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.

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.

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.

Five Reasons I Skipped Your Christmas Party

When I was a little kid, Christmas seemed to last for weeks. Every year, my brother and I celebrated with my paternal grandma and all of my aunts, uncles, and cousins, then again with my maternal Gramma, my mom, and dad, then again on Christmas morning with just the four of us, then again with my dad’s extended family (aunts, uncles, cousins, and so on) and finally, we had Christmas with my paternal grandfather, since my dad’s parents were divorced.

As a child, I was closest to my Gramma, but my only cousins were on my dad’s side. Playing with them was the number one appeal of his family’s Christmas parties. We had a blast, dressing up in our parents’ old prom clothes, piling everyone into a plastic wagon and running down the hallway as fast as we could, trying to quiet the cries of the youngest when they inevitably got hurt. I loved these moments almost more than my Gramma’s over-the-top Christmas gifts. Those celebrations with all of my cousins are some of the holiday memories I cherish the most… but that was over twenty-five years ago.

Things have changed, y’all. I’m married to a man who has his own family and now we have two baby girls. It’s our turn to make memories with our children and I don’t intend to do so while spreading ourselves so impossibly thin over a half dozen family celebrations. More importantly it’s our girls’ turn to make magical Christmas memories. That’s a lot more difficult to do if we’re always leaving parties early to make other parties and mom and dad are stressed out and fighting on the way. I want us all to enjoy the holidays, so as much fun as I had with my weeks of Christmas as a child, a couple of these gatherings just don’t make the cut anymore. So, how do I decide which ones to nix?

I don’t want to talk about my body.

Growing up, I was the fat kid… and with my family, that apparently means that my body is up for discussion for the rest of my life. Having lost around 100 pounds in my early twenties, I’ve kept to a relatively healthy weight since and it is still my family’s favorite subject. Like many people, I put on ten pounds of Pandemic Pudge last year, but uniquely me, I also had twins this year. I cannot stress enough how little I want to talk about my weight six months post-partum with twins. I have spent the entirety of 2021 listening to dehumanizing remarks about my body. I am baffled at how there are so many people who still think this is okay and how I happen to be related to all of them. While the occasional vague compliment is appreciated, I was asked point blank if I had lost all of my baby weight at my girls’ baptism celebration, three months post-partum.

I cannot think of any social interaction I would enjoy less on Christmas day, than one focused on my weight. In fact, as Jake and I pulled out of the neighborhood on the way to our first family party, he asked me what was wrong, noticing I’d gone quiet. I immediately burst into tears, “There are just so many people who are going to be so happy that I’m fat again!” So, when it came time to decide which gatherings to skip, it was the ones that would make me feel the worst about my own body at this sensitive time of life.

I don’t want to discuss Covid-19.

Nearly two years into this pandemic, it seems everyone has been radicalized to one extreme or the other and my family is a microcosm of this effect. At the beginning of the pandemic, I actually missed social media for a brief moment, having been isolated to my own home. That feeling was fleeting, however, when a few family members relayed the drama surrounding the discussions of Covid-19, vaccines, and various mandates that were taking place on Facebook. I’ve been exposed to so many different viewpoints, from one extreme to the other and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: you’re all fucking crazy.

Even the family members who insist they want none of this drama do so by finishing with their own dramatic and polarizing opinions. Well, my mother died of heart problems after a battle with Covid-19 put her on a ventilator for a week, before the vaccine was readily available. I was then diagnosed with heart complications during pregnancy and told by my cardiologist that the vaccine might have played a part. We all have our own complicated feelings to sort through in regards to the pandemic, so how about we all just shut the fuck up about it for one day of the year?!? I chose to attend the Christmas parties where this was likeliest to happen.

I don’t want to spend Christmas with people I don’t particularly like.

As kids, my cousins and I were able to bond over the shared experience of being children at the same time and that was enough. We played with the same toys and watched the same shows and shared the same childlike sense of humor. As adults, I’m willing to admit that we have virtually nothing in common.

I’m neither far left, nor far right, and am uninterested in any discussion of either that’s fueled by feelings over research. Politics are off the table. I cannot fathom the appeal of reality TV, preferring to spend my binges on teenage melodramas, while occasionally branching out toward high fantasy and dated fandoms. Bonding over our favorite shows is a no go. My girls are only six months old, so I’m hesitant to make broad declarations about my future parenting, but I can guarantee that the antagonistic style employed by much of my family is not for me. This means we can’t even really connect as parents. I have little to no desire to gossip about the people who aren’t present, which is their self-proclaimed basis for entire social events, while I have more than one DnD group where we pretend to be sorcerers and paladins. I’m definitely not interested in being a part of anyone’s round robin of apologies after they’ve had too much to drink… again.

It’s not that I don’t love my family. I do. I just don’t particularly like them, en masse. Whereas one-on-one, we might be able to find some common ground, my status as The Weird Smart Cousin is never more apparent than when facing the collective. That’s when my aunts battle it out in Dirty Santa for the ugliest purse/home decor/stemless wine glasses. That’s when my cousin makes a racist/homophobic joke that will surprise my redneck, cowboy, cattle rancher of a husband. That’s when everyone gets drunk and makes fart/sex/rape jokes. It takes a lot of energy to be just the right amount of excluded, so as to not come across as fake or preachy with my family.

Objectively speaking, I get that many people would think my extended family is a blast. I can appreciate that as an outsider aware of social trends. We just don’t really click and that’s fine. They’re not wrong (racism and homophobia excepted) and I’m not wrong. It took me years to come to terms with that, but I have. Truly, our only common ground is shared history and that’s become nearly as distant as our bloodlines. So, I chose to spend my holiday where I felt like I might more easily connect with some of the guests, because some relationships just aren’t worth the effort they take.

If I don’t have the bandwidth for seven Christmas parties, my baby girls really don’t.

Oh, family. It can be so wonderful to spend time in their company, while simultaneously taking so much work. I loathe the terms “introvert” and “extrovert” almost as much as “ambivert.” People aren’t that simple, nor are their needs, and the definition of “ambivert” is to be both an introvert and an extrovert, which literally just makes you human. That being said, I’ve realized in the last few years that while I love the holiday season, the gatherings themselves stress me out. Knowing how little I fit in with my own family, how socially inept both of my parents could be, makes me hyperaware of social interactions. I spend the majority of holiday gatherings worrying that I’ve said the wrong thing, that my parenting is being judged, that someone overheard me snap at the child who just ran past the infant on the floor. It takes a lot of work to talk to that many people, accept that many hugs, watch that many people pass my babies back and forth.

It is, of course, my hope that my girls will never feel this uncomfortable around family when they’re older, but right now they’re babies. They spend the majority of their time at home with mama, broken up by the occasional visit to Great Gramma’s and snuggling with our DnD pals. One day, maybe they’ll look forward to their numerous Christmases as much as I did as a child, but right now, it’s a lot of work for them to be talked to by that many people, accept that many hugs, and be passed between that many humans. It’s a break in a very predictable routine, a lot of stimulation, and a lot of germs, so we chose to skip the largest of the gatherings. After nearly a week, they’re still worn out and one of them is actually sick. When they get older, even with fortified immune systems, those gatherings will still be made up of a lot of names and faces my girls don’t remember, because I barely do. I’d rather spend our energy and time at smaller, more intimate get-togethers.

We’re setting a precedent.

This year, my baby girls’ first Christmas, was the start of many new traditions. We chose our tree and decorated it as a family, hung the stockings I made myself, opened a door on the new advent calendar every evening, read Christmas books, sang Christmas songs, watched Christmas movies, opened gifts fitting the “something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read” theme, wore our Christmas jammy jams and listened to daddy read The Night Before Christmas on Christmas Eve.

We also set a precedent for future Christmases, stating quite plainly, that we will not sacrifice the enjoyment of our holiday for perfect attendance at everyone else’s. My girls will not be forced to end their play with their cousins so we can rush off to visit more distant relatives. I will not bake seven different dishes for seven different parties. We will not buy gifts for people we barely know, just because I once shared a great grandparent with them. I will not listen to hateful remarks about my body or heated political arguments for one day of the year. Boundaries are best set firmly and early on and I refuse to make the holiday season something to dread… so I skipped your Christmas party.

Maybe it would be different…

Ten years ago, I’d have given anything to be a librarian. I was in graduate school, working as a half-time circulation clerk and substitute teaching and I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. I wanted to work full time at one job, helping people choose a new book, file for disability, fill out job applications and build resumes, find a safe place to live after their divorce. I would have been on cloud nine to be a teen librarian, giving kids a welcoming place to learn a new skill, make friends, feel respected and valued by an adult. I prayed for this job, every night, and when I got it, it was, in many ways, exactly as I’d hoped.

Over the last eight and a half years, I’ve done all of the above and more. I’ve rushed after an escaped toddler, to keep him from getting hit by a car in the parking lot. I’ve steered a developmentally disabled woman away from online dating, so she wouldn’t get stabbed in an IHOP parking lot. I’ve convinced someone to report her stalker to the police and watched her tear up, finally having her fears validated. I’ve built a resume from scratch for an ex-offender and celebrated when he got a job. I’ve called 911 after a drug overdose and confronted people for looking at porn on the public computers. I’ve comforted teens whose parents aren’t willing or able to do so. I’ve mourned the suicide of a 16-year-old boy. I’ve even gotten one of my teen volunteers hired as a library aide. I’ve been a manager and given references and helped people grow. I’ve moved one library and helped build another from the ground up. Being a librarian has been nearly as magical as I’d always dreamed… and today is my last day.

In December of 2018, Jake and I decided to stop preventing pregnancy. By June of 2019, we were trying in earnest. By September, I was tearfully asking him to get a semen analysis. In February of 2020, we discovered IVF was our only hope for children and I’d have given anything to be a mom. I dreamt of the day that I could call myself by that title. As you might know, despite the pandemic, we were pregnant by the end of 2020 and I gave birth to two healthy girls this past June. It almost killed me, literally, but I’m not sure it made me stronger.

I always planned to work full time when I had children, following in the footsteps of my mother, her mother, and my dad’s mother. Jake knew this from the beginning and we planned our life around this model. We thrived on two incomes and bought our home just 10 minutes from our workplaces, with City Hall just up the street from the library. We took out credit cards and cashed in investments to pay for our $30,000 worth of babies, knowing that we’d make six figures and could afford to pay it off. Throughout my pregnancy, this was our plan. Even after my terrifying birth story, we never discussed an alternative. I would stay home during my recovery and then I would go back, putting our girls in a church daycare just 12 minutes away. I’d get to be the career woman and the mom. Now, I’m here and it’s exactly as I’ve always planned… and it sucks.

For eight weeks, Jake and I have been waking at 6:00 to feed our girls, before getting them ready for daycare and ourselves ready for work. We leave the house by 7:30 and drop them off at 7:45, together. We each go home for lunch, where we do chores that we don’t want to do later, then finish the day at 5:00 exactly and head to pick them up. We get home around 5:30 and try to balance daily tasks with enjoying our babies while they’re awake. By 6:00, they’re asleep and we make dinner and eat before they have their final bottle at 8:00 and we put them down. Then, we do household chores and watch a show before bed or Jake plays videogames while I read. This is every night, until the weekend, when we run ourselves ragged catching up on the errands we couldn’t do during the week, because we didn’t want to miss out on time with our children. Instead of enjoying them at home, we drag them around while we shop for groceries, get the oil changed, and return packages and store purchases. Then, we usually share them with family or friends at some get-together, before returning home to put them to bed.

As a child, I had a handful of careers I wanted when I grew up, ranging from veterinarian to lawyer to nurse to teacher. Stay at Home Mom never made the list. All my life, I’ve pictured having an impactful career, where I work full time, and then come home to my family. I went to college and then grad school and worked two jobs while carving my professional path. Finally, I got a position I love with understanding managers, where I make good money and have a predictable schedule. I have as close to zero commute as possible and a clean, safe, nearby daycare minutes away. It’s the American dream… and it’s a lie. Why didn’t anyone tell me this? For all the complaining parents do, and it is endless, why has no one simplified it to not having enough time, in a dual income family? I have never really considered myself a modern feminist, but I still thought I could do this. This is the model most people follow. Of course we would, too.

Six weeks, y’all. I made it six weeks before handing in my notice to leave my dream job, the job I can’t seem to build any enthusiasm for anymore, while simultaneously remembering how good it once made me feel. Everyone keeps telling me that it gets better, but when I ask how much time they get with their children at night, they almost always answer less than an hour. This isn’t just parents of babies, but those with school-aged children, too. After two back-to-back rounds of Pandemic IVF, an emergency C-section due to extensive pneumonia and pregnancy-induced heart complications that impact .00001% of women, three blood transfusions, four days in the ICU and three more in labor and delivery… I get an hour with my girls each night. I have a cardiologist now and $9,000 in hospital bills, but I have an hour with my babies.

In a perfect world, I could just go half-time again, doing the same job for fewer hours, but my system doesn’t hire half-time librarians anymore. The only half-time positions don’t require an MLIS and pay $5 less an hour. While I’d be thrilled to take one of these and it’s a possibility that one might open in the next few months, if I do so as an internal candidate, I’ve been informed that my retirement will be frozen. If I’m no longer full time, but I haven’t terminated employment, I won’t be able to touch my retirement, not to add to it or roll it over or continue investing in it. Since Jake and I wouldn’t plan for me to return to full time or quit, for at least 15 years, $75,000 would sit in an account and be eaten by inflation. I was told, verbatim, that I do have a choice, though: I can terminate employment… and so I did.

Leaving my job has been one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever had to make. I worked so hard for this. I spent years praying for this exact position, a teen librarian job on the outskirts of the county, where I could make big city money and lead a small town life. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. Unlike other people’s dream jobs, it was more or less exactly as wonderful as I’d dreamt. Sure, there were frustrations with other departments and budgeting decisions and weird niche emphases in my specialization, but my day to day? It was awesome. I made a difference. I made good money. I made friends. I had fun

… then Covid-19 hit.

Maybe things would have been different, if it weren’t for the pandemic, the way we had to get pregnant, losing my mom the day after Mother’s Day, or almost dying when my girls were born. Maybe if my job had actually been enjoyable for the last two years, instead of a terrifying effort not to get sick during IVF, while trying to simultaneously appease the conflicting feelings of staff and the public… maybe I’d have been able to make the adjustment, like all other women seem to do. I remember loving my job. I looked forward to work… but I can’t do it anymore. I keep thinking that women do this all the time, but then I talk to them and realize that it doesn’t get better. They just get used to it and those aren’t the same thing. I don’t want to get used to feeling like I don’t know my daughters, to being exhausted and irritable, to constantly rushing and never having enough hours in the day. Maybe I’m weak or the last two years have broken something inside of me, because I don’t have it in me and I never thought I would feel this way. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. It doesn’t feel right, though, far more than leaving my job doesn’t feel right.

I wish I could split myself in two, like Sabrina Spellman à la The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. I could send one Belle to the library, where she’d comfort a teenage boy who just came out to his mom, recommend some fitting YA books, and invite him to the next teen program. Then, I could stay home and care for my girls and my house, freeing up time to spend as a family later, never missing a milestone. That’s just it, though. Just as Sabrina sent her other self to rule Hell, I’d send my other self to work full time. Even in this fantasy, I stay home.

I’ve cried myself sick over the last few days, but it’s nothing compared to the tears I’ve cried over the last eight weeks. I want to be a librarian, but I want to be with my girls more. Maybe things would be different if it hadn’t all been so hard, but I’m not strong enough for this… literally. Jake and I would like to have another baby, transferring another embryo (singular) this summer, but it would be the kind of pregnancy that involves a team with a cardiologist on it. I can’t do that and have twins and work full time. I can’t even do this. For all I went through to get my dream job, I went through a lot more to get my girls. There’s still hope that a half-time position will open in the next six months or so, so perhaps I’ll be able to return to my role in a more manageable capacity… at least that’s what I tell myself, so I can keep it together as Grady, the teen volunteer I got hired on, thanks me for all I’ve done for him.

My heart is breaking for the career I’m giving up, but there’s a chance I can have it again later and there’s absolutely zero chance that my girls will ever be this small again. I keep thinking about my mother, what she’d have done differently. If she weren’t my age during the 90s, when it was just assumed that a woman would work, she’d have chosen to stay home or work part-time. I’m certain. I doubt that would have saved her relationship with my dad, but it might have literally saved her sanity and her relationship with her children. I don’t want to have regrets, but I seem to have no choice. As much as my heart is breaking to leave my library, it breaks more to think of missing these years. So for now, this chapter of my life has closed and I’ll just have to see what the future holds.

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.

I think I can do this…

So, this baby thing…

… I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing. I’ve spent the last year trying not to think about babies, about motherhood, about how my life would change were I to have children. I couldn’t even entertain myself much of the time, because books or movies or TV shows inevitably led to tears about how I’d never be a mom. Now, here I am, six months pregnant with twins, trying to prepare myself. However, as a firm believer that all new parents have no idea what they’re doing, I haven’t been too stressed about my inexperience with babies or children under 10… except for one issue in particular.

Y’all, the human body is gross... especially other people’s human bodies. Whereas Jake struggled to share financial decisions with another person, when we first got married, I struggled to tolerate his bodily existence and still struggle to share mine. I wouldn’t even refer to my period as anything other than “being a girl” for that first year, and we’d already been together for two years, before the wedding day. Even now, well into a pregnancy for which the conception could not have been a less modest experience, I’m embarrassed to discuss any bodily issues, with my husband, the least embarrassed person about all things. My babies were conceived in a room with six people staring at my vagina (none of them married to me, I might add) and I can’t talk about postpartum issues without getting red in the face, because it all disgusts me! That’s right! My body disgusts me, so anyone else’s surely does and here in a few months, I’m going to be completely responsible for the functionings of not one, but two.

I’ll be honest. A year of pandemic fertility treatments left me with some abnormal parenting concerns. It forced me to detach from the idea of motherhood, so I worry about having my babies and feeling nothing, about thinking they’re not cute, about the fact that I had to Youtube “how to change a diaper,” because I have no idea what I’m doing and was too afraid to read the parenting guides when I had the time, for fear of jinxing everything. Of all these concerns, though, this one has been one of the most prominent. How can I be responsible for clearing my children’s airways, when blowing my own nose repulses me?

The year we married, I got food poisoning from grazing all night at a family pool party, when my step-mother reminded me at 2:00 in the morning, that the food had been out all night. The next morning, when I felt queasy, I didn’t want to tell Jake, because the library system had given us free tickets to the local theme park, the theme park of my childhood that I was too cheap to share with him on my own dime. You guys, I do not recommend riding every roller coaster in a theme park while suffering from the early stages of food poisoning… or really any stage at all. By the time we got to the car, I was feeling awful, but accomplished, as I’d ridden every single ride… and promptly projectile vomitted into a sack in the car… only to realize there was a hole in the bottom. Are Wal-Mart sacks actually manufactured this way?!?!

Me: “Just leave me on the side of the road to die!!!”
Jake: “Do you really feel that bad?”
Me: “Yes, but it’s just so gross! I’m disgusting!”
Jake: ::laughing:: “You’re not disgusting. It’s fine. I’ve seen you throw up before.”
Me: “Why would you remind me of that?!?!”

Even as a little kid, I was always grossed out by other people’s bodily functions. I remember seeing other children with runny noses and turning up mine. What was so difficult about making sure you weren’t covered in your own snot? At six years old, I “accidentally” forgot to have my permission slip signed to swim at the pool across from my daycare, because I thought it was gross that people peed in it. On top of all my innate distaste for the human body, the struggle that was my early twenties killed any and all baby fever I ever had, which only briefly resurged at the beginning of our fertility journey, before I forced it down to get through the process of conception. I have zero delusions of cute, sweet-smelling, perpetually smiling babies. In fact, I am quite aware that they’re often pretty revolting and until recently, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to be a compassionate and loving mom, when my kids were leaking from every orifice for whatever reason. Then, last month, Jake had major surgery, after failing to comprehend or communicate that that’s exactly what it was to his wife.

Y’all, Jake grew up on another planet, as far as I’m concerned. I am a suburbs girl, raised by suburbs folks, no matter how hard they pretended to be otherwise. Jake’s dad shoots strays abandoned on his property and I cry when animals die in movies. My sister-in-law has her own basketball court in her shop and I’m still hopeful Jake’s family thought I was joking when they heard me say “basketball cleats.” Jake looks at his Uncle Buck and sees John Wayne. I look at him and see Fred from Scooby Doo, because he’s always wearing an ascot.

We are, in so many ways, the definition of “opposites attract,” that when I learned a specialist was recommending complete reconstructive sinus surgery, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear the horrifying reason behind it. In the late 90s (that’s 1990s, not 1890s), Jake was loading a horse onto a trailer, when he was headbutted in the face, breaking his nose and… I kid you not… my father-in-law’s immediate response was to grab his twelve-year-old by the back of the head and reset the bone himself, never taking him to the hospital. Folks, we have a new rule in this family: old cattle ranchers don’t set broken bones; because for over twenty years, Jake lived with a nose that was, in the words of his doctor, “completely shattered” in all ways but cosmetic… a fact I did not learn until I called the morning of his surgery, nearly five hours after dropping him off at the hospital to see if he was okay.

We’d scheduled this surgery months in advance, but Jake, with all his cowboy bluster, had insisted that, while the doctor officially recommended he take three weeks off from work, he could go back after just 10 days and that that was only a precaution. Color me surprised when the surgeon explained that the surgery took three hours, because they had to completely rebuild my husband’s nose, that in the first few days, his eyes would likely completely swell shut, he wouldn’t be able to eat or change his own dressings, and he couldn’t bend over or move from the couch for a minimum of 14 days, because a nose bleed could be life threatening.

Me: “He… didn’t really explain any of this to me.”
Surgeon: “Well, I told him.”
Me: “No, I believe you told him and I don’t think he was ignoring you. I think he wasn’t hearing you. We’ve been having that argument for about six years now, actually”

I’m pretty sure Jake wasn’t hearing him, because the theme song to Walker Texas Ranger was going through his head as he pictured himself building fence two hours after major surgery.

So, there I was, five months pregnant with twins, rushing around town to find soft foods after only having just discovered Jake wouldn’t be able to eat for several days. I went to three different stores to find regular strength Tylenol, never having a chance to change out of my homemade Star Trek pajama bottoms and Crocs, before visiting my husband’s post-op room and he… was… miserable. Jake could barely walk to the bathroom, he was so drugged, when the nurse told me she’d show me how to change his dressing. My immediate thought was ‘ew… can’t he change it?’ Of course, I felt terrible for thinking that and watched with rapt attention as she showed me how to replace the gauze on the bandage that ran under his nose and hooked to each ear to manage nasal secretions.

Over the next few days, Jake and I made quite the pitiful pair. I was struggling to bend over myself, while he couldn’t lean forward too far or even open our patio door without feeling dizzy and nauseated. At one point, I put socks on his feet, knowing he’s weird about having his feet covered and wanting to make him comfortable, only to struggle to get back up and tell him that he’d just have to go barefoot until he was feeling well enough to put them on himself. While Jake sat miserably on the couch, feeling too poorly to even play video games, I exhausted myself doing the chores I normally do, along with the ones that Jake had been helping me with, his regular chores, and caring for my invalid husband.

Gramma: “Well, why don’t you just not do them until he’s better and can help you?”
Me: “So… I’m going to stop doing laundry and taking out the trash for three weeks or stop grocery shopping for three weeks?”

I was supposed to work that Saturday and Sunday, my one weekend for the month, and regrettably texted my boss that Jake couldn’t do anything for himself, I’d worn my very pregnant self out doing everything for both of us, and there was just no way I was going to make it. So it went, for several days, bringing Jake water and mashed potatoes and Jell-O and extra pillows, listening to him do all kinds of disgusting things to care for his nose and tell me all about the hardware and… other things… that were inside of it, and helping him change his bandage. I won’t lie. At no point did any of this get less revolting. I was still the girl who only made it one semester as a freshman nursing major. It just… didn’t really matter. Sure, the sounds coming from the bathroom to explain the bloody bandages that were all over it were still absolutely horrifying, but my husband was so miserable, that I was willing to do anything to make him feel better… even helping to clean up bloody snot.

The only point that entire first week, when I lost my patience, was the rare and uncharacteristic moment when Jake refused to take the Tylenol to keep the pain at bay.

Me: “I am five months pregnant with twins and worn out, but I will take care of you all day long, until you make this harder on me. Take the Tylenol or get your own water the next time you’re thirsty.”

He took the Tylenol and by the time I went back to work on Monday, he could get his own water and Jell-O… just in time for my second Covid-19 shot to knock me completely on my butt, once again rendering us an undeniably pitiful pair. A week from his surgery, Jake was still feeling pretty awful, but had mostly gained his independence, only requiring me to move his chair back and forth when he wanted to play his video games. Our poor beagle sat with his head on his paws for the full three weeks, wondering why Jake wouldn’t play with him in the floor, making us even more grateful not to have put this surgery off until after the babies were born. I cannot imagine how much harder those few weeks would have been on us with two infants or toddlers in the house… but now I know that when we do have two small bodies to care for, I’ll be capable of it, not because I’ll be immune to their various levels of repulsiveness, but because my disgust will be overshadowed by my love for them, just as it is for their father. Silver linings can be hard to see, but I’m glad for the reassurance that I can do this. Now, to YouTube swaddling.

Naming Humans

One downside to keeping my pregnancy a secret from my blog for the first 21 weeks, was missing out on sharing some of the milestones, like the positive pregnancy test, learning both babies were boys, buying a family car, learning both babies were actually girls, and choosing names.

Y’all, naming humans is hard. I spent six years substitute teaching and have worked in public libraries for ten. I have heard some objectively terrible names. I have met all of the following:

Merlin
Zeus
Corona
Stetson
Talladega
Suthern
Princess
I’munique
Imunique (no apostrophe)
Sir…

… and my personal favorite Ecstassi, followed closely by my second favorite, Tyranny. Even our own family members have occasionally shown poor judgement choosing names. I have a cousin who gave her daughter a city name, but chose one of the murder capitals of the U.S. That’s far better than Jake’s cousin who named her son after a popular beer and brand of gun, resulting in his family’s refusal to call him by anything other than his initials. To this day, Jake insists we’re naming our first Budweiser Browning, a joke I’ve forbidden him to share with his cousin.

Ridiculous names aside, there are also the ones that just aren’t to our taste, but won’t get a resume thrown in the trash for sounding like a joke. Personally, I hate gender neutral names, traditionally male names for girls, or traditionally female names for boys. While Elliot might give someone pause, when a woman walks into an interview, I find this popular trend harmless enough, but don’t like it, myself. Jake’s name is actually far more common on women and to this day, I think our wedding invitations look like they’re for a lesbian wedding, which is fine, but inaccurate. The same goes for the modern names I liked to call Suburb Names, like Kinley, Zaiden, Amberly, and any other name that wasn’t a name twenty years ago. My own name is the1987 version of these and while I don’t hate it, I’d prefer something more traditional, myself.

That was actually the one thing Jake and I could agree on, traditional baby names. We wanted something classic, preferably not in the top 10, but not too bizarre or hipsterish. For girls, we didn’t want the names shortened to male nicknames, the reason we ultimately vetoed Charlotte. Although we loved Lottie, there’s no telling whether or not she’d be called Charlie or decide for herself that she preferred it one day. Since we both hated that very common nickname and couldn’t decide on anything that sounded good with it for Baby B, we nixed what was once my favorite baby girl name.

Twins threw us for another loop. Not only did we have to name one baby, but two. We wanted classic names that sounded good together, without a theme, meaning no color or flower or jewel names in pairs. That took Violet and Scarlett off the table, though we both loved the latter, we just couldn’t think of anything that sounded good with it.

Jake: “What about Charlotte and Scarlett?”
Me: “I want a divorce.”

Rhyming names were absolutely off the table.

At one point, I had a list of over 30 baby names and Jake suddenly seemed to hate all of the names ever, though many were ones he’d agreed on previously. If he did like one, he didn’t like anything I thought went with it. He liked Maeve, but noped all of the one syllable names I suggested for the other baby, like Blair and Pearl. If he liked a longer name, he hated all of the inevitable nicknames, such as Josephine, Susannah, Gwendolyn, Eleanor, or Evelyn. He’d suggest that we not nickname them at all, and I had to insist that that’s not really how that happens. If we chose a long name and didn’t choose a shortened version, ourselves, other people would. No one is going to say Josephine in its entirety, when they can call her Jo… which we both hated.

Having just finished The Mandalorian, I had been calling the babies Mando and Grogu at work, since I hadn’t shared the genders. I began calling them the same at home, just to have some way to refer to them and had started to wonder if that might end up on their birth certificates, as Jake nixed every option. Even if we both liked a name, we often couldn’t come up with a good mate, such as with Alice. I couldn’t quite define what I thought made a good pair, but I think it came down to syllables and time period. Blair and Genevieve just sounded odd together. Jake’s inability to get excited about any names actually started to upset me and make me think that he was angry they were both girls. It became a real source of contention between the two of us.

Me: “Poor Mando and Grogu.”
Jake: “Stop calling them that!”
Me: “Stop vetoing everything else!”

One name had actually been on the table a year ago, but Jake had decided he didn’t like the nickname I suggested. It was four syllables long and not common enough to have an obvious nickname, but I wanted to choose one for ourselves, knowing that no one was going to consistently say the whole name. Not only was it a classically feminine name not in the top 1000, without being too weird, it was also the name of the town where my family originated. I’d really grown fond of it. When my good friend Sarah, one of the few who knows the names we ultimately chose, suggested an alternative shortening, I looked it up and realized it was actually an official nickname for our uncommon choice. Jake loved it. Now we just needed something that went with it, which likely meant another four syllable name.

Naming twins is exhausting.

For years, I’ve had an old name I loved, that no one has ever liked, as it’s virtually unheard of, today. It’s the name of the heroine in my favorite classic horror novel and I’ve suggested it several times to Jake, always receiving a hard next. It does, however, have four syllables. While the name we’d chosen is more common, they are both classic and Southern, from about the same time period. After tentatively settling on the first name, on the condition that we could come up with a good match, I suggested this one, once again, assuming I’d get the same response. Whether it was to shut me up or because he was actually starting to come around, I’ll never know, but this time Jake was willing to consider it. He asked that I give him a week to think about it, since he didn’t really care for the nickname I suggested and it didn’t have any obvious other one, save for the one from the horror novel and he hated that one. I agreed.

Over the next week, I began to think of our girls by these names and their nicknames. Consistently worried that I’d never grow attached to my babies, out of fear that something would happen before they were born, I was attempting to develop a connection by thinking of them as individual little people… and it was working, despite the fact that we hadn’t officially settled on the names. No more than one week later, I demanded a decision from Jake.

Me: “I’m starting to think of them by these names. I can’t help it. It’s the only way I feel connected to them . So, if you don’t like them, then tell me and we’ll start that fight. Don’t just let me continue thinking of them by names you’re going to veto, though.”
Jake: “If I agree to that one, then when we have a boy…?”
Me: “I’ll give you preference on boy names. I get veto rights, but you can ultimately choose.”
Jake: “Okay. We can do those.”

I don’t even care if I just somehow wore down the most stubborn man alive or if he was afraid I might be serious when I shifted from Mando and Grogu to Elsa and Anna (the more likely scenario). Our babies have names. I ordered customized wooden cutouts of them the next day and since Jake is far too cheap to change his mind after spending that money, they’re official. In the last few months, I’ve been able to connect far more to the little girls growing in my belly, now that I can better think of them as individual humans. Everyone thinks we won’t want more children after twins, because of the stress and expense, but if anything, it’ll be due to the necessity that we name them.

Why We Don’t All Just Adopt

Ever since Jake and I began our infertility journey, I’ve realized that the world is full of people who can have healthy children for free, and usually don’t want them at all, telling other people that they should just adopt. I can’t actually speak for all couples who’ve sought fertility treatment, on this or any other issue of course, but I can share a few facts and explanations for why this “solution” isn’t as simple as people seem to think. I can also do so with a clear head and little emotional charge, which you’ll be fortunate to get if you actually suggest this to someone struggling to get pregnant. Spoiler alert: don’t.

To be clear, I am not telling anyone not to adopt. Adoption has proven to be a wonderful option for many, despite its challenges. It’s also just not a feasible option for many others, who are rarely given the opportunity to articulate why… or are too hurt to do so, because “Why don’t you just adopt” is a really hateful thing to say to someone dealing with infertility. I’m not the first one to discuss this and here is an article from Psychology Today that makes many similar points, if you don’t think I’m qualified to outline the reasons I found that adoption wasn’t a realistic option for so many people.

Adoption from Foster Care
When Jake and I found out that IVF was our only option to conceive, we did consider other possibilities, not just because IVF is unimaginably expensive and invasive, but also because it’s not guaranteed to work and we wanted children, even if they weren’t biologically ours. I started by researching adoption from foster care, assuming that these children would need homes the most and knowing that the process was low cost to free, when compared with other options. I quickly found out, however, that my home state is surprisingly honest about how difficult this process really is, how long it can take, the children available and the challenges they face. Adoptuskids.org spells out some of the same information, highlighting the fact that all of the children in foster care have dealt with loss or trauma and have the emotional issues that come with it, are an average of eight-years-old, often come in sibling groups, and may have special needs. Some resources even advised not entering a foster situation if your hope was to adopt in response to infertility, because the primary goal of foster care is reunification. Children aren’t usually placed in foster homes to find new families, but for their birth parents to have a chance to improve their situation and, ideally, take their children home once again. So the people who are most often asked “Why don’t you just adopt?” are actually being told that adopting from foster care really isn’t for them. This is the perfect version, as advertised on foster care websites, depicting pictures of cute, healthy, white toddlers on their adoption day, with no horror stories included.

As with IVF, however, you can’t mention the words “foster care” without hearing or recalling someone’s horror story and in the last year, I’ve heard several of them. I won’t spell out the firsthand accounts I’ve received, not just because they aren’t my stories to tell, but because you can ask around to find plenty of your own if you wish and every experience is unique. I also have no desire to paint DHS or the foster system as being run by mustache-twirling villains. It’s an underfunded and understaffed government agency without a lot of people waiting in line to become case workers or foster to adopt… often because of these stories, creating a vicious cycle full of people who are doing their best. The abbreviated version is that it just doesn’t always work out and when it doesn’t, it’s devastating. I know there are foster care success stories and I’m happy for the ones who can share them, but clearly this is not an option for everyone (and is arguably a poor option for some) and there is no shame in that. I’d imagine that those who have adopted from foster care know the challenges and aren’t asking people why they don’t “just” do so, themselves. It takes a special person to foster or foster to adopt (not the same thing) and it’s okay that that doesn’t describe everyone who wants to be a parent, as well as those who don’t want to be parents.

Tribal Adoption
In my state, you can flip a coin as to whether or not someone will claim to be native to one tribe or another. My own mother was adopted before the Indian Tribal Welfare Act, which I personally support as an effort to maintain children’s tribal roots, in part because I can’t actually claim mine, due to how my mother was adopted in 1960. I’ve heard many similar stories from those who don’t have their official cards and know just as many who do, so tribal adoption, around these parts, is a popular option. In fact, a good friend and coworker just finalized the adoption of her little girl from a tribe native to my state. She’s a registered member, herself, so it wasn’t fraught with the risk so inherent in trying to adopt outside of the tribe. I’m sure you’ve heard of these court battles and the arguments for why ICW should be abolished, but if you haven’t, it’s a very charged topic around these parts and one I can’t discuss dispassionately, so I won’t try.

The short story is that tribal adoption is an option worthy of consideration, if you’re a member. Results and processes vary by tribe, but it is often a simpler and quicker process. Even then, however, it’s not without risk, as there are still many hoops to jump through, before finalizing and you could inevitably lose custody before that point, as with any adoption process. My friend has actually decided not to adopt another child, specifically because she feels so lucky not to have had her heart broken the first time, after multiple failed infertility treatments. If you’re outside the tribe, you’re generally warned to steer clear of this option, as there are so many more ways it can fall through, in favor of a member, whether you agree with the policy or not.

Private Adoption
Private adoption is what most people picture when they hear the word “adoption.” They think of a pregnant teenager or young woman who’s unable to care for an infant and seeking a loving family, as seen on their favorite sitcom. Private adoption was used as a plot device on Friends, Sex and the City, and Modern Family… because that’s what infertility is to media, a plot device. The problem with these depictions, of course, is that they grossly misrepresent the process, from the waiting to the financial aspect to the risk of the adoption falling through.

Let’s start with the waiting. According to this source, the wait is between two and seven years for a healthy infant. It’s very difficult to find other figures, as those reporting them are the agencies looking to make money off of their services. Each step in the process is discussed independently and time estimates are rarely given, in part, because every situation is so unique. The reality of private adoption is that there are many more waiting parents than there are available children and it is very difficult to pin down a timeline. If it doesn’t work out, you’re that much older when you have to seek other options.

Then, there are the failures. It’s difficult to say how common failed adoption matches are, because no one is keeping track. One attorney estimates, however, that at least 50% of adoption matches fail, with scams to get money (while planning to keep the child) being difficult to prove, but not uncommon. He goes on to say that he feels that it’s become more and more common for adoption matches to fail, while more of the financial burden now falls on the adoptive parents, not the agency, estimating that number to fall somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000. Creating a Family displays surprising transparency, publicly reporting that their success rates range anywhere from 60% to 93%, depending on the year. This, of course, means that anywhere from 7% to 40% of matches fail.

This horror story is a terrible fertility clinic waiting room read and shares the tale of what one couple went through for their ultimate successful private adoption. Most people know, even through the grapevine, the story of a birth mother who changed her mind, either through the birth mother herself, as is the case with my step-brother’s nephew, who once had eager adoptive parents waiting for him… or through the heartbroken adoptive parents, such as with a high school teacher of mine. I’ve even heard the miserable recounts of a close friend who once worked with an adoption agency and had to assist in reclaiming adoptive children from their new homes. These women aren’t the villains, however, for deciding to parent their own children. It’s just a risk of a very difficult process, so it’s no surprise that said process is no one’s first choice.

Finally, the expense of private adoption must be considered. There are testimonials all over the Internet, in blogs or message board comments, sharing individual experiences, but I can’t validate those numbers, so I’m going to quote some average figures, such as adoption.org’s $30,500 to $48,500 for an agency adoption and $25,000 to $38,000 for independent adoption. American Adoptions, however, reports a higher figure, with a national average of $43,000 and their own averages of $40,000 to $50,000. Some estimates cite costs as low as $20,000. There are of course some very happy families built through private adoption, but the fact remains that, even when considering only the financial aspect, it’s simply unreachable for many Americans.

International Adoption
International adoption is actually not a favorite suggestion of those who lack an understanding of how involved all types of adoption are, often getting the response that there are “plenty of children here who need homes.” See above. For years, however, it was a go-to for people who wanted to avoid the complications of these other options, while still having the opportunity to become parents. It was often cheaper and came with less risk of having a birth parent attempt to reclaim parental rights. I remember looking at international adoption, more than 10 years ago, and seeing that adopting from Ethiopia only cost around $15,000 and was one of the cheapest and easiest options.

The landscape of international adoption has changed drastically since I last considered it, something I also discovered while researching in a fertility clinic waiting room. Today, all of the countries that were once so popular for international adoption (and still allow it) limit their available children to those with disabilities, sometimes mild and others severe; while only allowing the rest to be adopted locally, by their own citizens, who will raise them in their native countries and cultures. There’s merit to these policies, but they severely limit the options and it now costs much more for international adoptions.

Previously, in Ethiopia, only abandoned children were available for adoption internationally, which meant they often had severe disabilities. The cost was around $32,000 – $45,000. In 2018, however, the country ended international adoptions, as did Russia in 2012. Adoption from China costs anywhere from $27,000 to $37,000 and limits their available children to “special needs” and “special focus,” respectively children with one or more medical conditions. Only single women (as opposed to single men) are allowed to adopt, and must have a net worth of $100,000 or more, while married couples only require $80,000. Applicants’ BMI cannot exceed 40. Guatemala specifically limits their prospective parents to heterosexuals and discourages any single man from adopting. The estimated cost is $25,000 to $38,000. This is irrelevant, at the moment, because the U.S. doesn’t currently allow adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam, or Nepal. Other, more obscure countries, often have trouble meeting U.S. immigration regulations, regardless of their available and waiting children.

In the past, some beautiful families have grown through international adoption. As you can see, however. this is no longer really an option for most Americans, considering the cost, limitations, and even immigration horror stories.

Our Reasons
That’s it, y’all. Those are all of the options for acquiring a child, without fertility treatments, short of a relative dying and leaving you one in the opening plot to a family friendly romcom. Jake and I discussed all of the above options, before moving forward with IVF and what it came down to, for us, was that we wanted the absolute assurance that the child we were raising would remain ours. We didn’t care about the genetics or appearance so much as we cared about knowing they couldn’t be taken from us. We also found that even one of the most expensive fertility treatments was still cheaper than most forms of adoption.

IVF and other similar options are not without risk, believe me I know. You can spend thousands of dollars on a failed procedure, as Jake and I personally experienced, or six figures on multiple failed procedures, which we fortunately did not. It’s emotionally, financially, and physically devastating, but of all the risks, from bankruptcy to cancer, having your child ripped from your arms isn’t one of them. For most couples undergoing fertility treatments, it’s not an obsession with pregnancy or having a child that looks like them or an inability to love a kid who doesn’t share their bloodline… you know, the things people who often don’t want any children (and therefore don’t want to adopt either) accuse us of thinking. They just want to be parents, without threat of having the title stripped from them, often after heartbreaking years of trying to conceive naturally.

If it came down to (a) spending tens of thousands of dollars on invasive medical treatments or (b) walking into the Baby Pound that my Gramma adopted my mom from (which people seem to think still exists today) and taking one home with the assurance that no one would ever show up to reclaim them, many people who want to be parents would choose the latter. It’s not 1960, though. I’m pretty sure the hospital administrator in charge of my mother’s adoption wasn’t even entirely on the up-and-up and my Gramma still feared for her family every time the doorbell rang, until her daughter was eighteen. So, it wasn’t even all that simple then.

Sure, most of us do want babies, because we’re complete monsters for wanting to be there for all of the firsts and know that our children weren’t traumatized, before coming under our care. If we could adopt healthy toddlers or young grade schoolers, though, even having to help them overcome some trauma, knowing they’d remain ours, many of us would! That’s just not really how the system works. As for teens, they’re totally my jam, from the nerdy, funny ones to the angry ones smoking pot on the library patio and calling me a bitch. Still, I know that it takes a special person to work with them for even the amount of time I do and I don’t begrudge someone for not being able to do it day in and day out, with any age child.

Adoption has created many happy families, but it’s not without challenges. Not wanting to take those on, as Plan A, after receiving the heart wrenching news that they can’t get pregnant, doesn’t make anyone a bad person. Not wanting to fight these battles, if there’s an easier way, is really no different than not wanting to fight the battles of having children at all, which is also a perfectly acceptable life decision. Quite frankly, unless you’ve adopted several children of your own, you should probably keep your opinions on the subject to yourself, because anyone who has likely knows that it’s just not that simple.

The Lady Eagles: Sports, but for Girls

It is once again sportsball season, y’all.

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Believe it or not, folks, I actually played basketball as a child… for two years. I can’t say I hated it as much as softball, but I did hate it. You see, I was never an athletic child. On the contrary, I was an asthmatic child. I was an overweight child. I was a creative child. While my parents made mistakes, I don’t actually think that putting me in sports was a notable one. That’s what suburban families do… play sports. No, their mistake was not reading their child, pinpointing her skills, and playing to them, which was honestly a lot to ask of parents in the 90s. I mean, who doesn’t want to play softball and basketball and volleyball!?!?!

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It started with softball… the worst sport of all time. I literally had to sit on the bench and wait my turn to play this terrible game. Then I had to stand in the hot sun and wait my turn to play this terrible game. The fact that baseball is America’s past time is just a testament to our laziness, as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all. The only thing duller, is watching as ten people watch two people actually engage in any athletic activity at all.

Jake: “My cousin was wondering if we wanted to watch the girls’ play softball this weekend.”
Me: “No. I don’t love you that much.”

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Despite my general lack of athletic, social, or teamwork skills, year after year, I was enrolled in sports. There was softball and then basketball, even an awful year as the fat cheerleader for my brother’s youth football team. When middle school started, I went to a single football game as a member of “Spirit Club,” made it through four volleyball practices, and spent a half semester in an obligatory P.E. class before I finally accepted the truth: I… kinda hate sports.

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Folks, this realization occurred the year Varsity Blues was released; when we were all watching Hillary Duff pine over 23-year-old high school football player, Chad Michael Murray, who couldn’t even bring himself to defend her when she was publicly humiliated by his friends; when movies about stereotypical popular boys daring to date frumpy versions of Mandy Moore and Rachel Leigh Cook were all the rage. Long before the rise of nerd culture, when intellect and fandoms became cool, that’s when I chose to hate sports in a suburban public school system.

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While I am, overall, more active and athletic these days, as with any other form of post traumatic stress, I still don’t have particularly warm feelings about sports. In fact, it wasn’t until graduate school that I developed an interest in football, as a student of a state college with a Division I team… I think. I just Googled that. My Gramma has always been passionate about my college team, however, and for once in my life, I felt like I actually had a stake in whether or not they won, beyond pleasing my namesake. So for a couple of years, I followed them as an avid fan… at least until the coach allowed a player who was publicly violent toward women to remain on the team and my deeply buried feminist boycotted the entire team until the coach retired… for five years.

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Since I haven’t had cable in years, I now only watch the games when I can get them via antenna or through a free Hulu + Live TV trial. Regardless, I must maintain a relationship with sports… because I got married.

Jake: ::struts out in his Letterman’s jacket:: “You totally wanna have sex with me right now, don’t you?”
Me: “You look like Uncle Rico.”

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Y’all, my husband is my favorite person in the whole world, but sometimes I marvel at how we even work. He was the pickup truck and Letterman’s jacket to my turtleneck and overalls. He can do a toe touch at 35 and I once hit my head on the bathroom counter trying to put on a sock. I remember the time I went on a date with a guy who loved anime, which left me scratching my head about how a grown man could be so obsessed with cartoons… but I’m similarly baffled by the passion Jake’s family has for sports. Like, they know it’s literally a game right… the way that croquet and Mario Kart 8 and beer pong are games? Jake, at least, would probably argue for the skill involved in all three, but I’m pretty sure he’d be the only Granger claiming as much. Regardless of my confusion, however, I’m frequently obligated, this time of year, to cheer on my nieces at their basketball games. Folks, if I thought watching skilled adults play sports was boring…

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How are so many parents putting their children in sports, when it means they actually have to watch children play sports?!?! That’s like listening to kids read aloud! Children doing boring things badly is just more boring! Fortunately for me, since my mind tends to never shut down, I’m actually fairly good at being bored. Sitting still for 45 minutes, pretending that I’m not tuning in and out of the game to plan next week’s grocery list, mentally decorate the guest bathroom, or debate whether or not Harry and Ginny were a natural progression is not a challenge for me. What is a challenge for me, however, is the inherent sexism that’s still ingrained in K-12 sports.

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Me: “Why are they called the ‘Lady Eagles’?”
Jake: “Because it’s the girls’ team?”
Me: “Right, but a female eagle is just called an eagle. Why can’t they just be the Eagles?”
Jake: “They have to differentiate them from the boys’ team.”
Me: “Okay, so does that mean the boys are the Gentlemen Eagles?”
Jake: “What? No. They’re just the Eagles.”
Me: “That’s bullshit! Why do the girls get the only qualifier?”
Jake: “They just have to tell the teams apart.”
Me: “Why? They’re not playing each other.”
Jake: “It’s for schedules and reports and stuff.”
Me: “Fine. Call it ‘Boys’ Basketball Schedule’ and ‘Girls’ Basketball Schedule’. Color code it or use a different font. Problem solved… multiple times… without sexism.”
Jake: “I cannot believe that this is your hill to die on, when you don’t even like sports. Why are you getting so mad?”
Me: “Because you have a Real Basketball Team and a Gal’s Basketball Team. It completely diminishes their sport!”
Jake: “Men’s sports do make more money than women’s sports.”
Me: “Not in middle school! Exactly zero of these kids are ever going to play pro anything. If they did, they’d still get a real team name.”

How are we still doing this!?!? I have never even played school sports and this has always infuriated me! I understand separating the boys’ team from the girl’s team, once puberty hits. Scientifically speaking, most boys have a physical advantage at this point. That doesn’t mean they get dibs on the qualifier-free team name, that they get to be the Real Team! There is either “Boys’ Basketball” and “Girls’ Basketball” or “Just Fucking Basketball.” In fact, I would quite prefer to put my daughter in a jersey that reads “Just Fucking Basketball” than one that reads “Sports, but for Girls.”

Part of the reason I struggle to take sports as seriously as Southern America seems to think I should, is because of the mandatory arbitrary sexual divide. We raise girls to be strong and fast and athletic, only to simultaneously send the message that they’re still the B team. We put them in softball, instead of baseball. We dress the male cheerleaders in pants and shirts and the female cheerleaders in rebranded Twin Peaks uniforms. We give the school field to the boys’ team and send the girls to a public park.

In the South, we talk ceaselessly about the benefits of athletics to all kids, from lower obesity and teen pregnancy rates to higher test scores and leadership skills. Then we treat the girls’ team as a visitor’s team, even when they’re not. When they get older, if they’re lucky enough to be truly competitive, we’re shocked, just shocked, that there’s less turnout for their games and interest in their sports, as a whole. Would calling the 7th grade girls’ basketball team the Eagles, as opposed to the Lady Eagles, make anyone more likely to show up to their games 10 years later? I don’t know, but we could try. We could start taking them as seriously as the Gentlemen Eagles.

Sports have never been my jam. Academia is my jam. It’s intelligence and research skills and forming a strong argument and being well-read. You know what, though? I’ve never felt that being female diminished my value in this regard, from my Pre-AP English class in the 9th grade to the system-wide manager meetings I attended a few years ago. In my industry, I am rarely the smartest person in the room, but it’s an understood coin toss as to whether the person who is, is male or female. Academia doesn’t care if you brought a penis to the party, as long as you brought citations. Maybe, just maybe, that’s why I’ve always felt more at home among intellectuals than athletes… that and the relentless bullying from the latter, of course. Value and skill are based on merit, not some archaic gender standard. There are no Lady Intellectuals and if you were to print up gear titling them as such, they’d intellectually eviscerate you.

Me: “So what’s the other team called?”
Jake: “They’re the Elks.”
Me: “So, what, they’re the Lady Elks?”
Jake: ::laughing at me:: “I don’t know. A female Elk is called a cow. Do you want to call them the Cows?”
Me: “If it means they get their own damned title, then sure.
Me: ::leaning over to a teenager nearby:: “Hey. What is the girls’ team called?”
Teen: “They’re the Elkettes.”

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