That One Time I Was Pregnant For a Few Weeks

For as long as I’ve known about my PCOS, my greatest fear has been miscarriage. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than struggling to get pregnant, finally succeeding, and then having it all go away in the blink of an eye. So it’s really weird that I’m sitting here right now hoping to have one.

Because I did get pregnant. Sort of. But it didn’t go as planned. I successfully grew a gestational sac, but my 7 week ultrasound revealed that there’s nothing growing in it. Simply put: The lights are on, but no one’s home.

So, here I sit. Facing my greatest fear and just wanting to be done with it already.

I know. It sounds horrible, but a natural miscarriage is the best possible outcome after what I’ve come to understand as a biological fuck up. The failure of the collection of cells to grow into an embryo is most likely to do with a chromosomal abnormality. The whole thing was doomed from the start. It’s a common sucky thing that happens sometimes. The fertilized egg didn’t have the right combination of things to develop, so it didn’t. No harm, no foul.

In January, before I went into surgery to get my uterus cleaned out, I wrote about my reproduction-related anxiety. I compared the feeling of approaching mommyhood to starting a race but not knowing if it’s going to be a 5K or a marathon. Turns out it was more like a 50-yard dash with a twist ending. A month post-surgery, my cycle shocked me by doing exactly what it was supposed to do. I ovulated right on schedule, and boom. Hole in one.

I was told that the best time for PCOSers to get knocked up is the first month after going off of the pill—we even have friends whose child supports that data—but part of me refused to accept that it could be true. After a decade spent truly believing that my reproductive system didn’t work, it seemed impossible that it could be so easy. I was so flummoxed by the world’s faintest positive on the pregnancy test I took, I made Scott double check it to rule out a desire-induced hallucination. Days passed, and I kept testing. The line got darker and more defined, and I slowly began to believe that we’d done it.

I had braced myself so much for disappointment. I didn’t know what to do with a miracle.

But, despite achieving something that I believed was impossible, neither one of us had a jumping-up-and-down kind of joy. We were hopeful, but something didn’t feel right about it. I don’t know if it all just felt too easy, or if we were using denial to protect our hearts in the event of disaster, but either way, the whole thing had an air of “Hello, I am a Nigerian prince, and I would like to share my fortune with you.”  Yeah, sure you do, pal.

In the first couple of days after the positive result, I started to feel normal pregnancy symptoms. For starters, I could smell everything in the tri-state area. I discovered that first trimester exhaustion and insomnia are very real things. Most tellingly, the new shooting pain in my boobs was so intense that I kept half expecting a creature to burst out of them Alien-style. Not being able to deny such real physical proof, we decided to tell our parents about the development. It was nice to be able to share good news, but I was also hoping that saying it out loud would help make this pregnancy, which still felt more like an elaborate prank than anything else, seem more real to us.

But then, at 6 weeks, when I was supposed to be feeling even more tender and start dealing with the effects of morning sickness, the opposite happened. Slowly but surely, my symptoms started going away. There was no cramping or blood, but I was feeling less pregnant with every passing day. It didn’t matter how many stories of “symptomless pregnancies” I’d read online. I knew that something wasn’t right. Having no symptoms is very different from having Alien breasts and then watching them shrink back to their normal size. One day last week, I purposely flicked myself in what used to be a very sore nipple, felt nothing, and said to my mirror self, “And that’s the end of that chapter.”

And it was.

As my new OB scanned my uterus, he got very quiet, and I knew for sure. Afterward, he said sadly, “Well, it’s not good,” and I almost laughed. I’d always expected to feel heartbroken at such news, but I wasn’t. As much as I want to become a mother, I knew that something wasn’t right. I knew that whatever was happening inside my body, that wasn’t our baby. Every time I’d said the word “pregnant” since my symptoms started dissipating, it felt more and more like a lie. I honestly would have been more surprised if he had found a growing embryo inside me. So when he showed me the scan of the empty sac in my uterus, most of what I felt was straight-up relief that I wasn’t being dramatic or pessimistic. I was right. Goddamn it.

While driving home from the appointment, I called my parents. My dad told me that it is okay to be feel upset about the loss. I know it is. But, truthfully, this doesn’t really feel like a true loss. By the time I got home, Scott and I were already making jokes about it, laughing about the image of tumbleweeds in the ultrasound photo or hearing the sound of crickets instead of a heartbeat. (Yes, we are terrible people. It’s a good thing we found each other.) We would never make such callous jokes about someone else’s loss, but since we were talking about our own nonstarter group of cells, laughing about it made us feel better. Making terrible jokes has always been my go-to coping strategy. It’s possible that the bad news just hasn’t sunk in it. But if I’m being really honest, it’s more like the pregnancy itself hadn’t sunk in, so the news that it was all a biological fuck up just makes more sense.

When all is said and done, this whole episode feels most like a first pancake. We put the batter on the griddle, but it failed to cook properly, as first pancakes are wont to do. If nothing else, it was a good learning experience. I got to see what early pregnancy actually feels like, and most importantly, I learned that, despite what the scary doctors told me 10 years ago, I CAN get pregnant. That is the biggest relief of all.

Yes, it’s a disappointment. But it’s made me oddly hopeful. This misstep won’t affect the possibility of future pregnancies, so now I’m more certain than ever that our time may actually come. In the meantime, though, I have to deal with the aftermath. That’s the only part I’m upset about.

If this failure doesn’t clear itself from my system via a natural miscarriage, then we’ll have to intervene medically. There’s a medicine I can take that will hopefully move things along, but if that doesn’t work, then I’ll have to have another D&C, which means more time off work and more expense. It’s sort of an “adding insult to injury” situation. So, if it’s all the same to the universe, I’d rather things work themselves out on their own. This leaves me in the extremely ironic predicament of praying that my own worst fear comes true.

When I ask the next fertilized egg to hold on, to burrow in and grab onto that uterine lining for dear life, I’ll have to remember to be more specific. Next time, my future collection of cells, I’ll tell you to dig in and grow.

We’ll be waiting for you when you do.

Moving On Up

When I first moved in to Scott’s house close to three years ago, I was convinced that it was never going to feel like mine. From the garage that looks like it survived an earthquake to the galley-style kitchen that I’ve lovingly referred to “that hallway with the stove in it,” the house was never my first choice. Scott, however, was, so moving into his LEGO-strewn house was one of the best choices I’ve ever made. Despite my initial reservations about the space, in the time that has passed since I drove away from my apartment for the last time, I’ve come to value that cozy bachelor pad as our first home. I wouldn’t have chosen it if I had been with Scott when he bought it, but I wouldn’t trade the memories we’ve made there for anything, not even for a whirlpool tub and a wood-burning fireplace.

My first memory of the house is how clean it was when I arrived there for the first time. My brief tour of other single men’s dwellings turned up some shockingly squalid results. Scott, though, had vacuumed, wiped down the countertops, and even cleaned the toilet. That’s how I knew he was into me. When I brought my dogs over for the first time a couple of weeks later, they jumped right onto his bed and made themselves at home. When he settled down next to them, that’s when I knew that I was really into him.

The house was where we had our first kiss. It was where I first realized that I loved him. It was where Benny and Bella bonded with their dad, and it was where I realized that he is exactly the man I’ve always wanted as the father of my human children. The first year we spent there together is what proved to both of us that we want to be an “us” for a lifetime.

More than that, our house was the site of backyard bonfires and YouTube Fridays and girls’ nights and White Christmas dinners. It as where we had the craziest, most awesome co-ed wedding shower we could have dreamed up. It was where we had Scott’s Simpsons-themed 30th birthday party and celebrated my younger brother’s 21st. It was where one friend and I first talked with certainty about the men we each married. It was where another friend and I each fell asleep in a bathroom after a late-night, alcohol-fueled viewing of Home Alone. It was where my BFF and I performed our two-woman HAMILTON for the first time. It was where we hunched over Scott’s phone to watch a Hawks playoff game during a blackout and where we watched the Cubs win the World Series for the first time in 108 years. It was where our families first met, and it was where I started to think of Scott’s family as my family, too.

It was a house full of joy and laughter, creativity and stability. Our house has been a very, very, very fine house. And I would be lying though my typing fingers if I said that my heart doesn’t break a little when I think about leaving it. But even though our house has given us a wonderful start to our married life, it was never supposed to be our forever home.

Scott has been casually looking for houses for a long time now. We had some particular parameters that our dream home needed to fulfill. For example, we needed a yard that is big enough for the Oktoberfest tent and plenty of street parking for our guests. We wanted enough bedrooms so I could have an office in addition to the LEGO room and still have bedrooms for kids. We also had to focus our search within a finite Lunchtime Radius because Scott comes home every day for lunch. Because we were in no rush to move, we figured we could afford to be a little picky. To be completely honest, I think we both thought it might take a few years before we found a place that we’d like enough to get a realtor involved.

Then suddenly we found it.

Twice in our relationship, Scott and I have entered a new place, walked around a little bit, and then looked at each other and said, “Well, dammit. We have to do this, don’t we?” The first was when we went to the Prairie Street Brewhouse for our friends’ wedding-planning visit. Within a few minutes of exploring that space, we knew in our bones that it was where we wanted to start our lives together. We never even looked at another venue. When it’s right, you just know. After a few minutes on our tour of the new house, we got that same feeling. It didn’t feel like walking around a stranger’s house. All in an instant, I could see our lives playing out in that space. I could see Oktoberfests and dinner parties, Christmases and birthdays, scraped knees and sidewalk chalk. We were home.

The new house isn’t perfect. It’s an older house, so some of the bedrooms are small and the layout is a little weird. The dining area is a little cozier than we’d like it to be, and the dishwasher is nowhere near the sink for reasons unknown. There is no luxurious master bath or Pinterest-worthy fireplace. But it has five bedrooms; a good-sized, fenced-in yard; a huge, heated garage; tons of storage; a finished basement; and already more love than I could have imagined. When we look at the house, we don’t see its limitations. We see its possibilities.

A lot of people passed it over because it’s far from HGTV perfect, but it’s perfect for us.

Congratulations, it’s a polyp!

If you’ve ever been nine years old, you know the rhyme. First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes a baby in a baby carriage.

“That’s a great plan,” thought almost-weds Jessica and Scott, “Sign us up!” Of course, in the time that has elapsed since we first heard that proposed trajectory chanted in elementary school, we’ve learned that life isn’t always so simple and plans rarely fall into place so easily.

Let’s rewind.

Many, many moons ago – about ten years’ worth of moons, to be exact – I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. This answered a lot of questions I’d had about myself. Like, for instance, why I’d had exactly one natural period when I was thirteen years old and literally never had another one. But it also opened the door to a lot of new questions. Okay, fine. One question. One huge, ginormous, life-changing question. Every single day from that moment until now, one question has pervaded my brain: Can I have kids?

From the plethora of information the doctors and nurses threw at my increasingly terrified 22-year-old self, it seemed like the chances of my broken reproductive system actually pulling that off were pretty much goose egg. But what was worse was the knowledge that there was pretty much nothing I could do about it. The only advice I was given at the time was to get myself down to a healthy weight. (Remember that one time I lost 80 pounds? This was my motivation. Sure, being a size 4 is cool. But motherhood is the prize my eyes are always on.) And even then, I was told that weight loss only *might* help. There’s no cure for PCOS. Some women’s symptoms go away. Some don’t. There’s no real rhyme or reason to any of it.

Early into our relationship, I explained all of this to Scott. I wanted to give him an out if making babies was high on his priority list. Note, I said making. I am very aware that there are a lot of ways to create a family, and I am open to many options. I needed to make sure that I hitched my wagon to someone who feels similarly. Ideally, I wanted someone who wants kids enough to fight for them, but not so much that he’d leave me if my body can’t hold up my end of the bargain. It’s a tricky line to walk, and an even tricker conversation to have when you’ve known someone for approximately 60 days. But to his credit, Scott assured me that he was in, no matter what. So we moved forward together.

In the years that passed between committing to this life plan together and actually following through with it, I’ve had mixed feelings about the whole thing. It’s been exciting to watch Scott’s eyes light up when he sees a toy at the store he wants to buy for our kids someday or when we talk about the traditions we want to pass on to them. My heart flutters every time I think about taking our kids to go see Santa Claus or teaching them how to read. But it’s also scary. It’s terrifying to want something that you might not be able to have. I’ve been scared to admit how much I want us to be parents. Once you admit that you want something that badly, it raises stakes that cannot be easily lowered. If we fail, I can’t walk it back and pretend that motherhood wasn’t that important to me anyway. I worry about how failure might affect our quiet family of two after letting ourselves want so much more.

Yet here we are, a few months into our marriage, taking baby steps (as it were) toward our baby goals. Because of my preexisting condition, I checked in with my doctor right away. Since it had been so long since someone took a look-see at the plumbing, she scheduled an ultrasound. As is common with every test conducted on your favorite TV medical drama, there was some good news and some bad news. The good news is that my ovaries looked better – for now, anyway. Truthfully, we have no way of knowing if that’s just the temporary effect of being on birth control pills for 15 years or if my system reset itself. It’s a time-will-tell sort of thing. The bad news is that she saw a growth in my uterine lining and some other debris floating around in there. It’s one of those things that’s likely totally benign, but still needs to be addressed. So I had to go back for another, more in-depth ultrasound. The sonohysterogram confirmed at least one polyp and the presence of what she called “other junk” that needs to be removed. That surgery is scheduled for next week, and in the meantime, I’ve been put back on my birth control pills to keep my system working as usual.

As the score currently stands, it was about three weeks of “Hey, let’s do this!” followed by three months of “Wait. What’s that?” And as much as I’ve amused myself by picturing space junk orbiting my ovaries, I’m quite ready to get it scraped out so we can move forward. As I write these words today, I have no idea whether or not the surgery will help my body do what I want it to do. Anyone who has struggled with infertility knows better than I that there are no guarantees in this business.

My husband, the happiest man in the world, is confident that we’ll be successful. I am not. But that’s just the difference in our worldviews. I would feel better if I knew this was a matter of hard work or time, but there’s no way of knowing. This isn’t something I can Power Nerd my way through. I can’t write my way out. No amount of research is going to make my ovaries work on their own. I need to rely on biology and luck, neither of which have been very kind to me in the past. Not knowing if this is a temporary hiccup or the beginning of a years-long uphill battle is challenging and disorienting. It’s like starting a race but not knowing if it’s a 5K or a marathon. How do you even prepare for something like that? I don’t know. All we can do is take one step at a time and hope that Baby Z is waiting for us at the end of the road, so that’s what we’re going to do.

 

From Three Years to Thirty Days

Exactly three years and eight days ago, Scott and I were in my car driving to his birthday celebration at the Hofbrauhaus. We had been boyfriend/girlfriend for just about a month, and I was still getting to know him and his life. That day I was going to meet his family for the first time, and I was acutely aware that if things progressed as well as I expected they could that these fine folk might become my family too. You know, someday. On the way to the restaurant, I was nervous AF. Scott kept telling me to calm down and that I was overreacting. This wasn’t some momentous Meet The Parents situation, but rather a casual, pressure-free get-together that his parents happened to be attending along with his closest friends. Still, there was something vaguely paradigm-shifty in the air. I took a deep breath and tried to shake it off. I pushed the future out of my mind and tried to stay in the moment. Since I was the designated driver that evening, I can recall most of that day pretty clearly – a remarkable feat for a person who routinely cannot remember all that she did at work that day by the time she gets home. But what I remember the most is the end of the night. I’ve written about our unforgettable exit from the Hofbrauhaus before (I love beer, and you.), but there is more to the story.

After I coaxed Drunk Scott into my car, we started to make our way back to my old apartment in Evanston. I was still in a bit of shock from the accidental confession of love that had flown out of his mouth just a few moments before. After I had tried so hard to focus on the here-and-now and forget the implications that went along with meeting the parents, etc., it was disorientating to have such a major relationship milestone pop up out of nowhere.

The atmosphere in the vehicle had switched from nervous to straight-up awkward. At least for me. Scott was happy as a clam, as he always is. Meanwhile, I was all:

What-Do-I-Normally-Do-With-My-Hands-how-i-met-your-mother-31101737-400-300

Since I was driving, I needed to get myself together. I decided to make conversation to distract myself from my ever-spinning brain. That night was also the first time I had met a chunk of his friends, so I chose them as a topic of conversation. I asked who his best friend was, since it wasn’t completely apparent from the night’s activities. He responded enthusiastically, “They’re all my best friends!” Helpful. I tried another approach. “Okay. But who among them would be your best man?” He didn’t hesitate. “Oh, I have that all figured out. I’mma have five groomsmen. But no pressure. I know you don’t want a big wedding.”

I almost drove the car off the side of the road.

It’s not that I didn’t want to hear these things or that I didn’t feel the same way. Obviously, I had already been thinking about it, too. Since the first second I spotted the goofy bastard wearing his lederhosen and Hawks sweater on the day we met, I knew this was going to be something special. What blindsided me was his openness and honesty, his total lack of game-playing and other annoying douchebaggery that I had come to expect from the males of our species. He was sweet and surprising, and he stopped my heart in the best way. It was such a shock to my system, I almost didn’t trust it.

From the earliest days of our relationship, I knew I was lucky. I didn’t know why the happiest man in the world had chosen someone so crabby and sarcastic, but I was cool to go along with it until he realized his mistake. He’d get tired of the constant obscenities, my antisocial tendencies, and the fact that I can’t eat a hard-shell taco without spilling half of its contents all over the table and/or myself. One day, it wouldn’t seem so charming that I can find a way to slice my hand while loading the washing machine (true story) and sometimes turn into a bad stand-up comic circa 1998 when I’m nervous in large social situations. Sooner or later, he’d figure it out and find someone better suited to his positive, happy-go-lucky ways. But that didn’t happen. Instead, he asked me to marry him.

Three years and eight days ago, our wedding was a fantasy. It was a nebulous dream that hovered in the background as Scott and I got to know each other and figured out if the other person would fit into the life we imagined for our future selves. Thirty days from now, marriage will become our reality. We’ll wake up, grab some Taco Bell breakfast, put on fancy clothes, and officially join our lives together in matrimony.

In some ways, I’ve been ready for this since the day we met, and lots of the time, I feel like it’s already happened, that we’re already married. But there are still moments when I can’t believe that it’s happening, that this is my life. Not to get all Julie Andrews on you, but these days, I definitely have that “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good” feeling. It was a long, painful, and often embarrassing series of trials-and-errors to get here, but if this life with this man is my reward, I wouldn’t change a thing. I cannot wait to slip into my blue high heel shoes and take my first steps as his wife. And when I inevitably trip – whether it’s stepping off the dock after we’re pronounced husband and wife, or going up the stairs into the reception, or just walking around living my life from here on out – I trust that he’ll always be there to catch me.

 

Why I’m a Bad Bride but a Happy One

I have never been a girly girl. Hell, I’ve never even been good at pretending that I’m a girly girl. I’m gross, and I’m hard, and I swear more than anyone I know. The good lord granted me neither tact, grace, nor the ability to use liquid eyeliner. One day when I was little, I sneaked a bunch of my mom’s makeup to play with, but even then, it was just because I wanted to see what I’d look like with a black eye. Another time, when I was about 12, I had a bunch of girls over, and I let out a belch that shook the table. My mom immediately told me that such behavior wasn’t ladylike. Instead of feeling ashamed or apologizing, I let another one loose and encouraged my friends to join me in a contest to see how unladylike we could be. If memory serves, I was the only participant, but I didn’t care. Even at that age, I resented the implication that I was doing something wrong just because I didn’t conform to certain expectations.

As a kid, I used to have knock-down, drag-out fights with my mother in department stores. I hated dresses and floral patterns and the color pink. But more than that, I hated being forced into a mold of femininity I didn’t feel reflected who I was. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the emotional intelligence to express myself at the time, so I just pitched fits. I was stubborn and mean until one or both of us left in tears. I’m not proud of this, but I was never sorry for standing up for myself the only way I knew how. I figured that one day I’d grow up, and I could become the kind of woman I wanted to be – that is, a weird one, who likes what she likes and doesn’t apologize for it.

And that’s what happened. I grew up and grew into myself. I’ve even made my peace with dresses and grown quite fond of the color pink. Neon, not ballet. I am quite happy to be a weirdo who owns a petticoat but also drinks milk straight from the carton. It’s been a good balance.

But then I became a Bride, and all those feelings of feminine inadequacy have come rushing back.

From the moment we got engaged, I’ve been doing things wrong. For months now, friends, family, strangers, and wedding-planning professionals have congratulated us with ear-to-ear grins and a million questions, and I don’t even know how to respond. I have no great “Say Yes to The Dress” story. I have no interest in floral arrangements. Instead, what I have is insecurity about the fact that I have no interest in floral arrangements. I’m a Bride. Doesn’t that mean I’m supposed to want to discuss these things instead of wanting to avoid conversations about them?

Registering for gifts has been especially challenging. Scott and I already have mostly everything we need in life, and the few things we do need are not things you can register for – like new steps for the front of the house or a new dining room set (and a dining room to put it in). I flirted with the idea of registering for fine china, fancy silverware, or something made of crystal because that seems very Bride-y. But nothing I found felt true to who I am. Nor did it reflect who Scott and I are as a couple. We’re not fancy. Our favorite date nights involve cheeseburgers and arcade games. We are not crystal-vase-type people. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just not us. I’d probably drop it and break it the first time I went to put $4 Jewel flowers in it anyway. Facebook keeps inundating me with ads featuring champagne flutes and ballrooms, but I’m pretty sure if given the choice, Scott and I would choose beer steins and a ball pit every time.

In addition to being born without the girly girl gene, I also completely lack the gene that desires attention. We didn’t have an engagement party because being the center of attention is just not something that appeals to either of us. Having all those eyes on me makes me absurdly uncomfortable, and my whole being closes up tighter than a fist. I end up looking ungrateful and angry. I learned this the hard way 10 years ago at my first bridal shower. It was a standard, semi-formal, women-only, let’s-open-up-the-gifts-and-play-bridal-bingo kind of shower. At the time, I knew that such an event wasn’t something I was comfortable with, but that’s how things are supposed to be done, so I went along with it. I was genuinely grateful that my friends and family wanted to come together to celebrate my life choices. Someone just forgot to tell my face that it was okay to show it. Even when I was unwrapping stuff I picked out and was excited to receive, this is what my face did because it didn’t like so many eyeballs on it at once.

I am not proud of this, but it’s what happened. Just like when I was a little girl, I was incapable of pretending to be someone I’m not. I tried. I swear, I tried to be the Happy Bride, but I failed. I was uncomfortable and sorta bored, and it showed all over my face. And when I think back about that time in my life, all I remember is going though the motions trying to fit into these narrow parameters of Bridehood and failing miserably. When other people said that their wedding day was the happiest day of their life, I laughed because that was so far away from my experience. Clearly, I did it wrong.

Now that I’m a Bride again, my goal is to do it better this time. Step 1 is to stop pretending to be someone I’m not. Scott reminds me daily that we should do what feels right to us, regardless of other people’s ideas about what a wedding should be. So far, we have succeeded in picking a venue and a menu that feels like home to both of us. I shopped for my dress online so I wouldn’t get distracted by salespeople’s opinions, and I ended up with one I love so much I want to dye it pink and wear it around town afterwards. Slowly but surely, we are working to craft an event that reflects who we are and the life we are building together. It won’t be the fanciest or most formal event our guests will ever attend. (I can personally guarantee a complete lack of shrimp forks.) Our only hope is that our guests will love it as much as they love us. Not because it’s the event of a lifetime, but because it’s the beginning of our lifetime together.

I love beer, and you.

The other day, I started to type a word into the address bar in my internet browser, and for reasons unknown, a long email exchange I once had with my best friend popped up. It was dated September 10, 2013, and it was titled “Mosquito bite on earlobe.” Katie and I email a lot, and about a lot of things, ranging from big life decisions to something as small as, say, an oddly placed mosquito bite, so I had no idea what to expect when I started reading. That date didn’t ring any bells for me, nor did the subject line. But when I started reading, that day came flying back with alarming clarity.

That was the day that I decided to have The Talk with Scott. I had planned on calling him out for sending me mixed messages about where he stood with our relationship. I had no idea that I had just done literally the exact same thing to him a few days before.

We had been together only a few months at the time, but things had already started getting pretty serious. He kept offhandedly mentioning stuff about our future or maybe having a wedding someday, but every time I tried to get him to admit how serious he was about such things, he’d become evasive or start dropping a bunch of “maybes.” As a person with high levels of anxiety, I was so not cool with “maybe.” At the same time, I didn’t want to be all, “SO, we’ve known each other a couple of months. You wanna marry me or what?” Because that’s crazy. I felt like I was on a roller coaster, and I was not digging it. I was starting to feel emotionally invested in this person and this relationship, but I didn’t know if it was safe to do so. I couldn’t give someone my whole heart and then watch him walk away. I just didn’t have it in me. But, whether or not I was ready to admit it, I was feeling the feels. I just didn’t want to be the first to say it.

Turns out, neither did he.

A few weeks earlier and about one month into our relationship, Scott drank my body weight in German beer at his birthday celebration at the Hofbräuhaus and told me he loved me. We were saying goodbye to friends at the end of the night, and he drunkenly hugged everyone and told them that he loved them. I laughed and made sure no one fell over onto the pavement. Then he turned to me and said, “And I love you…” Sober and blindsided, I believe my exact response was, “Ummmmmmmm…..okay?” I had only known the guy for 63 days. I was not expecting such a declaration, and I had no idea whether or not he meant it. The next day, I turned to research for help. Fortuitously, that month’s Cosmo had an article on how to handle the accidental, alcohol-induced, amnesia-erased “I love you.” They recommended that I first ask myself whether or not I wanted him to mean it. If the answer was yes, then I was supposed to talk to him about it. If the answer was no, I was supposed to forget it ever happened. They didn’t tell me what to do if I was unsure, which is what I was. Even though hearing those words made my heart beat faster, I wasn’t ready to have that conversation – or specifically, to find out that he didn’t actually mean them – so I didn’t say anything. He didn’t say it again, so after a couple of weeks, I figured he probably didn’t mean it. I decided I should try to forget it happened.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  

Every time we saw each other after that, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering, Does he love me? Am I ready to let myself love him? Should we spend the rest of our lives together? These are not normal thoughts for someone who’s only known a guy for just over two months, but then again, I’ve never exactly been normal.

Six weeks later, I was preparing to co-host my first Oktoberfest. I was exceptionally nervous. The scene was as follows: A huge, expensive gathering with all of our family and friends, and the two of us in the center of it all, wearing special ceremonial outfits. Does that sound like any other major event you know? For an English major like me, the whole thing was rife with symbolism. And since I still hadn’t brought up the drunken “I love you” and he hadn’t said it again, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the wedding-like scenario I was about to walk into. But that day, when I stepped out into the yard and saw him, the happiest guy in the world, dressed in full Oktoberfest regalia and manning the grill like a boss, I knew.

Suddenly, I wasn’t nervous or unsure anymore. I loved him, plain and simple. I could barely keep the words in my mouth, but I still wasn’t ready to say them. Or so I thought.

Apparently, at some point during the course of the day, after I had enjoyed my fair share of German beer, I told Scott that I loved him. Legend has it that the confession happened in the garage and that he told me that he loved me, too. I’ll have to trust him on that because, to this day, my brain says “404: Memory not found.”

Oktoberfest that year took place on September 7, three days before I decided to pluck up some courage and have The Talk. For those few days, I knew I loved him, but I didn’t know I told him, and I knew that he had once told me he loved me, but I didn’t know if he meant it. But instead of just telling him bravely and having faith that he would say it back, I cowardly backed my way into it via a text message in a not wholly un-accusatory manner.

In short, our conversation went like this:

Me:  Look, I don’t know if you know this, but you once told me you loved me when you were drunk.

Scott: Oh yeah? You did too.

Me: Really? When?

Scott: At Oktoberfest.

Me: I did?

Scott: Yeah.

Me: Oh. So, we love each other?

Scott: Yeah.

Me: Cool.

We were both stupidly in love with each other, but we were both stupidly scared to say it out loud. Neither of us wanted to be the first to admit our feelings for fear that the other wouldn’t reciprocate. Looking back, it was so dumb. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if liquid courage hadn’t coaxed the truth out of us. How long would we have waited? Where would we be now?

Of all the decisions people could make while under the influence, I’m really glad we made that one. And I’ll be happier still, in 304 days, when we put on special ceremonial outfits and stand in front of our family and friends and admit out loud again that we really do love each other. This time, we both might even remember it.   

We’ve been here before. I recognize that tree.

Ahh, fall. The season of new beginnings. Wait. That’s spring, at least for most people. For me, though, fall is where it’s at. From the new school year to new fall fashions to, most importantly, new network television, fall is full of fresh starts. It’s a time to shake off the carefree days of summer and recommit to more important pursuits. This fall, that means two things for me. 1) Wedding planning, which has begun in earnest since we are officially less than a year out. (::girlish shriek of glee::) and 2) Re-losing the 10 pounds I gained over Oktoberfest season. (::guttural groan of disappointment::) This is much less fun, but just as necessary as item #1, considering I already bought my wedding dress and need to, you know, be able to zip it.

My only hesitation before buying my dress so early was the fear that I wouldn’t be able to fit into it come September 2016. When I did the whole poofy-white-dress-thing a decade ago, I had gained so much weight between the time I bought it and the time I needed to wear it that it had to be let out (a lot) the week of the wedding. I also had to throw away all of the expensive fortifying underthings the lady at David’s Bridal insisted we buy. (Aside: Number of similar garments I have purchased for this, my dream wedding: Zero. Truth be told, I might not even wear a bra.) So, yeah, I don’t have the greatest track record. But this time, I’m not a graduating senior who deals with finals stress by inhaling cheesesticks at Denny’s at 3 in the morning, so there’s that. There’s also the fact that this time, in buying my dress myself, I essentially bet $300 on my own abilities to maintain my body shape for the next year. Unfortunately, my scale and the button on my jeans have informed me that I am dangerously close to losing that wager, so I cannot let this go on any further.

I was having dinner with a friend not too long ago and we discussed a phenomenon known as the “Party’s Over Weight.” It’s the magic number you hit after you’ve been having too much fun but before you cause irreparable damage. That is where I am right now. I’ve had a blast this summer, but I have to stop and refocus my efforts, or I’m going to have to buy myself a new wedding dress.

I have one specific happy thought to hold onto as I propel myself forward to face this difficult task, like when Grown-up Peter has to learn how to fly in Hook.  

The top three happiest moments of my life so far are as follows, in ascending order:

3) Meeting Matt Damon

2) Getting engaged to Scott

1) Realizing I could finally wear a skirt without wearing shorts underneath to prevent chub rub because I had finally lost enough weight to not need them

I don’t remember the skirt, but I do remember that feeling. It felt like looking out at an incredible view after I had scaled the highest mountain, on Christmas morning, right after somebody gave me a puppy, covered in glitter. It wasn’t a goal I was working toward specifically. I mean, I was trying to lose weight, but that achievement snuck up on me. I had lived wrapped in secret layers for so long that I didn’t imagine a time might come in which I didn’t need them. It was liberating, and I was proud. It was the first time I saw and felt a change in myself. It was also the first time that I knew I could really do it. I could really shed those 70+ extra pounds and take control of my body. It would take time and effort, but I could do it. And, obvs, I did.

In the years since I hit my goal weight, I’ve found maintenance to be a harder challenge than losing was. When you’re focused on losing, each change on the scale is a small victory. But there’s no fanfare that accompanies staying the same weight for a month, year, or even years at a time. “My pants still fit!” is not a celebrated milestone. Plus, when offered a big ole plate of fried cheese, it’s much easier to say, “No, thanks, I’m trying to lose weight” than “No, thanks, I’m trying to, umm, not gain weight?” That’s not a thing most people understand. So I accept and enjoy – and most often eat some more because my addictive personality doesn’t let me stop at one indulgence. I keep going until my pants start to resist, and then I have to lose the weight all over again.

It’s a cycle, and anyone who’s ever gone through it knows it well. It leaves me perpetually oscillating between reckless enjoyment and mortifying regret, and it leaves the people around me perpetually confused. “But why can’t you eat this today when we just did this last week?” Plus it can be a little embarrassing. I’ve lost track of the amount of times friends have thought I was pregnant because I passed up a drink at social functions. Instead of explaining my choice and sticking to it, I accept a drink or two (or seven) just so they know for sure that I’m not.

So, here I stand yet again, not at the bottom of Chub Mountain but definitely not at the top. It’s disappointing. But I also sort of like it, and maybe that’s the real reason I keep going through this cycle. I love a good challenge, especially when it’s one I know I can conquer. I’ve done it before, so I know I can do it again. It’s like mastering a really hard Super Mario level. Doing it the first time is an amazing feeling, but doing it again and again proves that you really have it beat.

I just need to be careful, especially in the coming months as wedding planning turns into wedding celebrating, which invariably involves extra consumption. So in case I pass up the champagne in the near future, just let me clear something up. There is no Baby Rzepka right now, just a future Mrs. Rzepka who doesn’t want to have to spend another $300 on a bigger dress.

But more than that, I need to take this time to recommit to myself and my own goals as I prepare to legally commit myself to another person. I know that I have a tendency to lose myself in relationships, putting all of my focus on my partner and the life we’re building together. I know that it’ll be all too easy in the coming months to cancel runs and yoga classes in service of having more time to plan the wedding. I know that I will exchange my healthy quinoa bowl and glass of water for a big, juicy filet and goblet of red wine in the name of celebration. Nobody asks me to make these sacrifices. I just do it on my own. I know this about myself. I am aware that if I do it too often, I sabotage my own hard work. And yet, I do it. Over and over again. So as we move forward toward our happily ever after, I need to remember that my personal goals are just as important as our shared ones. I need to remind myself that this moment of celebration is (hopefully) just the beginning of a long life together. And I’d prefer to live that life in a healthy, happy body.

Yes, I love wine. But sometimes I need to love myself more.