I don’t think I can do this.

When I was little, long before my parents’ marriage imploded, I was a daycare kid… always. I started in a home daycare and entered Kindercare, a chain, when I was three or four. My memory has always extended far further than most people’s, so I actually do recall both. I remember Kindercare best and those memories are reasonably happy and healthy ones. On an average day, I would get up at six o’clock and my mother would drive me to daycare, where she would hand me off to my teacher before heading to her nursing job. Sometimes I screamed and cried for her, but most of the time I didn’t. I spent my days playing with toys I didn’t have at home and socializing with other children my age. I felt cared for by my teachers, even when I was in trouble and had very few negative experiences. The ones I did have were normal, like the time I was punished for saying the F word, because another student had misunderstood me when I mentioned my dog Buck; or when I yelled at another girl for breathing too loudly, because I have always been me. What I don’t remember is abuse or feeling abandoned. I was close to my parents at the time, excited to see them when they’d pick me up. When our relationships eventually deteriorated, I hadn’t been in daycare for years, so it bears zero blame, as far as I’m concerned.

Both of my parents always worked and I thought little of it. I envied my friends whose mothers stayed home, who could go on random zoo trips or visits to the pool, but I wasn’t unhappy. I didn’t cry on my first day of kindergarten, long since used to being separated from my mom and I never begged to be picked up from sleepovers. As a child, I adored my mother. My dad could be fun, in the right mood, but my mother was almost always loving. She found a way to do special things for us, despite the time we spent under someone else’s care. She’d make us pancakes with candles on our birthday and bring us cupcakes at school. She took off work to chaperone field trips and taught Sunday school. She always stayed home with us if we were sick. I have always maintained that my mother loved my brother and I very much and just grew increasingly worse at it, but back then, she was good at it and daycare didn’t change that perception.

Growing up, my mom did as most 90s parents and told me that I could be anything I wanted to be, without exception. My dad, however, added the caveat that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I worked hard enough… and that’s what I did. Despite the fact that neither of my parents were involved in my academics after middle school, I graduated high school with a 4.0 GPA and immediately entered college. Regardless of my wretched mistake of a teenage marriage, I never gave up on my education. Through evictions and housefires and miscarriage and abuse, I persisted and graduated with my bachelor’s degree in four years. I finalized my divorce my first year of grad school and worked twenty hours a week as a circulation clerk in my system while substitute teaching for another thirty to forty, throughout. I graduated with my MLIS at 25 and was almost immediately promoted to half-time librarian. I continued to sub, saving my money to survive each summer and relying on Our Lord and Savior for health insurance. It was tough, but it wasn’t as tough as many other times in my life and it paid off. At 28, I was promoted to a management position and eventually stepped down to full time librarian, where I was mapped into a teen librarian position on the outskirts of the county. I’d accomplished my dream and had even managed to meet the love of my life along the way, marrying and buying a house. Life was perfect.

When Jake and I decided to start a family, we never even discussed an alternative plan to maintaining our status as a two-income household and that wasn’t just because Jake had left oil and started from the bottom with the City of Cherokee. I had been adamant, from the beginning, that I was not leaving my library system. I had no interest in staying home, for any period of time, for any reason. When we learned we’d have to pay tens of thousands of dollars to have children in the first place, it was just understood that I would continue to work full time after my maternity leave, only in small part to pay for it. When Jake received a promotion placing his income just a few hundred below mine, it still never came up. I always “joked” that I couldn’t stay home with my children, that I don’t like children, that I wanted to spend my days talking to adults and enjoying my life. I wanted my own kids, but I was heavily operating on the advice that it would be different with my children. In fact, throughout my entire pregnancy, I feared that I wouldn’t love my children, that I wouldn’t like them, that I’d meet them and they’d just be some random babies, that I’d be miserable as a mom, as my friends in my twenties always reported. The last thing I said to Jake, before they wheeled me away for my emergency c-section was “I’m scared. What if I don’t love them?” Then, there were Violet and Scarlett.

By the time I was lying on that operating table, trying not to choke to death on the fluid in my pneumonia-riddled lungs, as the doctors struggled to keep me from bleeding out, I wasn’t even thinking about my babies. I was kind of just terrified. When the nurse showed me Scarlett, I remember thinking sadly “It is just a baby.” I wouldn’t see them for two more days, when they were brought down to the ICU for a short visit, because I’d woken that day, high on morphine, screaming that they’d taken my babies, that I didn’t even get to hold them, as Jake comforted me. I suppose my instincts had finally taken over. My girls were wonderful and tiny and perfectly healthy (unlike their mama), but I felt ashamed that I didn’t have that moment where the world stops turning and there were only my babies and me. They were babies. They were mine. They didn’t entirely feel like it. Maybe it was the drugs, but my love story with my girls was a slower burn than I expected, as I handed them back, too sick to hold them for long.

Expectation

Reality

I’m not sure when my love for my daughters became all-consuming, as Jake and I woke every three hours to feed them and rushed to change their clothes, before they got too cold without a onesie, pajamas, a hat, and a swaddle. Perhaps it was when we were finally able to go home and I could feed, change, and snuggle them, without a nurse interrupting to take my blood pressure or hook me up to antibiotics or give me another blood transfusion. Maybe that’s when I started to realize they were really mine, my little bear and bunny who I’d been talking to for the last several months. Regardless, the love came and it was just as fierce as I’d been promised.

Due to the complications with my girls’ birth, I had no choice but to stay home for the entirety of my allotted 90 days. The silver lining was that I was so sick that my short-term disability paid out through the whole thing and I returned to work the day my babies were 13 weeks old. Although I’d originally planned to take the girls to daycare a couple of weeks early, so we could all get used to the new routine and I could have a bit of a break, I found myself entirely unwilling to give up more time with my babies and opted, instead, for a horrible first day back. Horrible it was, as I watched my little Violet give her first smile of the day to a stranger, while my little Scarlett rocked in someone else’s rocker. In fact, when I found out that I’d have to leave work, because my doctor’s note didn’t clearly state my restrictions, I was thrilled to have another day off and promptly picked up my girls, despite the fact that I wouldn’t be paid for the day and the daycare would.

The next morning, the drop-off went a bit more smoothly… and I still hated it… as I did the day after that and the day after that. Now, we’re three weeks in and… I don’t think I can do this. When I was four, I killed my favorite doll, a Waterbaby. Quite reasonably, my mother refused to keep refilling it with warm water, to create a more realistic mothering experience for me, so I figured I’d just pop it in the microwave. The Waterbaby didn’t survive and until June 22nd, that’s been my best reference point for my maternal instincts. Every year, during Summer Reading, I declared that I was never having children. I wasn’t even sure that was hyperbole, until Jake and I received the news that we wouldn’t be able to conceive naturally. Only then did I comprehend how very much I wanted a family, as I wept and mourned the possibility of never being the mother I only briefly had, during a pandemic where every day seemed the same. Now, here I am, a mother to twin girls that cost us $30,000 and nearly my life and all I want to be is their mom. I can’t find the passion I once had for my career, the one for which I worked so hard and it’s not getting any easier.

I used to love being a librarian and had this idealistic expectation that any problems would eventually be resolved in my system and the field at large, resulting in the ultimate utopian position. In time, I’ve accepted that all careers come with their ups and downs, but the downs of librarianship were wearing on me, even before Covid-19. I used to hold a title that prided itself on neutrality and fighting a war against censorship. Now the field, as a whole, is comprised of librarians who bully publishers to retire books, because they’ve aged poorly or don’t fit their personal worldviews. Some even advocate pulling them from the shelves, only to excitedly celebrate Banned Books Week a few months later. Neutrality has been replaced with a strong push toward the perceived “correct” viewpoint, to the level that even the most professional discussion isn’t allowed, lest one be branded with some undesirable adjective. Years ago, I’d receive emails reminding staff to leave their politics and personal opinions at the door. Today, I get them from powerful higher-ups, taking sides on divisive political issues. I’m sure the echo chamber that has resulted from extended closures and the rolling back of services has not helped, as we’ve distanced ourselves from our communities, but some of the bloom has gone off the rose in recent years. To be perfectly clear, I am not saying that I’m miserable in my position… at least no more so than anyone else weathering Covid-19, just that the field has shifted to a point with which I’m no longer entirely comfortable, independently of the pandemic. My present apathy is not wholly the fault of babies.

Regardless of the state of libraries, even when discussing the things that do make me happy, like my latest outdoor teen program, I’m no longer as invested. I just want to be home with the girls it cost me so much to make. My mother died while I was pregnant, at 60, and I can only imagine how many regrets she would have had if she allowed herself to admit to them. I remember her toying with the idea of getting alternatively certified to teach, when I was 9 or 10, so she could be home with us more often, but ultimately deciding she couldn’t afford the pay cut. My father has told me himself how much he wishes he could go back and do things differently, spend more time with his kids and enjoy us while we were young. My grandmother has dreams of when my brother and I were little and calls to tell me how those were the best years of her life. My brother, only three years my senior and the same age as Jake, has been particularly remorseful of the years he’s wasted working out of state, now that his children are 9 and 13. I don’t want to feel that way about my family. I never want to look back and realize that I wasted the best years of my kids’ lives splitting my attention with a career I could have had later, spending only a couple of hours with them each night after commuting and performing the duties of daily life.

I am at a crossroads in my life, choosing to stay in my field and remain the career woman I always assumed I would be or take the path I never thought I’d even consider and leave to stay home with my children. Jake and I have planned to send our kids to Catholic school from the beginning, even going so far as to buy a home nearer to the church for that very reason. Over the years, however, I’ve met many amazing homeschool kids through my job as a teen librarian. I’ve heard the stories of why their parents choose to forgo traditional schooling, which include everything from escaping bullying to having more time with their siblings. I have always insisted that I’d love to homeschool, myself, if a) we could afford it and b) I were willing to leave my position. While we can’t afford it now, we should be able to within the next six months to a year. Regardless, it would be about the same price as Catholic school, as it stands; and the field I once adored has changed to the point that I could leave without much remorse, even if it meant I could never return. All I ever really wanted to do was teach and here’s my chance. I can teach my own children. We can all learn together and have more time to play and master life skills.

Jake, although nearly as surprised by this change of heart as I am, has been nothing but supportive. A traditionalist, he’s content with being the sole breadwinner. His primary concern is just our financial well-being, but he likes the idea of my being home with our kids, of having the freedom that comes with homeschooling. He understands my feeling of disillusionment with libraries and just wants me to be sure that leaving is what I want and not just what I feel at the moment. I’m entirely aware that I’m still coping with both my mother’s death and my beyond traumatic birthing experience, but is that so wrong? Is acknowledging my own mortality a bad reason to reconsider my decisions, my future? I can’t help thinking that, when I’m 60 or 70, I’d rather look back and have career regrets than familial ones. While my own mother worked and my grandmothers both worked, many of the other women in my family took lengthy breaks from the workforce to stay home with their families. Several of them have thriving careers, now that their children are grown. I can have a career any time in my life, utilizing either my teaching certificate or my MLIS or neither and striking out in a completely unique direction. I can never be with my babies while they’re young again, though.

I fully understand that some women don’t have it in them to stay home, or that they love their career and while the Mom Guilt hits hard, they don’t want to give it up for a handful of years, only to find they’ve been blacklisted later. In fact, I always assumed I would be in one or both of these camps. Everyone has told me that it gets better, but each day, after I hand off the babies I almost died bringing into the world, so I can plan take-home kits and argue over whether or not we should have holiday book displays, I feel worse. I spend the entire day longing to be with my girls, changing diapers and soothing tantrums. So why am I fighting this? Am I really just pushing through the ever-increasing heartache to fit the mold of an intelligent and successful woman, as created by modern American society, to fulfill my own stereotyped vison of what it is to be female? Is that any better than staying home, because that’s what a woman “should” do? It doesn’t feel right to me, leaving my daughters at daycare, even though I’ve never thought negatively about working mothers, in general. No part of me thinks that women who work are letting other people raise their children or are choosing a job over their babies or any of the other hateful things people say about them. In fact, a part of me envies their ability to push through and do so. It just feels entirely unnatural to me to not be with them and as shocked as I am, I don’t think I can do this. Joan said it best, dad: “You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

Joan: “It was my choice… not to go. He would have supported it.”
Katherine: “But you don’t have to choose.”
Joan: “No, I have to. I want a home. I want a family. That’s not something I’ll sacrifice.”
Katherine: “No one’s asking you to sacrifice that, Joan. I just want you to understand that you can do both.”
Joan: “Do you think I’ll wake up one morning and regret not being a lawyer?”
Katherine: “Yes, I’m afraid that you will.”
Joan: “Not as much as I’d regret not having a family… not being there to raise them. I know exactly what I’m doing and it doesn’t make me any less smart. This must seem terrible to you.”
Katherine: “I didn’t say that, I…”
Joan: “Sure you did. You always do. You stand in class and tell us to look beyond the image, but you don’t. To you, a housewife is someone who sold her soul for a center hall colonial. She has no depth, no intellect, no interests. You’re the one who said I could do anything I wanted. This is what I want.”

Fat Again

I was three the first time I cried, because I thought I was fat. I had the chicken pox, was covered in calamine lotion, and my brother, six, joked that I looked like Miss Piggy. He was referencing the pink color, but the thing that made me cry when my thumbsucking had caused my lungs to become infected with chicken pox, was being called fat. I can’t tell you exactly why, having been a toddler, but I’d wager it was the constant dieting and negative weight talk in our household. Throughout my childhood, I remember my mother serving us strawberries covered in Sweet N’ Low, jelly on rice cakes, Diet Coke, Snackwell’s cookies, and even Slim Fast. Along with the family fad diets, came a constant stream of complaints from my parents about their weight and how it made them feel.

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As my parents’ marriage degraded, the weight discussion became increasingly hostile. My father was no David Hasselhoff and responded by lashing out at my mother, as she put on pounds as well. Pleasing him became her primary focus during those years, as she dragged me to Weight Watcher’s meetings and read Susan Powers books. In response, my dad grew increasingly critical, not just of her weight, but all of ours. No matter how desperately my mother wanted to be the slender woman he married, however, she continued to gain weight, as did he… as did my brother and I. We’d begun some unhappy years and we happened to be fat.

In all fairness, my mother had plenty of issues of her own, as well. I still remember sitting in the emergency room at nine years old, when the nurse quoted my weight at 106. My mother, a nurse herself, gasped in embarrassment and scolded me. Not only did I suffer the pain of a broken wrist, I was mortified and ashamed. I had become The Fat Kid, just as I feared. A year or two later, when my parents split up for the first time, it was also my mother who told me that it was because of her weight. When I asked my dad if this was true, he responded “your mother has no willpower” and I never really got an answer beyond that.

Over the years, my home life compounded with my school life persona as The Fat Girl. While the other girls wore fitted shirts with glittery puppies on them and had their first “boyfriends”, cute 12-year-old boys would try to convince me that their friend liked me, because they thought it was funny. For the entirety of sixth grade, I wore a jacket to school, because a boy had told me my arms were fat. I became increasingly defensive and could even be considered a bully myself, in time. There’s something about hearing someone sing “Who Let the Whales Out” as you walk down the halls of your middle school, that makes it hard to trust.

My high school years were easier, both at home and in school. My parents were officially divorced and my mother worked the evening shift. I had a hodge podge of friends, most of us walking around with targets on our backs, but at least we were doing it together. Still, I’d never let go of my identity as The Fat Girl, though in hindsight, I wasn’t even that big. I was just fuller figured than many of the girls my age, especially the ones on TV, of which I’d been consuming way too much for the last ten years. Gilmore Girls, One Tree Hill, Buffy the Vampire Slayer… you name the show and it starred a notably tiny actress. By comparison, I felt like an Amazon, long before the Gal Gadot reference. Then my mother left, during my senior year, and I got married at 19.

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There’s no need to recount the years I was married, They were some of the darkest in my life and while I’d previously been a little chubby, the financial troubles, combined with crippling stress and depression, led to poor coping mechanisms like binge eating and drinking. It was at this point, 5’5.5″ and 275 pounds, that I realized I was the largest person in most rooms. I was not curvy or fuller figured, as many still very attractive women could be described. I was morbidly obese, with a BMI of 45.1 at 23 years old, and I hated my body. Being The Fat Girl, all grown-up, was a very different experience. Where I was mocked and bullied as a teen, as a fat adult, I was simply invisible… literally, apparently. I once stood in line at the video store and the clerk motioned to the woman behind me, as if I didn’t exist. I would go out with friends and men would talk them up as if I weren’t there. I was forgettable, at best and at worst, I was disgusted with myself and no longer even felt like a woman. I was miserable, in every aspect of my life, and I happened to be fat.

After my divorce, I resolved to lose weight, when a friend mentioned how strange it felt that we were too old for Hollister and I realized I’d never bought anything there, because nothing fit. I’d missed the Hollister stage of life. It wasn’t even a stage I wanted and the idea that I missed it, solely because of my size was upsetting. What else was I going to miss? I rarely had the energy or self-confidence for many of the activities I wanted to do by myself, like go hiking or bike riding or swimming. I was too self-conscious to wear cute clothes or date. Would I ever even meet the kind of man I hoped to marry this time around, the antithesis of my ex? I pictured a hardworking man, who could chase our kids around the yard and walk around the zoo and ride roller coasters with them. That didn’t require a body builder, but it did require someone relatively physically fit and, even before I’d fully entered it, I understood that in the dating world, like attracts like. Active and reasonably in shape people don’t typically date those who are morbidly obese and unable to climb stairs without breathing problems, regardless of gender.

Over the next year or two, I began working out, dieting, and putting more effort into my appearance. While I hoped the results would eventually play in my favor with men, I wasn’t really dating, nor was I interested in doing so. I was working two jobs, getting my degree, and taking time for myself. My motivation was purely intrinsic. I wanted to look in the mirror and toward the future and like what I saw. I didn’t want to be limited by my weight and I didn’t want to feel bad all the time. Within two years of my divorce, I weighed 158 pounds, which put my BMI at 25.9, barely in the overweight category, and my whole life had changed. I’d gained self-confidence and become better with social cues. I dated casually and stopped assuming it was beyond the realm of reason for a man to be interested. Additionally, I’d made friends, gained control of my finances, broken into my professional field, and finished my degree. My life was infinitely better and I happened to be fit.

After I lost the weight, my extended family became somewhat obsessed with the topic, since so many of them have struggled with their own fitness throughout their lives, most of them fluctuating wildly over the years. It has been ten years since I achieved a healthier size and, to this day, I cannot attend a family event without multiple comments on my weight… how I lost it, how I’ve kept it off, how good I look now. A subject I already struggle not to obsess over is casual conversation amongst my family. In the past, I’ve actually told my husband that my family has two favorite topics: Belle’s weight and Belle’s crazy mother, a fact that was clearly proven when my uncle once cornered him to exclusively discuss both… which brings me back to my mom.

My mother passed away over Mother’s Day weekend, after an overall sad and lonely life. After the divorce, things just never really came together for her again, unlike with my father. She was always a mentally weak person, caring far too much about what others thought and trying too hard as a result. Through a combination of her own self-esteem issues, much of which I know were tied up in insecurities about her weight, and a smorgasbord of mental problems she refused to acknowledge, she became steadily worse as the years passed. By the time I was on my own, she’d lost any sense of decorum or social awareness, most of her friends, and even her job, leaving me to wonder if there wasn’t some frontal lobe damage during the removal of her brain tumor, when I was 10. Beyond her strange and enabling husband, she became something of a recluse, eventually cutting ties with her own mother and losing them with me, as well. She was pitiful and only became more pitiful and she happened to be fat.

While there have been some clear connections to the unhappiness I’ve seen and weight issues, as an objective adult, I’m aware that being fat is not a blanket causation for misery. My parents had an unhealthy relationship with weight, but they also just had an unhealthy relationship with each other. My dad would have been unhappy with my mother, regardless of her size. I’d have been cruelly bullied for something else, had I been slender, because kids and teens are jerks. The real problem was my lack of a supportive home life and that is completely unrelated to body weight. I understand that I wasn’t miserable because I was morbidly obese, when I was married to a sociopath. I was morbidly obese because I was miserable, when I was married to a sociopath. I also realize that while my mother’s weight might have played a role in her relatively young death, it wasn’t the reason she had such a hard life. Again, it was likely the result of her many mental and social struggles, after years of comforting herself in unhealthy ways.

I know these things to be true and I know many bigger men and women, who are self-assured and happy and have healthy relationships. I’m related to many. When I see a bigger woman in a bikini, I envy her confidence. When I see some cute, fuller figured woman on a cowboy’s arm at a rodeo, I think it’s awesome… but then there’s me. I am the woman who has only ever been unhappy while fat and despite my objective knowledge, I cannot bring myself to dissociate the two. No matter how long I’ve been a healthy weight, I cannot seem to overcome my internal fear of reclaiming the title of The Fat Girl… and now I’ve given birth to twins and feel like I have a permanent baby belly.

Anyone who’s followed my blog for even the last few months knows what it took for me to get pregnant. Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option for having children a month before the pandemic hit. We were both fortunate to keep our jobs, throughout, with Jake even receiving two promotions… but it still cost us $30,000 and a lot of stress and heartache to hear those two little heartbeats. Now, here I am, two months postpartum, desperately trying not to obsess over my weight and I feel like I’m not allowed to talk about it. I’m so grateful for my girls and the chance to have a family at all… but I’m still self-conscious about my post-baby body.

To be honest, I thought this would have been a more prominent issue, throughout my pregnancy and was pleasantly surprised by my ability to remind myself that I wasn’t only pregnant, but carrying twins. I had a pretty good pregnancy after the first trimester. Though I had trouble sleeping, since my legs would go numb no matter how I arranged myself, I generally felt pretty good. I watched what I ate and exercised. I had a small wardrobe of cute and feminine maternity clothes. I did pull Jake into the bathroom at my baby shower, where I burst into tears because I was “disgustingly fat,” but I’d just seen my aunt using hand gestures to help fully depict her loud description of how I was carrying my weight.

It wasn’t until those last couple of weeks that I started to grow more uncomfortable with my appearance, as strangers began commenting more about how I looked like I was “about to pop”, my maternity jeans no longer fit, and I lived in an XXXL Summer Reading t-shirt. It was only then that I began to tearfully ask Jake whether he was going to leave me because I was fat. I started to picture the holidays and all the comments my family would make about how I’d lost the weight… or worse, the silence when I was around, because they were waiting to talk about how I didn’t. Feeling substantially larger the day I hit week 35, I procrastinated on posting my weekly belly photo on Instagram, because I didn’t feel well… and I never did get the chance. I thought the exhaustion was to be expected, though I was surprised by how run down I felt…

:: drumroll please::

… until I was diagnosed with “substantial pneumonia” and heart complications far exceeding preeclampsia. I’m sure I’ll share my horrifying birth story in time, complete with trigger warnings, but since that’s not the point of this post, I’ll simply say that it was the most terrifying experience of my life and I’m still recovering physically. The night I got home, I wasn’t supposed to stand for long stretches of time, having just been taken off the heart monitor. After a week as a patient, though, I stubbornly insisted on feeling human again. I washed my hair, shaved my legs, trimmed my bangs… and bravely stepped on the scale, expecting to have lost anywhere from 15-20 pounds, only to realize that I was only two pounds above my pre-baby weight. I was so incredibly ill that, while I hated those initial hospital photos, because I was carrying so much water weight, by the time I was discharged with my one week old twins (who’d been discharged days earlier), I’d lost 47 pounds since I went to the E.R. for breathing problems. I was shocked… and kind of relieved. I almost died and was rushed to the ICU without my babies, immediately after an emergency C-section. I’d take any silver lining I could get. Just as I suspected, even after hearing most of the story, my family saw my silver lining to a very dark cloud as nothing but a boon and was congratulatory of my weight loss.

It’s no mystery why I have issues with my weight, but now I find myself with two perfect little girls, who will look to me as an example for how they treat and talk about their bodies. While I’m not convinced I can ever overcome my own hang ups, the least I can do is commit to hiding them. When I was a kid and we’d go swimming at the lake or my grandmother’s pool, the adults never got in the water. When pictures were taken, they shielded their faces or asked to be cut out, especially the women. By middle school, I did the same, refusing to get in the water at summer camp and begging my mother to let me call in sick the day of our 7th grade field trip to the pool. I wore baggy clothes to hide my body, avoided having my picture taken, and wore my hair in front of my face when I couldn’t I don’t want my girls to be ashamed of their own bodies, no matter what shape they take, like I was and still sometimes am.

I am not a “health at every size” girl. It’s simply a fact that being overweight, maintaining a sedentary lifestyle, and eating poorly are unhealthy, especially if someone carries their weight around their mid-section. Acknowledging that, I don’t want my girls to think that being a little heavier equates with the killing curse, either. Sometimes life has fat seasons and that’s okay. People put on weight when it gets cold out, when loved ones die, when work gets stressful, when money’s tight and healthy food is out of their price range, after a breakup or a divorce. Some women are just built curvier and some men are naturally heftier. There are so many worse things to be than fat, from suffering from uncontrollable physical ailments like being mentally ill, chronically sick, or disabled, to character flaws, like being angry and bitter, irresponsible and apathetic, or a bad friend or loved one. I remember watching Gilmore Girls and being awestruck by the idea that Sookie could be fuller figured and still marry a good looking and kind man, have a thriving social life and a successful career. That was contrary to every idea my parents had given me, and I was an adult before I realized that men can find heavier women genuinely attractive. I don’t want my daughters to think that fat automatically equals unattractive or unhappy any more than I want them to think that living an unhealthy lifestyle is unavoidable. I don’t want them to cry because they’re fat at thirty or thirteen, let alone three.

So, even if I’m, admittedly, pretty messed up about weight, I’m more motivated than ever to fake it ’til I make it. I gained ten pounds after I left the hospital, what with no longer being on death’s door. I fear that this will be the time I look back on, the start of becoming Fat Again. Will I wish I could rewind and make healthier choices? Will I ever lose that last 10 pounds and perhaps the 10 I gained during Covid-19 infertility treatments, my Pandemic Pudge? Will I look at photos from a time when I feel fat and wish I were this size again? I can’t help but obsess over it and then I remember that my girls will be looking on, giving me even more reason to make truly healthy decisions, physically and mentally. I have to at least pretend to be confident and self-assured if I want to raise confident and self-assured children.

I was 21 when I realized that people go to the gym even when they aren’t trying to lose weight, that many of them enjoy physical activity, that exercise isn’t limited to the sports I hated as a kid. I have to make sure my girls know these things, by encouraging them to be active themselves, by being active with them and their father, by not forcing them to take part in physical activities they despise. I have to teach them that healthy foods taste good and Foods With Gravy are a wonderful treat. I have to make sure they know that bigger isn’t beautiful and real women don’t have curves, but that bodies of all shapes and sizes are beautiful and Godly creations. I have to show them that memories are worth having, even when I don’t feel at my most confident during that family photo or really don’t care to be seen in a bathing suit, in part because no one is thinking about anyone as much as they fear and also because people without perfect bodies can enjoy life, too. I have to demonstrate appreciation for my body and the amazing things it can do, by never letting my girls hear me deride it or show disgust for features they share, like my round face, big feet, turned up nose, or broad shoulders.

So many aspects of parenting are a charade, as we all play the part of healthy, well-adjusted individuals, to set good examples for our kids. This one might be one of the most important lessons of all to me, making sure my girls love themselves. It’s a good thing I’ve got a few years to improve, though. As messed up as I know it is, here in my new post-twins body, I can’t shake the worry of becoming Fat Again.

I’m done making offensive people feel comfortable.

Many an article and blog post has been written on the rude and appalling things people say to pregnant women:

“So, how much weight have you gained?” – Grandma Kay… three times

“Now, the babies are Jake’s, right?” – Aunt Dee and a 70+ coworker, Arlene.

“Stand up and let me see how big you’ve gotten!” – Arlene

Me: “Just let me use the restroom real fast and you can take your break.”
Arlene: ::laughing:: “Oh, I”ll bet you have to do that all the time.”

Dad: ::laughingly:: “I didn’t know she had a good side. I just thought she had a fat side.”

Great Aunt: ::complete with hand motions:: “Yeah, she’s really carrying her weight around here.”

… and most recently…

“You look like you’re about to pop.” – two customers and a coworker

You know… like a parade balloon.

There’s something about being pregnant that leads people to assume a woman has no bodily autonomy or modesty and comments that would never be acceptable to say to a person who wasn’t pregnant are suddenly small talk, from weight questions, to jokes about how often you have to pee, to inquiries about parentage. Zetus lapetus, folks, I don’t care how close someone is with a person who has gone through fertility treatments, that does not make it any more acceptable to ask who the father is than it would be to ask anyone who conceived naturally!

Sadly, I don’t know that any of these remarks cover new and unique territory. I’m sure every woman who has ever been pregnant has heard something similar. As infuriating as these comments are, however, I think what I’m most sick of is the excuses for them.

Me: “Grandma Kay has asked how much weight I’ve gained every time I’ve spoken to her.”
Dad: “She just wants to know how big the babies are.”
Me: “That’s a different question.”

You know how you ask how big the babies are? “How big are the babies?”

My dad’s not alone in this defense. I’ve heard similar attempted justifications from my Gramma and Arlene. Even my Gen Xer friend and coworker, Tenley, has told me more than once that my offense to these questions is generational and you know what? I call shenanigans.

I do not buy it, y’all. At no point in history do I believe that women were comfortable hearing these comments about their bodies, from the time it was appropriate to acknowledge a woman’s “condition” during pregnancy forward. Not in the 50s, when Marilyn and her 22″ waist reigned supreme, or the 60s, when Twiggy and Mia Farrow popularized the so-slender-as-to-be-boyish figure; not in the 70s, when Charlie’s Angels fought crime in bikinis and evening gowns, or the 80s when Madonna popularized lingerie as daily attire; not during the Baywatch and Sex and the City era of the 90s or the Abercrombie & Fitch adds that legit sold clothing through nudity in the 00s; not during T-Swift and Miley’s heyday and certainly not now, do I believe that any woman was or is ever comfortable with hearing comments about how large pregnancy has made her, her private bodily functions, or the method in which she got pregnant.

I am a millennial, as is Jake, despite his refusal to admit to it, due to his frustration with the generation as a whole. There are many things that annoy me about those born between 1980 and 1996, too, not the least of which is the tendency to find offense. This, however, is not an oversensitive millennials problem. I am happy to talk about my pregnancy, whether people ask when I’m due or what I’m having or what names I’ve chosen or how I’m feeling or how big are the babies. It doesn’t bother me at all for someone to ask if I’m getting excited or how much time is left. But my own mother told me, more than once, the story of being eight months pregnant with my brother, when my grandpa saw her and exclaimed that she had gotten “soooo big!” and how awful that made her feel. That was in 1984, almost forty years ago. She had an even more horrifying story of being asked when she was due, despite not being pregnant in the mid-90s. It is simply not a new phenomenon that women don’t want to hear negative and invasive comments on their bodies!

Ideally, work should have been the one place I didn’t have this problem, as my field is very progressive and since I’d included the following in my pregnancy announcement email:

“Congratulations, well wishes, and positive comments are always appreciated. Negative/discouraging remarks or stories about pregnancy/motherhood/twins/my body are not.”

After Arlene somehow managed to say something offensive during the three hours I work with her every week, for several weeks in a row, I finally snapped at her when she laughed at me, on the public floor, as I struggled to pick up something I dropped. I understand that she meant nothing by it, that she simply relates and would never deliberately say something hateful… but even my good ol’ boy husband agrees that it’s pretty much a given of social etiquette that you don’t cackle as a pregnant woman struggles to bend over. I spoke to my branch manager and told her, quite bluntly, that if a manager didn’t have a talk with Arlene, I was going to yell at her, that I simply did not have the patience for the discussion, because I didn’t want to listen to her apologize for two hours… and that’s exactly what happened after her supervisor spoke with her. That Saturday night, she texted lengthy apologies, insisting she didn’t even understand what she’d said and that she wished I’d just told her at the time. This only ended when I relayed the incidences and explained that I knew she’d be upset and didn’t have the energy to make her feel better.

Y’all, I genuinely like Arlene. She’s like our library grandma. Still, I simply refuse to accept that age is a valid exception to rules of society that are widely acknowledged by every other generation, in the vast majority of cases. Whether or not someone is over the age of 70, if they go out and spend time with people, multiple times a week, they know that is not okay to comment to other people on their bodies. I just don’t buy that no one has ever shown offense to such remarks, pregnant or otherwise. At best, they just see it as a social norm, because it was when they were growing up and at worst, they think it’s stupid to take offense, so they’ll say these things regardless, secure in the knowledge that they won’t be called out… and those are both terrible reasons to choose to be offensive, which goes for customers, as well.

Customer: “It looks like you’re about ready to pop, Miss Belle.”

I ignored this as a one-off, said nothing, and kept walking. The very next day

Different Customer: “You look like you’re about ready to pop.”
Me: “I don’t appreciate that comment.”

The very next day, thirty seconds after I finished telling Sarah how much the above infuriated me, another coworker walked in…

Amy: “Belle, you look like you’re about ready to pop.”
Me: ::harshly:: “Do not say that to me. No one on the planet wants to hear about how gigantic they are.”
Amy: ::awkward laughter::
Me: “It’s not funny.”

I’m done, folks. I might only have a few weeks left in this pregnancy, if that, but I’m not going to get any smaller in that time and, from what I hear, I have a lifetime of unwanted comments about my parenting ahead of me, so I am done. If there will forever remain those who are content to make me uncomfortable, I’ll find my own contentment in making them just as uncomfortable, right back. I’ll tell them they’re being offensive, argue the point vehemently if they push, and stare blankly if they try to laugh it off. They are the ones breaking the rules of a civilized society by commenting on private matters. They are the ones who need to get with the times. They can be the ones embarrassed in public.

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.