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.

Thirty Thousand Dollars Worth of Babies

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

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

… more or less…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Do Something Nice for Your Spouse

When Jake and I got engaged, I frequently ranted about how generic all of the marriage advice sounded. Three and a half years later, I feel just as strongly that if you haven’t discussed finances or kids or familial boundaries, you have no business even getting engaged. I also firmly believe that “never go to bed angry,” is the single worst advice ever for two incredibly strong-willed individuals. “Continue arguing, no matter how exhausted you become” sounds like a great recipe for mariticide.

Now, here we are in 2020, the worst year ever for planet Earth, and I find the best marriage advice I can possibly suggest, is to concentrate more on what you give than what you get, with the obligatory disclaimer that this only applies to healthy relationships and not those who are married to lazy scoundrels.

Y’all, 2020 has hit hard and if anything, it has made me love Jake more. He’s string to my kite and I can’t give him enough credit for his unwavering strength and support through the breakdowns and the days when I just can’t get out of bed. So, when I have it in me, I do what I can to give back, in the following ways:

Doing Things He’d Never Consider

When Jake visited his parents the weekend before last, I did my best to keep myself busy, feeling as though being alone with my thoughts was the most dangerous place on Earth, even during a pandemic. So, I decorated for Halloween and updated my annual photo album. I went through some old pictures, trashing many, and made copies of others, for Jake and my Gramma. I filled the remaining slots in the photo collage dedicated to Jake’s pre-Belle days. I finally went through that box of wedding cards and realized I could use them to fill up the pages of our nearly empty guest book. I made a trip to Hobby Lobby and purchased some Thanksgiving decorations and a glass block frame for our wedding invitation, because there’s no point saving something that’s not displayed. I bought another frame for the blackout poetry I made in my first year at the Cherokee library and some reasonably priced decor to round off our his and hers bedroom theme, so Jake’s side looked more masculine. I bought pumpkins and a hay bale for the porch, replaced some old plants, donated books I’ll never read, and bought supplies to make Jake a pizza when he got home. He couldn’t have pinpointed these things, but he was pleased as I showed him how hard I’d worked to make our home more comfortable and inviting, in ways he’d have never considered.

Keeping the House Clean and Even Doing His Chores

Jake and I have split our household duties, as opposed to trading off, so we never have to argue about taking turns. So, while he was away, I took the liberty to do not only my share, but his. I cleared off the porch, emptying the bags of potting soil into the planters and cleaning up the dead elephant ears in the vegetable garden. I did the dishes and wiped down the kitchen counters. I went grocery shopping and organized the pantry and refrigerator. I swept and vacuumed and replaced the waxes in the burners so the house would smell nice. I cleared off the dining room table and made sure all of his laundry was done and the sheets were clean. Many of these things fell under the heading of Jake’s responsibilities, but I figure if he can sit quietly with me through a bad weekend and put off visiting his family, so I wouldn’t be alone, I could make his life just a little easier on a good one. Even when he’s home, I do my best to follow old and new routines, by switching the towels on Tuesday and Thursday and Sunday, watering the plants on Thursday and Sunday, making the bed every day, and washing the bedding every two weeks. Considering the fact that we have literally nowhere else to go, this has been vitally important to our mental health in the dumpster fire that is 2020.

Giving Him Video Game Time, Sans Nagging

When Jake comes home from work, he often either does chores or plays videogames and one of the ways I’ve tried to make his life more enjoyable, during a tough year, is to be more forgiving of the latter. I’ve never been a videogame hater, but I do consider them a massive waste of time, comparable to my romance novels and teen shows (though these actually make me better at my job), so in excess, I find them pretty obnoxious. During a pandemic, however, I’ve worked to redefine my internal definition of “excess.” What else is he supposed to be doing with his time? During a normal year, he usually only plays video games a few days a week, especially during Daylight Savings Time, but… this ain’t normal. Sure, there are some projects he could work on around the house, but that’s a lot to ask of someone who’s been working a very stressful new job all day. So, each night, after we’ve watched a movie or show or gone on a walk, I try not to give Jake too much grief when he wants to spend some quality time with his XBOX again, especially when it’s a social event, because he’s playing online with my step-brother or his old oil buddies.

Doing Thoughtful Little Things

Jake is not good with “thank you.” He sucks at “please,” too, as a matter of fact. I see why, when I visit his family and not a single person utters such pleasantries. It’s as if they think that family doesn’t need these formalities, but it drives me batty. How hard is it to show just a little bit of basic gratitude?!?! This year, however, I’m trying to do more nice little things for Jake, regardless of the lack of praise. I get him his favorite movies from work, make his lunch if I get home first, surprise him with a Monster drink or a Dr. Pepper, and unload the dishwasher so he doesn’t have to do it on his lunch break. I buy him the gum and coffee beans he likes and a bag of bulk chili mango slices, which I’m not only allergic to, but find absolutely disgusting. With or without verbal thanks, I know these things make Jake feel loved and appreciated and I’m doing my best to do them more often.

Cherishing the Little Bit of Normalcy That is Staying Cute

This year isn’t going to be any easier on either of us, if we both get fat and sloppy. In fact, that would make next year suck, too. While I’ve essentially stopped wearing makeup, for the time being, because it seems like a waste when half my face is always covered, I’ve done my best to maintain my fairly low-maintenance beauty routine of shaving my legs and using the fancy conditioner (fancy still means $3) on Thursday and Sunday, keeping my skin as clear as I can when it’s often covered by a mask, trimming my bangs, and once again dressing cute and professional for work. I’ve spent some of the money we’ve saved this year on new dresses and shoes from Kohl’s and Old Navy and thrown out anything ratty or torn. I’m hardly dressed to the nines, but I also refuse to make my life any more difficult by gaining 30 pounds or getting into the habit of lounging around dressed like a slovenly mess. It makes both Jake and I feel a little better to recapture the normalcy that is not living in athletic shorts and a tank top, as I did during our six week lockdown.

Giving Him the Best Birthday I Can

My Red Panda turns 36 next week and I’m going to give him the best birthday I possibly can, in a year when Earth is still only varying degrees of open. I’ve been saving for several months to buy Jake a new 30 gun safe, a long time goal of his. I’ve read the first in The Fellowship of the Ring, so we can watch it together and I’ll know what’s happening. I’ve gathered a few small surprises. I’ve got a plan in place to get his favorite cake and I’m going to make him his favorite cookies. This weekend will be all about him. Whatever he wants to do, that we’re able to do we will. My birthday was a little underwhelming, but I’ll do my best to give my favorite cowboy whatever I can.

This has been a hard year, folks. While I don’t claim that my values or emphasis are universal and fully understand that there are many different kinds of marriages, I encourage you to do something nice for your spouse, whatever that may be, expecting nothing in return. We all need someone right and it’s the luckiest of us who have our best friend with us each and every day.

How Luck Prepared Us for Disaster

Right now, I have a firm grasp on positivity… which of course means that later, I’ll have a firm grasp on a bottle of whiskey. My highs are really high and my lows are really low. I half-ass nothing.

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So, in my latest up moment, I’ve been considering all the ways that I’m at an advantage during this pandemic, either by good decisions I’ve made that have ultimately prepared me for disaster, or the more likely scenario of pure chance. I’m a firm believer that where liberals tend to underestimate the role of moxy and self-determination, conservatives tend to underestimate the role of luck. So here’s a mix of both.

We’re used to eating at home.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people eat out all the time. Jake and I split a McDonald’s burger and fries (no drink) to celebrate Easter, since it was already the lamest holiday ever and it cost $7.26. That’s why we never eat out and y’all are crazy. Fortunately for us, this means we’ve got quite the cache of recipes, because we’re used to cooking. We’re not eating pasta night after night, but instead we’re eating soups, stew, salmon, enchiladas, salads, burgers, garlic green beans, battered fish, fries and tots, coconut haystacks, chocolate chip cookies, cake mix cookies… We’ve developed a lengthy menu over the years. Since we come home for lunch, that includes lunches. We are not scrambling for meal planning ideas.

I’ve been cutting our hair for years.
Zetus lapetus, I don’t know how you people get your hair cut all the time. A few years ago, I decided I wanted bangs, but I knew they’d need more upkeep than my twice annual haircut, so I bought some hair sheers on Amazon for $15 and started doing it myself, with tips from YouTube. A year ago, Jake asked me to cut his hair, so we could save the $20 every couple of months. For the cost of one of those haircuts, I bought a trimmer on Amazon and have been doing it ever since. Despite all salons being closed, there are no shaggy folks in the Granger household.

I own walking shoes and workout equipment.
I’ve had an elliptical for years and purchased my rowing machine about a month before the pandemic really hit. I also bought a good pair of walking shoes about six months ago and live in an older neighborhood with large lots and wide streets, so walks are a great way to get out of the house.

We don’t have kids.
We want to do the baby thing soon, but we haven’t gotten around to it just yet and I’ve gotta say, what a time to be childless. I cannot imagine going through the highs and lows I hit in one day with small children in tow. I miss my job and the days feel long and meaningless, while I’m constantly terrified that I’ll get news that there won’t be any paychecks after a certain date. I can’t sleep, because I wake up and remember we’re in the middle of the apocalypse. It’s exhausting and I’m so glad I’m not solely responsible for another human’s health and well-being at this very moment of my life.

We have stable(ish) jobs. 
They’re furloughing nurses and doctors in my state, during a pandemic. No job is 100% safe. Jake and I, however, have been lucky enough to keep our jobs and pay thus far. While I’m home, I am doing three remote programs a week with my homeschool kids, to justify that pay and none of my managers seem worried that we’ll lose it, let alone our jobs. Jake is essential, if people want to continue getting water in their homes, and he goes to work every day, as per usual.

I have a contingency plan.
If the bottom falls out, I just passed my school media certification test to add another subject area to my teaching certificate, which I’ve kept going all these years. They will always need teachers and I can always teach… even if that means eventually relocating to Jake’s home state, where teachers are better compensated.

We already bought a house.
Realizing that Cherokee property values were soaring and recognizing that if we waited to buy until we had a 20% down payment, we’d price ourselves out of the market, we purchased our 2,300 square foot, 1980’s flip on over an acre, for $210,000 with 5% down in 2018. Since I have no idea what Covid-19 is going to do to the housing market or mortgages as a whole, I’m really glad we’ve already bought a home that we plan to stay in for at least the next 15 years.

I just refinanced that house.
Literally, two weeks after the lock down, we signed the paperwork on a lower fixed interest rate and a lower monthly payment, which stated that we’d already earned 10% equity. We won’t have to make a mortgage payment until June and can use those payments to secure our financial position.

We’ve paid off a lot of debt and are now nearing an ideal financial situation.
I married a man with a nest egg and that is pure luck. Do any of y’all remember my rants about Fifty Shades of Grey and how I’d let a man hang me upside down and gut me like a deer if he’d only pay off my student loans? That happened!

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Not that part… the part about the student loans. While I still owe on my federal student loans, they’re on an income based repayment program that only counts my income and comes out to about $220 a month, while the remainder is due for public service student loan forgiveness in 2024. My private student loans, however, were killing us. We were paying $300 a month just to keep the phone calls at bay, because we weren’t even touching the principal… that is, until my romantic hero swept in and paid them all off, along with my car and credit card, ultimately lowering our overhead by quite a bit. We’ve also paid off multiple credit cards since then and managed to secure a car payment of about $200 per month, while maintaining a sizable emergency fund.

I like my husband… and for some reason, he likes me.
I’ve seen a lot of memes and articles citing the stress that this pandemic is putting on marriages. Maybe it’s because Jake is still going to work each day or because we have a lot of space to offer each other, but I just don’t feel that way. I have thought a hundred times how much worse this pandemic would be if I were single. I could barely handle getting iced in all alone during Southern snowstorms in my twenties, and those only lasted a few days. I would go crazy with no one but my pets, sitting around 24/7 reading articles about the end times.

During Armageddon, Jake gives me a reason to be in a good mood, to be sober, to keep a clean house, to make healthy meals, as opposed to my famous single girl dining experience of Lotso Snack Foods. Marshmallows and maraschino cherries for dinner anyone? Jake provides comfort and company and someone to share sad McDonald’s burgers as we celebrate Isolation Holidays with video games and drinking. For some reason, he’s grateful to have me around too and I’m beginning to think that’s it’s just his provider instincts. When crisis hits, he needs something to take care of… enter me. 

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Minimalist Pandemic Goals

Three weeks ago, I got the news that my library would be closing for two weeks, in the face of Covid-19. One week ago, I got the news that my library would be closing for two more weeks. Last Thursday… I think, the days are beginning to run together… I got the news that my library would be closed for the month of April.

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Text to My Boss: Can we just stage a coup and go back anyway? Open the library, welcome people inside. I’m tired of being a part of the solution. Let’s be part of the problem.

In that first week, I posted an adorably ambitious list of pandemic goals. In hindsight, I now realize, of course, that this is the equivalent to a Google search for the most popular New Year’s resolutions. So I’m here to revise…

Goal 1: Do Everything I Can to Keep My Job

I am being paid, in full, while still accruing leave. I have a paycheck and health insurance through the end of the month, guaranteed. None of my managers are concerned about our jobs. We have a very secure funding model, similar to that of teachers. That being said, my state is on the list of potentials for the next Covid-19 hot spot and the president is about to advise that everyone wear masks in public. I bought gas for .99 cents a gallon yesterday. Sam’s Club doesn’t have meat. It’s the apocalypse, yo. Anyone who thinks their job is totally secure isn’t paying attention.

There aren’t a lot of ways to librarian from home, folks. I’m doing remote programming with my teens two days a week, listening to classics and reading YA novels, researching programming ideas for fall. I’m jumping at every chance for a video conference, internally and externally and planning to do some some software training on YouTube. I’m writing bi-weekly reports of all of my contributions and sending them in unsolicited. I’m obsessively checking my email, even though it’s been mostly crickets from management, all in the hopes that if this goes on long enough to require tough decisions, they’ll layoff anyone else.

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Goal 2: Don’t Get Fat

Call me vain, I don’t care, but directly below keeping my job comes the goal of not getting fat in isolation. Y’all, I am literally holed up all day, with all of the food ever. There’s almost nothing I could want to eat, that I couldn’t eat. I have ice cream and cookies and Easter candy and fried chicken strips and frozen pizza and very little to do, beyond cry because the world is ending.

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Forget yoga. Forget zumba. Forget healthy eating. Methodology no longer matters to me. If maintaining my weight means I walk around the neighborhood listening to audiobooks for two hours a day, so I can’t raid the fridge, so be it. What else am I going to do with my time? If it means drinking nothing but coffee until 1:00 in the afternoon, while doing an impression of Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka, fine. As long as they don’t have to roll me out of isolation, like Violet Beauregarde I’m happy.

Goal 3: Be Nice to My Husband

As essential personnel, my husband is still going to work every day. If anyone is going to get me sick, it’s him. If anyone is going to take care of me, it’s him. If anyone is going to keep me from feeling totally isolated, it’s him. It’s not his fault that I’m home, all day, theorizing that the evangelicals might be right and this could be the Rapture… at least beyond the point that he married me. He has to live in this incredibly stressful world, too… and he has to actually venture out into it. I don’t have to be the perfect housewife, but the least I can do is keep home pleasant.

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Goal 4: Don’t Destroy the House

I am a homebody, y’all. I love my house. There’s no place I’d rather be… except maybe work these days. This house is 2,300 square feet, though, including the converted garage and it sits on over an acre. If not properly cared for, that becomes a huge chore. So, while Jake takes care of the lawn, it is my goal to keep our home comfortable… since we’re possibly going to die in it.

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Goal 5: Don’t Destroy the Pets

Jake deserves 100% of the credit for the fact that our pets are not insufferable. He has trained them quite well, not to beg or get on the furniture without permission. They’re not allowed in the kitchen when we’re in there and they’re just generally much nicer to be around than many other people’s pets. Thackery Binx will meow at me first thing in the morning, because he wants me to hurry up and sit down with my coffee, so I can snuggle him. He seems to understand, however, that these snuggles have a time limit, because I have to go to work… until now. Now, I am home 100% of the time, to respond to everyone’s every whim, so I’m making it a goal to be slightly more emotionless, so as not to utterly destroy my pets in the time I’m home, however long that may be.

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Goal 6: Don’t Spend Money

Times are simply too uncertain for retail therapy. Jake and I were quite fortunate to have started a refinance on our home six weeks ago, and to have finalized it just Wednesday, which means we’ve saved $300 on our mortgage and now have a 3.375% interest rate. We actually had to send in our most recent pay stubs, again, just to prove we still had jobs, the day before we signed, though. The economy has tanked and while I do still have my teaching certificate, because I love contingency plans, we don’t know what the future holds. So, spending less money is important right now. The mortgage payments we don’t have to make, the stimulus checks that are on their way, the extra paychecks we’re expecting in a few months… these are all going to securing our financial future, so that if things get bad, they’re not as bad.

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Goal 7: Read Books

I have no more goals about what I should read, simply that I should read something that isn’t the news. It can be a romance novel I’ve read three times, as long as it’s not staring at a screen, crying over the end times. It probably shouldn’t be the next Left Behind novel or anything else that’s actually about the end times, but I’m not going to be that specific in my parameters.

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So there we have it, my minimalist, realistic goals. If I can make it through this apocalypse employed, human sized, married, with a home and pets that don’t suck, without wasting all of the money we’ve saved, and without driving myself crazy by reading about Armageddon all day, I will be in a better place than most. They aren’t stimulating goals, but they’re goals all the same.