s just that it’s utterly unconvincing at age 25. The mostly Monster of the Week plot doesn’t really redeem Smallville either. While Michael Rosenbaum is my all time favorite Lex Luthor, we barely get to see his dark side for several seasons and the supporting characters leave something to be desired, especially Lana. I don’t remember hating this character. Chloe annoyed me until she got over her Clark crush and started acting like a real friend, but I loathe Lana. She’s self-absorbed and whiney and thinks everyone in her life owes her their every secret. Regardless of its other flaws, Lana is what makes me not want to watch, as an adult. The rest, however, is more or less what I wanted: mindless, campy fun.

Gilmore Girls: Gilmore Girls has been quite the comfort watch for me, over the years. Lorelai always had money for the things she and Rory needed and wanted, despite the insistence that she had to get by on hard work and grit. If ever that wasn’t true, The Bank of Gilmore was happy to write a check, in exchange for company only. The heroines were effortlessly beautiful, universally loved, and were handed the world on a silver platter that they mocked for its pretention. They were best friends and adored by all men and their snowglobe town. It was the ultimate fantasy. I tried to rewatch in 2020, though, and just couldn’t get over how ungrateful these two were for their obscene privilege. Sure, you have a complicated relationship with your parents… so do a lot of people whose parents aren’t willing to write them checks or buy them lavish gifts. The Poor Little Rich Girl plot just didn’t hold up for me after the last year and Lorelai’s insistence on being a friend, rather than a mom, was extremely grating when I work with teens in this situation, was a teen in this situation, and prepare to have daughters of my own. Perhaps Reddit just ruined this one for me by villainizing literally every character, claiming abuse all around and scrutinizing the entire show through a 2020 lens. Maybe I just need to come back in another time of life, but this one was a surprising pandemic no-go for me.

Stranger Things: Oh, Stranger Things, the leading title in shows that didn’t need subsequent seasons. My favorite thing about ST is the hilariously spot-on portrayal of teenagers and the amazing acting that accomplishes it. I love me some teen dramas, but working with the age group has me hyperaware that they are almost never portrayed as a day younger than 19 and always by actors older than that. ST breaks the mold with its nerdy 80s middle schoolers and unique sci-fi plot… in the first season. Unlike many, I never felt that ST needed a second, and definitely not a third, season. I didn’t need to be introduced to Billy and Max, who completely lifted out of the story. I didn’t need the audience-pandering reveal of a Steve who’s scooping ice cream and a Jonathan with a successful career, when the opposite is totally what would have happened, considering Steve’s privilege and charm and Johnathan’s poverty and general creepiness. I didn’t need a love story between the single mom and the drunken, incompetent chief of police. I didn’t need to watch Genius Elle stumble over the English language for three years. I didn’t need to see Mike’s mom become a cheating whore. Mostly, I didn’t need all of the sci-fi plot explained, in detail, ultimately removing any and all mystery from the storyline. Sometimes, less really is more and I don’t care if I’m entirely alone in saying that ST would have been far better as a miniseries with a dark and open ending.

Vampire Diaries: VD started off alright, for teen angst played by beautiful twenty-somethings, a favorite genre of mine. Admittedly, Ian Somerholder carried the show, only slightly aided when the original vampires arrived in season four, but it was still a fun watch… at first. My earliest problem with VD was that all affection for Elena dissipated by season three, seemingly a trope of vampire dramas, as Sookie Stackhouse suffered the same fate. It made for a rough watch when I loathed the main character everyone loved. VD didn’t even have True Blood’s handy backup of engaging support characters, either… just Damon and occasionally Caroline. As with most CW shows, Vampire Diaries’ greatest sin was that it went on far too long. Nina Dobrev (Elena) wasn’t even in the last two seasons and it wasn’t not the saving grace it sounds, because VD was the TV show that most obviously revealed it was never intended to be binged. I’ve never seen anything more redundant. Even reminding myself that the story was supposed to span eight years, I couldn’t get past the fact that every character died multiple times. I’m not exaggerating. A Google search reveals that the only character who didn’t die was Klaus, who left the show for his own spin-off. By season five, character death had zero impact, because supernatural loopholes would just allow for their return. After that, I wished for the ability to watch at double speed. At least True Blood had Alcide Herveaux.

Bewitched: At age nine, as my parents were growing less and less interested in me, TV was my best friend. Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer was the best thing ever and Bewitched night was my favorite. I suppose I just never grew out of my desire to live in a world with magic and Bewitched painted a picture of a grown-up existence where that was possible. On my rewatch, I realized the magic is still there. I still love the 60s aesthetic, even knowing the absolute hogwash that was the decade’s representation. I still wish Endora were my mother and consider her way ahead of her time. I still adore the shenanigans that came with a magical, meddling family. I just have one complaint: Darrin Stephens. Darrin was, at best, a bully with no redeeming qualities. Not only did he not allow Samantha to use her magic, due to his own insecurities, he insisted she hide who she truly was, because he was ashamed of her… unless he directly benefited. Their marriage was a wonderful representation of the oppression of the mid-century housewife. I’d like to think that someone magical and immortal was only with him as some form of social experiment. In my mind, 2021 Samantha is as young and hot as ever, raising her two magical children, her late husband nearly forgotten. This conclusion makes for a much better watch, because of all the shows I rewatched during the pandemic, I think this is one I’ll never outgrow.

Mad Men: I got Jake to watch the first episode of this one two years ago, only for him to rage quit, insisting Don Draper was a representation of how men can’t be successful and good. Not until recently could I convince him to try again, after explaining that Don isn’t supposed to be a hero and pointing out that if he can cheer for any of the characters in Game of Thrones, he can get off his soap box. So, I purchased the entire show on Vudu and I’m enjoying it more than I did the first time, as is Jake. Mad Men is generally one of those shows that gets better when you know the ending, as you recognize the growth of the characters through the years, in direct correlation to the shifting political and social times. Not only do I see the intention behind Don’s character changing according to what society thinks he’s supposed to be, but his older counterpart, Roger, goes through later stages of the same, even without a secret identity. In contrast, from episode one, we see Peggy’s battle with who she’s supposed to be and who she wants to be, while Betty and Joan cling to roles they were raised to fill… one with success and the other without. We even get to see how these dilemmas impact their children, growing up in such a volatile decade, all with astounding wit and impeccable taste. I’m definitely not sorry to own Mad Men.

The Office: Jake and I watched The Office for the first time, during the summer of 2019. When my manual laborer landed a promotion placing him in an office setting, though, I insisted we rewatch from episode one, so he could experience the business casual shenanigans in a new perspective. I bought the DVDs on Amazon and The Office has been even more enjoyable the second time. Originally, I found Jim to be somewhat spineless, pining for Pam for years without action, while seeing Pam as a bit cruel for stringing along both him and Roy. This time, I was able to better recognize the nuance, knowing how things ended up for the couple. Not only did the two work together, but Pam’s live-in fiancé also worked downstairs. There’s no scenario where she leaves her fiancé and dates her coworker and everyone is happy. I also figured out what exactly I don’t like about Pam and can get past it as a very human flaw: she is an utter doormat. While I could never relate to being that much of a pushover, that trait makes her transgressions a lot more forgivable. As for Michael, while I love Steve Carrell, I find him to be a much more abhorrent person than I first did. I place intentions higher than most and they still don’t carry that much weight. Holly was just as dorky, while being a much better person, and I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t get someone better.

My mother is dead and no one cares.

When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.

I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.

These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.

On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.

Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.

Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.

This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.

Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.

She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.

Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.

When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.

The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.

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.