… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
One year ago, on May 5th, I was worried that my five year anniversary with Jake and my first real Mother’s Day would be ruined. I’d been feeling sick for several days. Jake and I were planning an embryo transfer for the next month and I was supposed to call with cycle day one. With 10 month old twins, though, my period hadn’t regulated yet and I was a week late. When the nurse at the fertility clinic had asked if I could be pregnant, I assured her that Jake could not get me pregnant. We’d accepted it. It was fine, but I wasn’t taking a test. She understood, but said I’d need to come in to check for cysts if I didn’t get my period in the next couple of weeks.
Two more weeks had gone by at this point and, concerned that I might have some severe feminine problems, I decided to make an appointment for the next week. Whatever scary news I received would come after our special weekend. I knew, however, that they’d insist on a pregnancy test. I figured I’d cope with any difficult emotional response at home and take one myself. Off to Dollar General I went, grabbing a can of chicken noodle soup along with my one dollar test, just to feel like the trip wasn’t a total waste.
As I sat on the toilet lid, waiting for my negative test result, I Googled reasons for a late period. I hypothesized everything from PCOS to ovarian cancer, anything other than the obvious. I glanced at the test, assuming I’d immediately be throwing it away. Much to my surprise, however, I saw not one line, but two.
I took two more tests, both of which also came up positive and called my OBGYN.
Me: “False positives, though… that’s not really a thing, right? That’s just a plot device from romance novels and teen movies?” Nurse: “I mean, yeah, basically. If you have three positive tests, you’re pregnant.”
Pregnant. After Jake had been told by his urologist that “miracles happen” in regards to our chances of natural conception… after spending $30,000 on back-to-back rounds of pandemic IVF… after having been cautioned against more children while fighting pneumonia, heart complications, and sepsis following the girls’ birth… I was pregnant.
So it was, that our sixth year of marriage passed in a whirlwind of minivan shopping, home improvements, and continued toddler joy. We celebrated a first birthday, first steps, and first words, all while preparing for the arrival of our baby boy. With no complications and zero drama, on December 6th our Thomas came into the world. The romcoms were half right, y’all. I’ve never believed in love at first sight, but I just hadn’t met the right man.
I adore my daughters. I love being home with them, hearing every giggle, witnessing every new milestone, soothing every tantrum, kissing every owie. I look forward to a future where I have two precious little girls to guide. We’ll do crafts, dance to bad pop music, watch princess movies, go shopping, do our nails. I love that I get the chance to be the mother mine wanted so very much to be to her daughter but couldn’t. Our relationship is truly everything I’d hoped. The bond I have with Thomas is not stronger, but it is… more unexpected. Whenever I envisioned having children one day, I was so focused on the idea of giving girls what I never had, that I never really imagined how I’d feel about a son. I even worried that I couldn’t be as close to a boy, no matter how I loved him.
Our sixth year was an utter surprise. It was the year Jake got his future hunting buddy and Lord of the Rings fan. It was the year his parents met their first grandson. It was the year my Gramma finally got her redheaded great grandbaby. Though I love my girls just as much, perhaps I relate to them more, understand their ornery motivations too clearly, because it’s my sweet Thomas who will rarely do anything wrong in his mother’s eyes. With his Daddy’s laidback charm, at just five months, this little guy could sell me ocean front property in Arizona.
After battling infertility and the drama of the girls’ birth, year six was the one where we welcomed a naturally conceived baby into the world without fear or heartache. While I jest that my children are in any way competing with their father, this was the year when I gave a piece of my heart to another man… one who looks just like him. Often having accused Jake of being a literal robot in his extreme stoicism, I’ve found it particularly swoon-worthy watching him fulfill the tough cowboy stereotype as his girls have carefully wrapped him around their little fingers over the last two years. Perhaps one day, I’ll feel he’s too hard on Thomas, just as I’m sure he’ll consider me to be too easy. In the meantime, however, seeing Jake snuggle and kiss the mirror image that is his baby boy…
If I still had my whole heart to give, it would be all his once again. Alas, I don’t think he minds sharing it.
When I was a kid, I adored the TV show Bewitched. I watched a lot of TV at the time, but there was something about the combination of the traditional family dynamic my life lacked and literalmagic that just did it for me. Samantha was beautiful and charming, the mod-style clothes and furniture were delightful, and Endora was the mom I always wanted. Whatever the reasons, though, while the other kids were watching The Babysitter’s Club, nine-year-old Belle thought this 1960s sitcom was the bees knees.
Years ago, I excitedly bought the boxed set of Bewitched. I still watch it when I’m working on various sewing projects and love it just as much. As an adult, however, I’ve spent a bit of time cultivating a head canon to support my suspension of disbelief and explain why Samantha would ever want to be with a man like Darrin. Clearly, this was an elaborate social experiment on her part; to live life as a mortal woman, unequal in the eyes of society to her unattractive, boring, and controlling husband. Sure, Darrin was successful, but Samantha was a witch. She didn’t even need money. Why else would she marry him, if not for research? In the new millennium, Samantha was definitely on a beach somewhere with the immortal Endora, Tabitha, and Adam, enjoying her freedom and decidedly not missing her late husband.
Maybe I was being too hard on Darrin, considering the time period, but I always took particular issue with his ban on Samantha’s magic. This was an integral part of his wife’s being, one that undoubtedly made her life easier. As an ad man, even Darrin appreciated the occasional nose twitch if it meant helping him get that account. What was sowrong with Samantha using her powers to clean the kitchen or visit Paris? Mustlife truly be more difficult so her husband could feel like the conquering hero when he earned enough money to provide her with these luxuries? I don’t have a lot of feminist soap boxes, but as much as I love this show, it remained the source of one of them… until quite recently.
It’s been almost 60 years since Bewitched first aired. Today, many of Samantha’s most impressive and hilarious tricks are simply outsourced or automated. Where Samantha twitched her nose and the house was clean, even middle class families employ cleaning services and own Roombas. While Samantha had to employ last minute spellcasting to prepare dinner for unexpected guests, we modern folks just use an extra couple of meal subscription servings. Endora can fill a room with furniture with a simple point, just to see how it looks, but we accomplish the same by downloading a free app. Darrin explained more than once that he forbade Samantha from taking shortcuts, because he wanted her to appreciate what could be accomplished with hard work, either his or hers. I used to think him a self-righteous tyrant for such reasoning, but here we are in 2023 with every comfort available to us at the press of a button and it has ruined us.
For years, when Jake has found himself frustrated with the state of the world, he’s told me that everyone needs to spend at least one summer building fence. For the longest time, I just took this as another of Jake’s Aging Rancher Quotes, but I’m beginning to think he was right. As a society, we see little to no value in work. It’s something to be outsourced, automated, and avoided at all costs. We don’t cut our lawns, cook our meals, clean our homes, care for our children, walk our pets, maintain our vehicles, fix our clothing, spend time with family and friends in person. Video streaming sites recommend our next watch and have even developed algorithms to randomly select for us. Spotify and Pandora even choose our next listen. We live for our next vacation… once it’s been mapped out for us by travel websites and all-inclusive resorts, that is. We are entertained at all times. Still, as a people, we report being the most unhappy we’ve been in decades.
When I became a mother, I was inundated with warnings of how difficult, exhausting, and trying life would be with twins. One of my horrible labor and delivery nurses even told me that we could not do it without help. Naturally, I panicked and had a breakdown… you know, exactly what a new mother needs after the most terrifying week of her life. When we got home, my aunts were there, folding and putting the girls’ clothes away, while I showered, shaved my legs, cut my bangs, and just generally reclaimed a sense of humanity after a week in the hospital. Though their intentions were good, they were eager to leave by the time I got done. It was clear that, without a mother, and with the majority of Jake’s family hours away, we were on our own… and that was actually okay. In fact, as my aunts pulled out of the driveway, I quickly realized that the old cliché of just wanting someone to do my laundry was not going to apply to me. While I appreciated the sentiment and effort, I’m just too particular about my housekeeping and graciously accepting as someone does my chores incorrectly was not going to make my life easier. So, I pulled up a chair and refolded and reorganized my girls’ drawers to my satisfaction… and I was happy.
Since then, Jake and I have heard countless couples talk about how hard parenting is, with only a couple claiming the difficulty lies in a lack of time, something we felt as well, when I was working. These people love their children, so their complaints are always paired with the same disclaimers I read in poetic mommy blogs. “This ‘motherhood thing’ is the most difficult and rewarding job you’ll ever have…” Yet, here I am with three under two, simultaneously receiving comments from some strangers about how they pity me and others about how they miss these years. So what is it? Are Boomers looking through rose-colored glasses? Has parenting become even harder? Considering the average couple now has less than two children, along with our modern technology, I’m not sure how that’s possible. My Baby Brezza sure says differently, as I make a warm bottle Keurig-style with the literal press of a button.
It’s not just parenting, though. Everyone around me constantly laments the pain of “adulting,” as though life has become more difficult. Y’all, Millennials made a damn word to whine about being an adult! Just as the generations that came before us, we spent our entire childhoods eager to grow up, only to complain once we got here. In the case of Millennials, however, we seem to be truly miserable, despite life being so much easier at nearly every income level. I can pick up a week’s worth of groceries without even getting out of the car. While I wait, I can download my favorite books or listen to literally any song or artist I choose. When I get home, I can put my children down for a nap with a handy-dandy sound machine right there to soothe them. While they sleep, I can watch any show I like, without planning my day around it, while working on a cross stitch pattern I downloaded online, marking off each row with an app on my laptop. If one of the girls cries, I just check their $25 security camera to make sure everything’s okay, so I don’t have to risk waking both of them. At any point, I can realize I need batteries or cotton swabs or dish soap, order it online and have it the next day. Life is so easy today. We have everything handed to us, just as we always dreamt and all we do is cry about it!
So, what’s missing from this generation that every other enjoyed before us? Hard work. With my staying home to care for our three under two, Jake and I don’t have the option to outsource. As I’ve written before, I struggle to understand how so many people in the same income bracket afford meal subscriptions, cleaning ladies, and lawncare, but I’m starting to feel that we’re the ones at an advantage. While it might have been nice to pay someone to dig up, repair, and rebury the septic system, Jake is justifiably proud of himself for doing so. I would love to send off my mother’s crate of family photos to be digitized, but that’s financially never going to be possible. So, I took advantage of modern technology and bought a quick scanner that auto crops. I’ll record each individual memory and reminisce, myself. It’ll take more time and effort, but when it’s all said and done, I’m going to take so much more pride in my childhood family albums.
At this point, I’m beginning to think I wouldn’t pay anyone to clean my house, do my dishes, or fold my laundry if I could. By doing it myself, I know where everything is, how clean it actually is, and although I do get to listen to audiobooks while I do chores, I get more value out of my downtime when they’re done. It took effort and excellent time management for Jake and I to get the garden planted this year, but when we’ve been successful at growing our food in the past, it’s been so fulfilling, in addition to saving us money. I could have ordered Christmas stockings and baby blankets for my children, but I love knowing that I sewed them myself, even if it wasn’t necessarily cheaper. Sure, we pick and choose, just like anyone. I paid someone to make Jake’s custom Wahoo board for our wooden anniversary last year, just as I paid for the girls’ individually carved music boxes for their first birthday. We simply can’t do everything and I feel no shame in admitting that. However, I think I might be done fretting over the fact that we’re unable to afford these so-called luxuries when so many who can seem so unhappy, regardless.
Growing up, I longed for the ease Samantha’s powers brought her, while despising Darrin for insisting she deny herself. Here we are, though, all of us modern day witches, discontent, unfulfilled, and bored, as we watch someone else carry out the minutia of our days. I’m certainly not suggesting we scrap all of the ease technology has brought us or forgo all of life’s pleasures. I have the newest Samsung smartphone. I carry a Fossil purse. Jake and I average one rodeo-related vacation every year or two. I, most assuredly, did not replace my own roof… but I did paint every room in my house. Jake did build the 360° shelves in all of our bedrooms. At the time, we’d have loved to hire someone else to do so, but perhaps we were mistaken in that desire. I look around at our home, satisfied that we’re raising our children in something we have, to some extent, built ourselves. It feels good. It’s possible that our new phones, designer handbags, and vacations would mean more to us if they weren’t one of many. Maybe, just maybe, Darrin Stephens had a point. Maybe leisure shouldn’t be our greatest aspiration. Perhaps, the real joy in life is building it for yourself.
Once upon a time, I was an active Facebook user… very active. I was constantly scrolling, posting, checking for notifications from people I didn’t even know, and just generally pausing real life for a digital world that didn’t matter. After some insufferable Girl Drama with some insufferable girls, I decided I needed to take a break. I deleted my account, certain that I’d cave and return in a few days… except I didn’t. The next day, there was a shooting at a church in Texas and I actually had the emotional and mental energy to discuss it with, of all people, my husband. When Jake shared that he’d felt like I never wanted to talk to him about world events, because I’d worn myself out arguing with virtual strangers, I realized that social media was harmful for me on levels I’d never even acknowledged. As time went on, I felt less stress, less frustration, and like I had so much more time without it. Suddenly, my family called to inform me when someone was having a baby, getting married, or admitted to the hospital. While I felt less connected from those for whom I felt little, I felt more connected to the ones who mattered. That was six years ago and although I do use Jake’s old account to sell things on Marketplace, I’ve deleted anyone we actually know from his friends list. In my mind, Facebook has just become a place where moms go to compete and old people go to fight. I want no part of it. Instagram, however…
I became an active user of Instagram when I found out I was pregnant with my girls. I knew my Gramma would want to see pictures, but I wasn’t willing to rejoin Facebook. It took years for my family to accept that I’d left and would never return. As far as I knew, Instagram was strictly comprised of photos and videos, with little opportunity to argue with my great uncle about whether or not it was appropriate to use the n-word on someone else’s account… or at all. It seemed the obvious choice for sharing family photos, one universal enough that I wouldn’t need everyone to download something new. That was two years ago and I feel that Instagram is the one social media forum with which I can manage a truly healthy relationship. Still, there are several Instagram trends with which I want no part, such as…
Becoming a Momfluencer
I takea lotof pictures and the number increased exponentially once I had some babies. Having spent years working as a teen librarian, however, I am hyperaware of the presence I give my family on social media. My children are not only my children. They are people with feelings, who will one day have relationships, goals, and an image they want to cultivate for themselves. They don’t need to know about the times Mama sat in the living room floor and cried as they screamed, while somehow managing to look gorgeous for that carefully filtered photo. They don’t need to read about any of the negative feelings they’ve inspired, be they stress, frustration, or anger. They don’t need to be constantly dressed in uncomfortable designer toddler wear, that occasionally veers into disturbingly suggestive territory. While it’s easy enough to decide what’s appropriate to share and what’s not, now, just as I have never shared nude baby photos, I’ll never tell tales of bathroom accidents, school punishments, or private puberty moments. I limit both the types of photos and videos I share, in addition to who can see them and will likely become even more discerning as my kids grow older and more aware.
It’s not just my children who I don’t want living under a microscope, though. I have zero desire for feedback on my every parenting decision, from snack time to forward-facing carseats, to whether or not I do Santa. Moms can be the worst, most judgmental, hateful individuals. Just as I won’t allow my children’s middle school friends to dig through the archives for humiliating family song and dance videos, I won’t expose myself to the relentless scrutiny of women who know nothing about me or my children’s needs. My Gramma loves seeing photos and videos of her great grandbabies, but her ability to do so does not include the general public. There’s a reason this blog is anonymous and I’ve given my own family pseudonyms. We all deserve privacy. I will not give that up for theremote possibility that I’ll gain the kind of popularity that could lead to ad revenue. Which leads me to my next undesirable craze…
Creating Amazon Storefronts
Naturally, the above opinions mean I don’t follow a lot of influencers. My feed is largely comprised of complex cooking, cake decorating, and crafting videos, which I harshly judge with full awareness of my inability to replicate them. Still, the occasional influencer has crossed my path with her Amazon Storefront.
Folks, even a cursory glance at my most recent Amazon orders leads me to call shenanigans on these influencers and their carefully curated shopping history. At least half of my last twenty purchases were different brands of earbuds, because keep your Lilysilk hair scrunchie for overnight curls, what a stay-at-home-mom really needsis excellent earbuds. Were I to share my Amazon purchases, it would only result in an Amazon Storefront for the insane. In the last three months, I’ve purchased:
8 different styles of leather pouches
14 different pairs of earbuds
8 pairs of women’s shoes
1 curling iron
4 different infant hats
3 jacks-in-the-box (yes, I need to know the plural)
1 high-end XBOX gaming controller
4 different lamps
3 pack of acrylic double-sided picture frames
40 pack of slap bracelets
8 pack of hand puppets
4 rolling blackout curtains
Sure, I returned most of the duplicates. I even bought more popular mom items, such as face wash, fabric softener, and hairbands. Regardless, my Amazon Storefront could only appear as a cross between that of Peewee Herman and one of the Desperate Housewives. I never have excelled at trendy, which brings me to…
Tiny Home and Van Living
It’s rare that I throw around the word “privilege.” Initially coined to call attention to legitimate social and economic advantages, our bored and hyperbolic society has wielded this term to create greater division and attach a sense of moral superiority to what often boils down to simple jealousy. In the truest sense of the word, however, there is nothing more privilegedthan glorifying minimal square footage. A component of the more widespread minimalist movement, tiny home living exalts the wealthy for having less, when so many people in this world havelittle choice in the matter. I, myself, have lived in “tiny homes” at different times in life. They just went by different names, like “trailer,” “motel room,” and “low-income housing.” My “capsule wardrobe” was a collection of Goodwill finds. The dishes I once displayed on an open shelf were a design choice resulting from my apartment’s roach problem. My simplistic décor and limited belongings were due to a lack of funding. I wasn’t chic. I was poor.
As a white, middle class, suburban mom, I am now exposed to every Marie Kondo-style fad as it arises. Each time it’s presented as a new and innovative way for people to dispose of all the junk they’ve had the privilege to buy in the first place, before painting everything in their house “natural cotton,” and filling it with overpriced houseplants. Each time, I roll my eyes so hard they’re in danger of getting stuck. While it is, of course, fine to love the color “oatmeal,” limit your dishes to four individual place settings, and decorate with copious amounts of macrame, I cannot stomach the sanctimonious attitude that accompanies this movement. I grew up in a hoarder’s home. I’ve been donating and throwing out the things that don’t “bring joy” for the entirety of my adult life. Have less if you want less, but don’t act like it somehow makes you a better human to spend $50,000 refitting a shed or van that you plan to park on someone else’s property rent free. Don’t even get me started on shipping container homes. I’ve gone without out of necessity. My three bed, three bath, 2,300 square foot home (converted garage included), on over an acre brings me joy. If living with less is your jam, excellent, but I’ve lived in 400 square feet and it was far from Instagrammable, so the champions of this movement can hold the self-righteousness. At least van and RV living have the benefit of mobility, which can’t be replicated by just buying a smaller house. That, however, reminds me how much I don’t want to…
Travel with Children
I have previously written that I am the only Millennial who hates travel. As much as I want to see something new or something old, the process of doing so is exhausting. I cannot wait for The OASIS of Ready Player One, so I can tour the pyramids from my own home. I am apparently all alone, however, because according to Instagram, travel is the bees knees. I’ve never related to the wealth of reels raving about the adventure that is spending hours in a car or on a plane… to sleep on a comforter that’s only washed twice a year… so that I can wake up and spend hundreds of dollars on basics that would cost me tens of dollars at home. In 2019, I declared that I’d rather do porn and I stand by that. Now my feed is flooded with articles celebrating travel with children and while I’m not quite willing to joke that I’d rather do porn with children, I would do some pretty degrading stuff.
Last summer, Jake and I had to bow out of a family trip to Colorado. We were a single income household with one-year-old twins, expecting a baby in December. We had to buy a minivan, decorate the spare bedroom for the girls, and redecorate their old bedroom for Thomas. As much as I wanted to spend a week in a luxury cabin with my family, it just wasn’t possible. Instead, we took a day trip to a nearby lake and watched The Hills Have Eyes in a hyperbolic reminder that vacations aren’t always fun. Meanwhile, while they weren’t dealing with mutant cannibals, my parents and step-siblings were decidedly not enjoying their Labor Day getaway. What began with an all-ages airport floor slumber party, shifted to group altitude sickness, followed by mass food poisoning, a family IV hydration therapy session, and finally, a return trip with Covid-19. The only thing that sounds worse than sleeping in an airport lobby and being several different kinds of violently ill, is doing so away from home, surrounded by other people, while caring for children.
While all of this reads like the screenplay for a bad family comedy, even normal travel involves navigating airport terminals, extended car or plane rides with changing air pressure, hotel rooms without the routine of home, and sourcing food and fun for everyone involved. This week, I had the privilege of telling Violet that she couldn’t eat the beanbag filling, Scarlett that it was time to leave the park, and the opportunity to try out the baby leash on both of them. If those every day events have been any indicator as to how a family vacation with three in diapers would go, I think I might prefer the cannibals. No amount of painter’s tape, snack tackleboxes, or a toddler travel bed from your “Amazon Storefront” is going to make a family trip any more enjoyable or worth the money than planning a family fun weekend in our comfortable home while our children are this small. Speaking of which, there is one final Instagram obsession that I wholeheartedly want to never tag.
When Jake and I bought this house, we had a short list of improvements we wanted to make. Having rented my entire adult life, I was eager to paint every room in the house. We needed a fence for our dogs. Jake had to clear some brush so we could get full use of our backyard. Over the years, the list grew. While we immediately refinished our converted garage into our bedroom; we eventually had to redo it as a family space where we could pull back the furniture and carpet when it rained heavily. That meant we had to finish the master bedroom in a way that would fit our furniture, requiring a pocket door and 360° shelves. Next, we blew insulation into the walls of the adjacent spare bedrooms, in preparation for the day they would be made into nurseries. Somewhere in there, we needed a storm shelter, a water softener, and a carport. The roof has been replaced, but now we need a new front door, a few new windows, and exterior paint. Our laundry list of little luxuries has become a chore list of necessities for a finished home built in 1980. I cannot imagine the burden that is flipping a house.
I’ve previously detailed my disdain for HGTV and how every single house looks the same. Nowhere is that more apparent than the #flipperhome hashtag. Whether you’re staring at a red brick townhome from 1960 or a Frank Lloyd Wright-style bungalow form the early 1900s, it’s going to be painted white with black trim and doors. The kitchen will have exposed wooden beams, a backsplash of subway tile, and dark green cabinets with gold finishings. The bathrooms will have free-standing oval tubs and showers built entirely of transparent glass. It’ll be staged with jewel-toned minimalist 60s mod furniture. The finished product will be homogeneously gorgeous in a feed with all the other #flipperhomes and it will have been miserably expensive, time consuming, and tedious to make it so.
HGTV presents every disaster as a hilarious adventure, complete with dialogue reminiscent of a middle school play. As a homeowner, though, I’m aware of the actual financial obligation that is a flooded garage turned bedroom, the disgusting chore of a septic system that needs tending, and the relentless hassle that is a roof replacement. I don’t even want to replicate the furniture remodels on my Instagram feed, let alone take on an entire house. As it is, Jake and I both insist on decorating our own home in classic styles and fashions we love, so we don’t have to take on the physical, emotional, or economic burden again any time soon. Our home may not be Instagram feed worthy, but that just might save me the trouble of getting all dolled up for that mental breakdown photoshoot.
After conceiving twin girls through back-to-back pandemic rounds of IVF and nearly dying in childbirth, I wasn’t exactly ready to get pregnant again this past spring. Although Jake and I had already begun the early stages of transferring a frozen embryo over the summer, I was still on the fence, myself. I’ve always wanted four children and still found that to be the case, even with twins under a year. I wanted my girls to have more siblings. I wanted Jake to have a son. I wanted a son. I wanted more noise, more chaos, more fun, bigger holidays, crazier family vacations… what I’ve never had with the brother I see once a year on Christmas. I also wanted to be alive to enjoy all of these things, so I was still erratically swinging between the insistence that the girls were enough and the idea that I was potentially up for two more pregnancies, assuming the next went smoothly.
It was on May 5th, the day before Jake and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary, that I was officially no longer able to file another pregnancy under Future Belle’s Problem. I had been waiting for day one of my cycle to begin the FET process and assumed that it hadn’t come, because I wasn’t even a year post-partum. Begrudgingly, I took a pregnancy test, annoyed at having to waste the dollar, but knowing the clinic would insist. Following a few minutes of Googling early menopause and uterine cancer symptoms as possibilities for my missing period, I glanced at the test before tossing it, only to see that it was, indeed, positive. After Jake was told, verbatim, that “miracles happen” when he asked the urologist if he could get me pregnant, after spending 2020 imagining a future without children, after thirty thousand dollars worth of baby girls, I was… pregnant.
In so many ways, I am that annoying anecdote your coworker shares about her friend, whose niece got pregnant despite all odds… the woman who had severe complications the first time around, only for it all to go smoothly the second… the mother of three under two who’d contemplated a forced childfree existence just two years earlier. With all of it behind me, I can honestly say that, despite a few tearful outbursts about how I didn’t want to die, I had an easy pregnancy and a complication-free birth by scheduled C-section at 37 weeks to the day.
I now have three babies under 18 months and I love it. I love watching the girls forget they’re mid-tantrum when they start giggling as they spin in circles of protestation. I love watching them wrestle like little bear cubs until someone cries. I love seeing Scarlet run to the front door arms extended, at the sound of Jake’s keys turning. I love Violet’s contradictory stubbornness and clingy Mama’s girl status. Now, my Thomas is here and he is a dream. After months of insisting the newborn phase is boring, I adore the snuggles. Having started with twins, I’m taking full advantage of the opportunity to dote on just one, cherishing everything from feedings to sponge baths. I rarely sleep more than four hours at a time, am weeks from being able to have sex and months from even discussing an embryo transfer, still have visible bruising around my incision, and I’m already trying to talk Jake into our fourth and final.
Just the other day, Jake announced that raising kids with me was the best thing that’s ever happened to him and the feeling is utterly mutual. Watching my husband go from the rough and tumble toddler girl dad he’s become to the sweet and gentle (for him) father of a newborn boy is absolutely precious. After years of declaring mid-spat that he’s an unfeeling robot, there’s nothing quite so dear as watching my cowboy husband hold his tiny son in his callused hands and talk sweetly to him.
I spent a lifetime anticipating being the career woman and the working mom, went to college for seven years including graduate school, threw myself into my career as a librarian for another ten. I never planned to stay home with my children, scoffed at the very idea, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made. While I fully intend to reenter the professional world one day, simply put, I just love being a mom… and I still don’t like kids.
Growing up in the South, I was raised to understand that women like children. Little girls love dolls. Teenaged girls eagerly jump at the chance to babysit. Baby fever becomes rampant in a woman’s early twenties. Any gal who doesn’t want to die alone had better start having kids by 25. Those are some Southern facts, right there, so imagine my confusion when I realized none of them applied to me.
Having lived on ten acres until age 11, I didn’t really grow up around other kids at all, let alone little ones. I had a couple of younger cousins, who I babysat once or twice, but I largely considered them nuisances who got us older kids in trouble. I never spent time with young children with any regularity. My first job was at a car lot, not a daycare. In fact, when I did get a job at a daycare in college, I made it two days before quitting. An education major in my undergrad, I still considered specializing in early childhood/elementary and even arranged to shadow my second grade teacher. That was the day, y’all. Despite my religious Southern upbringing, a childhood surrounded by suburban girls who wanted to be teachers and stay-at-home moms, a degree program that pedestalized anyone who worked with kids… the day I spent time in a well-managed second grade classroom was the day I realized that I just don’t like children.
Over the following years, I honed my affinity for teenagers, having initially assumed I only favored them due to their closer proximity in age. During grad school, I substitute taught nearly every day of the week, preferring high school, but happy to take middle school jobs when they were all that was available. More often than not, however, if elementary openings were all I could find, I’d take the opportunity for a rare day off, unless I desperately needed the money. As time passed and I moved further from my own teenage years, I loved working with teens just as much… and dreaded spending any time with children at all.
It wasn’t that I hated kids… at least not well-behaved ones. I just didn’t find them especially interesting. They couldn’t share compelling opinions or stories. Their senses of humor were undeveloped and generally revolved around the obnoxious and immature, but rarely clever. They were often oversensitive and whiney. Regardless, their parents considered them absolutely brilliant and wholly infallible. I frequently worked with children as a librarian and nearly every single reader’s advisory question posed by a parent, came with the insistence that their child’s reading level was two to three higher than their grade. I can count on one hand how many times that was actually true. When they misbehaved, in ways that were entirely developmentally appropriate, their parents wouldn’t hear it, whether they were screaming and running in the library or bullying others in programs. Teenagers, however, warranted scorn and contempt if any attention at all. When the societal blind spot for an age group I didn’t particularly enjoy was coupled with the overall disdain for the one I did, I struggled to even imagine myself as a mother in the distant future. Clearly, I didn’t feel the way everyone else felt about children. Maybe they weren’t for me after all.
A few months before Jake proposed, I became increasingly concerned. I knew Jake wanted kids and, in theory, so did I. I just… really didn’t like ’em.
With genuine distress, I shared as much with a coworker in her 50s, who had two young adult children and two still in Catholic school. If anyone could shed some light on my situation, it was a woman living exactly the life I thought I wanted.
Me: “I don’t think I like children.” Coworker: “Of course you don’t. It’s the end of Summer Reading.” Me: “What if I don’t at all? Jake wants kids. I thought I wanted them. I’m not sure I like them, though.” Coworker: “I don’t especially like other people’s children, either. I like mine, but I never really cared much for their friends. You’ll be fine.”
I didn’t know that was allowed!
In the nearly five years that followed this moment of enlightenment, I met a few others who shared this thought process. A friend at the Northside Library had little to no patience for… well, most humans, but she loved being a mother. At the same branch, a friend living with her parents had more of a sisterly relationship with her young son, yet doted on him all the same. A coworker at the Cherokee library had a surprise baby just before 40, after having accepted a childfree existence. A veteran who named Sarah Connor her hero, she’d never really considered herself maternal… until her son arrived. She still had little feeling toward children in a random sample, but adored being a mother. I’ll admit, it still isn’t a common sentiment among suburban and rural Southern women, but evidently it happens… such as in my case.
Apparently my robot husband and I are quite the pair, because I find myself in the company of Other People’s Children far more frequently these days and I feel little on a personal level… neither disdain nor joy. As with other random folks, I passively wish them health and wellness and go about my day. I do my best not to judge other parents, while still generally finding most small children grating. Yet, somehow, I seem to have endless patience for my own. Objectively speaking, I’ve no illusions about my offspring somehow being superior to others’… except that they’re mine, so they’re naturally cuter, smarter, funnier, and less disgusting by my incredibly biased assessment.
I, of course, still smile encouragingly and affectionately at little ones during storytime, just as I’d expect others to do with mine. I’d never intentionally hurt a child’s feelings and that’s all I really ask of others. I love my nieces and nephews out of necessity, whether I feel much connection to them at this age or not. I do try, but it still doesn’t come naturally to me to snuggle someone else’s baby, tickle their toddler, or get down in the floor and play with their kids. As utterly smitten as I am with my own babies, as I attempt to cajole Jake into our #fourthandfinal while still being on lift restrictions, Other People’s Children… they still don’t really do it for me. I still don’t like kids.
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?
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 thatmoment, 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.
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.
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!”
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!”
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.
A year ago, today, I was desperately struggling to lie on my back in an emergency room bed, as my lungs filled with fluid from sudden and severe pneumonia and my heart raced from extraordinarily rare and dangerous cardiac issues…
… oh, nostalgia.
I’m not going to rehash my birth story, considering it was quite literally the most terrifying night of my life and the beginning of an utterly traumatizing period of time… which I declare as someone who frequently scoffs at the overuse of the word “trauma.” Yet… it was entirely worth it.
When Jake and I found out we would have to pursue IVF for even a chance at children, I refused to let myself think of motherhood in any concrete terms. Why fantasize about something, when there was a real possibility that it would never happen for me? There are many different ways to approach infertility and for me, ducking my head and running through the line of fire was the only option. So it was, one year ago, I found myself in pretty dire straights, health wise, and my biggest concern, the one thing I kept asking Jake was…
“What if I don’t love them?”
I didn’t have a positive relationship with my mother after the age of seven. I didn’t have younger siblings, so I wasn’t really around small children growing up. When I realized, in my early twenties, that I simply don’t likechildren, I wasn’t sure if I should be a mother. I just wasn’t maternal, and unlike the droves of women sporting oversized organic cotton “Dog Mom” sweatshirts, I never considered my affection for my beagle to be comparable. When Jake and I decided to start a family, I just assumed that nature would override nurture and the love for my baby would occur naturally, during pregnancy. Except, that didn’t exactly happen.
After two rounds of pandemic IVF, healthy twins seemed too good to be true. My pregnancy, being a multiples pregnancy, was considered high risk from the start. So, in self-preservation, I found myself always expecting the worst. I spent every ultrasound waiting for devastating news. I put off buying baby items, fearing that I’d be stuck with heartbreaking mementos if tragedy struck. What would I do with an extra crib? Could you even return something like that? I didn’t even announce my pregnancy (or any of the events leading up to it) on my blog until after the anatomy scan at 20 weeks. I love looking back on my blog and seeing who I was at another point in time and I just couldn’t bear to see myself as an excited mother-to-be, knowing that it hadn’t ended the way I’d hoped.
I did try, of course. One of the reasons I insisted Jake agree to names early, was because I felt the disconnect. I wanted to feel close to my babies. I just couldn’t. So, on the most terrifying night of my life, my greatest fear remained… what if I didn’t love them?
I’ve had friends tell me that they feel motherhood is sugarcoated in our society and I’m just not sure what media they’re consuming. The only reviews of motherhood (parenthood as a whole, really) that I’ve read or heard in the last fifteen years told me it’s miserable, thankless, and all-consuming. When we found out we were pregnant with twins, it seemed these sentiments were amplified threefold. People in Sam’s Club would apologize to us when we said we were having twins. We were told we’d barely have time to shower, let alone enjoy time as a couple, and that we could forget alone time. Coupled with the detachment I felt to my twins on June 22, 2021, there was a real part of me that worried that I’d rushed into the decision to become a mother, simply out of fear that it might not be an option if I didn’t.
Well, here we are, one year later and I have a message for all those doomsaying parents…
I always assumed that on this day, I wouldn’t be able to believe that it had been a full year with my little girls in my life. Everyone says they grow so fast, that the days are long, but the years are short. It hasn’t felt that way at all for me. Quite the contrary, it’s felt like a lifetime, in the absolute best way. I remember life before the snuggles, giggles, smiles, tantrums, and injuries that I didn’t even see happen, but if feels like years ago. Perhaps that’s because the year and a half between being diagnosed with infertility, just before a global pandemic struck, and the birth of our twins, well… sucked. I don’t think I’m alone in the feeling that 2020 went on for a full decade, and while I miss life before the pandemic, I don’t miss life before children. I don’t miss my career, despite how I loved it. Mama is the best title I’ve ever earned and I am absolutely thrilled with my day-to-day. It is truly a shame that we speak so negatively about parenthood today, because all the worry that I wouldn’t love my girls, just because I can’t stand other people’s children, all the worry that I made a mistake and I’d never have time to myself, time alone with Jake, time with friends, was a waste of energy. This past year has been so much fun. Have I felt exhausted, frustrated, over-whelmed, and even isolated at times? Of course, but it has paled in comparison to the absolute joy I’ve experienced with my little ladies.
You were worth it, girls. You were worth the $30,000, the IVF treatments, the fear during pregnancy, the terror during delivery, the tears in the ICU, the blood transfusions, the echocardiograms, the heart medications. You are not work. You are not a burden. You are a privilege and a gift. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine how worth it all you would be, my precious twincesses.
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.
Six months ago, this week, I celebrated my first day as a stay-at-home mom, coincidentally on Thanksgiving Day. After working my entire adult life, as a student, a minimum wage movie theater employee, a minimum wage city employee, a substitute teacher, a circulation clerk, a librarian, a manager, and finally a teen librarian (some of these concurrently)… I quit.
I suppose that, like most first world workers, I had my grievances with my library system and the field at large, but overall, I adored my job. I worked with great people to serve a community I loved. I made teens feel safe and accepted. I helped curate a varied, current, and unbiased collection. After 10 years with the company, having worked at eight different branches, I had friends across our 19 library system. I was fulfilled… until Covid-19 hit.
I’ve said several times that if it weren’t for the pandemic, I’d likely be the kickass working mom I always intended. Even as a child, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I answered a pilot, a veterinarian, a lawyer, a nurse, a teacher, but never a mom. Of course I assumed I’d have a family, but Mom was not a career. My mother worked full time. Her mother worked full time. My dad’s mother worked full time. The little awareness I had of stay-at-home moms was primarily through a handful of distant relatives who my parents would mock for not working. Being a stay-at-home mom was for the wealthy and the devout. It truly never appealed to me, even after my girls were born… at least until they were about eight weeks old.
I’ve previously chronicled my decision to leave my career, three weeks after I returned to work, and again on my last day five weeks later. The abbreviated version was that I spent the worst part of an unprecedented global pandemic imagining my life without children. After a childhood which grew increasingly lonely, an isolating and terrifying first relationship, my solo twenties, I finally felt like I had the life I wanted. I was the person I wanted to be, someone who belonged. I was ready to start a family of my own, to create the house full of chaos, fun, and love that I’d yearned for as a child. I’d spend my 30s growing a large family that would expand to grandchildren and perhaps even great grandchildren. Yet, on February 13th, 2020, Jake came home from the urologist with devastating news. IVF was our only option. It would cost tens of thousands of dollars. It might not work. My future, as I pictured it, seem to go up in smoke.
I’ve published my infertility blog and won’t recap the heartache Jake and I went through to get pregnant, but it was indeed worthy of its own blog. As many survivors of infertility will tell you, that positive pregnancy test wasn’t the end. For the next seven months, I lived in fear that I would lose my babies, that we’d go in for an ultrasound, excited to see our growing girls, and the heartbeats would be gone. All the while, life went on as much as it could during some of the worst days of the pandemic. It was just three weeks after hearing those two little heartbeats that I was forced to put my 13-year-old beagle down, within days of my mother being put on a ventilator with Covid-19. The day after Mother’s Day she died of a heart attack. Six weeks later, my girls were born and I nearly died of pneumonia and heart complications, myself. It was just too much.
I tried, y’all. I tried to get excited about work, about seeing my coworkers/friends, but pandemic precautions had left me with nothing to enjoy about my job. I spent the better part of every day with nothing to do… so I looked at Instagram photos of my babies, read updates from the daycare about how they were doing, and looked up articles about how to determine if being a working mom just isn’t right for you. I cried almost every time I had to leave my girls and at the end of the day, when Jake and I pulled up to that daycare, I had my door open before the car stopped. I felt like a completely different person, no longer caring that the pandemic would eventually pass and the job I once loved would return to normal. I still didn’t even like other people’s kids, but I wanted to be with my girls.
Leaving my career was one of the toughest decisions I’ve ever made. I went through so much to be a librarian… but I went through a whole lot more to be a mom. Jake and I both hated that we were always in a rush, that every weekend was eaten away by basic errands and chores we couldn’t do during the week. We hated paying 2/3 of my paycheck to daycare, even when they were closed or the girls had to stay home because they were sick. We gave it time. Everyone said it would get better… but it never did.
One of my biggest fears when I left my job was that I’d regret my decision once my hormones leveled off. Every article I’d read suggested giving it six months, but the idea of waiting until my girls were nine months old just broke my already weakened heart. I talked to my stepmom about my dilemma and she shared the same concerns. She worked when her kids were small and felt it made her a better mother, just as I always thought I’d feel. Knowing how much I loved my job, she feared the same for me. No one seemed to think my quitting was a good idea. There comes a time though, when the devil you know is worse the devil you don’t and I was just so miserable working full time. So, I took a leap of faith and six months later…
… this former career woman, who used to quote “What you do is who you are,”has never been happier. I love being a stay-at-home mom. I get up in the morning and let my babies take as much time as they need to enjoy their breakfast. I spend my mornings doing the dishes and the laundry, making the bed, deep cleaning the kitchen and the bathrooms, all things I barely had time to do when I was working. I love laying on the floor of the playard and letting my daughters attack, as Violet pulls my hair and Scarlett climbs me and pokes me in the eye. I read Alice in Wonderland aloud or play Disney sing-alongs on YouTube from my phone, while both babies try to grab it out of my hand. I love that I can give them baths and let them play and try to climb the tub and each other, because I have the time to do so and don’t have to rush them off to bed.
That’s what it all boils down to, y’all. Even with twins, I have time I never had while working 40 hours a week. I get to take my girls for a 45 minute walk literally every day. We go to storytime, where we see other babies, play with lame library toys, and lick table legs. I can pick up groceries at 9:00 in the morning, before the stores get crowded and still have time to get my car washed. During naptime, I get to work out and stream and craft. I listen to audiobooks all day long. Best of all, literally the absolute best, I have the time and energy to take my girls to my hometown of Shetland, 45 minutes away, to spend one morning a week with my Gramma, the woman who’s given me everything.
I saw my Gramma multiple times a week when I lived in Shetland, but that changed when I married Jake and moved to Cherokee. I didn’t have much time during the week to drive to the other side of the city and weekends always seemed to get eaten up. I hated that she didn’t get to bond with the girls, especially considering Violet is named after her, as am I. Time was passing. My Gramma will be 88 years old this summer and I’m lucky she’s even still alive. I was terrified I’d blink and the years would be gone and so would she. I’d have wasted my chance to see her or let my girls know her. Now, we see her every week. My children actually reach for her and she knows their personalities. She counts down the days and though it’s still kind of a hassle, it’s so very worth it to make her so happy.
Not every woman feels this way about staying home, a fact with which I completely empathize, having always assumed I’d hate it. I don’t feel used up, as many women report. I don’t feel touched out. My girls play with each other. I don’t have to attend to them every second. Jake helps with all three meals, coming home for lunch, giving me time to talk to another adult in the middle of the day. We still have a loyal group of childless friends who come over every other weekend. I don’t feel lost in motherhood. I don’t need a career outside the home, because I’m still so intellectually curious that I’ve already told multiple people about the accordion gang violence I read about on BBC yesterday. I still have hobbies, friends, passions, and frustrations. I’m just not as stressed out all the time. I don’t need to decompress from work, while also somehow getting in some snuggles. I don’t have to stay up late to get time to myself. When Jake wants to visit his parents or go to a rodeo over the weekend, I’m not upset that I’m missing what little time I have with my babies. It’s fine, because we’ll just have fun on Monday.
I knew that I would be a working mom, just as surely as I knew that I’d loathe staying home, that I’d lose myself and no longer feel like a woman, just a mom. While I’ve been true to my word and my girls still don’t watch TV, play with our phones, sleep with us, or dictate our schedules, this is the one topic I knew would be a certain way for me as a parent, long before my girls were born, where I am officially eating crow. Just as being a stay-at-home mom is not right for many women, being a working mom just wasn’t right for me, no matter how I knew I’d feel. Maybe that will change in a few years and maybe not. I might go back to work or we might homeschool. I’m not going to try to make any predictions, because my previous one on this subject was so incredibly off the mark. This is what’s right for us, right now.
I was wrong. Everyone was wrong. I don’t regret quitting my job. I don’t feel isolated. I amhappy. While I truly carry no judgment for any woman who chooses to work, I recommend both options as a topic of consideration for every family. We millennials have been told our whole lives that the two-income household was the only way to thrive, to the point that many of us have never realistically considered another option. I know it’s easier said than done for the majority. I know it’s not a financial possibility for many, especially in higher cost of living areas. I know that the career repercussions would be insurmountable for others. I respect if it’s not possible or right for a family to have a stay-at-home parent. I’m glad we considered it, though, even though we never thought we would. I’m glad we ignored all of the conventional wisdom and didn’t wait. I’m glad that we found what works for us. If what you’re doing isn’t working for you, that’s okay. That includes going back to work. You’re not less intelligent, less successful or less maternal, less nurturing. You’re not letting anyone down if you forge your own path. You’re not a disappointment if you’re a different person than you once thought.
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 alsolived 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.