My Baby Girls are One

A year ago, 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 like children, 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 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.

Not having my mother breaks my heart every single day.

I went days without thinking about my mother when she was alive. It was easier that way. If I thought about her, I had to think about the time that was passing. If I considered trying to rebuild a relationship with her, while I still could, I had to think realistically about how that would look. At first, she’d be thrilled. Then she’d be clingy. Then she’d be pushy. Then she’d be hostile. I had to consider how that would impact my life. If she started showing up at my work again, how would that effect my career? If she showed up at my home, how would that influence my marriage and eventually my children? If she could have a relationship with me, what would she demand of my relationship with my grandmother, my father, my step-mother? It was easier not to think about her… about who she once was… about who she’d become… and most of all, who she could have been. If I didn’t think about her, I could hold onto the idea that there would always be time to fix things… somehow.

My mother died a year ago on May 10th. After six years of not thinking about her, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s passed that I haven’t grieved her loss. I try to focus on the good memories, but after all this time, they’re just so tangled up with the far more plentiful bad ones that I can’t separate them. I know my mother loved me. She just wasn’t very good at it. I wish I could remember more about the former than the latter.

The other night, I dreamt that I traveled through time and got the chance to speak to my mom at some vague point in my life when she was mentally well. I told her that I missed her, that I missed what we were supposed to have together. When she asked me why, I told her she had died at 60 and that we hadn’t spoken in four years when she passed. It broke her heart, just as it breaks mine every day. I told her that I loved her and that I knew she loved me, but that she wasn’t mentally well, that she hurt me, so we couldn’t be together. I apologized for being so mean to her as a teenager and told her that it was okay that she wasn’t perfect, that I knew she tried. I cried and hugged her and she cried with me. I tried to hold on as the dream faded, begged her to get the help she needed, to fix things. I’ve never been so heartbroken to wake up.

My mother broke my heart a hundred times when she was alive. She broke my heart when my dad left and she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night to bury a statue of Saint Thomas Moore in the flowerbed and pray for him to come back, while I stood there freezing in my nightgown every night for a week. She broke my heart the time she chased my brother and I through the house beating us with a belt buckle… when she stood slapping me in the face over and over again until I took on what she considered a respectful tone…when she dragged me across the house by my hair and nearly broke all of my toes. She broke my heart when she kept me from my dad with lies about child molestation… when she hit me in the face with a stepladder… when she found out I was cutting myself and used it as leverage to threaten me with institutionalization… when she dosed me with 250 daily milligrams of Wellbutrin to make me more manageable. She broke my heart the countless times she chose my dad over me, my brother over me, and most of all, when she left me my senior year, to go live with a man she met online.

My mother wasn’t a good mother. I know that. I also know that, at one time, that’s what she wanted to be more than anything in the world. She wanted a daughter so badly and I am just so fucking sorry that I couldn’t give that to her. She abused me, mentally and physically, from the time I was eight years old. What would another few years have really meant in the grand scheme of things? Why couldn’t I have just accepted her relentless drama, paranoia, hypochondria, and hostility just to make her happy? No one ever made me her happy. I don’t know if she was ever truly happy in her life. It would have made her happy though, if I’d responded to her last text message, six months before she died, asking to get lunch. I considered it, but we were in the worst of the pandemic and I was just wrapping up a round of IVF. I couldn’t risk exposure. I also knew she’d only bring stress and chaos into my life. It would have made her so happy to know that I was having twins, though. I wish I’d told her.

I don’t find motherhood difficult, despite what all the mommy blogs warned me to expect. It’s heartbreaking, however, not to have my own mother here. My Gramma is a wonderful figure in my life, in many ways the woman my mother never could be for me, but she’ll also be 88 soon. I know that the time I have to call her and share stories of Scarlett trying to climb the dog and Violet chewing on Jake’s Crocs is limited. I know that one day soon, she’ll be gone too and I’ll have no one, in that sense. My mother should be here. We should be having the standard mother/daughter fights she had with my Gramma when I was little, about buying my kids too much stuff or giving them too much candy. She should be accompanying us on zoo trips, watching the girls ooh and ahh over the fish. She should have 20 years of shopping trips with us to look forward to… but it’s just me, doing all these things alone, because my Gramma has grown too old.

I’ve always wanted a healthy mother/daughter relationship, even if that meant being on the other side. It’s okay that I’ll only ever have that with my girls. I am so grateful to have even that much after all it took to get them. Every single day, though, I look at the picture of my mother and me on my first birthday. I look like the perfect combination of Violet and Scarlett. I think about what they would say to me now, if they could travel back in time, what kind of mother I’ll be to them and how it compares to my own aspirations. I think about the relationship my mother wanted to have with me and how sour it turned. Every day, it breaks my heart all over again… for me and for her. I am so sorry this is how it all turned out and I will never forgive myself for not trying harder.

Career Woman to Stay-at-Home Mom: A Six Month Update

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 am happy. 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.

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.

It was all worth it.

One year ago today was a big day for me. On November 3, 2020 the country was watching our presidential election with bated breath… but not me.

I started the day alone, mask-clad, in an operating room, with Jake in the car, after an ice storm had ravaged the state. I’d spent the last week praying we’d keep power, because we had over a thousand dollars worth of medication in the refrigerator. My ovaries were the size of clementines and I was, once again, irritated that no one told me how physically painful IVF could be. Although it was my second time to go through an egg retrieval alone, I felt it even more so, since we’d kept the entire cycle a secret. After six months of fertility treatments, it was the first time I broke down in a doctor’s office, crying uncontrollably after the procedure, because I wanted my husband and would never be a mom.

After my retrieval, I took every single hydrocodone pill over the next two days, not because of the puncture wounds in the wall of my vagina, but because it took the edge off of the stress of Pandemic Election Year Back-to-Back IVF. My Gramma called to rant about Russia, having no idea that I couldn’t possibly care less about the fate of the country that day. I didn’t care if we fell into anarchy, as long as I got to be a mom. It was one of my hardest days of 2020. Now…

I can’t even believe they’re real, y’all. They’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, the best thing I’ve ever done. A year ago, today, I thought I’d never be a mom and now I have not one, but two, beautiful baby girls. It was all worth it.

I don’t think I can do this.

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

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

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

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

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

Expectation

Reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fat Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:: drumroll please::

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Marriage and Motherhood

Three and a half years ago, Jake took me on a weekend trip, to meet his friends. We’d only been dating for seven months, but we were already beginning to see a future together. It was only a few weeks later that we went skiing and began to talk about marriage in hypotheticals. So it was, that we fit right in with his dating/engaged/married without children friends. The women made Pinterest recipes together and shared first date and wedding day stories. The men played beer pong and told appalling college tales. There were drinking games and card games and movies. It was a great time and I was surprised to feel so included with these people I’d just met. A year and a half later, I felt the same way, on our wedding day, when the women told me I completed the pack. So, this past weekend, when Jake told me his friends had planned another crawfish boil, I was excited.

When we met, only one set of Jake’s married friends had children and it was some time before I met them, as that couple’s weekend wasn’t really a family event. Over the next few years, however, more and more birth announcements, gender reveals, and baby showers came. Some of the new parents were just at that point in life, others perhaps just wanted to be. Regardless of intent, though, the babies came and the first thing I saw when we arrived at last weekend’s party was a swarm of small children.

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It’s no secret that I don’t really like kids. I’ve never been drawn to them. Unless they’re family, and therefore require some level of affection and investment, I just don’t find them particularly interesting… and I’ve tried. I substitute taught for six years and I work in a public library, so it’s not for lack of exposure that children just aren’t my thing. Yet, I want my own. The word trying” seems like a lot of information about my sex life, but Jake and I are… seeing what happens. So, while I can’t necessarily empathize with their day to day lives, I can sympathize with parents. I love watching my husband with our young nieces. I genuinely enjoy them, myself, so I know I have that in me, under the right circumstances. Working with older kids and teens is my life’s work and it makes me want to give my own children a good home life. I’m not there yet and children aren’t my specialty, but I do want them soon, so I can enjoy the company of parents and their families. Too bad the feeling wasn’t mutual last weekend.

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I won’t go so far as to say that anyone was unkind to me, at this party. Jake and I walked in and did the introductions and reintroductions. People I’d never met hugged me and joked about erecting statues in my honor for marrying this wild cowboy of mine. Together, we gave updates on our careers and location, before Jake traded some back slaps and insults, on his way to play cornhole and horseshoes with his old college buddies… and I was left alone, in a crowd of moms.

Y’all, I tried. I was excited about this party and didn’t hesitate to sit down at a table of women my age and attempt to strike up a conversation. We traded pleasantries. I asked about their kids, told them we didn’t have any yet, and then… I simply vanished. I’d try the same routine with another group and another, but always, got the same result.

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Feeling rejected, I sat down with Jake to eat crawfish, while he and his friends gabbed like tweens. Occasionally, they’d include me and I’d find myself laughing comfortably with my husband and his boys. Not wanting to detract from Jake’s good time by being clingy, however, I mostly watched as he and his buddies played washers and drank beer. Periodically, I’d attempt to start a conversation with one of the women, happy to listen to them talk about their families or careers or literally anything, but these chats never lasted more than a few minutes, before they sat down with other moms; ones they knew and ones they didn’t. Whereas once, when Jake and I were in the same stage of life, I felt welcomed and included among his friends, I now found myself on the sidelines, not out of maliciousness, but with a similar result, because I don’t yet have something I do want.

Jake: “Are you not having fun?”
Me: “I’m okay. Go have fun with your friends. You don’t need to babysit me.”
Jake: “You’re really bad at lying.”
Me: “It’s just… kind of like a middle school dance. I’m either sitting quietly alone or wandering around aimlessly, so I look like I have somewhere to be. No one wants to talk to me, cuz I’m not a mom.”

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As the night wore on, it became clear that the only friend I’d made was the dog, who saw my weakness as an opportunity to get nummies… and that he did. Finally, I made one last attempt to socialize, walking over to a group of women who’d seemed friendly earlier. Immediately, I was asked if I had children. When I answered “not yet”, I was literally embraced by a woman named Molly, who launched into an inebriated tirade against the “breeders” who wouldn’t invite her to dinner, because she didn’t have a screaming brat to bring with her. Simply happy to have someone to talk to, I let her drag me away from the group, her husband and another couple in tow, and they all proceeded to long for the days of random hookups and a drunken concert they referred to as “Redneck Woodstock.” I remember hearing about that concert from Jake, on our third date. He told me that so many people just peed right next to the stage, it was like a latrine. When I mentioned this, I was informed that the beauty was in the freedom to pee right next to the stage. Never having been a gal who would enjoy such festivities, I did not mince words.

Me: “That sounds awful. That literally sounds like Hell.”

It didn’t matter, though, because Molly had decided that I was simply her sounding board and she’d had too much to drink to take in much of what I had to say. She told me she knew she liked me, that she just had to look past the pigtails and the cookies I brought. She told me how happy she was that Jake, who’d never liked her, had married a stoner liberal just like her.

Me: “I’m not a liberal or a stoner. I’ve smoked pot twice and I didn’t like it.”

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She didn’t seem to hear me.

Jake found me and Molly launched into her defense campaign, talking about how he used to hate her, but she’s totally changed. He joked and laughed with her, but I could tell his opinion hadn’t altered much over the years and that Molly’s behavior wasn’t doing anything to redeem her. I suddenly felt more defeated than ever. The only person who’d shown any genuine interest in me all night was a drunken party girl in her thirties, who referred to anyone who wants children as a “breeder”… and she made fun of my hair and my nice gesture. I had enough friends like that in my twenties and I didn’t even enjoy it then. I certainly can’t relate now. When Jake leaned in and whispered “Molly’s crazy, by the way,” I nearly burst into tears, because I’d gathered as much myself.

Me: “Don’t tell me any more. She’s the only person who’s talked to me all night.”

While Jake finished up his final game of washers, I hung my head and retreated to the car, walking the long way to avoid Molly and company, my shoes in hand as I trekked barefoot through standing water, so I wouldn’t be noticed. I crawled into the car and pulled out my Kindle, retreating into my forever friend: books.

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Twenty minutes later, Jake climbed into the car next to me.

Jake: “Do you feel okay?”
Me: “Yeah. I’m fine.”
Jake: “I’m sorry you didn’t have fun.”
Me: “I’m glad you did.”

… and I meant it

The next morning, after I’d had some time to get my feelings in check, I told Jake that I didn’t dislike his friends. On the contrary, they’d been so nice to me before, that it felt worse to be so obviously excluded… and they are nice people. They try to include me in smaller groups… when the wives show. This isn’t a phenomenon Jake has to deal with, though, even though all of his friends have kids. Men’s lives are less likely to be consumed by fatherhood than women’s are to be consumed by motherhood. Men aren’t as naturally exclusionary as women… and Jake is generally the life of every party, so they’d fail if they tried.

I’m certain that none of the women intended to alienate me, that night. There were so many people there, that I imagine it was pretty easy to overlook one. Regardless, being ostracized by the Mom Club felt uniquely awful. Maybe one day, a year or two from now, when I’m once again one of the gang… in the same stage of life as everyone else, I’ll remember that feeling well enough to talk to the woman between marriage and motherhood. In the meantime, I have a husband who at least understands that he’ll never understand.

Me: “I think maybe you should come on more solo trips to hang out with your buddies. I don’t really want to do this again for a while.”
Jake: “Okay.”

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