Read Ep. 19 | Show Notes
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A little over five years ago, I had one of the most beautiful dreams of my life.
I was standing outside, somewhere, staring out at the horizon. The sky was a bright, fiery orange. Silhouetted against the sunset was a family of dark mountains, huddled together as only a family would. I felt so comfortable. Night was on its way, and with it, the peace of sleep.
All of a sudden, a small voice punctured the warm silence:
“When is Daddy coming home?”
I looked down and at my knee was a little girl. A soft cloud of black hair, round eyes now burnished as they drank in the sunset…
She looked like me.
When did this happen? I asked myself.
But then, I looked back up, at a sky peeling itself to reveal those quiet mountains, and thinking of the man I loved, I answered,
“Daddy will be home before the sun hides behind those mountains.”
Birthrates are at record lows.
A few weeks ago, I came across the following on my Twitter feed:
Mr. Morris gets a lot of things wrong, starting with the assumption that anyone other than himself would enjoy the irritatingly smug look on his face. But, he is right about millennials not having children. According to the US Census, the declining birth rate, combined with international migration, contributed to 2021 being the slowest rate of population growth in the United States since the founding of the nation. In fact, the US birth rate has been in a steady decline since 1990, reaching a record low in 2020 (10.94%).
Elon Musk has been obsessing over fertility rates, calling “[p]opulation collapse” “the biggest threat to civilization.”
According to this article, the five main reasons the US’s birth rate is so low include:
- Higher opportunity costs for women: even though most women work outside of the home in their partnerships, the vast majority of women are still expected to be the primary caretaker for their children. More and more women are treating this as an “either / or” issue, and choosing a career over families.
- Both men and women don’t want to have children: given everything that’s going on in the world (gun violence, climate change), many young people are hitting the pause button on building families.
- Shifting gender norms: ever evolving gender norms continue to erode existing power dynamics (i.e., women are no longer completely dependent on a man for $), and as a result, many people are not finding someone with whom they feel comfortable raising a family.
- Raising kids is more expensive than ever: According to this report, on average, it costs $230,000 to raise one child until they are 18 years old (compared to $69,000 in 1980). This does not include the cost of college. After their kids turn 18, parents spend twice as much on their “adult children” as they set aside for retirement.
- Infant mortality rates are down: and therefore, parents don’t need to have as many kids to “hedge their bets” (as crude as that sounds). Similarly, families no longer need to hitch their wagon to a son in order to ensure survival, meaning they may well stop at having 2 kids instead of having as many as it takes until they have a boy (my grandparents ended up with 6 children because they “needed” a son).
Why I didn’t have kids.
My maternal grandmother passed away when I was in my late 20s. In the years before her death, my entire family visited her at the nursing home every Saturday. Without fail, as soon as she would see me entering the small room she shared with her roommate, she would pad over to me, press her small hand on my abdomen, and ask me “when are you going to have babies?” I’d take her hand in mine and smile, before choosing one of the following answers:
- I already have babies, [my dogs] Daisy and Billy!
- It’s too early to have babies, maybe next year.
- I’m too busy at work to have babies.
- What did you eat for breakfast?
As some of you may know, I got married when I was 26 years old and subsequently got divorced several years later. Why didn’t I have kids with my first husband? The short answer is that I was with a man I didn’t think would make the best father. Unfortunately, at the time I married him, I didn’t want kids and never thought I would. I was laser beam focused on my career and had heard one-too-many-times from my own mother how she regretted having children. In fact, I had given some serious thought to getting a hysterectomy before the wedding. Therefore, I didn’t think it was a big deal that I was marrying a man whose temper made him ineligible to raise my children. Of course, to call this “naive” is a gross understatement.
I almost never allowed myself to consider having children during my first marriage. I had my hands full making sure our marriage survived. The idea of adding to what was an already fragile family was unthinkable. I also knew that if my ex-husband ever treated a child of mine the same way he sometimes treated me, I could never forgive myself. Over the years, I knew I’d made a mistake, but I wasn’t about to compound that mistake by making a child pay for it. Indeed, it was this line of thinking that, in some ways, helped me pull the trigger and ultimately leave that relationship. If you don’t feel safe enough with him to have kids, then you don’t feel safe enough with him, period.
I was still married, however, when I first felt a pang, a splintering regret at the choice I made so recklessly in my 20s. I was watching a movie called One Day, starring Anne Hathaway. [SPOILER ALERT] In it, she marries her best friend, the man she’s loved for most of her life. While performing her nightly skincare routine, she leans into her husband, her face a visage of unbridled joy and expensive moisturizer, and whispers, “I want a child with the man I love.” I was so wound up in their romance, I instantly understood something that had eluded me up until that point–the desire to create something beautiful with the person you love.
At the time, it was just a kernel of an idea, one that I didn’t have the capacity to explore. But it planted itself in my heart, waiting for the day when it would be given enough space to take root.
A child with “the man I love.”
I met Anthony (my current husband) in 2014, shortly after my divorce was finalized. I knew very early on that Anthony was excellent father material, even before I fell in love with him. He loved his own father so much, and after meeting Robert, I could see why. They had the kind of relationship they make movies about, and I knew that if I were ever to have a son or daughter with Anthony, he would grow to be their best friend in exactly the same manner as his own father was to him.
Letting myself daydream about having children was both frightening and exhilarating. After saying to myself “just don’t think about it” for so many years, it was like walking around on legs that had fallen asleep. Letting them come back to life was painful and slow, but the prospect of running was tantalizing. I remember on a drive with Anthony one afternoon, I asked him if he’d ever thought about having kids. “Of course. And I know exactly what I would name her.” And with a theatrical flourish, he waved one free hand into the air like a magician while declaring,
Perhaps he was casting a spell, because in that moment, I knew that if I was ever going to have a child, it would be Anthony’s.
Freezing my eggs.
Unfortunately, in your late 30s, you don’t necessarily get to roll out of bed (or into it?) and just get pregnant. In 2017, Anthony and I were still just dating, but I was 38 years old. Though I’d dropped hints the size of Texas, Anthony still wasn’t getting on one knee, and I wasn’t about to have a child out of wedlock (sorry, call me old fashioned). After doing some research, I decided to freeze my eggs.
I learned a lot of things during that due diligence period, including,
- It’s better to freeze your eggs when you are in your 20s, because “egg viability” deteriorates as women age.
- You need to freeze about 10 eggs to have a reasonable chance at one birth.
- You need to give yourself shots for several days (sometimes up to 2 weeks).
- You cannot be physically active while giving yourself those shots (i.e., no running).
- The shots are ridiculously expensive (like $1,000 each) and they are not covered by insurance.
After spending several hours on the phone with my insurance provider to determine, precisely, what parts of the procedure they would cover (for me, it was the ultrasounds and the egg-retrieval surgery), I made an appointment with a physician who had excellent internet reviews. She confirmed much of what I already knew–that we should aim to retrieve at least 10 eggs in order to give me the best chance of getting pregnant with one of them in the future. After a brief consultation, she walked me to a small, dark room next to her office and had me change into a gown. She rubbed a bunch of cold gel over my abdomen and performed an ultrasound.
“You have… I count 17 follicles,” she stated confidently. “Assuming one egg for every follicle, that should give you more than enough eggs for one pregnancy.”
I let out a huge sigh of relief. Up until that moment, I hadn’t realized just how nervous I was. I felt like the ultrasound–this whole appointment–was a test, as if I were being graded on my “womanhood,” however irrational that sounds. And although 17 follicles wasn’t as good as 50 (A+), 17 follicles was still more than a passing grade (a solid C). As soon as I got into my car, I called Anthony from the clinic’s parking lot.
“I have 17 follicles!!” I yelled triumphantly into the phone.
“Ok….! I don’t exactly know what that means, but congratulations…?”
Crossing the finish line.
Although I was anxious to get the process underway, I had already signed up for the Chicago Marathon (my first) and I’d be running almost every day for the next few months. Thus, given all the warnings about how excessive physical activity during the two week process could reduce your egg count (some even recommended complete bed rest), I decided to wait until after the big race, until November of that year. That way, I could do all my training, run the marathon, and then kick my feet up for 14 days while I injected myself with hormones. I said as much to the doctor and she agreed that this timing made sense and reassured me that waiting a few months would have a negligible impact on my eggs.
After running past the finish line of my first marathon, I was ready to tackle my next big challenge. But, after speaking with a colleague who was also preparing to freeze her eggs, I decided to make an appointment with a second clinic. While I certainly wanted the “best that money could buy,” I also wasn’t above shopping around to make sure I wasn’t spending more than I needed to. And, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to get a “second opinion.”
I got an ultrasound before my appointment at the clinic’s recommendation. I walked into the doctor’s office with my phone out, thinking I would vlog the whole experience and then share it with my followers on Instagram. Seeing the somewhat puzzled expression on the doctor’s face, I said, “Oh, I’m taking some footage for my Instagram.”
“Ok,” she answered, a bit nonplussed. I assumed she was just nervous about having a camera in her face, so asked her,
“Would that be all right?”
“No no, it’s no problem. If that’s what you want…” she peered at me with that face again, her eyes a bit wider than they normally would be, her lips slightly parted, and I should have known then, but I was too preoccupied with adjusting the focus on my phone.
“Hey guys! I’m here at the doctor’s office to talk about egg freezing! So doctor, I’ve finished my marathon and I’m ready to move forward. What’s next?”
She looked down at the manilla file folder between her hands. Carefully, she flipped it open. She studied it for a few seconds before looking back up at me, then at my phone, then back at me.
“Well… that’s the thing. It seems your follicle count is a lot lower than your last ultrasound.”
“Oh? How many did you count?” I asked, still holding my phone up while wondering if women could lose a follicle or two in a few months’ time.
“Seven? Did you say seven? I lost 10 follicles in the past few months?” There was a strange hissing sound in my left ear.
“Yes. I’ve actually never seen anything like it. Are you sure the first count wasn’t perhaps a mistake?”
“I– no. I don’t know. I mean, the doctor counted them right in front of me–“
And then, I started to cry.
I turned my phone off.
The doctor handed me a box of Kleenex.
Second guessing every single decision I ever made in my entire life.
I went home and jumped onto the computer almost immediately, because, of course, Google has the answer to every problem, including the inexplicable loss of 10 follicles.
How do you lose follicles?
Can you regrow follicles?
Can I get pregnant with only 7 follicles?
As the world grew dim, the streetlamp outside our condo flickered to life, casting a lurid glow across my computer monitor. I was deep within the bowels of a Reddit thread, when I saw something that struck a gong inside my head:
“Strenuous physical activity, like long distance running, can damage or reduce the number of ovarian follicles.”
“Strenuous physical activity.”
“Long distance running.”
I stared at the blue-lit reflection of my pale face plastered with the crawling font of Reddit posts.
“So, this is my fault,” I muttered to no one in particular.
That night, in bed, I whispered, “I’m sorry,” to Anthony. “I’m sorry I wasn’t more careful with my body.” He pulled me into his arms, then, in a rare display of tenderness. “I’m sorry I married the wrong man, I’m sorry I wasted my body with the wrong man, I’m sorry I didn’t know running the marathon could destroy my follicles, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Until then, I’d been so confident about my choices, even the bad ones. Mistakes were a part of life, I always said, and therefore, regret had no place in mine. Even the “wrong” decisions were stepping stones to where I was on my journey, and finding Anthony was the best thing I ever did. How could I possibly regret anything that led me to him?
But for the first time, ever, I looked back and found fault in what felt like every decision I’d ever made, but especially the one that led me down the aisle the first time around. How could I have been so stupid, so shortsighted? To marry someone I knew even then could never grow to be the kind of man with whom I’d feel comfortable having children? What if I’d left him earlier? Met Anthony earlier? What if instead of being an unmarried woman with only 7 follicles sobbing in her boyfriend’s arms, Anthony and I were already married with two healthy beautiful children, Magdalena (“Maggie”) and Roberto (“Robert”)?
Anthony held me tightly, repeating, “You don’t have to be sorry, don’t be ridiculous, this isn’t your fault,” until the tears dried up and all I had left was the shriveled up emptiness of regret.
I went through with it anyway.
After a couple weeks of self-flagellation, I decided to go through with the procedure anyway. I’d already had my mind set on it and what was the worst that could happen? My fertility was declining rapidly and I wanted to retrieve whatever good eggs I could while I still had them. Starting on November 19, I had to give myself multiple injections a day, while going in for ultrasounds every other day. The hormone injections were designed to get my ovaries to produce as many eggs as possible, while I remained relatively inactive to ensure they stayed attached to my 7 follicles until they were collected.
I know what you’re thinking–do the shots hurt? I’m not going to sugarcoat it: the self-injection thing is not fun. I had to take two shots a day, and one of them came with a fairly long needle and syringe. It thus took a few seconds to unload the entire dosage. On the final day, in order to prime your body for retrieval, you have to give yourself an intramuscular shot (the others were subcutaneous, meaning they didn’t have to go very deep). For that one, I watched several YouTube tutorials and iced the injection site in advance. It turned out to be the least painful of them all.
The egg-retrieval surgery was easy, at least for me. I was supposedly under twilight sedation only. Nevertheless, I completely conked out and don’t remember a thing about the procedure. One minute, I was counting backwards and the next minute, I woke up to the sound of another woman in the curtained-off “room” across from mine. She was chatting with the doctor about her retrieval:
“We were able to collect 23 eggs,” the doctor advised. She was clearly quite pleased with herself and so was her patient, who, though groggy, still managed to utter, “oh, that’s so great!”
After what felt like an interminable period of time, the doctor pulled back the light blue curtain and let herself into my “room.” She still had her surgical cap on, her mask dangling precariously from one ear around her chin. I smiled politely, even as I felt my heart suddenly trying to beat itself out of my chest.
“How are you feeling?” she asked.
“I’m fine, thanks. How’d the surgery go?” I didn’t see the point of beating around the bush.
She didn’t answer immediately. Instead, she stepped back until she was leaning against the wall. She crossed her arms as if bracing herself before she said,
“We were only able to get three.”
Oh. I felt my lips come together gently, as if holding a bubble inside my mouth. Oh.
“Is it worth trying again?” I asked, mostly just to fill the silence.
She shrugged her shoulders. Looked at the blue curtain she’d walked through minutes earlier. I got the distinct impression that she was disappointed in me, like I’d ditched a class or got caught with cigarettes in my locker.
“I mean… sure you can try. But…” She shrugged once more.
She didn’t have to say more.
One day while walking Rudy…
One afternoon in the spring of 2019, about 9 months after we got married, we took Rudy out for a long walk to the dog park. On our way there, I asked Anthony whether he wanted to try getting pregnant with one of the three eggs. I had just run a half-marathon and planned on spending most of the summer recovering from a bad case of chronic shin splints. I thought it was as good a time as any to try turning one of those eggs into a human.
Surprisingly, the same man who so readily unfurled “Magdalena Molinaro” with such enthusiasm was pretty lukewarm about attaching that name to an actual person.
“I dunno babe. You just signed your book deal. Do you really want to stress out about getting pregnant while writing your first book?”
He had a good point. But I had another:
“Ok. But you need to know, the window is closing rapidly. If we don’t do this now, we may not ever get a chance to do this again.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I get that.”
We watched Roodles snuffle along the chain link fence enclosing the park. I thought to myself, there are some decisions you don’t get back in life. I’ve loved the men I’ve loved and I must now accept the good and the bad that flow from those choices. As I stood there rooted to the pebbled floor of the dog park, I knew that if I accepted Anthony’s tepid response to the idea of having children as dispositive, we would likely never have biological children of our own, that the remarkable dream I’d had in 2017 of the young girl watching the sunset with me would remain just that–a dream.
The book was a good excuse, but more importantly, it was, in many ways, the perfect metaphor for the life I might have to “put on the shelf” if I decided to pour resources into not just being a parent, but getting pregnant in the first place. I’d heard enough horror stories from women my age or even younger who spent thousands and thousands of dollars, underwent excruciating heartbreak and disappointment, and even jeopardized their marriages in pursuit of pregnancies. Indeed, I’d been exposed to just a hint of what lay before me and I knew enough about myself to predict that the self-recrimination I administered when my follicles disappeared would reappear if the probable scenario played out.
The devil’s advocate in me, though, piped up in my head with, “but so-and-so was 42 when she had her first baby!” and “don’t you remember such-and-such got preggers the old fashioned way after failing 3 cycles of IVF?” These questions forced me to confront something I’d been avoiding:
What do you want?
The truth was, I didn’t really know. There was (and is) some part of me that really wanted to set out on the adventure of parenthood with Anthony by my side. I could see, so vividly, what he would be like in the delivery room, holding my hand and coaching me through labor in the same way he sometimes runs with me during portions of a marathon. I wanted this so sharply, so badly, and wondered whether it was worth bringing a human into the world simply to experience that singularly extraordinary union with your partner. When I heard colleagues or friends reminisce over the struggles of parenting, I envied them. To me, it sounded exciting and fun, the kind of thing I could be good at. I am a problem solver, after all, and in some ways, parenting was just an endless series of problems. But, I also knew that most of my friends, like most parents, shared their experiences from the luxury of hindsight, and, as an unconscious act of confirmation-bias, often did so with the romantic sheen of nostalgia. I weighed these stories against the hard truths of motherhood I witnessed in my own Omma, the regret that was so immense she couldn’t contain it, even from her own daughter. It wasn’t pleasant, but it was honest.
And yet, I felt like I was obligated to have children, that I owed it to everyone, including Elon Musk, to procreate, that I was somehow less of a woman and deserving of implicit devaluation if I decided to remain childless. The instinct to assent to my role as child-bearer remained as powerful as it did every single time I’d look into my grandmother’s eyes, see the disappointment–even the incredulity–painting itself across her face, when I couldn’t give to her the one thing she wanted from me more than anything in the world.
I wish there was a concise, logical, coherent answer to why I presently do not have children. But, I won’t manufacture one merely to provide a satisfying conclusion to this particular story. The facts remain that emotionally and practically, I waited until I thought it was safe to have children, but, by that time, biologically, I’d waited too long; that I continue to harbor regret over some of the earlier decisions in my life; that this regret threatens to spill over into self-pity and loathing when I let my guard down; that part of me wants children, still, and leaves the door open for adoption, fostering, or even an IVF cycle or three with those precious eggs; that another part of me is relieved I don’t have children, that I can travel as frequently as my job requires, pour all my resources into reaching into millions of hearts a day, save enough of myself to remind as many people as will listen that a person’s choice to procreate can be a profoundly complicated one and an unreliable metric of worth.
So, on that afternoon walk with the undisputed loves of my life, when Anthony said, “Yeah, I get that,” I walked over to the chain link fence to retrieve my Roodles, clipped the leash onto his collar, and signaled to Anthony that we should get back home with the nod of my head.
And left it at that.
Hi Joanne! I’m turning 14 September 10th, and it’s very surreal to me. It feels like life is hurtling by, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I feel so overwhelmed with school, home, and friends, and it just feels like I never get a moment to myself. I wanted to ask you; what can I do to stay in the moment? How do I make sure I don’t lose these years that are supposed to be so important? -Taeko
Taeko, Happy Belated Birthday!
I totally empathize with your feelings. No matter how old your are, life can seem… uncooperative, lol. It often runs ahead of us or, annoyingly, lags behind us, right? Rare is the day when it feels like life is jogging right next to you, not asking you to slow down or go faster.
Speaking of running, I’d like to highlight something you said: “I never get a moment to myself.” I feel this so hard, as well. It is one of the biggest reasons I love to run. It is the only time I get to be as alone as I sometimes need. Whether you’re an introvert like me or an out-and-out extrovert like my husband, there is something incredibly healing in solitude. As you imply, “a moment to [your]self” can help to recharge your batteries, organize your thoughts, plan your days, and even unsnarl seemingly untangle-able issues (I’m always amazed how many life problems I’ve solved after a good, long run!). I say all this to encourage you to start running.
Whether it’s running, cooking, golfing, cycling, swimming, yoga, or meditation, I think it is important to try incorporating some activity into your day-to-day that challenges you to be alone with yourself. Because here’s the thing, Taeko–as much as we like to complain that we don’t have moments to ourselves, the truth is, being alone with ourselves requires commitment. It requires you to make some tougher choices–“do I go out with my friends, or go out for this run?” “do I go join 7 after school clubs or knock it down to 6 to make room for baking?” I realize these sound simple when said out loud, but in daily practice, you’d be surprised how easily we fold to the path of least resistance.
One of the best gifts I ever received (from my mom) was a diary when I was only 10 years old. It was so pretty–it had a picture of a little girl, a fairy, and came with a lock (which broke in a couple days, but still!). Because it was so beautiful, and because I knew my mom also wrote in diaries (and I wanted to be just like my mom), I filled those lined pages with stories of triumph and heartbreak, love and disappointment, resentment and fear, grief and joy. Within a few weeks, a habit had been formed, and I’ve been writing in journals for over three decades. While I don’t want to downplay the importance of living life outside the pages of a diary, there aren’t words to describe how I feel every single time I read the words of 10-year-old, 14-year-old, 26-year-old, 37-year-old Joanne. These Joannes continue to teach me today, at the ripe age of 42.
Too often, we emphasize the value of external experiences–meeting new people, traveling, trying out for the school play or the football team, etc.–while forgetting the importance of examining what all of this means to you. This leads to anxiety, which leads to burnout, which leads to unhealthy levels of isolation and despair. However tempting it is to think only of the expectations around you, a little introspection is necessary to identify and live up to the expectations that lie inside you. This way, no matter how the future unfolds, you will guard against FOMO by ensuring that every step you take was one you intended to take.
In sum, start running (sort of kidding?) and keep a journal. But mostly, Taeko, the fact that you’re even pondering these things…? I’m pretty sure you’re the type of person that won’t ever let life pass them by.
Wishing you all the best.
- EVENT CANCELLATION: Sadly, the U of I (Urbana-Champaign) event will no longer be going forward this month. However, the University is planning on rescheduling the live event for sometime in April. If you’ve already purchased your tickets, please reach out directly to the ticketing agent for further details.
- What I’m Watching: Well, in addition to rewatching One Day (which was just as good as I remembered!) and reluctantly following the US Open while my Dad was in town (he literally watched nothing else), I started watching Westworld, a dystopian tale about a metaverse-like “wild wild west” that users can visit to live out their frontier fantasies. It’s cleverly prescient, but, to be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about it (I’m only about 3 episodes in). I love a good sci-fi, but the show might be a little too dark for me. Have you watched it? If so, let me know if you think it’s worth the commitment.
- What I’m Listening To: In case you missed it, I had the chance to speak with Evanna Lynch, a long time vegan advocate (you may remember her as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter movies) and Dr. Melanie Joy on the Just Beings podcast. I had a blast discussing all the things (while secretly fangurling over Evanna). You can check it out here!
- The Mercy For Animals Gala: I’m so looking forward to attending this exciting star-studded vegan event Friday night here in L.A. In-person tickets are sold-out, but free virtual tickets are available here.
- What I’m Cooking: I’m eating a lot of tofu, these days, more so than normal, mostly because I’m usually too tired to cook anything complicated for dinner (I usually film all my recipe videos around the lunch hour). Recently, I posted this video which includes a variation of the Spicy Soy Sauce Dressing from The Korean Vegan Cookbook, which is my favorite sauce in the world. I followed that up with a “how to fry tofu” video, since I received so many comments like “my tofu always sticks :(“!
- Recipes I’m Adding to the Meal Planner: In addition to the sauce I just mentioned, I added corn ribs, the potato-corn salad from last week’s newsletter, baked fries, and pesto egg-in-a-hole toast. If you want access to these recipes and thousands more, check out The Korean Vegan Meal Planner!
In 2014, I walked back to my apartment with a sheaf of papers in my fist from the Daley Center. Signed, notarized, and file-stamped, I slid them into a manila envelope containing the “important” documents–my marriage certificate, mortgage, tax returns, and now, my divorce decree. That afternoon, my sister-in-law and I headed to Tiffany. Together, we oohed and aahed over things I’d never be able to afford, and, in the end, selected a rather demure necklace and ring. When the clerk–a woman in her early 60s with long elegant fingers I instantly admired–asked “What’s the occasion, ladies?”, I answered, “my Divorce Day.” She pursed her lips into a conspiratorial grin and without even looking up from the perfect white bow she was crafting over my robins egg blue box, answered, “Ah, yes. I did the same for my D-Day.”
A week later, I was confiding to my therapist through thick, ugly tears, “I’m scared. I’m scared I will never love any other man the way I loved him.” And she said this: “Joanne, that’s a good thing.”
Fast forward a few years to 2017, in a small studio apartment in Tribeca. Anthony and I are in New York, having just hosted a bunch of friends for a dinner party. The last of the dishes washed, it’s time to brush my teeth and go to bed. I step out of the bathroom, and Anthony is videotaping our AirBNB. “What are you doing?” I ask. “I’m documenting our night in New York,” he replies. I turn off the lights in the kitchen, and though it’s nearly 3 in the morning, I pull out my laptop and declare, “I need to write.” I slide into bed next to him, open my journal, and I browse through all my old entries—rifling through all the barely discernible moments that led up to this very night, this very second with Anthony: going to law school in Chicago to be near my college sweetheart, marrying my college sweetheart, reading a book called Twilight, buying a camera, writing my very first poem on Tumblr, walking out of my first home and leaving my first husband, renting an apartment in the city and asking my brother to move in with me because I was afraid of the dark, letting his wife my sister-in-law badger me into going out on dates for the first time in my life, signing up for OkCupid, checking out the profile of a pianist who described himself as MilesAhead…
I think, too, of all the hard points, knots along a thick rope braided together by all my choices; of how often I tried to untie them only to give up because sometimes trying to undo old wounds hurts more than simply living with them.
I start to write these things down in my journal and Anthony, trying to read over my shoulder, uncharacteristically demands: “I want to know what you’re writing about! Why is it so important that you have to stay up at this hour and write it down?” After just a little more prodding, I tell him about the unclean feeling that used to drown me with every other man I’d ever loved, about how I never felt it with him, how astonishing this is to me, and how grateful I am to be able to share quiet mornings with him. And then, I give to him the words I swallowed earlier that day, the ones I was too embarrassed to say out loud as he held me in bed, the words I wanted to write down at 3 in the morning before they disappeared on the other side of sleep:
“You are worth every unhappiness in my entire life.”
A few moments later, he asked me to be his wife.
I said yes.