When I was in high school and college, I paid a lot of attention to how I looked. I loved dressing up in certain ways, wearing real outfits that weren’t just jeans and a t-shirt. In college, I fought off depression by spending absurd amounts of money on makeup (admittedly, not expensive makeup, but if you’re buying a bunch at CVS every week, it adds up), and while I never put much effort into my hair outside of the salon chair (blonde for one year, red for the rest, never quite achieving the chunky highlights I wanted and thankfully avoiding a Kelly Clarkson look), I still took care to make sure I looked decent, at least when I wasn’t heading for an 8 a.m. class.
I lost that at some point.
I don’t know when I lost it. Maybe the summer between junior and senior years, when depression hit me like a lahar, knocking me down and burying me up to my eyebrows in mud so thick I couldn’t get out of bed most days. Maybe after I graduated, when I was so panicked about finding some sort of work that the idea of really pulling together a Look seemed insurmountable. Either way, by the time I’d left school and entered the “real world,” the effort required to pull together a cute outfit and do my makeup seemed pointless. I wasn’t quite schlubby–that came later–but I didn’t care.
It wasn’t really from lack of desire to care; it was more from–I don’t really know. Something sapped my ability to do so. Maybe it was the corporate grind of those early years, the drag from temp job to temp job or retail work to retail work (because an English composition degree doesn’t lend itself to very many career paths) and the slow spiral of untreated depression. I wanted to curate a closet of cute looks, but lack of money and that fucking drag prevented that from really being the case.
And now I’m on the other side, a nearly forty year old parent whose fashion sense can best be described as “pajamas that are (probably) clean.”
I don’t much like that. Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of comfort over style, function over form, but I look at myself in the mirror and don’t like who I see looking back at me because it’s not just that she doesn’t care about her outfits or makeup (lol what makeup). It’s that she doesn’t care about herself.
I honestly don’t know when that happened, but I feel like it was a slow decline. Bit by spoony bit, saying, “well, that doesn’t matter,” until the person looking back at me was unrecognizable by most of my standards, and I’m left doing some weird sort of mental calculus every time I want to go out, the math of “how schlubby can I get away with looking.”
And it’s part chronic pain making it hard for me to dredge up the energy necessary to really put work into my appearance, and it’s part being tired all the time, and it’s part “wow, three kids is a high number, and oh, they all have IEPs and you’re constantly emailing back and forth about whatever they’re doing at school? Wow, that’s an even higher number than three somehow.”
BUT NONE OF THAT IS THE POINT OF THIS ENTRY and also it’s really depressing to think about, so we’re moving away from it.
The point is that I now have the time, some of the energy, and the resources to actually try and make myself less schlubby. I’ve got my Caboodle full of makeup that I can use when I really want to (and/or when I find time to dig up a makeup tutorial somewhere that’s easy to follow and caters to my hooded but not super hooded eyelids), I’ve got large swathes of the day free to play with makeup and fashion, and I’ve got the desire to look less like a sentient pile of (mostly clean) laundry. My only struggle at the moment is figuring out what I want this new fashionable me to look like.
See, when I was younger, while I was really good at having outfits and wearing makeup, I didn’t really have a Look, per se. It was more just “ooh, this is cute!” regardless of whether it pushed towards surfer chic or vaguely skater-esque or grunge or preppy or goth. My closet had personality, or more accurately, personalities, and I could never settle on just one look. Now as a woman pushing forty, I want to really narrow that down and decide what I want to look like.
My first instinct is to go wholly goth. I love the goth aesthetic, less from a super edgy look at me perspective and more from a “why yes, I would like to be a vampirewitch all the time, thank you” perspective.
And I’ve been leaning that way with most of the clothes I’ve bought in the last year. I’ve started to move towards a collection of t-shirts and dresses that are all black, all the time, or at least mostly black or gray. It’s kind of lazy goth, really, because the hardcore goths REALLY go for it in a way that’s a bit more than I’m comfortable doing (largely because it seems like quite a lot of work for a trip to Target). Doing this has made shopping both more difficult and easier–I can narrow down my choices more quickly, but I also really have to dig for certain things (shopping for a dress to wear to my cousin’s wedding at the beginning of the summer was an adventure, and I’m still not wholly pleased with what I got).
The trouble, though, ends up being that I can’t commit to goth shoes any longer. This fact saddens me greatly, as goth shoes are just. Perfection. Everything about them is perfect. I’ve lived for finding good goth shoes most of my life to this point, starting with a pair of knee high platform boots my mom got me for Christmas when I was 17 (boots that, along with my favorite red dress, frequently got me into trouble during my college years) and continuing right on through to the knee high combat boots and black motorcycle boots I have nestled in my closet right now. I love them.
But I cannot walk in them any longer.
Between the wtf of my chronic pain in my fingers and toes and small bones of my feet and the “oh that makes sense” pain of my sciatica, I’m basically relegated to Very Supportive Sneakers. And that’s fine, and I love my Very Supportive Sneakers, but it is a bit jarring to pair a wonderfully curated goth ensemble with a pair of gray and pink New Balances. It’s like a fashion mullet: spooky on top, Dad mowing the lawn on Saturday on bottom.
So it’s a work in process. But I’m figuring it out, and I’ll keep y’all updated as I do.
Somewhere, some judgmental person is like “how can you be so happy about your babies being out of the house all day???” but listen. I have spent the last eight years with someone either on me or in my uterus nonstop. Today, I got to go on a lunch date with my husband without finding someone to babysit for us. When I had to send emails this afternoon (because being a mom of three school-aged children means doing a lot of emailing), I didn’t have to worry that someone was going to get bored with whatever I’d thrown at them to distract them. I could just email and reply, email and reply. I was so fast.
So now I’m figuring out what to do with these hours between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. when I used to have to spend 110% of my time making sure Isaac wasn’t bungee jumping from the top of the stairs (that still is a focus between 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., for the record), and a lot of it boils down to actually taking care of myself.
Anyone who’s raised twins can tell you that it’s a LOT of work. You essentially have to be in two places at once at all times, even more as they get older and more capable of causing problems on purpose (as they gleefully inform me they’re doing several times a day). Your own needs don’t just take a backseat; they get strapped to the rear bumper with some duct tape and you pray they won’t fall off when you hit a particularly gnarly pothole. And when it’s twins, it’s not a societal thing telling you that mom should give up taking care of herself while dad does whatever. If you’ve got a decent marriage, both parents are struggling and dragging themselves across the finish line at the end of every day, wondering how they survived.
And then add autism into the mix, with its superpowers and drawbacks, and basically, I’m amazed that I made it to the twins’ first full day of school without actually being committed to a mental institution.
(note that I did come close, but it was technically a partial hospitalization and it was under extenuating circumstances, i.e., a literal plague, so I still consider it a victory)
This week, self care mostly just looks like having very relaxing days. I was in sleep therapy for a while this spring and summer, and I’m pretty sure my sleep therapist would shit a blue kitten to see how I’m spending this first week with no kids at home. But that would be her problem because I’m sleeping not because I feel like I need to but because I can and I want to. I like sleeping, and I like sleeping even more when I know that I don’t have to worry about my kids while I’m sleeping.
After this week, though, it’s time to really buckle down on the actual self care. Not the forever naps or the eating bonbons or wearing sheet masks type of self care, but actually pulling my body back from whatever hellhole it’s been in for the past two years.
I’d written back in March, when I had time to write here semi-regularly, that I was working on getting a CPAP, and I have gotten one. And I’ve noticed a marked difference in my before and after life, though I didn’t realize the difference until one day, when I didn’t get enough sleep and suddenly, I felt cranky. That didn’t happen before because I was just in this permanent state of exhaustion that never ended, so I didn’t ever feel cranky. I just felt normal.
But then the other day, I didn’t get as much sleep as I had been and had to function on this insignificant amount of time. And I was cranky. I was so upset about everything and I was like ??? what is going on? Until I realized that oh, I was acting like I hadn’t slept because I hadn’t, and boy was that weird. I was so used to getting such bad sleep for so long (roughly 70%-80% of my nights were spent not breathing) that I didn’t know what being sleep deprived felt like anymore because it was just my normal.
So I’ve taken care of the sleep aspect, at least, but a lot of me is still tired. This is partly because I’m still recovering from however many years it’s been that I’ve had sleep apnea and been getting zero sleep. This is also partly because, increasingly, I’ve been dealing with absurd amounts of bizarre pain.
I say “bizarre” because it’s pain that I can’t really explain with anything simple. I can explain my knees and hips and ankles hurting because I am fat. That makes sense to me. I cannot explain why my toe knuckles and finger knuckles hurt pretty much all the time. As far as I know, I haven’t been running around all night like a gorilla, balancing on my fingers, or learning to dance en pointe. My fingers and toes have hurt for the last two years off and on and it’s just very, very weird.
When I spoke to my primary care doctor about it (not intending to, by the way; I went in to speak with her about a completely different matter, and Kyle said, “hey, while you’re there, why don’t you talk to her about your fingers and toes hurting?”), she basically diagnosed me with “being fat” and spent the rest of the appointment meticulously reading through the list of ingredients on the Dr. Pepper I confessed to drinking. Which… yeah, pretty par for the course when you go to the doctor as a fat person. And, mind, I’m not saying that I’m either healthy or not fat; quite the opposite, really, and I know the steps I need to take to improve my situation.
Anyway, my doctor thankfully also ordered bloodwork to check for autoimmune issues, because when you have the symptoms I have (nonsensical joint pain, skin that gets hot when it’s in the same universe as a day over 65 degrees, fatigue even when you’re getting decent sleep), it tends to indicate something autoimmune going on. One of the results came back elevated in a range that, from what I’m reading, tends to be consistent with autoimmune situations, so that’s exciting.
I do not want to have an autoimmune condition, I should add. They all sound wretched. Bare minimum, they sound like a lifetime of pain and medication to do away with the pain that has awful side effects of its own. But I’d also like to know what the fuck is up with my body already hurting. Like my body already hurts; I don’t need an autoimmune diagnosis to make that a thing.
(as to why I never brought it up before, quite simply it’s because between the pandemic and raising three kids with varied special needs, my own needs were, as I said before, strapped to the back bumper with duct tape)
I have an appointment with a rheumatologist in late October, and I really hope that she isn’t dismissive, that she says, “yeah, no, drinking soda isn’t good and you should exercise, but neither of those things should cause your knuckles to hurt like this.”
So in addition to alllllll of that, I’m looking to start exercising properly, now that I actually have free hours during the day. I don’t know when I’ll be doing that exercise, but I figure ~30 minutes a day, 4-5 days a week of moderate cardio should do the trick of getting my heart pumping and my body saying, “whoa, hey, we’re taking care of ourselves now! Neat!” We have a membership at a local community center that I plan to use for that purpose, and that’s something I’ll be doing starting next week.
And in between all of this, I’m also getting my tubes tied. With all the new bullshit laws happening across the country (side note: if you agree with any of those laws, you and I are not going to get along) and with any future children I’d want probably coming from a freezer at this point, tubal ligation just seems like a good option to me. And that is happening on October 3, and I am pretty jazzed about it. Hilariously jazzed, too, considering literally everything I went through to have the kids I do have, but honestly, having power over my own body is a good feeling and one I want to maintain as much as I can, all things considered.
(those things being everything I talked about above)
And I’ve got plans to clean out a whole bunch of stuff from our house and I’ve got plans to write again and I’ve got plans to take my camera out places and and and
Basically, I do, in fact, miss my kids somewhat during the day… but I’ve missed myself a whole lot more.
Our house has basically been a mess since we moved in, but it’s been messiest in the four years since the twins were born because taking care of small humans takes a lot of work, and sometimes, it’s all we can do at the end of the day to stare at the scattered toys and papers and books and crayons and say “meh. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.”
It’s gotten better. A few weeks ago, in anticipation of some friends coming up to visit, Kyle and I dove into a whirlwind cleaning spree, throwing out so many things and leaving the main living areas of the house look more “lived in” than “disastrous.” Our entryway now has a nice little set of cubbies for everyone’s shoes (or at least everyone whose shoes are below a size 5). Our bathroom, while not spotless, looks nice and usable. Our dining room is usable. Our kitchen is still a disaster, but I think we need a full day for that alone, so I find it forgivable.
But the house is a mess anyway. And I have lots of reasons for it, like my increasing physical disability (update on the CPAP thing: definitely getting more restful sleep, but that’s just one problem solved, and my fingers and toes and everything have been in pain for about two years now, so let’s see what happens there) and the fact that all three of my children have some sort of special needs, visible and invisible. Frankly, as long as people aren’t tripping over things or existing in filth, that’s good enough for me.
But that said, I still get a sinking feeling whenever something happens. Fellow parents know what I mean.
Something like the twins are being too quiet, so I go to investigate and find that they’ve gotten into our supply of foaming hand soap and used it to create a rave. Things like they’re playing tattoo shop and have covered themselves with marker drawings or they’re playing beauty parlor and have painted themselves and the couch with nail polish. How did they get the nail polish? I have no idea. It wasn’t there a second ago. Twins are their own mischief engine.
It happened today. Carrie was playing school with me, using the wall and her magic wand as the pointer to teach me words; I obediently repeated the words she said as she said them (“cat,” “Baby Box,” “DJ Catnip,” “Mercat,” “Cat Rat,” because we are on a Gabby’s Dollhouse kick) and ignored it when she used the wand to scratch at the wall as if drawing. After all, it’s a plastic magic wand, so it wasn’t going to leave a mark. And then Isaac joined in and it was all good fun.
Except Isaac did not have a wand.
Isaac had a crayon.
And I had that sinking feeling, because I imagined someone coming into my house and seeing crayon all over the living room walls, which are themselves a disaster. The chair rail is cracked in half in one place, held on with duct tape. The paint has peeled off in other spots, and there’s a large white plaster patch underneath the window AC unit. When I can trust the kids more to be less destructive, I’m looking forward to really making it look gorgeous. Maybe I’ll paint some designs on one wall or maybe I’ll just hold off until the economy figures out what the fuck it’s doing and save any further painting/chair rail destruction for the inevitable renovation that I’ve been vaguely planning in my head since we bought the house.
But right now, there is crayon on the wall. Marker on other walls and on all of our furniture. Our couches have nail polish and a lot of mystery stains, most of which are water but some of which are probably something else that I couldn’t identify if I tried. Our carpets are just sad and waiting to be torn up and replaced with vinyl.
It’s embarrassing on some level. I remember friends I had when I was really young who had been in foster care for a little while. Their mother was so afraid they’d be taken again that she would bleach the walls of their house. Any mess was a disaster because she never knew if a social worker would show up. And that was always a fear in the back of my mind, maybe based in that or some off handed comment by some other adult in my life when I was young, that if you didn’t keep a perfectly Martha Stewart Living esque home, someone would come and take your children away.
I hate that.
Because the truth is, my kids are happy and healthy. They scribble on the walls because they feel safe at home. Are they supposed to? No. Did they get in trouble for it? Yes. But honestly, I’d rather have a home where my kids feel safe enough to do something like color on the walls than a home where they’re so afraid of messing up that it gives them an anxiety complex. I want them to know that no matter what they do, no matter how messy things get, they are loved and they are safe. Nobody in this house will ever stop being loved because of crayons on the walls or mystery stains on the couches or ground up crackers in the carpet. And they’ll be helping to clean up those things, as they always do, because when you make a mess, you clean it up.
But they’re safe. They’re happy. And that’s what really matters.
So when I got my CPAP, I hoped it would kind of be like in Sleeping Beauty where she just kind of wakes up and is beautiful and fine and life is able to go on. I knew from a lot of experiences I’d read that this usually isn’t how things work, that a lot of people who’ve had severe sleep apnea for a while (based on my history, it’s been at least since I was in high school, if not longer) need time to heal their brain and body from being so sleep deprived from so long; but I still hoped that I’d be one of those people who’d get on the CPAP and suddenly feel great and ready to fight dragons.
The first day was like that. I was too awake to go back to sleep after the kids left for school, and I wanted to stay awake, so I drank a Dr. Pepper in the morning (hey. hey. it’s probably less calories than the caramel mocha whatever you get in the line at Starbucks) and that kind of took me from awake to AWAKE. I was hyper. I have never been hyper. I felt like I wanted to be on a trampoline. I cleaned. And then at lunch, I had another Dr. Pepper and stayed somewhat zingy until I went to bed, and that was that. And I hoped against hope that I would be like that every day because wouldn’t that be nice?
But that hasn’t been the case. The first day was like that, but subsequent days have been significantly less so. On the one hand, I think this is because a cold (not Covid, we tested so many times) and allergies have been rolling through our house making everyone snore (especially Kyle, very loudly) and making us all more tired than usual. On the other hand, I do think I have a lot of healing to do because it’s been something like 25 years that I’ve been dealing with this, and that sort of damage doesn’t go away overnight.
I have noticed differences. When I am awake, I feel like my brain is more there than it used to be. I used to have trouble keeping my eyes open at all, but now I just feel “normal” tired, if that’s even a thing. Before the CPAP, it was like I couldn’t sit down anywhere without my eyes trying to close on their own. Now, that isn’t a problem. I still feel really tired, but I’m not falling asleep where I sit, so that’s an improvement. I think. I don’t know, it’s hard to say, since it’s been so long since I’ve actually NOT felt tired that I don’t know what not tired really feels like?
I’m still on pain meds that warn that they cause brain fog, and I definitely still have some of that, but it’s not as bad as it was. I don’t feel like whoever’s in charge of the simulation keeps canceling my actions whenever I walk into the room, and I’m not completely losing conversations mid-sentence, so that’s helpful. I’ve even had the mental bandwidth to start being creative again, mostly with journaling (I do something called “junk journaling,” which is when you basically use stickers and scrap paper and whatever to make your journal look like a beautiful mess); and even though I absolutely do not have the emotional bandwidth to deal with the 72 separate apocalypses happening on a daily basis (do any of us?), normal weeks are back within my capabilities, and that feels better.
I think that’s the gist of it: I don’t feel great, but I do feel better. There’s a noticeable improvement. Everyone’s noticed it in the way I talk, even when I’m really tired. They say that I sound less exhausted, which is accurate. And that’s not to say that I never get exhausted (after all, I still have three kids and a life going on), but it’s not just my constant state of being.
I’m trying to push myself a little. This week, I’ve been trying to go to bed a little bit earlier so that I can get up at the usual 7:15-7:30 wake-up time and stay awake, but it’s a weird balancing act. On the one hand, I don’t mind going to bed a little earlier as a general rule, but on the other hand, I absolutely struggle with revenge bedtime procrastination. I feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to refill my own emotional cup, and I know that if I don’t do that, the kids will be the ones to suffer for it because I won’t be able to engage with them the way I want to.
Which is, after all, a big reason why I’m working on overall improving myself: to be able to engage better with my kiddos.
The next step is, I think, being more active. We’ve got a membership to a local gym/community center so that Sam can have swimming lessons there (Sam, by the way, HATES swimming lessons), and I want to start using their facilities either in the morning when the kids are in school or in the evening when the kids are in bed. I don’t know, though. Every time I try to start being more active, I end up failing somewhere along the way, and it frustrates me. The times I’ve managed to incorporate more activity into my daily life are times when it wasn’t a choice: when I had to walk ages to get to classes or walk to the store or things like that. Where we live now, walking is just not a thing that can happen. The roads have no sidewalks, and we live on a really steep grade, and while I could absolutely do that eventually, right now, it feels daunting.
As does actually going to the gym.
But I still want to try.
That’s really the theme of it all. I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I still want to try. I don’t know what the eventual outcomes will be, but I can’t really find out if I don’t actually make an attempt. And the attempt is scary, mostly because of the potential for failure, but. Well.
I’m tired. And I’ve been tired for a very long time.
I don’t remember the last time I got a good night’s sleep, and I don’t say that in an overdramatic parent sort of way. We all have a hard time with sleep and rest as parents–the kids get you up in the middle of the night, you worry about them, they wake up at 5:30 a.m. for no reason. Parenting is exhausting.
But that’s not it.
I don’t mean it in the daily grind sort of way. We get up and commute to work and subsist off caffeine. Our supervisors demand too much of us, and by the end of the work week, it’s all we can do to plop down in front of the TV and binge watch something so that we can have conversations at lunchtime. The capitalism grind is exhausting.
But that’s not it.
I don’t mean it in the school sort of way, where you stay up all night working on a paper or studying for finals and then hold your eyes open with tape the next day and crash afterwards, or where you and your friends are so wired after studying for those finals that you go to Dunkin Donuts at 3 a.m. in weird clothes to try and get whatever coffee and donuts you can to push through. School is exhausting.
But that’s not it either.
Everyone I know has dealt with those exhaustions, so I figured mine was just more of the same. It was easy to write off how tired I was when I was in high school–after all, school started at 7:40 a.m., and I was in AP classes and had extracurriculars and church and friends keeping me out late. And no, it wasn’t preventing me from getting at least 6-7 hours of sleep a night, depending on what I was doing, but of course I was tired then. And then college–the exhaustion ebbed a lot then because I planned my day around it. When selecting classes, I avoided anything earlier than 9:30 a.m. and kept my afternoons free for napping as much as possible. I did stay up incredibly late, but not so much that I wasn’t getting any sleep, and I still needed those naps in the afternoons, every day. But I wrote that off because, well, it’s college. Everyone naps in college. Right?
When I started working a regular 9-5 job, the exhaustion resurfaced. My first job, I had to leave the house at 7:15 a.m., at least if I wanted to beat traffic, and I was so tired that I kept making stupid mistakes on the job: filing things incorrectly, forgetting who told me what, that sort of stuff. Eventually, I left the job to substitute teach for a bit, and I always ended up at schools far away. I’d feel so tired during the morning commute that I’d have to slap myself to keep awake, and then I’d come home and nap as long as I could. I told myself that I was staying up too late or that I just had fucked up my circadian rhythm in college, because obviously, it was my fault, right?
And then I had kids.
And that didn’t help, because kids exhaust a person. At gentlest, they’re a lot of work. I blamed being more tired than the average parents on my being autistic, because all that sensory input and all that socializing at all times of the day forever is a lot. When I was working AND raising Sam, I’d reach the end of the work day and only have the energy to sit on my rocking chair with him and watch TV, to the great concern of both Kyle and Kat. They worried that me having another kid would result in more of the same, but for a hot minute, I proved them wrong. When the twins were little–not infants, but around the time Sam started kindergarten–we had a good time. We played all day, I was very tired but I could do stuff.
And then the pandemic and then my spine and then everyone started school, and I thought I’d be less tired, but here I am.
I’ve tried all sorts of explanations. The medication I’m on for my nerve issues does make a person pretty tired, so I thought maybe that was it, and that getting off the medication would make it so that I could get through my days without a nap again. The pandemic flushed my mood right down the toilet, and I figured that probably was a contributing factor. I had all of these reasons, and they finally came out when I talked to my prescribing RN a few months ago, frustrated that I was losing more than half of my day to sleep.
Because I love naps, but I like to take naps for pleasure. I like taking naps on days when it’s raining outside or crisp and cool or it’s gently snowing. I like looking out my window and letting nature kind of hypnotize me into a nice, relaxing sleep that doesn’t last too terribly long and makes me feel rested afterwards. These naps don’t make me feel rested. I think the last time a nap made me feel properly rested, I was fresh out of college and working just part time and dozing after work.
So anyway, I talked to my prescribing RN with frustration, and she referred me to a sleep therapist, thinking the issue was that I had insomnia. And, I mean. I have had insomnia in the past. We all have nights of insomnia. Most of mine lately stems from achy legs when there’s a front coming through or else the general weight of “ah, neat, living through yet another major historical event.”
BUT THE INSOMNIA WASN’T THE THING, AS IT TURNS OUT. Because my sleep therapist had me keep a sleep journal recording how long I thought it was taking me to fall asleep and how long I was sleeping, and as it turns out, I’ve been getting upwards of 7-9 hours of sleep every night, falling asleep within half an hour, and doing relatively well with the getting to sleep bit. And I’m even staying asleep, as far as I can tell, for most of the night, and that seems to have been the case for most of my life.
So my sleep therapist and I both said, “wtf” and she ordered me a sleep study. I got all these components that I brought home with me and strapped to my body–one for my chest to register whenever I took a breath, one for my nose to register when air was coming in and out of me, and one for my finger to measure my pulse and how oxygenated my blood was throughout the night.
AND WOULDN’T YOU KNOW. It’s not insomnia. It’s not me being lazy. It’s not me staying up way too late or being unable to handle life. It’s severe central sleep apnea, and it’s probably been with me for a very long time.
This isn’t the sleep apnea that you get when your tongue blocks your airway or your neck is just too heavy to keep your airways open. This is the sleep apnea you get when your brain forgets to tell your body “hey, maybe we should keep breathing” while you sleep. Rather than choking and gasping for air as your airway gets blocked by your tongue, and rather than being fixable with just losing weight or wearing a mouth guard, you just stop breathing.
Which is bad.
Moderate central sleep apnea happens when you have around 30 incidents of not breathing in a one hour period. The night I was monitored, I had 40 incidents, and my blood oxygen dropped to 79% (which is, for the record, REALLY BAD). The pulmonologist I saw after and my sleep therapist both told me to really push the sleep center to get me in as soon as possible so I could get a confirming study that would also see what kind of titration (read: forcing my body to breathe when it doesn’t do so on its own) works best for me.
A lot of people with sleep apnea do well with a CPAP machine, which forces air into your lungs at a steady pressure (set up during that in hospital study to see what pressure you need to just keep breathing while you sleep). Other people do better with a BiPAP, which forces air into your lungs at a harder pressure when you’re inhaling and a gentler pressure when you’re exhaling. And then there’s an ASV, which is a BiPAP that learns your breathing patterns and adjusts accordingly. And it’s all very complicated but necessary because my body cannot do this one very basic thing that it should’ve been doing consistently since I exited the womb.
I’ve got options, basically. And I’m looking forward to them on one level because I am so TIRED of being TIRED. It really is just an emotionally exhausting thing to be this tired all the time; you want to do so much and BE A PERSON, but you only have enough energy to exist. Even the things that are usually fun fall short because you’re too tired to put in the effort you want.
But then I’m also scared because I’ve been this tired for so long that I don’t know who I am without this permanent exhaustion that feels bone deep. Am I going to turn into some sort of raging dictator who’s angry that not everyone is on my level of dragon slaying awakeness? Or will I just be the engaged and clean mom I’ve wanted to be for a while? Will I finally be able to kick my own ass into actual activity or will I just say “nah” and remain a blob but this time able to focus on things?
And THEN I’m frustrated that it’s taken this long to recognize that it’s a problem because I kept dismissing my own health issues and had them dismissed by everyone around me. Of course I was tired, high school and college are hard. Of course I was tired, I was going to bed at 10:00 every night instead of 9. Of course I was tired, I had hobbies outside of work. Of course I was tired, I had a baby and then two babies. Of course I was tired, I was working and raising a kid at the same time. Of course I was tired, there’s a pandemic on and also I’ve got a spinal injury and depression. Why wouldn’t I be tired? Or maybe I wasn’t tired, maybe I was just lazy. Maybe it wasn’t that I couldn’t physically muster the energy to clean and roll around on the floor with my kids and go for a walk and have hobbies and a life. Maybe I just didn’t want to put in the effort. Maybe I preferred to just dick around on my phone because effort is bad, and after all, I am just a lazy Millennial with a rebellious streak or something.
I internalized all of that. And when I think about how that kept me from actually getting diagnosed and treated for so long, it scares me and enrages me. My level of sleep apnea is so severe that it can cause brain damage and seizures; somehow, I’ve gone this long without that, but you can only stay lucky for so long. Since I found out the results of the study, I’ve been afraid to sleep because I know that it’s entirely possible that this would be the night I’m not lucky.
And I’m furious that my exhaustion has been so easy to dismiss for my entire life, as me just being “low energy” or “lazy” or something along those lines. That it never occurred to me that anything about it was abnormal and that it was so easy to say, “oh, that’s normal.” It’s like when I had my gallbladder issues after Sam was born; I found it so easy to dismiss the 11/10 pain because the postpartum time is supposed to be painful, aches and pains are normal after you give birth, etc.
But that wasn’t normal. And this isn’t normal. And I don’t know what it is about me that makes me so ready to dismiss real medical problems that I have, but I do know that I feel vindicated that I haven’t been lazy my entire life, that I may very well be able to handle working and having a kid and having three kids and having hobbies and writing and exercising and all of that.
I’ve just been fighting with both hands tied behind my back.
Well, no. It’s busy but it’s also not. It’s fallen into this nice routine but I’m tired all the time, which is unpleasant and probably the fault of the nerve medication I’ve been on for a year at this point (more on that in a minute), but it also means that by the time I reach the end of the day, I’m a noodle who isn’t very good at writing things. And I have so much to update on and so much to talk about but again: noodle, living in a constant state of no bones.
The kids have been in school in person for coming up on three months now, and it’s mostly been a pleasant time. We’ve had… mm, I want to say three Covid scares? Two that were everyone and one that was just Carrie. It’s a weird thing because I don’t like to send my kids into school sick anyway, but now in the time of Covid, you can’t just not send them to school sick, you also need to get them tested. And I am okay with that, just so we’re clear. It’s a pandemic, kids have only just started to get vaccinated, and I’d rather know one way or the other.
BUT it does take a day home with a head cold to five days home because we couldn’t get in to get tested until 12 on Wednesday so the results aren’t back until 10 on Friday, so we’ve missed the last three days of the week plus the weekend, and by that point, all three children have gone completely feral and are jumping from couch to couch to couch to couch while scream singing “Grace Kelly” by MIKA.
Thankfully, our school has recently implemented a “stay and test” option for people who are just close contacts, but that does nothing if your kid has the vague “maybe it’s a cold or hay fever or Covid?” symptoms, so we just check everyone’s temperature in the morning and get really caught up in the mitigating circumstances of each and every symptom (e.g., our kids are hot sleepers, so if one seems warm but they were in bed all night, we wait another hour after they get up before doing a temperature check).
Kyle and I are both triple vaccinated, so even with ominously named variants popping up all over the globe (seriously, if they’d just gone with Omicron from the start, I feel like this entire pandemic would’ve been taken a lot more seriously. Like I’m not saying that Covid isn’t a threatening name except it very much is not a threatening name), we’ve both felt comfortable and safe enough to go to the movies again and go out to dinner again and mostly resume our normal lives, sometimes with masks and sometimes not. And despite the handful of Covid cases in our schools, both of us feel pretty safe about our kids being back in person (and all three have IEPs, so even if schools went remote again, they’d end up taking the in-person option anyway, whee).
Being back to school in person has benefitted Sam so very much. We weren’t sure how he’d take to it, since it was a full year away, but the phrase “like a fish to water” comes to mind. He picked up right where he left off with his best friend Hunter, and he’s made new friends (Declan and Eamon) in his class. His teacher has nothing but good things to say about him, even taking into account his reluctance to put away his scissors sometimes and his adorable motormouth tendencies. He comes home constantly with stories about the games he played at recess (apparently, Among Us is popular with the kids these days, which… okay, cool, it’s literally just Mafia, but cool) and the time he spent with his friends, which is enough to make my heart feel warm and mushy, but THEN you add in that he got the highest scores on their classroom testing in math and ELA and I’m just. Beyond proud. Is there a way to be beyond proud, because that’s me. I’m beyond proud.
I also feel a weird sense of pride because, as it turns out, Sam is also autistic.
Roughly around this time last year, his therapists asked us if we’d ever had him tested, which we hadn’t. Sam and Isaac are both similar in that, while they’re both definitely autistic, they’re also both really social kids. They like to make friends and be involved with other people, but where Sam was in daycare from the time he was a year old, Isaac was home with me. Isaac was also notably delayed from the start because he was a preemie, whereas Sam would’ve just stayed in for the next ten years if the doctors had let him.
Anyway, we didn’t ever have Sam evaluated for autism because he’s such a social kid, and he learned from very early on that socializing means eye contact and it means language and it means doing things that autistic children typically aren’t seen doing. He had his pickiness sometimes and his need for routine, but we figured that was just typical toddler stuff.
And then the pandemic.
And a fun thing with neurodivergence is that when those of us who fall under that umbrella get stressed, we don’t mask as well. Our divergences become more and more apparent, and as a result, people start to notice.
The pandemic was stressful for everyone, and it was particularly stressful for Sam, who had his routine and life upended overnight and never quite found his footing again. Early on, we had him seen by one therapist who recognized that he has ADHD (both inattentive and hyperactive type, because we like to cover all bases here), and once he started receiving in-person therapy, his new therapists agreed with that and said that he also seemed to be autistic.
It took a whole goddamn year to get him an evaluation because everything is absurdly backlogged and you can’t do an autism evaluation virtually. We went for the first available slot in Boston, and an hour and a half later, the doctor said, “Yep, autistic” and sent us on our merry way with a bunch of emails and links and information and suggestions about therapies and what-have-you.
And, real talk, Sam is excelling so much in so many ways that I’m not super interested in pursuing therapy unless he asks for it. Talk therapy, sure, because I think that helps a lot with a lot of things. But ABA (gag)? Anything besides the OT he already gets? Nah. I think he’s doing pretty well on his own, and the diagnosis mostly just gives us a tool and a shield that we can use to say, “okay, because of this diagnosis, you cannot deny him services.”
(not that our school district WOULD HAVE denied him services, but just in case)
Anyway, he’s doing SO well that we’re actually shifting his services to an “as needed” basis, meaning that he’ll still have the help if/when he needs it, but he’s transitioned so smoothly and is doing so well that we don’t need to force it on him. And my god, he’s happy again. Last year, it was like a cloud over him, but this year, the sun’s back and it’s so beautiful.
My health is also on the docket of things to talk about. A year ago this weekend, I was in the ER with nerve pain so bad that I couldn’t do anything but scream and shake, and in a logical world, they would’ve pushed me through getting an MRI and surgery ASAP because nerve pain that bad is a major red flag for nerve injuries that could become permanent damage.
I got sent home with meds, celebrated Christmas and New Year’s, then saw a doctor in January. The doctor said it sounded like a herniated disc but I’d need an MRI to be sure, but the next available MRI appointment wasn’t until March. I would’ve taken that appointment, but it fell on the same day our insurance rolled over from one to another (not that the new insurance covered the MRI anyway?), so the MRI got pushed out to late March. Then I saw the doctor again in April, and he gave me the option of either getting injections to ease the pain while the nerve healed or having surgery. I said I wanted surgery, so I got to see ANOTHER doctor in May, and we scheduled the surgery for July.
So it’s already been eight months with this injury and things not really getting better, right? And then Kyle’s company laid off his entire department literally two weeks before my surgery and we had no insurance, so I had to postpone the surgery to August. And THEN we were in this kind of song and dance with MassHealth, where nobody was really sure if we’d be able to stay on it once Kyle received his unemployment payments (note: we still have not received unemployment payments), so we postponed the surgery indefinitely until Kyle got a new job and we were on that new insurance.
September rolls around, and Kyle gets his new job and good new insurance, some of the best we’ve ever had. I call to make a new surgery appointment, but first, I need a new MRI because it’s been, at this point, six entire months so who knows what’s going on in there? And I pay roughly the same for the new MRI that I did for the one with the shitty insurance, but whatever, right?
Within 24 hours, the doctor calls me back and says, “hey, you have zero herniation left. I’d do surgery on you, but it would be pointless because there’s nothing to remove. All you have to do is just wait for the nerve to no longer be inflamed.”
To get a clearer picture, I ask, “But what about the fact that I cannot feel anything on the inside of my left thigh and also at least two and possibly three of the toes on my left foot take a good thirty seconds more to get the message that I want to move them than the rest of my foot?”
“Oh, well, those are probably permanent, but in 90% of cases, the pain goes away completely within a year of pressure coming off the nerve.”
SO LET ME GET ALL OF THIS STRAIGHT. Because of insurance issues, I had to wait and wait and wait and wait on my surgery to the point where I’ve now been left with permanent damage and pain that has an okay chance of disappearing completely but nobody is really sure when that will happen?
I’m on this nerve medication, gabapentin, that makes the world completely fuzzy. I’ve been on it for a year. You’re not supposed to be on it more than a few weeks because it makes you sleepy and messes with your memory (not permanently, thankfully, just while you’re on it). I don’t know when I can come off it because I don’t know when my herniation stopped pressing on the nerve because I had to keep putting off the surgery again and again and again.
And like. I don’t want to get into it about universal healthcare, but I’m pretty sure that my waiting would’ve been cut in half if I hadn’t had to change health insurance five times in the last year.
Whatever. I have an appointment on December 13 to talk to the surgeon and discuss my options. I want to see if I can get hydrotherapy of some sort to try and take some pressure off things, and I really just need to find a decent and quiet gym and go there in off hours to walk and slowly bring myself to a healthier level of activity. I’ve been in so much pain the last year (and still am sometimes) that activity feels daunting, but I need it to heal, and I need to find a way to do it that won’t scare me away.
Meanwhile, I’m just keeping myself in a floating state of planning mode. Planning Halloween (Sam was a ninja and the twins were Spider-Man and Ghost Spider). Planning my birthday and a trip with two of my best friends to Cape Cod in the off season (was delightful but also very cold). Planning Christmas. Already thinking ahead to the twins’ birthday. Planning road trips. Planning planning planning.
Planning that extends kind of far out as well, but only kind of.
Kyle’s new company has some really great insurance, you see, and through it, we were able to cover PGS for our remaining embryos from the cycle that gave us Isaac and Carrie. Unbelievably, six of the seven embryos were healthy and there are exactly three boys and three girls.
Which brings us to the age old question of WTF are we going to do with all of these frozen babies?
I want one more. Not twins, please god not twins. I love the twins so much, and about 50% of the time, I love that they are twins (the other 50%, they are beating the ever loving shit out of each other for reasons that I do not understand, so I’m like, why couldn’t you be born one at a time so we’d have some buffer space?), but I physically could not do twins again. But I’d love one more girl as a coda.
BUT not for a while yet, if we did. Kyle isn’t fully onboard, which is fair because the twins are a LOT right now, and if someone dropped a baby in my lap right at this second, I’d be like, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME SO MUCH????” because I cannot infant right now. If we went ahead with one last transfer, it would be in 2023, no sooner. Too much is going on in 2022, and my health isn’t where it needs to be.
But it’s on the table now, and we didn’t know if it was on the table before. It was a daydream and now it feels like it could happen? I don’t know if it actually will, but it’s there. One last girl.
Like most people my age, I have a lot of complex feelings about 9/11.
I was a freshman in college when it happened, living away from home for the first time. My grandfather was dying, I was thrown off kilter by the huge changes in my life already, and then the entire world changed completely, and pretty much everyone my age has been completely off ever since. Watching 3000 people die live on national television while your prefrontal cortex is still developing does that to a person.
And I don’t really want to go into those feelings as they stand right now because pretty much everyone everywhere is going to be talking about that today. Instead, I want to talk about a few pieces of media I’ve been diving into as kind of a memorial to the whole thing. Some of these, I watch and read every year, and some of them, I’ve only just discovered, so without further adieu:
Lindsay Ellis is a leftist video essayist and author that I’ve been following for… oh, probably around a decade now. She did a series about five years ago called “Loose Canon” that explored how certain characters are portrayed in different pieces of media (for example, looking at different portrayals of Santa Claus through the years). As part of that series, she wanted to look at a particular historical event, and 9/11 won the poll among her supporters on Patreon. And it’s a lot.
(note that if you’re clicking those links and aren’t familiar with her: she is very liberal and does not have any nice things to say about a lot of the right wing politicians involved in that day or its aftermath. Also some of it is funny. If either of those things will upset you, do not click those links)
In summary, as with everything else, 9/11 rocked the media we’ve produced and consumed in the 20 years since. Some of my favorite points:
Before 9/11 we had a lot of films where we were really into seeing stuff get destroyed. I think we had about five years in the mid- to late- 90s where destroying stuff on film was basically the best way for a film to become a blockbuster. Shoot, when Independence Day had a bunch of trailers showing the destruction of the White House, THAT was what got everyone talking. And now… well, we’re not so into that. We all sit with the uncomfortable knowledge of no, that’s not what that sort of wholesale destruction looks like or sounds like. And we’re understandably not super interested in watching it unfold on the big screen.
Films directly made about 9/11 don’t really do well, critically or with audiences. We watched it happen in real time; seeing the events dramatized feels weird. Maybe it’s a “too soon” sort of thing, but it just has never resonated with Americans as a whole (which is not to say that nobody enjoyed those films, or that there’s anything wrong with you if you did, just that in general, people weren’t really into them).
Similarly, films that come too close to 9/11 in their imagery and color palette tend to go over like a bowl of lead. If you can separate the imagery a bit and the events a bit, we tend to be more comfortable with that as a whole.
Unrelated to Americans, India uses 9/11 a lot in their movies, mostly as a way of coping with their own terrorist attack in 2008. I’m not sure how these movies go over in India; they’re unintentionally hilarious in a very dark way here in the States.
And from that film, we get the book I’m slowly working my way through…
This book won the Pulitzer Prize for literature back in its day, and while it’s not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination (I can only manage a chapter or two a night because it’s heavy stuff and makes you really need to chew on it), it’s really good. The book serves as a biography of the major figures who contributed to the creation of al-Qaeda and dives into their motivations and psychology. It acknowledges the mistakes made by western countries leading up to 9/11 while simultaneously not blaming those countries (e.g., the British occupation of Egypt was beyond shitty and definitely contributed to the radicalization of several figures in al-Qaeda, but Great Britain isn’t to blame for the attacks).
One thing that’s been a hard swallow for me with this book is learning that before he was fully radicalized, Osama bin Laden was a really loving and involved father. One particular passage talks about how his second son was born with hydrocephalus and though he survived, he was left mentally disabled and prone to violence and emotional outbursts. And despite this, bin Laden insisted on making sure that son was involved whenever he spent time with his children. He was a monster by every definition, but monsters are made from men, which I think is the ultimate lesson of the book: not that terrorists are just like you and me, but rather that radicalization is not something that just happens to That Guy Over There. It’s something that we can all be vulnerable to, given the right political climate and circumstances.
This is another Lindsay Ellis video, and while it’s not about 9/11 directly, I think it does a good job of sorting through a lot of the emotions and public mentalities of the years that followed. It’s wild to remember that after 9/11, we were all so traumatized and hurt/angry/afraid that we wanted to lash out at anyone and anything that might have been slightly a threat to us and our way of life. Which is not to say that al-Qaeda shouldn’t have been rooted out and destroyed (the above book, while helping to explain a lot of the psychology at work, has very solidly confirmed for me that something had to be done about them) but rather that we went at it kind of the way a toddler does when throwing a tantrum. We were sloppy, a lot of innocent lives were pointlessly lost, and we really didn’t know what we were doing.
Despite this, both the Afghanistan war and the Iraq war were really popular in their time, and even when their popularity dipped, people didn’t tend to be as ragingly against them as they were against Vietnam for whatever reason. Like people were against both wars, but the scenes of protest that we recognize from the 60s and 70s just weren’t there as much, and neither was the protest music. And that’s pretty interesting to me–I think that probably because of 9/11, it was hard to find a way to say, “I really can’t stand the military-industrial complex, and I think both of these wars are terrible ideas,” without someone calling you unpatriotic. Shoot, it’s STILL hard to say that without a handful of people popping up to “well actually…” at you.
Anyway, this video doesn’t get into the nuances of that discussion so much as it explores the little protest music there was and how the themes in that music are still kind of around today and how we probably won’t ever escape them.
So. That’s my 9/11 media dump for you. This was going to just be a Facebook post, but then it got absurdly long, so now it’s here. Enjoy.
There’s something to be said for normalcy in one’s life.
I don’t push myself or my kids to conform to society’s ideas of normality, mind. I’m gloriously weird, my kids are gloriously weird, our family life doesn’t reflect what a lot of people would consider “normal,” but all of that said, we have our own beat of normal that we’ve been missing for a long time. It was missing for a variety of reasons–summer vacation, Covid, Kyle being out of work–but at long last, I can say with some confidence that it’s starting to come back.
For one thing, all three kids are in school now, finally. The twins started back in the spring, because they aged out of early intervention services, so it was less of a huge transition for them. Other kids in their preK class started the school year with tears and clinginess, but the twins just marched right on down to their classroom like they owned the place. Even in the spring, school was just so good for them overall. Carrie went from babbling a lot to actually using words more often than not (which we expected of her–she loves to use words and speak in complete sentences when she knows how, and school helped her refocus those abilities somewhat), and Isaac has done the same (which is huge for him–he actually answers questions without being fed options now, and that’s amazing) (and an addendum: if he just didn’t want to communicate verbally or if he wasn’t comfortable doing so, I wouldn’t push it on him, but he’s made it more than apparent that he LOVES to talk with us and communicate verbally, so I’m happy to encourage it). They’ve made friends and are comfortable with the routine they have at school, and I love to see it. They’re also so much calmer when their days are in this kind of routine, which I love to see for other reasons (like my own sanity).
And Sam started back at school, which is fantastic. Yes, Covid is still raging, but our schools have fantastic protocols in place, and after the stress of last year and knowing that Sam has ADHD and is likely autistic as well, I wanted him to be in a place where he could receive the accommodations he needs rather than struggling with me at home. His friends are all in school, and that has been huge for him–he’s not alone anymore, and I can see just from that how much happier he is. And that alone does my heart a world of good.
He’s receiving special ed services this year, too (which means I have three IEPs to keep track of, and as any parent of a special ed student can tell you, that is basically a full time job except you don’t get dollars for it), and that’s been great. His accommodations aren’t super complex, like he doesn’t require a constant aide at his side or anything, but he does have accommodations: he gets to work with a special ed instructor every day of the week and on his English/Language Arts lessons, and he’s got the special ed instructor around daily to make sure that he’s doing well. His teacher is also aware of his accommodations and will let him step out into the special ed classroom if he’s getting too overwhelmed by things, which will be good for keeping him from melting down in class.
I love his school’s philosophy on so many things. Their view of writing is that kids should be able to write about whatever they want in order to develop their writing skills and narrative voice, which I hope helps Sam as much during the school year as it helped him over the summer (when he would write five chapter long stories about the cardboard spaceship he built, and those stories were and are wonderful). They’re sensitive to each kid’s needs, and while that shouldn’t be a “wow this makes them stand apart from the crowd” thing, it kind of is, and I’m glad they’re standing apart from the crowd like this instead of in a bad way.
So the kids are back in school, and that routine is getting back to something like normal. It means that mornings are just me and Kyle, which hasn’t been the case since 2013, and that’s pretty wonderful in and of itself. The house is quiet except for the sound of both of us typing and someone quietly talking about the weather on TV, and maybe Kyle on a work call…
…which, oh yes. Kyle got a job.
It’s a fun sort of story. He’d interviewed with this company last year at the suggestion of one of his old managers who currently works there. They didn’t have a position for him then, but they promised to keep him in mind if anything else came up. Nothing did in the fall, and Kyle started his most recent job then only to be laid off in June. And it was the whole song and dance of applying to companies, having companies say, “mmm, thanks but no thanks” (anyone who’s looked for a job in the last decade or so, and especially the last two years, can attest to that particular Broadway number) for a couple of months, and then he called this company back. And wouldn’t you know, they had a position for him.
It’s a good position. Without getting into details, it’s an incredibly comfortable salary and benefits situation, and they sweetened the deal in all sorts of ways that are really blowing my mind. So far, Kyle is loving the people he works with and the company’s philosophy as well, and I really REALLY hope this good fortune settles in and sticks with us a while. We just have to get through the next five-ish days before his first paycheck comes in and then we should finally, FINALLY be okay in the longer term.
Having him working again is really nice. It just gives us a schedule during the week, real weekends instead of every day blurring together into an endless hellscape. It feels like life is just… life and not life with an asterisk about it being weird.
I mean to write about this every time a new abortion law gets pushed through somewhere, but I always end up chickening out for whatever reason (well. No. It’s not for whatever reason, it’s because I’m tired of discussing it with people who are coming from a position where their sky is a different color than my sky, so we can’t really talk about the conversation on even ground), but I’m tired and I’m headachey because of ragweed and Texas is being terrible, so let’s dive in tonight. This is the story of how I became pro-choice.
Because, you see, I wasn’t always pro-choice. I grew up in a moderately conservative Christian church (i.e., they didn’t make all the girls wear long skirts and prevent women from preaching, but they were Bible literalists and whenever I bring up things about my churched upbringing to people who didn’t share it as if they’re normal, I always get raised eyebrows) in the Nearest Moderately Sized City. Since it was the 90s, there weren’t a lot of major political issues for churches to get up in arms about besides abortion and who Bill Clinton was doing, and the former was easier to protest than the latter. Some subset of people from our church and other area churches would go stand outside the City’s Planned Parenthood and hold signs like “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” and “God Forgives” and things like that. Never anything distasteful like “Abortion is Murder” because they didn’t want to be Like That, and they had to stand a not insignificant distance from the entrance because of the way things were set up, but the protests happened with some regularity.
I never attended one myself. My mom went a few times, I think, but I don’t really remember. I just remember that they happened, and I remember my earliest understanding of abortion was that it was killing babies (my understanding, not necessarily reality), and to my eight- or nine-year-old brain, that was ghoulish at best, and that understanding persisted well into my teenage years.
In high school, I was happy to play the Conservative Christian Girl role wherever I happened to be, though my views most frequently ended up challenged in history/government classes and English class. I went to See You At the Pole and prayed with people before drama club performances and had my purity necklace on and didn’t go on dates until I was 16 and didn’t listen to secular music or read Seventeen magazine, and I was against abortion. I had a little pin on my purse about it, a pair of tiny feet that were supposedly the size of a fetus’s feet at something like 8 or 9 weeks’ gestation. I liked it a lot because it gave me a chance to be like “I believe a thing” without being alienating; if someone asked me about the feet, I could explain it, but it wasn’t the same as having a huge red button on my purse that was like “I AM AGAINST ABORTION IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING.”
College was really where things started to change, though probably not for the reasons a lot of more conservative people would expect (especially in a lot of churches–and other people from super conservative circles can back me up on this–the fear tends to be that higher education will brainwash a person to become a liberal. In reality, you’re just suddenly exposed to viewpoints and backgrounds that differ from your own while simultaneously, your prefrontal cortex stops being underdeveloped and catches up to your amygdala… eventually). I went to a small Christian college, so I wasn’t really confronted with a whole lot of people who were pro-choice there; if anything, most of us existed happily in our little anti-abortion bubble.
Instead, I was confronted with people who were even MORE conservative than I was, telling me things that I knew weren’t true. I remember one time, a friend spotted my birth control pills (which I’d been on since I was 16 to control severe menstrual cramping, something I didn’t realize at the time was caused by my PCOS) and was appalled that I had medication in my possession that could cause an abortion. I responded that (a) you kind of need to have sex to get pregnant and you kind of need to get pregnant to have anything aborted; and (b) what. Birth control pills, I explained to her (as had been explained to me by my mom, by my doctor, by everyone ever, because it’s how they work), prevent ovulation, and if there’s no egg, there’s nothing to get fertilized and aborted. To which she responded that yes, they usually do that, but sometimes, an egg gets through and SOMETIMES that egg gets fertilized and then it gets aborted.
(please remember this because I’ll come back to it later)
And it’s weird, because I’d been debating religion and politics online and with friends in person for 2-3 years at that point and had been confronted with all sorts of ideologies more liberal than my own, and those had never come close to swaying me. On the other hand, having someone more conservative than I was come along and say something blatantly false about an issue I’d studied in depth made me feel… well, more than a little confused. I can’t say why now, any more than I could then. It just made the whole movement ring a little less true for me, like if they’re lying about this, are they lying about anything else?
Senior year of college, we all had to take a course on ethics that was… well, I’m not sure what it was designed to do in other years, but during my senior year, it was supposed to teach us to form our own ethical opinions outside of what the people around us believed and taught (which, honestly? Pretty good for a small Christian college to teach their students to think for themselves). The final project was to be a ~15 page term paper discussing both sides of one of the ethical issues we’d discussed over the semester and coming to our own conclusion about it. And, like roughly half of the class, I chose to do my paper on abortion (the other half did gay marriage, which had been legalized in Massachusetts the year prior).
The trouble was that while the school said they wanted us to think for ourselves, they didn’t allow us access to resources that would give arguments for opinions outside the Christian status quo. I don’t know what people doing their papers on gay marriage found, but whenever I tried to search the internet for accurate information on abortions (which should’ve been easy, even in those Wild Wild West internet days), I was blocked from accessing those sites. The school library was no better–they had exactly three books talking about abortion, and all three were checked out well before I even got there. And, yeah, I probably could’ve half-assed a paper about abortion without doing any real research for the pro-choice position, but I wanted to be honest about the other side (I said to myself, remembering the birth control incident), and I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t even access real information about abortion.
Around the same time, I read an article in one of my parents’ Christian magazines about a young woman who’d gone to a Planned Parenthood and apologized to its workers on behalf of Christians and realized in doing so that, hey, Planned Parenthood wasn’t some awful place where babies were being torn limb from limb and then devoured by a demon in the back room (which, like… that seems like a duh thing now, but when you’re in the thick of it, they tell a LOT of lies about what happens at Planned Parenthood, and demon buffets seemed about as likely as anything else) (also Jemila Monroe, if you ever Google your name again and find this, hi! Hope you’re doing well!). And that basically gave me the skeleton for my own term paper: I would go to Planned Parenthood, get information straight from the source, and come to my own conclusions.
And, well. I didn’t come away from the term paper fully pro-choice, but suddenly, the anti-abortion side of things seemed a little less… right. None of the horrors I’d expected from a Planned Parenthood had actually been there (and I know my experiences aren’t universal, but other than the necessary metal detector, it was one of the nicer medical facilities I’ve visited). They had information on adoption, abortion, parenting, all the options someone could choose. The girls at the front desk were friendly and sympathetic (though I’m sure also skeptical when the friend who went with me and I remarked that no, neither of us were pregnant, we just wanted to get information on abortions for a term paper, and no, we couldn’t just find it online because our school blocked every website that gave accurate information on it). They seemed to have resources there for people no matter what they chose, while the anti-abortion side didn’t seem to have many resources at all and also seemed to be teeming with people who were against social supports and sex education and birth control and all the things that would prevent anyone from ever having to consider an abortion in the first place.
It made me think a lot.
The true clincher, though, was my own struggle with infertility and both of my pregnancies.
When Kyle and I first decided to try and start a family, I had what’s called a chemical pregnancy. It’s basically when an egg is fertilized but doesn’t implant for whatever reason. It’s absurdly common, and the only reason I knew it happened was because we were trying to get pregnant and I happened to take a pregnancy test super early (factoid for you: the most sensitive pregnancy tests can detect the pregnancy hormone, HCG, at about eight to nine days past ovulation, which translates to a little over three weeks pregnant; but that said, nobody is peeing on those tests if they’re not obsessively trying to get pregnant). If we hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, I would’ve assumed my period was just a week late, whoops.
After that, months went by, and I still didn’t get pregnant, and I consoled myself during this period by latching onto conception, pregnancy, and delivery as an autistic special interest. Anyone who knew me at all during that time period knows that I was up to my eyeballs in literature and websites and videos and, hey, did you know that Richard Armitage narrated a documentary about getting pregnant, and hey, did you know that humans form butthole first, and hey, did you know that the natural birth movement really took off in response to the twilight births of the mid-20th century and hey hey hey
Understanding fetal development did a lot of cement my pro-choice position, which I’d casually started to adopt in the preceding years. Since most abortions take place within the first trimester (and, really, within the first twelve weeks, which isn’t even the full trimester), it was kind of hard to argue for personhood when I knew that scientifically, a fetus isn’t all that developed at that point. Up until eight weeks, it’s technically not even a fetus–it’s an embryo–and organ systems aren’t even fully developed until around 12 weeks. The brain itself takes a long time to develop, which makes sense when you consider how big and complex the human brain is; the neural pathways that distinguish pain aren’t even developed until around 26 weeks, so previous arguments I’d heard about fetuses screaming in pain as they were aborted clearly couldn’t be true.
(never mind that you have to breathe to scream… which you can’t really do when your lungs aren’t developed, which doesn’t happen until ~23-24 weeks anyway!)
Being pregnant myself cemented things even further. I didn’t even have a terribly rough pregnancy with Sam–ICP and elevated blood pressure towards the very end, but I was overall healthy. But BOY was I miserable. I can say confidently that my body is very good at building babies–but that it absolutely cannot multitask while doing so. A lot of the things I’d heard about pregnancy being the healthiest time of a woman’s life also seemed untrue, or at least like things my body hadn’t been informed of (like why was the alleged energy surge of the second trimester more of an “oh, I can stay awake past 9:00 again, but I still want to be asleep by 10, neat” instead of the “ALRIGHT IT’S TIME TO CLEAN YEAH” I was promised?).
And I thought: could I really force this on someone who didn’t want it? Because the usual response to “look, some people don’t want to parent” is to say, “well adoption, duh” (never mind that adoption is not as simple as that, but we’re not going into that right now), but that doesn’t consider that while some people have really great pregnancies where they feel fantastic all nine months, others among us have absolutely miserable times, where this gestational period is nothing but a means to an end that we’d fast forward through if we could.
(and yeah, cool moments like feeling your kid kick for the first time are cool, but they do not in any way make up for the inability to sleep from about 25 weeks on, the heartburn, the nausea, the aches and pains that are sometimes downright debilitating, the restless legs, and alllllll the complications out there)
AND THEN came my attempts to get pregnant with our second child, attempts that would eventually result in the twins, and I got to experience an abortion procedure firsthand.
See, the first IVF cycle we had was technically a success, but I had a miscarriage, and rather than suffer through the pain of miscarrying naturally, I elected to have a dilation and curettage.
And admittedly, in my procedure, there wasn’t much of a fetus to remove because I was only about nine weeks along when the miscarriage was confirmed (really, it probably happened closer to seven weeks), but again: most abortions happen around that time as well. There’s not much in there to take out, and in the case of an abortion, medication stops the fetal heartbeat before any procedure takes place, so the whole argument of them tearing a squirming fetus limb from limb doesn’t even work because it’s already dead by the time the lamina are inserted into the cervix for dilation.
(and like. You can’t really sell fetal organs on the black market because they just aren’t developed enough for it? Like cool, you’ve given me this glob of tissue that may have someday developed into a liver, what am I supposed to do with this)
When we had the fetal tissue tested, we found out that it had a chromosomal abnormality called trisomy 16, which some fetuses can have and continue to develop up to a point, but it’s absolutely not compatible with life. What were we to do with that information, if that fetus had continued to develop and we’d only discovered much later on that it would be born horribly malformed and not survive even a minute outside of me? I don’t think my emotions could’ve handled going through with an entire pregnancy and delivering a still baby. I don’t know how the people who do suffer that kind of unimaginable loss survive it.
We also had to confront the idea of abortion when it came to the thought of how many embryos we would end up with as a result of IVF. It’s all well and good to sing a song of let’s keep all six sprillion embryos that have ended up implanting (and we were fortunate enough to have very ethical doctors who had a strict policy against transferring more than two embryos at a time… good thing, too, when it came to the cycle where we eventually succeeded because yikes), but doing that runs a very real risk of losing all of them… or losing your own life.
I’ll be honest: even if I were in a position where I’d have to terminate a pregnancy to save my own life, I would have a really hard time with it. As exhausted as it leaves me sometimes, as stressful as it can be, benign a mom and raising my kids is one of the greatest joys in my life, and if I could do it healthily, I’d gladly have whatever children Kyle and I conceived accidentally or otherwise.
But my life isn’t another person’s life. Kyle and I are in a fortunate and comfortable position (more on that next week) with a lot of support if we ever need it. Not everyone is so fortunate. And just like I don’t want anyone to force something physically, emotionally, and financially difficult on me when I don’t want it, I can’t abide by forcing people to go through with pregnancies when they don’t want them; nor can I see a good, objective, scientific argument for doing so.
Personhood is not something that can be scientifically proven, and even if it were, it would be difficult to argue that personhood objectively existed in a first or even second trimester fetus, as their brains just aren’t well-developed enough; therefore, you can’t argue that a fetus is a person with rights because that simply cannot be proven and, if it could, would likely be something proven for a time well past what most anti-abortion groups find acceptable. Physically speaking, pregnancy is essentially giving up one (well. All, really) of your organs for 40 weeks, something that’s great to do willingly but not something anyone wants forced on them. It’s kind of like donating a kidney, even if you could get it back after a few months: a lot of people are perfectly willing and even eager to donate an organ for someone else to use, but nobody’s very happy to wake up in a tub full of ice with a huge scar on their side.
I don’t like abortion. I don’t think it’s a position anyone should find themself in, but we know from history that criminalizing abortion doesn’t result in fewer abortions but rather in the same number of abortions, this time performed in unsafe illegal conditions that kill people. Other countries with lower abortion rates aren’t the ones where abortion is illegal but rather the ones with strong social safety nets, universal healthcare, comprehensive sex education, and a general societal value placed on people rather than on control.
So that’s how I came to be where I am today: I started to realize that a lot of what I’d thought about abortion was simply untrue, came to understand both fetal development and abortion procedures through personal experience, and had rough enough pregnancies that I wouldn’t want anyone who didn’t want to be pregnant to go through what I did. And at the end of the day, nobody has to agree with me or any of this; I just hope some of what I’ve written makes you stop and think for a moment.
The other day, I realized I hadn’t written anything the entire month of July. 31 days, no writing, just me buckling in and holding on for the month. And it’s been a month, but it’s been a month where comparatively little has happened, so it’s not like I have a whole lot to talk about overall.
We left the month intentionally empty because I was supposed to have my spine surgery on July 1, which would’ve had me still recovering for the rest of the month and then slowly being able to sit up more and more again and eventually getting my life back, BUT that hasn’t happened. Instead, July was nothing but rain and nothing, over and over again.
I don’t mind the rain. I overheat so easily for so many reasons, and having nothing but rain all month was nice. But despite going on several dates with Kyle over the month of July and despite leaving the house with some regularity, it felt like the month just existed in a limbo of not giving a fuck. And then that ultimately cascaded into me giving too MANY fucks at the very end of the month for a variety of reasons, which is all to say that I spent a lot of last weekend crying and getting a headache from doing so.
It’s basically that whole tripping at the finish line feeling about the pandemic combined with me letting the stress of Kyle not having a job get to me. For the latter, I’m not surprised that Kyle isn’t employed yet because even in the best of times, finding a job takes a minute. And he’s had a LOT of nibbles and basically hasn’t gone a week without half a dozen interviews or technical screenings or what-have-you. But, you know, you try to keep a smiling face despite things not exactly being great and eventually, things are going to crack somewhat. And I cracked. And I’m fine. Sort of. Probably not that much.
My therapist has basically been pointing out to me that I’m treading water right now. Three special needs kids at home, very little break for them from anything. Husband out of a job. Bills coming due. A pandemic (on that point, I am so very sick of catering to people who are so afraid of science that the idea of science helping them is a completely foreign concept) that seems like it will never end. My own health being on the back burner for the foreseeable future.
Yeah, that’s a fun one. When Kyle lost his job, we lost our health insurance. We signed up for a different health insurance through the state website, but shortly after getting on that health insurance, the state called to tell us that no, actually, we had to be on basic bitch state health insurance instead, and that unless we choose the correct basic bitch program through state health insurance, we can’t get actual healthcare for the foreseeable future. No surgery to fix my back, no primary care, nothing but emergency care, but at least we’re covered for that?
Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, if Kyle ever gets an unemployment check (yeah, still haven’t received those, don’t know what’s going on there), we’ll have to report that income to the state and switch health insurances again, but at this point, we’re probably not going to get any unemployment checks until roughly January. Which nobody knows really why. In theory, it’s because Kyle’s previous PREVIOUS employer (not the one from which he got laid off in June but the one from which he got laid off LAST YEAR) needs to confirm to the unemployment department that he’s been laid off from them for a year, but I just???
Like we’re really fortunate to have family helping us through this stressful time, but if we didn’t? Are we supposed to wait for the whims of enormous corporations to ensure that we can put food on the table?
(if anyone was wondering, being on unemployment SUCKS, nobody would do this unless they had to, if you think they would, maybe go read something outside of your own echo chamber for five minutes; also if anyone was wondering, that we don’t have universal health coverage that’s not tied to employment in this country is frankly barbaric)
SO ALL OF THAT TO SAY that I put my surgery off AGAIN. It’s been bumped to at least January now because I can’t imagine trying to get through the beginning of the school year and the potential beginning of a job for Kyle while stuck flat on my back recovering. It’s definitely the best decision, but I feel angry and frustrated and stuck. I want to do so much and there’s so much that could improve my physical and mental health, but I’m so afraid of triggering that severe pain again before I’m in a place where I can have surgery to repair it, so I end up being a lump on a log, which really just makes everything worse.
Hence the treading water thing. Hence the not writing. Maybe I’ll have more to write about later. I don’t know. But right now, I just feel so drained and angry and stuck that it’s a more exhausting experience than it should be.