The Choice (A Short Story)

0B7ED23B-9600-48C4-BC0B-9D631D1B6C29.pngI don’t regret it. I don’t regret my marriage or our five children. I don’t regret the seven years of building our family. I met my husband when I was twenty-one. I was going to school part-time, trying to finish my degree without drowning in debt. I was working for a PR firm for peanuts and networking my way up. I couldn’t blame them for the lack of pay since I had no experience. My roles fluctuated from secretary to gopher (“go for coffee/go for snacks/ go for the dry-cleaning”) but every once in a while, the let me meet the clients as long as I stayed quiet and didn’t overstep my boundaries. If I had any ideas, I pitched them to my boss in private when she had time. She would decide if they were worth implementing or even running by the client. My paycheck covered a portion of my tuition but nothing else.

Thank God I lived with my parents or I would have drowned in debt trying to keep a roof over my own head. My parents had two kids, me and my older brother. My brother was  a professional student much like my dad. He was working his way though his second masters and a joint PhD program while i was in undergrad. College was always the plan for me. My parents hold multiple degrees. It wasn’t a question of if; it was only a question of where. I chose a community college with the plan to transfer to a four year state school with loads of college credit and a fraction of the debt. I was in my junior year and dangerously close to burn out when my husband Terrence and I met. We knew almost right away that we were headed for marriage. My parents loved him and his adored me. When he proposed three months later, I didnt even need to think it over.  His parents were excited, mine were cautiously optimistic.

They pressed me relentlessly.

”I hope you guys aren’t thinking about a wedding until after you finish your first degree and at least start your masters,” my father would interject randomly.

”Marriage and babies go hand in hand and once you have kids, your life is no longer your own,” my mom would add with a knowing look in my direction. “Your father and I were in love but we weren’t foolish about it. We had a plan and I had a career before we made the decision to start our family,” she repeated for the upteenth time.

Despite their best efforts, my husband I had our wedding during winter break of my junior year. The plan was to get an apartment close to campus that allowed me to stay in the school while my husband supported us. Imagine how our lives turned upside down when I got pregnant on our honeymoon.

It was our first time together and I guess we weren’t too concerned with the possibility of making babies, we were legally married after all. We found out on Christmas Day that we were about to be a family of three. We were so excited, it was hard to keep the news to ourselves. We waited until my first doctors appointment to tell our families. We got the surprise of our lives when my doctor told us we were expecting not ONE baby but twins! My life flashed before my eyes and I knew nothing would be same forever.

We told my in-laws but not my parents. Crummy thing to do but you had to know my parents. They weren’t the “we will love you no matter what you decide” type. They were the “do not embarrass or disappoint us or you will not live to tell the tale” type. To put it frankly, I was scared.

When the spring semester began, I was in the throas of round the clock nausea. I could barely get off the bed, sitting in class for hours at a time was out of the question but I tried. I emailed my professors almost daily asking for extensions or for them to email my assignments because I was too sick to attend class. I just needed to make it to midterms (and the end of my first trimester).

I squeezed by with low C’s in all my classes and was clear to finish my degree in just three remaining semesters. Things at home were tight. No matter how many hours my husband worked we couldn’t seem to get ahead. We needed a second income but for the sake of my health and the babies, I couldn’t work. I cancelled the cable, switched us to a cheaper cellular service provider, and got us some cut rate car insurance. Living on the bare necessities meant we had a couple of hundred dollars in between paychecks, so that’s what we did.

My husband’s parents bought almost everything on our baby registry. Our friends supplied our diaper stash and gave us gift cards and cash for the twins. We were okay. We were not rich by any stretch but the lump in my throat at the thought of bringing children into this world with no means to provide for them has shrank significantly. It felt like we had a solid village behind us and our kids would be okay.

When we finally told my parents about the twins, I also told them a huge lie – that I was graduating early but skipping commencement. They believed me and gave us early graduation gifts on top of the baby gifts. My mom was not even mad about not being in the loop. She was the queen of “keeping your business to yourself” and had assumed we hadn’t told anyone about our twins until later in our pregnancy. There was no harm in letting her believe so and the rest of our loved ones were sworn to secrecy not to let on that they knew about our twins before my second trimester. I was supposed to have the twins in early September and according to the timeline we gave my parents, graduate in December (rather than May of the following year). Instead my boys decided to come in August. Isaiah and Isaac were born on August 15th at 35 weeks. They were perfectly strong and healthy boys and we went home after a short stay in the hospital.

Our life changed immediately and drastically. My husband started working on his second degree, a grueling one year masters program that was mostly online but with a few projects on campus. I was juggling both babies while he studied for school and worked part time. We lived off financial aid and whatever income we could scrape together. Our friends were our backbone as went through that year. Isaiah and Isaac barely saw their dad their first year of life but it was all worth it when he graduated with honors and was immediately recruited by Bank of America’s IT Department. Our income more than doubled and life went from good to great. I figured I would go back to school once the boys were toddlers and pay for daycare only to find myself pregnant when the twins were ten months olds. This time with a girl. Much like the boys, my first trimester with Isabelle was rough. The boys did end up in daycare only because I couldn’t keep up with them and my round the clock nausea. Once I felt better in month four, they were back home with me. I started homeschooling them both at around fourteen months old and we’ve never stopped. By that time Isabelle was born, my husband had been promoted twice. We were now earning a comfortable six figure salary for our family of five. On Isabelle’s first birthday, I found out I was pregnant again. Eight months later we welcomed India Marie to our family. We were evenly split with two boys and two girls. The running joke was that we would have one more just to break the tie. After 4 kids in three years, I needed a break. I had gained thirty pounds on my once tiny frame. Thank God I had the height for it but I did not recognize my body. My once svelte frame has filled out with more curves than I had ever known in twenty-seven years of life.

With hardwork and discipline I was able to lose about fifteen pounds of the baby weight and the rest, I charged to the game. My husband liked my new curves. There was no reason to get rid of them. For the next three years, I focused on homeschooling our tribe and running our household as Terrence climbed the corporate ladder. When Isabelle was three, we finally started trying for our next baby. And without missing a beat, our son Israel was born a year later. Our family finally felt complete. Going back to school to finish my marketing degree was no longer on my radar. I had other passions to pursue and the kids kept me more than busy.

My friends from college were still very much a part of our lives. They were all climbing ladders and traveling the world. Some were in relationships or married but none of them had children yet. Either by choice or by circumstance, I did not press but it seemed they were making the most of their child-free existence. My best friend from freshman year was now a top A&R executive in Atlanta.  Her former roommate – a mutual acquaintance – was also voted one the fastest rising personality in financial literacy. All the women in my circle were at the top of their game and I was insanely proud of each of them.

My family and I had the income to live lavishly and be jet setters but in the early years of our marriage, Terrence and I had made a deal. Despite how high we intended to climb financially as a family, we would never neglect to give our children deep roots and keep them grounded. They did not need to feel rich more they needed to feel loved. So we increased our income without increasing our cost of living. We built our home and did not upgrade  it even after our income doubled again. We traveled in the summers but never to grandiose locations – Disney World, the Grand Canyon and Cancun were family favorites. Anything more expensive than that, we are saving for when the kids are grown enough to appreciate the cost and fund some of it themselves.

Out of the blue one day, Terrence took my hand and said, “the life I have wouldn’t be possible without you, Amber. You gave me the freedom to chase my dreams because I knew my home was secured with you by my side.”

I smiled and my heart sang. Mission accomplished. I dedicated my life to my husband’s vision and even if it cost me what some women would never sacrifice (education and career mobility, a sense of self entirely removed from attachment to ‘a man’ or some kids), I would make the choice all over again.

My mother never stops reminding me that “a woman ought to have her own.” I do have my own. Everything I helped my husband built is just as much mine as it is his. It is our money in every sense of the word. When acquaintances or well meaning loved ones try and tell me about this woman or that lady that sacrificed everything for her man only for him to leave her destitute when he moved on, I brushed it aside. I refuse to listen. I don’t care what anybody else’s husband does. This is my Terrence and I know just as sure as I know every birth mark on my children’s body that he will never turn his back on us.

I made my choice.