Why does everyone have more money than we do?

Just recently, Jake and I found the nicest public lake nearby. Living on the outskirts of the county, it’s nearby no one else, but the exact distance to the swim beach is 18 minutes from our front door. It’s small, clean, has picnic tables, grills, restrooms, and allows for boating, fishing, and swimming. After the distance, the second best thing about this little lake, is that it costs $5 per car, per day. The nearest aquatic centers costs more than that per person.

Last Christmas, my step-brother announced that he’d booked a company-owned luxury cabin, in Crested Bute, Colorado for Labor Day weekend. The whole family was welcome, at a discounted rate, which depended on how many committed. Because the cabin could only be reserved for four days, the plan was for everyone to stay at a nearby hotel for three to four more. My parents and all of my step-siblings were enthusiastically in, without private discussion, while Jake and I offered non-committal responses, knowing we’d talk about it in the car.

Though we didn’t wish to share the details of our financial situation with my entire family, from the beginning we felt it was optimistic, at best, to think we could take a family vacation in a year when we planned an embryo transfer, which costs about $4,000. So, with the final total up in the air, we tabled the idea, under the heading of “Wouldn’t That Be Nice?” In April, Zane clarified that the cost would be $100 per adult for the full stay at the cabin. Jake and I tentatively agreed that we could probably swing that, but that the hotel was out. In May, we received the wonderful news that we wouldn’t have to pay for an embryo transfer after all. In June, however, I read an article about how the used car market was going to get bad again and finally admitted that we couldn’t actually fit three children in rear-facing car seats in my Sorento.

So, we found ourselves the proud owner of a 2019 Chrysler Pacifica… along with a $1500 pending tag and title and a $100 car payment, when both of our cars had previously been paid off. It wasn’t a lot of money, but it was $1500 on our emergency credit card. All the while, my pregnancy was progressing and we needed to move the girls into the larger bedroom, so we could ready their old one for their baby brother. After purchasing a new closet kit, wood and brackets for the 360° shelves Jake built, stain, paint, brush and roller kits, curtains, and additional shelving to make the most of their small shared room from 1980, we were easily looking at another $1200 on said credit card.

In August, I conceded that Colorado just wasn’t doable. A 12 hour drive with 14-month-old twins would be miserable. With gas prices as they were, it would cost an additional $400 just to get there, making it no cheaper than flying. Flying on a holiday weekend sounded even worse with the current transportation issues, all for the equivalent of an extended weekend. We’d already put so much on the emergency credit card, yet still felt we could pay it off completely with our tax return, avoiding any interest. While we could justify charging new baby preparations, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to put a leisure trip on credit, even if it was during my 35th birthday. Instead, we would take our girls on their very first lake trip and save approximately $1,495. While everyone else was in Colorado, our family vacation would comprise a few hours less than 20 minutes away. So, in this time of 40-year-high inflation rates at 8.4%, historically high gas prices, soaring electric bills, and general financial discontent across the country, I sent a group text bowing out of the family vacation… and I was the only one.

Y’all, I try to remember that what other people do with their money is none of my business… and I have a lot of practice doing so. Even before I quit my job to stay home, I never got manicures. I cut my hair and Jake’s. I owned one purse, a leather Fossil bag, which I’ve been carrying for three years, as I did with each of the previous three. My clothes have always been bought on sale from Kohl’s, Target, Old Navy, or Amazon. I keep the newest or last edition phone, only for the camera, because I make annual photo albums. Jake’s was five years old until he got a free upgrade. We don’t have cable and keep our streaming services to a minimum. We rarely eat out, cooking at home with groceries we buy ourselves, sans meal kits. My weekly splurge is maybe a $10 sushi bento box, with Jake’s equivalent being beer. When we do get fast food, we literally always split something we buy with a coupon.

Don’t get me wrong .We’re not destitute or struggling without. We have nice computers, a 75″ TV, and quality furniture. Jake owns the newest XBOX and I the latest Cricut machines. However, these are already paid for, so we spend a lot of time at home and rarely do things that cost actual money when we go out. When we go to the zoo, I get a free pass from the library. We go to the park, farmer’s market, free festivals, church events, rodeos with tickets from Jake’s uncle. We stream new movies or check them out from the library. We host two separate DnD games every other week to maintain a pretty decent social life for parents of small children. For fun, I do various crafts and read, while Jake works in the yard or plays video games. Our tax returns go, primarily, to pay off the 0% emergency card or home improvement projects. Our mortgage payment is a little high, but it’s most certainly balanced out by the fact that we have very little debt beyond that.

I’m not complaining about my circumstances. I live in a nice, spacious home on over an acre, in a safe neighborhood, in a small suburb, in the state with the third lowest cost of living. I love my used car and Jake has no complaints about his 12-year-old truck. I like saving money and enjoy the challenge of finding coupon codes. Target clothes are enough for me. I enjoy painting my own nails. I don’t want a new purse. I’m content to be able to buy and cook good food. I’ve done the math on meal kit subscriptions and they’re a terrible deal, only slightly worse than eating out. I just don’t understand where people are getting their money and why they have so much more than we do. No matter how hard I try to be a good and non-judgmental person, I’m frequently left scratching my head at how people are affording their lifestyles.

With Jake’s friends and family, their circumstances at least make sense. His friends have largely gotten loans to start their family farms and run cattle. His sister has land and cattle because her husband once won quite a bit of money at the NFR and started his own business. One cousin is high up in oil and another helps run the family rodeo company. They’re also all 10 years older than us and most of them can’t even comprehend the term vacation, they work so hard. It’s not these folks who are confusing me and I genuinely hold zero bitterness toward them for their success. When looking at people our age, in similar life situations, though, I’m not bitter, but I am at a loss.

I’m not even on social media, but I still see some of my own family members, who’ve just bought their first home and had a baby in the same year, taking vacations, getting manicures, hitting Starbucks every day, and trying out expensive subscriptions, knowing that how much they earn annually places us firmly in the same bracket. They make similar money to what Jake and I do now or what we did before, but while paying for daycare. Still, they buy new cars, don designer handbags and jewelry, shop at pricey boutiques, and eat out all the time. They never seem to financially struggle during the holidays, whereas Jake and opted out of trading gifts between adults years ago. They had elaborate weddings, live on just enough land to cost some serious upkeep, and own farm animals that earn no revenue and essentially amount to expensive, but Instagrammable chores. They buy hundreds of dollars in gifts for their kids, keep them in stylish clothes and the latest tech, and take so many family vacations. I don’t even like to travel, but I’m still wondering how all these middle class people with small children are affording to do so, while Jake chooses a vacation horror movie on Netflix and I Google “fun and free family activities?”

I did not rejoice in the fact that my family all had to miss their flights and sleep on the airport floor with their many babies, came down with altitude sickness, got food poisoning, and experienced several Covid-19 cases during their Colorado trip… but I did rejoice in the fact that Jake and I didn’t put $1500 on a credit card to share in that experience. Similarly, I try not to somehow console myself with the idea that all of these people are drowning in debt. I truly hope that’s not the case, because although Jake and I had to pay $30,000 to have some babies, our house payment, new car payment, and minimum on the 0% credit card are the only monthly installments debts to our name. We also have investments, outside of Jake’s retirement. While they’re not as robust as they once were, with Bitcoin having bought us our babies, they still equal around $35,000. Additionally, although I’m staying home and these other couples earn two incomes, were I still working, the cost of daycare would have voided my pretty decent earnings when our boy arrives.. Even when Jake and I were both working, earning six figures together, we weren’t even able to daydream about keeping up with the Jones’s the way everyone else seems to be doing, so effortlessly.

What is it? Is everyone investing without me? Have they all inherited money? Are they printing it? Are they somehow not paying $4 per gallon in gas and $250 a month for electricity? Are the seemingly normal life expenses Jake and I experience so ridiculous? Do other people not need to have their thermostat replaced, upgrade their car with the increasing size of their families, repaint the occasional room, and save up for a new front door? Are these people, who seem to be living so lavishly in such similar circumstances to ours, somehow living in a pocket dimension where it’s the 1990s and a bag of frozen chicken doesn’t cost $30? Are they just spending more money? Do they have no savings? Are they all drowning in debt? Am I missing something, here? Am I just blind?

Ultimately, of course, I try to remind myself that the answers to these questions don’t actually matter. I have a nice life, one I’d have only dreamt of at one time. While we do make sacrifices to allow me to stay home, they’re both worth it to us and not that much greater than what we’d have been making were I working to pay for daycare. I wouldn’t turn down manicures, fancy haircuts, and massages, but I don’t feel my life is poorer without them. My children are too young to enjoy movie theaters, eating in a restaurant, or vacations. Jake and I appreciate the option to pause the movie on HBO Max and discuss or rant. We like cooking together every night, feeling it makes our marriage stronger. As for the Colorado trip, in hindsight, it seems we had much more fun watching The Hills Have Eyes after taking our girls to our new little $5 lake.

Still, no matter how hard I try to just mind my own busines, be thankful for all of many blessings, keep from looking into other people’s bowls… I can’t help but wonder, why does everyone have more money than we do?

35th Birthday and 10th Blogiversary!

I’ve been dreaming of writing this post for several years now. Having started this blog on my 25th birthday, I wondered if I’d ever make it here, still sharing my story with Future Belle and her readers. I imagined how my life would unfold over ten years. Would I ever get the job, meet the boy, buy the house, have the babies? I’m sure the overall picture is quite different in several ways, but I am undeniably happy.

You see, today I am 35 years old, a big number in the world of infertility, and I am a mother of two, soon to be three. While I never fully joined the online infertility community, I do occasionally dip my toe in and read stories from women still struggling and others who’ve survived. From the happily married and trying for years, to those still searching for love and unsure of whether they’re ready to take on single parenthood, it’s no secret that women hoping to conceive often dread and fear their 35th birthday. While we all rationally know that every body differs, we still hear echoes of generalizing doctors, aunts, and old wives’ tales warning us that if we’re not calling ourselves mothers by 35, there’s a strong chance we never will. We turn 31 and tell ourselves we have plenty of time. At 32, we get a little more anxious. At 33, we feel rushed. At 34, we start to panic. It’s positively triggering for women struggling with infertility to even think about 35.

There are so many choices in life, so many doors closed after one is opened, by the time we reach our mid-thirties. Over the years, I’ve coped with these missed opportunities through my own (probably scientifically inaccurate) interpretation of the Many-Worlds Theory. Somewhere, in a parallel universe, there is a Belle who works as a veterinarian specializing in large cats… in another, a successful travel blogger… in yet another, a respected theologist or historian. For years, I’d often slip into one of these imagined realities for a time, escaping the monotony of real life for a bit of adventure. Yet, I find myself doing so less and less often, these days. I’m not reporting a fascinating life to Instagram. My father does not live vicariously through me. I’m not a renowned academic, publishing scholarly articles. I’m not even a librarian anymore, something I’d never have imagined on the day I started this blog, ten years ago. Nope. I took the road more travel and I wouldn’t slip into one of these more interesting worlds for anything.

I’m a wife and a stay-at-home mom. My days are filled with sing-alongs, story times, and Target runs. I no longer lead meetings, attend trainings, or make schedules. The only emails I send are links for my Gramma, when she wants to buy something for my girls or the new baby. In ten years, on my 20th Blogiversary, I’ll likely be that respected professional, once again. I’ll put my master’s degree to further use and earn new anecdotal stories from my dad. Right now, though, my most wonderfully average dreams are being fulfilled. There have been several times in my life, when I’ve feared I would never have this, when this was the universe I visited. I’m happily married to my best friend, living in a home on one unremarkable acre, enjoying the most amazing days of my life to date, raising precious babies. One day, I’ll be interesting again, but here, on my no longer triggering 35th birthday, I am truly happy.

Why I Love My Prideful, Stubborn, Pushy Husband

Jake and I met in the summer of 2015, at 30 and 27. He was working as a fluid engineer an hour away, in an oil town. I was living in the suburbs, working as a half time librarian and enjoying a break from substitute teaching during the financially leaner summer months. We met online, during a time when the stigma had lifted just enough to make it ubiquitous, but not quite so much that everyone had become utterly jaded and exhausted by the entire process. Compared to the modern woes shared by my single friends, it seems 2015 was something of a Golden Age for online dating, when the majority of people approached it with some genuine sense of purpose. After all, if you were going to risk a coworker finding your profile, you were at least going to try to meet someone.

From the beginning, things with Jake were… uncomplicated. Essentially strangers, there was no immediate “spark” or “love at first sight” moment between us, because we weren’t the leads in a paranormal romance novel. I thought he was funny and had pretty eyes. I liked his beard. He thought I was cute and smart. We talked long enough for the restaurant to close for lunch and he texted within the next couple of hours to tell me he had a good time. We didn’t kiss until our sixth date, what with him having been my literal second of most things and eventual first of quite a few. He met my parents on my birthday and I met his on Halloween. I said I love you at four months and he immediately said it back. We first slept together after eight months, when we went skiing in New Mexico. That was the same weekend we hypothetically discussed marriage. By one year, we were making serious plans and that Thanksgiving, I had a ring. A week later, we’d set a date.

Just kidding… I was totally a prude.

We were married just shy of two years after that first date and bought our home a year later. Aside from the election year of back-to-back pandemic IVF cycles, followed by that time I almost died in childbirth, our relationship has gone pretty smoothly.

We’re genuinely happy.

We are each other’s best friends.

There is no one I’d rather see every single day, beyond my baby girls and my Gramma.

Still, quite often, he drives me absolutely mad.

As a former 23-year-old divorcee from a terrifying relationship, I can honestly say that I have never considered leaving Jake. I know what a bad marriage looks like and this ain’t it. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight. We met as whole people. We weren’t clueless youngsters from a Nicholas Sparks novel, embarking on an adventure together, with no idea what lay before us. We were grown adults possessing clearly set ideas about how the world works and the best way to approach it. We were and are both stubborn, opinionated, insufferable know-it-alls… and sometimes we clash.

Indeed, we do take pride in it.

Last night was just such a time. There’s no need to share the details of the fight, as I’m usually a firm believer that one shouldn’t air their dirty laundry in public, but I can assure you, Jake was in the wrong. I was the victim of course… though there may have been a throw pillow hurled in his direction, before I tearfully left to take a walk around the neighborhood. As I walked, pregnant and hormonal, I thought of all of Jake’s flaws. He’s stubborn, pushy, has the pride of ten men, and may or may not be a robot completely incapable of human emotion. Then I thought of all of my flaws. I’m often neurotic and high-strung, stressing out easily over inconsequential details. I, admittedly, have a flare for the dramatic and cry easily. Then, I acknowledged that combined, these flaws… actually complement each other quite well. Where I’m unsure and anxious, Jake is confident to the point of arrogance. In the midst of my stress, he’s always there with that Texan drawl, assuring me that “It’ll be alright”. While he takes few things too seriously, I highlight their urgency, sometimes quite necessarily. While he sits stoic, I rant about the injustice of the world. Despite our flaws, despite the fact that other people often wonder how, we do still fit. He is the string to my kite and remembering that, I began to think of all the reasons I love my husband.

He’s hardworking.
When Jake left oil, at my request, he started at the literal bottom working on sewer lines for the City of Cherokee. He made eleven dollars an hour, at a time when I was making more than double that, despite having a bachelor’s degree in hydrology and several years of oilfield experience. He took call shifts and worked all-nighters and never once complained or acted like it was beneath him. He spent his weekends helping his parents on the ranch. Even now, he spends a good deal of his time off doing chores around the house, helping me fulfill whatever grand new vision I’ve formed. He is truly the hardest working individual I’ve ever met.

He’s ambitious.
Five years after taking his $11 per hour position, Jake has a lengthy title that, summed up, means he’s the stormwater manager for the entire city. He spends his days explaining to engineers why their building permits were denied and rebuffing their attempts to resolve the whole “misunderstanding” with a sexist joke and a good ol’ boy handshake. He draws up plans, gives presentations, prepares for audits, and fights for budget items. Were I still working as a librarian, he would officially be making more money, just as I wagered he would five years ago. There have even been talks of him eventually becoming the director of public works. He will always strive for more. In the process, he’ll always take care of his family.

He’s responsible.
One of my requirements when dating, was to find someone who didn’t need me to be the grown up in the relationship. I didn’t want to have to budget someone else’s money and time, pick up after them, or nag them to do household chores. Sticker charts are for children, not adult men. While Jake and I sometimes disagree about which chores take priority, idle is not a word one could use to describe him. He is always working on some project, digging drains in our yard, tilling the garden, filling in holes the dogs dug, installing a closet kit or building shelves for the girls’ new bedroom. Not once in our marriage have I ever felt like he consistently failed to do his share.

He’s even-tempered.
On our third date, Jake and I met at a Fourth of July festival. He was at least thirty minutes late with no prior explanation, because his cell phone had died. I had seriously considered going home, but with no other holiday plans, I decided to stick around at least until it bordered on truly pathetic. When he arrived, I was flustered and awkward, having worried I’d been stood up again, so I forgot the blanket I’d brought to lay out until we were halfway to the other side of the park. I expected Jake to be annoyed at having to turn back, but he seemed entirely unphased. Growing up in a volatile household, this was a balm to the senses I’d never deliberately sought. Since the beginning, Jake has been cool-headed, rarely raising his voice or even getting angry. This stoicism occasionally presents itself as a lack of emotion or feeling overall, but day-to-day, it’s quite comforting to know that this marriage only includes one irrational partner.

He’s funny.
I’d met stoic, even-tempered men before Jake, but they all seemed to take themselves too seriously. Jake takes nothing seriously. While that sometimes drives me a little crazy, it works to my benefit as well. The man is nearly impossible to offend. I’ve only managed it once, when he came out dressed for his family’s Thanksgiving in a rodeo vest and cowboy hat. I’d never attended a holiday with him, so I didn’t realize this was how everyone in his family of cowboys and rodeo performers dressed for nice gatherings. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have offered to put on my Buzz Lightyear costume. Yet, in five years, that’s the only time I’ve hurt his feelings. As obnoxious as his borderline arrogance can be, Jake is confident enough for the most self-deprecating of jokes. He can laugh at himself, which makes it sting a lot less when he laughs at my own blunders and antics. I, myself, am not typically known for my gravity, which makes for a delightful marriage. Jake and I don’t even drive with the radio on, instead opting to talk and joke until we laugh ourselves sick. Being married to him is just fun. I love that my girls will witness that.

He’s a fantastic dad.
Growing up, my parents loved me. They just weren’t very good at it. As a result, I’ve sometimes doubted my ability to be the mom I hope to be, but I have not for a moment doubted Jake as a father. He’s never shied away from feedings, tantrums, or dirty diapers. Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve struggled in the mornings, only recently able to get up with him. He’s taken on getting the girls fed and settled in their play yard before he leaves work for several months now. It’s not just the duties of parenthood at which he excels, though. It’s also the joys. Jake comes home for lunch every single day, cheerfully getting the girls up from their nap and helping to feed them, often taking the lead depending on how I feel or if I’m working on something else. When he comes home, it’s clear he can’t wait to see his little ladies, letting them crawl all over him, stealing his hat, badge, and phone. He loves being a father and he’s really good at it.

He’s masculine, without being chauvinistic.
When I was dating, I made a lot of exaggerative jokes about requiring a classically masculine man. A Real Man was Louis from Interview With a Vampire, crying one tear every thousand years. If he wasn’t a better shot than I was, he wasn’t a Real Man. Real Men didn’t drive sedans, but pickups. I’m sure I could search the early days of this blog for more examples. This was all hyperbole, of course. I’ve met some great guys who fit none of these descriptors. Manicured, well-pressed men just never did it for me. The catch, however, was that the men I described often came with antiquated, even downright offensive ideas of gender roles… until I met Jake. Jake cooks the majority of our meals. He never balks at changing a dirty diaper or cleaning a toilet. When I was working full time, he respected a career that most men I’d met openly mocked and we split the household chores 50/50. He’s not exactly one for flowery words, but now that I’m home, he frequently mentions how much we all benefit. He doesn’t belittle my contribution as a stay-at-home mom, make me qualify my time, or attempt to control our finances. I’ve also still never seen him cry and he’s a better shot than I am. Oh, and he drives a pickup.

He has never, not once, asked me to change.
My entire life, I’ve never quite felt like I belong. It’s difficult to say that without unintentional Breakfast Club emphasis, but I mean it without drama or angst. I’ve always operated on a slightly different frequency than everyone else, often unamused by popular comedy or overly interested in odd topics. I like to be around people, but get anxious around too many. I’m a homebody, but I never stop talking. I prefer crafts to sports, but frequently roll my eyes at what passes for art. I’m too conservative for liberal circles, too liberal for conservative circles, and too opinionated to keep my mouth shut. I’ve zero interest in the personality tests that attempt to make me feel better about such attributes and will overzealously cite studies about how they’re complete and utter hogwash. I’m too quiet at times, too loud at others. I always choose the wrong moment to share that anecdote about Pablo Escobar’s hippo menagerie taking over Columbia.

In the last seven years, though, I’ve realized that all of this is okay. I don’t need to fit in with the mean girls of my twenties. I don’t have to pretend to possess a political bent when I don’t. It doesn’t actually matter if I bring up the legalization of marijuana with the wrong audience. Jake has never once asked me to change anything about myself. From my weight, to my hair, to my volume, to my beliefs, to my interests, to my poise, to my temperament. Jake has never criticized me or been embarrassed by my awkwardness or clumsiness. He’s never asked me to be anything other than exactly who I am, so the least I can do, is offer him the same courtesy and love him, flaws and all.

No Tami Taylor: A Baby for Free

It’s been a good year, y’all… easier than 2021 so far, which means leagues easier than 2020. I spent the first several months of 2022 in emotional turmoil, though. As we rang in the new year, I was just beginning to feel like myself again, after the physical trauma I’d experienced during childbirth. I could officially lift the stroller into the back of our SUV without feeling short of breath. I could run errands without feeling utterly depleted. I had energy to take care of my girls, the house, and exercise. Emotionally, I no longer felt quite so fragile either. I rarely burst into tears, convinced I’d die. For the first time since July of 2020, when we began IVF treatments, I felt human. Still… Jake and I both wanted another child.

After receiving my perinatal cardiomyopathy diagnosis in the ICU two days after my girls were born, I was informed that while my heart would likely fully recover, another pregnancy would come with risk. Officially speaking, medical wisdom advised no more children, but my cardiologist eventually added that, realistically speaking, plenty of women go on to have additional pregnancies with no complications. So, Jake and I had a tough decision to make: should we count our blessings in the healthy children we were so fortunate to have or take the low, yet not non-existent, risk of another pregnancy? Considering the cost of an embryo transfer and the experience of actually going through additional pandemic fertility treatments, I was a bit of a mess. Sure, we could wait another year, but I’m turning 35 this fall, a dreaded age in the world of infertility. We didn’t want additional troubles or risks and we didn’t want to be old parents.

I’ve previously described my infertility approach as “duck, cover, and run through the fire.” As hesitant as I was to proceed with a transfer, I knew that it was a months long process. So it began in March, when I called the fertility clinic, reasoning that I could start the consultations and spend the next few months finalizing my decision. If I decided to wait, I could always cancel the arrangements, but if we chose to proceed, there’d be no delay. Requesting a possible June or July transfer, I was told to call with my period at the end of April/beginning of May.

I spent the next two months weighing my options. Some days, I was confident that another child or two would be worth the risk and all would be well. Others, I was adamant that we were done and I just didn’t have it in me to do it all again. Most of the time, my internal battle ended with the determination that this was a problem for Future Belle. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so indecisive as to repeatedly end a mental conflict with the decision to make a decision another day.

With my period due in mid-late April, the clinic called toward the end of the month to verify that I still wanted to proceed. When I informed them that I hadn’t been tracking my cycle until the previous month and didn’t know exactly when to expect it, they asked if I could be pregnant. I told them that I’d already taken a negative test, that I didn’t want to discuss the subject, and that Jake and I had been assured multiple times that a natural pregnancy was not possible. I also relayed that, when asked what birth control I planned to use, I’d told my OBGYN with confusion “Nothing? My husband can’t get me pregnant,” to which she responded “Oh, yes. I forgot. I have no problem with that.” This was from a woman who had been quite clear that she did not think I should risk more children. In response, I was simply instructed to come in for an ultrasound if I didn’t get Day One in the next couple of weeks, because I could possibly have additional complications.

The week of our five year anniversary and Mother’s Day, I decided to wait until after our celebration to schedule additional tests. The last thing I wanted to think about were more fertility problems. The entire concept was already making me nauseous. In fact, the day before our anniversary, a Thursday, I was feeling pretty unwell and resolved to make an appointment first thing Monday. I knew they’d start with another pregnancy test, something I’d desperately avoided for two weeks, not wanting to get my hopes up that the literal impossible could happen. If we were about to embark on more treatments, though, I couldn’t allow myself to be triggered by a simple pregnancy test before we even started. Annoyed, I bought a second one dollar test, thinking once again about how I’d never get the chance to be surprised by a second line and trying not to dwell on all that I’d missed out on in this process.

All that infertility takes from a couple is a frequent theme in the community. For Jake and I, it ruined our sex life for well over a year, as I’d often burst into tears, knowing we would never make a baby. It cost us over $30,000 and unquantifiable heartache. It ruined the chance of ever being surprised by a pregnancy. It caused endless stress until the moment I held my girls in my arms, which undoubtedly contributed to my complications in delivery. Those marred the first several months of my girls’ lives, as I constantly worried that I wouldn’t be around to see them grow up and, like me, they’d have to face life without a mama.

After all these losses, it seemed trivial to be disappointed that I’d never get that moment, when I could share my pregnancy with Jake. We had been watching Friday Night Lights, though, and over the previous months, I’d watched the scene where Tami tells Eric she’s pregnant at least a half dozen times, certain that that is exactly how Jake would react. That’s not something we would ever get, instead bonding over the far less romantic administration of subcutaneous shots and appointments to monitor my uterine lining.

That was why I’d put off taking a pregnancy test in the first place, even knowing unquestionably that it would be negative. Despite the fact that I’d gotten my family, whether it grows or not, it hurt knowing I’d never have that moment. I worried it would crush me to see a single line and remember what lie before me to get a second one. While I didn’t experience the emotional breakdown I feared, it felt idiotic to take another one after two more weeks without a period. Obviously my cycle was still regulating. My girls aren’t even a year old. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to waste another dollar on a visual representation of our inability to get pregnant the fun and free way.

When I got home, I hurriedly took the test, needing to put the girls down for their nap. I sat looking at my phone while I waited a minute for the results and worried that I was somehow starting early menopause or worse, would require a complete hysterectomy. Perhaps the whole thing was out of my hands, after all. I knew a negative after a minute was likely a negative after three minutes, so I didn’t bother to prolong the wait but… it was positive.

Another staple of the infertility community is videos of women taking pregnancy tests, hoping to capture that moment when they get a positive, so they can share it with their children one day. I wish I could say that I’d have such a heartfelt moment about which to reminisce, but I don’t think that would be appropriate.

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An Influencer, I am not.

“What the fuck?!?! That is not possible.”

I called Jake at work, breathing so hard I thought I’d pass out.

Me: “Do you have to stay at work?”
Jake: “Um… I don’t know. Why? Are you okay? What’s wrong”
Me: “I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Can you just come by for a minute?”
Jake: “Okay. I’m leaving now.”

I immediately rushed back to Dollar General, a million thoughts racing through my mind, because this couldn’t be true and yet, false positives aren’t actually a thing. They’re plot devices in teen movies and TV shows. I bought the last two $1 tests, refusing to spend real money on what was surely nothing and raced home to immediately take both. As I hyperventilated, it came to me. Perhaps I’d bought a drug test! I’d been taking mild doses of medical marijuana, via gummy, nearly every night for some time, just to sleep. I rushed to the trash can to check the box, but no. It was indeed a pregnancy test… and then it was three. They were all positive.

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I was just coming out of the bathroom when Jake got home.

Jake: “Belle, the door’s locked.”
I unlocked the door and sat on the bed.
Jake: “Babe, what’s wrong?”
Me: – clumsily shoved three tests at him –
Jake: “What are these? What? You’re pregnant?”
Me: “I guess so?”
Jake: “That’s… cool.”
Me: “This isn’t possible. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I haven’t had my echocardiogram yet. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to leave my girls!”

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Jake: “Shhh… it’s okay. You’re not going to die.”
Me: “They told me I couldn’t get pregnant! We have frozen embryos to use!”

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This doesn’t actually happen, y’all. It’s just a story your well-meaning aunt tells, about how her best friend’s niece tried for years, took medications, did IVF, all for naught, and then, without warning, found out she was pregnant. It’s a tale told with all the other well-intentioned platitudes about how you’ll definitely get your baby, if you stop trying and just have faith… you know, because infertile people didn’t pray hard enough. It’s an anecdote that comes from people with no knowledge of infertility as a whole, let alone your individual situation. It doesn’t happen. Even the urologist used the word “miracle” when asked if Jake could get me pregnant. If my cursory viewing of House is anything to go by, medical doctors don’t throw that word around a lot.

I suppose that’s the only way to explain it: a miracle. Despite my initial reaction and attempts not to get my hopes up… I want this baby. The only thing I’ve ever wanted more was my sweet Violet and Scarlett. I was so afraid that the pregnancy wouldn’t be viable, that something would be wrong. I worried about the medical marijuana and the heart medication I had only stopped taking a month ago. I worried about Jake’s wonky sperm. I worried about my heart, not having yet gotten the okay from my cardiologist… or as much of an okay as she’d ever give. I worried about all the one in a million odds that had kicked us in our asses so far. I’m still petrified of getting sick again, of leaving my girls and a new baby, of being chronically ill for the rest of my life, despite getting the all clear from the cardiologist just a few days after I got my positive test and the reclassification from cardiomyopathy to severe preeclampsia from my high risk OB. I am, however, 19 weeks pregnant today, after a successful anatomy scan of our baby boy.

The infertility community didn’t need another obnoxious anecdote, but apparently, here I am. I apologize for my aunts in advance and refuse to share such details with strangers and further contribute to such an unhelpful narrative. I got a baby the fun and free way, though. I got the surprise pregnancy and the chance to tell my husband… and infertility still ruined it. Despite my aspirations, I am apparently no Tami Taylor and if this baby and I can stay healthy, I don’t even care.

Here’s to Five Years

Almost seven years ago, on June 9, 2015, Jake and I arranged to meet at a sushi place in Springfield, just north of my hometown of Shetland. I remember the date, not just because I remember all of the dates, but because it was my Gramma’s birthday and she was my next stop.

At 27, having been divorced for four years, I was growing weary of the dating scene, though I hadn’t yet begun to approach truly desperate. What had once been a fun and exciting experience had become tedious and redundant over the years. While I largely preferred online to organic dating, simply for the screening it allowed, the process had become unchanging. I’d talk to a man for a few days to a week. We’d schedule a time to meet in a public place. I’d determine we were incompatible for some reason. I’d blow him off with varying degrees of politeness. On rare occasion, I was being a diva, but most of the time my reasons were entirely valid. The day I met Jake, I was more or less over it. I didn’t want any more first dates that ended with my return to my single girl apartment, where I’d thumb through profiles I’d already seen a dozen times. I wanted to move on with my life, start the next adventure. Then I met Jake.

Ha. I jest. Jake and I didn’t have a Love at First Sight moment, because life is not a poorly written historical romance. No, we just had… a really good date. He more or less looked like his pictures, was funny, found my awkwardness endearing, and didn’t seem to be turned off by the fact that I just could not stop talking. He thought I was cute, was pleasantly surprised that I was as… loquacious as I was for a librarian, and enjoyed the fact that I wasn’t afraid to talk back to him. An hour or so after we went our separate ways, I received a text telling me that he had a good time and would like to see me again…

… and two years later we were married on May 6, 2017 after a courtship which was surprisingly easy in nearly every way. Sure, we had our spats, but overall, we were shockingly well-matched for the cowboy and the librarian. Our tastes were just similar enough to enjoy things together, yet different enough to introduce each other to new interests and entertain ourselves separately. We shared goals and worldviews and it was always just… easy.

On our wedding day, I never experienced a single moment of doubt that Jake was the best decision I’d ever made. It was a perfect day, right down to the weather, as my dad turned to me and told me I’d picked a good one this time. It was right and it has been right every day since…

… but after celebrating five years or marriage, I can’t say that it’s always been easy. In fact, 2020 would rank as the most difficult year of my life if the ends hadn’t justified the means… and if it hadn’t been for Jake and his complete and total acceptance and strength. He is the string to my kite and while he’s certainly not perfect, he is perfect for me, the best thing that has ever happened to me.

I used to lie in bed at night, every door locked, with a loaded gun in a sock in the bed next to me, praying that the next man would be a good one. After the devastation that was the one and only relationship I’d ever had, I prayed that God would see fit to bring me a Godly man who was hard working, funny, intelligent, and would be a good husband and father. I didn’t need a hero from one of my romance novels. I needed someone real, someone who would compliment my own personality… and on June 9, 2015, I found him. It was my 21st first date and little did I know that I’d meet my very best friend.

The last year has been kind to us, overall. We welcomed our baby girls into the world and I spent the year regaining my strength after that terrifying ordeal. We realized that my staying home was the best choice for our family and fully embraced parenthood. We have had so much fun with each other and our girls. I never thought marriage could be this amazing and I’m certainly looking forward to the next five years.

Am I ready for this?

I had a dream the other night, that I gave birth to triplets, they all died, and I didn’t know until days later, because I was so sick. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to watch Chernobyl right after I called the fertility clinic. I suppose hindsight is 2020.

It feels like only yesterday that Jake and I got the news that we’d have to do IVF if we ever wanted a family, just before a global pandemic hit. Yet, here we are, two years later with twin girls turning one in June. I’m turning 35 in September and Jake is turning 38 in October. We have six frozen embryos.

When we started this process, we were told that having so many embryos left to freeze wasn’t a likelihood. A good IVF cycle might yield enough to try once or twice and hopefully result in as many children. After our first attempt resulted in a complete and utter failure, we’d have been happy with the latter… but that’s not what we got. We got six in the freezer.

Jake and I have always talked about having three or four children, agreeing that regardless of gender, we’d stop at four at the most. Jake is one of three and grew up surrounded by cousins and family friends. I had a fairly lonely childhood, living on 10 acres with few kids nearby. The ones who did live close, came from equally poor families, who also lived in trailers, and my dad didn’t want us to spend time with them. Despite it having been just my brother and I, my parents encouraged a strange level of animosity between us. We didn’t just bicker. We despised each other. As a kid, I adored Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer event, when I could binge The Brady Bunch and dream of being one of a family of eight. In high school, I secretly saw Cheaper by the Dozen in theaters multiple times, by myself, fantasizing about having 11 brothers and sisters. Today, I only even see my brother at Christmas. His nieces were six months old the first time he met them. He didn’t even call when they were born, when I was in the ICU.

As an adult, my desire for a large family never faded. I spent my twenties living it up in my single girl apartment, cuddling with the dog while watching Yours, Mine, and Ours, imagining a life with a loud, chaotic, happy home. I, quite deliberately, enjoyed being single, so I don’t think I even realized how truly lonely I had been until I married Jake. Suddenly, I didn’t have to do everything by myself, whether chores or entertainment. Five years later, every night is still a slumber party with my best friend. He filled a void I hadn’t realized existed and now, eight months in with twins, the party has only grown and I know I’m not done. While I do feel a responsibility to use as many of my embryos as I reasonably can, before donating them, I also want more children.

Y’all, being a librarian was wonderful, but being a mom is the best job I’ve ever had. I love it. I love changing diapers during changing table gymnastics, dragging babies out of the dog bed on loop, seeing little faces light up with every bite of solid food. I love celebrating every new milestone and making up songs about mundane activities. I love the meltdowns and the giggles and the ever-increasing chaos. I love the idea of having one, even two more children. If things were different, I’d probably already be pregnant. They are the way they are, however, and I don’t love the thought of going through infertility treatments to get there.

Being in our mid-thirties, Jake and I have communicated pretty regularly about when we’d like to try to get pregnant again. We’ve agreed to wait the full recommended year after my C-section and see what my cardiologist has to say on the subject. If all goes well, the plan has been to transfer another embryo this summer. Infertility, however, is a hurry up and wait game, so that means the process starts… well, now. The first step was calling the clinic. The next step will be a consult with my reproductive endocrinologist. On one had, the idea of growing our family is exciting. On the other, the idea of doing an embryo transfer during a pandemic sounds awful… and after pandemic IVF, I feel like I’m something of an authority on the matter.

When I started IVF, I told Jake that my greatest fear after failure was that it would fundamentally change me as a person, that I wouldn’t be strong enough to retain my sense of self. As I’ve shared a few times, I feel that was valid. I don’t know if I’ll ever fully recover from the toll infertility has taken… and the journey isn’t over. Am I ready for this? Am I ready for the shots, mood swings, and physical side effects? Am I ready for another pandemic pregnancy? It’ll be less stressful this time around, not working and knowing that whatever happens, I have my girls. It’ll still be a gamble of approximately $5,000 on my uterus, though. It’ll still be on me to give us another child, my girls another sibling, my embryos a chance at life. Ideally, I wouldn’t mind waiting a bit longer, but time is somewhat limited, especially with the health issues I suffered last time. Am I ready to dust off the old infertility blog? Am I ready for the pressure, the stress, the tears? I don’t know, but I wasn’t really ready the first time, so… I guess we’ll see.

Muslin Sucks and Other Motherhood Realizations

A librarian, a researcher, a Ravenclaw… when I was pregnant, I did all the research. Having avoided all things baby during our fertility troubles, I felt wildly unprepared to take charge of two tiny lives forever. So, for nine months I studied the risks, benefits, and likelihood of vaginal delivery versus cesarean. I read up on schedules, sleep training, and milestones. I watched YouTube videos on diapering and swaddling and taught myself lullabies. I read list after list of must-have baby and twin items and cross-referenced them with online reviews. I did all that I could to prepare myself for all of the emotional/bodily changes and the impact of newborn multiples on my marriage and social life. Now, here I am, the mother of eight month old twins and these are my findings.

Muslin sucks.
I did more research on the things I shouldn’t buy than the things I should, because I’ve always considered the baby industry to be quite predatory. While the wedding industry sells a “perfect day,” the baby industry markets your child’s safety and well-being, heavily implying that if you don’t purchase that $200 sock, they’ll die. So, I was pretty choosey with my purchases and regret very few of them.

My husband was right, the Dock-A-Tot is an over-priced dog bed. Two full-sized high chairs would have been expensive and taken up way too much room. We didn’t need two changing tables or really two of most things. The off-brand double jogging stroller is amazing. The simplest bottles are the best bottles. My preemies did need long-sleeved onesies. The Baby Brezza was worth every penny… and muslin sucks. For years, I have seen women heaping praise on muslin swaddles, muslin blankets, muslin changing pad covers, claiming they’re so soft and that they get softer with every wash. I didn’t even think to research this miracle fabric when building my registry, since it had been sold to me as remnants of the shroud that covered Christ himself. I wish I had, though, because apparently someone over at Muslin Inc. sold his soul to a crossroads demon to convince moms everywhere that this stuff is anything but gauze for bandages.

Y’all, muslin is the worst. Since it’s basically low thread count cotton, after just a few washes, it becomes scratchy and those beautiful and vibrant colors you love noticeably fade. The weakest Velcro, which is found on a lot of baby items, will destroy it and it shrinks and shrivels, in a way that is entirely unique to these overpriced dollar store bath towels. As much research as I did, I never found a “muslin sucks” rant, so here’s mine: muslin sucks.

I sleep and pursue self-care.
When I found out I was having twins, I was prepared to never sleep again. In fact, during those last couple of months, I would often burst into tears over this assumed inevitability, as leg cramps and round ligament pain would wake me during the night. I was even angry at Jake, because he could sleep and I hadn’t slept well since before Covid-19.

When you leave the hospital with multiples, you’re given a schedule with strict instructions to maintain it. So that’s what we did, in part because I left the hospital very sick. Not only was I recovering from major abdominal surgery, I wasn’t even supposed to stand for long stretches of time, due to heart complications. Responding to every noise the girls made wasn’t a possibility. Still, those first few weeks were a blur of feeding babies every two hours, because the actual feeding took an hour or more. As a result, it was time to eat and snuggle, only when it was time to eat and snuggle, not out of heartlessness, but self-preservation. This wasn’t a problem, because our 35-weekers slept so much we actually worried about their hearing. I’d read that it was best to develop healthy sleep habits early by maintaining normal volume and lighting in the home, to help differentiate between day and night. Nothing woke those girls.

For us, this all seemed to work well, because other than the four-month sleep regression, our babies have slept through the night since they were 12 weeks old. Rather than following the wisdom of Google, we followed the cues of our daughters and dropped all of their night feedings a bit earlier than conventional wisdom suggests. First, we nixed the midnight and then the 8:00 feedings. As a result, my plump little ladies eat three times a day and we sleep. Some nights they both fight going down and others they’ll wake up crying. Our response lies somewhere between Cry it Out and the Ferber Method. If they cry in earnest, they get a snuggle and a song and return to their cribs. If they cry for more than a few minutes after, they get the same treatment. This happens maybe once every few weeks and between instances, we all sleep through the night.

I won’t claim that this is all the result of our amazing sleep training skills. I’m sure there’s a good deal of luck involved, since both of our girls have always been healthy and have never had reflux or Colic issues. Some babies just don’t sleep and that doesn’t make anyone a bad parent, but it’s not necessarily the norm to never sleep again, as we’re all told when preparing for children. Even when the girls woke every two hours to eat, Jake and I traded off on taking feedings alone, so the other could sleep longer. It might have been broken up a bit more, but we did sleep. Today, the definition of “sleeping in” has certainly changed with babies who won’t entertain themselves past 8:00, but we are not the exhausted zombies of parenting memes. In fact, I’d say I sleep much more now that I have children, than I did when I worried I’d never have them.

Similarly, Jake and I both find time to use the bathroom alone, shower, shave, and wash our hair. I’m a bodily private person and having children hasn’t changed that. I’m not going to do private things in front of my children, even as infants, if it makes me uncomfortable. After the invasiveness of infertility, I deserve bodily autonomy. My girls rest from 10-12 and from 2-4 during the day, whether they choose to sleep or roll around in their cribs and play with their feet. This is my time for self-care, ranging from exercise to grooming and basic hygiene. Maybe that will change when my twins are more mobile, but considering the number of people who insisted I’d go days between showers now, maybe not. Even during the fourth trimester, which only one person warned me would be an absolute bitch, I found time for basic hygiene every single day.

The fourth trimester was a bitch.
Despite the complications we had getting pregnant, I had a good pregnancy, until the end. Sure, I struggled to breathe with asthma and masking. Sleeping became progressively more difficult and my round ligament pain was fierce at times, but I wasn’t miserable. Though pregnancy hormones might have made me a little more sensitive, it wasn’t over-powering. I found myself a little… confused, because I was pregnant with not one, but two babies and I was actually enjoying it. Jake and I had so much fun planning for a future we had feared we’d never see. I loved feeling my babies kick and seeing them grow. In general, it was just so much easier than I had expected. I felt so fortunate to have side-stepped many of the side effects other women experience… you know, until I almost died.

I was five or six months pregnant the first time I heard the term “fourth trimester,” from my extremely even-tempered sister-in-law. She mentioned that she’d had a surprisingly difficult time post-partum, crying at the slightest provocation. I did some research of my own, but found reports varied widely and decided I’d fight that battle when I came to it. Well, a fight it was and the fear that I might have health issues for the rest of my life did not make things easier. Some days, I went from looking at my twins and feeling so blessed to have two healthy children to hysterically crying because I wasn’t going to get to see them grow up. I broke down every time a cardiologist appointment was coming up, adamant that I wasn’t going. I swung from devastation that I might not be able to have more children to insistence that I wouldn’t even try if I could.

My situation was quite unique, but the fourth trimester kicked my butt, even though I passed all of the post-partum depression tests. Despite all my research, the fourth trimester was probably the instance where I felt the least prepared. After two rounds of pandemic IVF, I finally felt as thought I’d gained a little bit of control of my emotions. Having that stripped away with minimal warning was devastating in itself. I wanted to enjoy those newborn days. I wanted to be happy and grateful, if fatigued, at all times. I was so frustrated with myself for having those negative feelings and potentially tainting such fleeting moments.

I have more sex now than ever.
For as long as I understood the reference, I knew that having children would kill a couple’s sex life. Before my girls were born, sitcoms and the single mom pals from my 20’s had me convinced that Jake and I would never have regular sex again, a particularly disheartening idea after infertility. For all of the awareness of infertility that’s arisen in our society, no one really talks about the havoc it can wreak on a marriage, particularly sexually.

When Jake and I were first trying to conceive, the sex was… regimented. Folks, as attractive as I find my husband, timed intercourse was somewhat unfulfilling. Still, scheduling sex around the blue days on an app was the steamiest scene from a romance novel in comparison to sex after we found out we’d have to pursue IVF. On the off-chance that I could get in the mood, I’d end every session crying, because it couldn’t make a baby. When I was finally pregnant with twins, things got awkward real fast. Sick until 14 weeks, I only had a few more before I became too cumbersome for comfortable intercourse. In fact, Jake deserves a ribbon for finishing the last time we were together before the girls were born, because I laughed the whole time. At 33 weeks with multiples, I was quite large for a land mammal. The angle was all wrong. It kind of hurt. It was just so bad.

I was not this subtle.

Despite my traumatic birth story, I was ready to reconnect just a few weeks after the girls were born. I missed my husband and looked forward to sex without a calendar or tears. It’s a damn shame no one told me that sex after childbirth hurts, but after one painful, failed attempt and a few uncomfortable sessions, things weren’t just good. They were better than ever.

As I mentioned, our girls slept a lot when they came home, even if it was intermittently. So, when I was still on maternity leave, Jake and I had plenty of time to be alone. Even when we were both back at work, the girls were usually asleep by 6:00, leaving potentially hours for someone to initiate sex around dinner, chores, and the 8:00 feeding. Now, our babies sleep from 7:00pm -7:00am and rarely wake up. Since I’m staying home, all of the chores get done while Jake is at work. We have all the time in the world for intimacy and we take it. I won’t go into detail, but contrary to modern wisdom, as the new parents of eight month old twins, my husband and I have more sex than we ever have in our marriage, averaging 4-5 times a week.

I have hobbies and a social life.
As a former librarian, one of my favorite things to do is read… high fantasy, romance, horror, good books, bad books. I’m actually in the process of finishing my blog series reviewing the 26 classics I read during the worst of the pandemic. As much as I wanted a family, I was saddened to think that it might be years before I could read again. If I wouldn’t have time to read, surely crochet, cross stitch, painting, paper crafts, and sewing would all be a distant memory as well. Since we met, Jake has been trying to get me into XBOX and PC gaming, so he would have someone to play with and we might share and bond over another hobby. I wasn’t opposed to the idea, but felt that surely I’d struggle enough to pursue the hobbies I do have, let alone new ones. Well, I was mistaken.

When Jake and I purchased our home in 2018, I found the inoffensive shade of Rental House Beige nauseating and painted every single room. Y’all, painting a 2300 square foot house is time consuming, so I decided to finally train my brain to listen to audiobooks. It was a game changer. I was able to finish two to three times as many books and I could read at rodeos and my nieces’ sporting events. I’ve loved audiobooks ever since and that affection has transitioned well to motherhood. I can listen to a book when I do laundry, clean, run errands, or take the girls for a walk. I can also listen while crafting. For Christmas, I made everyone mugs with my mug press. I used my Cricut to make the girls’ New Year’s Eve and Groundhog Day outfits. I resumed a cross stitch I started at the beginning of Covid. I’m catching up on the photo albums I make every year on Mixbook. Every day, I get an average of four hours of napping babies (or babies babbling and rolling around in their cribs), and several hours of babies who have gone down for the night. During that time, I get to pursue hobbies with a steady stream of stories in the background. I’ve already finished more books this year than I did in all of 2021. Jake even bought me a gaming PC so we could play together, when they girls have gone to bed.

As for maintaining a social life, Jake and I don’t really have any nearby friends with children. His buddies from high school have little ones, but they live in his hometown three hours away, in a neighboring state. Were we not in the midst of a pandemic, I’m sure we’d have strengthened the church connections we’d been cultivating before Covid. As it is, we stopped going to Mass in March of 2020, only returning to have the girls’ baptized. I assumed it would take a few more years before the twins were old enough to broaden our social network, through story and play times. Until then, I supposed it would just be the four of us. Although Jake is blessedly the most extroverted person I’ve met in my life, I still worried that this might be isolating. I needn’t have worried, because Dungeons and Dragons saved the day!

Just before the pandemic hit, I had really hit my stride as a teen librarian. I had almost 20 regulars attending homeschool programs weekly and had just started to see a payoff in my pursuit of a public school crowd. It was 2019 and the latest and greatest thing in teen librarianship was Dungeons and Dragons. Daunted by the steep learning curve, I’d dragged my feet on starting a campaign of my own, but my teens were begging for DnD. I knew my old friend Nikki actually lived a town over and had played with her husband, Percy. As a favor I asked if Percy might DM a game for us in exchange for dinner, so I could learn firsthand and invited my coworker Sarah for the second session. That was in February of 2020 and though there have been breaks for rises in cases, we’re still playing the same campaign. While I feared Jake would find the whole thing too nerdy, he took to it even more than I did. Right before I quit my job, he began DMing his own campaign with Percy, Nikki, and two of my other coworkers, Grady and Dawson. As nice as it will be to develop friends with other parents, it’s wonderful to have friendships that are completely independent of our role as parents, doing an activity that has nothing to do with our children. It’s even better that it’s regularly scheduled.

This isn’t that expensive.
Jake and I had several reasons for waiting until we did to start a family. We hadn’t lived together before we got married and wanted to enjoy some time alone. We dreaded the thought of moving with children and wanted to own our own home before they came along. Jake had left oil and hoped to advance a bit in his new field. More than anything, though, we wanted to be financially secure when we started having kids. For us, that meant reaching a minimum income and paying off specific amounts of debt. After learning we’d have to pay $30,000 to get pregnant, money was an even bigger part of our plans. Would we be able to afford daycare, diapers, and formula, let alone clothes and toys and family outings?

Of all the surprises parenthood has brought us, Jake and I have been most shocked by the fact that this isn’t that expensive. Daycare was ridiculous, because we have so many government regulations on the industry that it’s impossible to find even a rundown center for a reasonable price. Of course, we weren’t actually willing to send our girls to a subpar facility, so with twins, we were paying $1600 a month for childcare in a low cost of living state. That’s more than our mortgage for a 2300 square foot house on over an acre. One of the many reasons I quit my job was the knowledge that one more child would take more than my entire paycheck in daycare alone.

Childcare aside, though, the most we’ve spent on formula for two babies, has been about $20 a week, after the NICU pediatrician confirmed that the Sam’s Club brand was chemically the same as Similac. We buy our diapers in bulk and spend around $100-$150 monthly. Now that the girls are eating solid foods, we likely average another $100 on that, but our formula budget has decreased by about half. Currently, we spend around $300 on these priciest of necessities and for two children that’s… manageable.

When I found out I was pregnant at 21, not knowing I’d miscarry at 11 weeks, I worked part-time at a movie theater. The managers told me that if they’d waited until they were ready to have children, they’d have never had them. That makes sense, in hindsight, considering their financial situations, but the security that Jake and I aspired to was never beyond reach. We just wanted to own a comfortable home without drowning in debt. Still, we feared we wouldn’t be able to afford children, after being told for so long how unimaginably expensive they are. Well, here we are and right now, with two babies under one, it’s not that bad, financially. As they get older, they’ll have more needs and wants and we’ll have to reassess the budget, but right now, it really is okay.

Jake and I have only been parents for eight months. We have no idea what we’re doing most of the time… but that’s alright, because parenting has been wonderful. Even the rough moments haven’t come close to level of misery and negativity society projects on the institution. Our girls are not a physically and emotionally exhausting financial burden wreaking havoc on our personal lives and sex life, They’re a gift and a treasure and even when it does get tough I still feel like the rhetoric surrounding parenthood is inherently wrong. We sleep and shower. The post-partum tears have dried. We have sex all the time. We have good friends and fulfilling hobbies. We’re not drowning in debt. Some of these things will surely change as our babies grow and I’ll update you when they do, but I know one fact that will remain constant: muslin sucks.

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.

Happy New Year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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