… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
One year ago 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 bymyself, 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 ownhang 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”