Class of 2022: Apache Pilot. Military Wife. Mom of Three. Vet Student. Forever Friend.
A first-person essay by Tania Hummel, who after graduation will be practicing mixed animal medicine at a private hospital in Dothan, Alabama. Her husband, Brian, has been stationed at Fort Rucker in Alabama.
“There’re two heartbeats,” announced my obstetrician on that fateful day in January of first year. “It’s twins.”
Cue the deluge of tears – scared, OMG-what-am-I-going-to-do tears. Tears that didn’t stop for 38 weeks and three days.
I already had a nearly 3-year-old toddler at home. My husband is in the military, and his assignment could change at any moment. It already had in fact and would again during my vet school career.
But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Let’s go back to August 2018, when the Class of 2022 started.
Everyone shows up to first year as strangers, but I felt extra-strange. First, I was in my late 30s. I had lived a whole adult life as a helicopter pilot deployed multiple times to combat in the Army for 12 years. The responsibilities I had had and ethical decisions I had made were completely foreign to most of the folks surrounding me.
Also, I’m a mom. There was one other mom in class, Sam, and we were fast friends.
In reality, the hardest difference to overcome was that I had already successfully completed the first year of vet school at Auburn. When the Army assigned my husband to Fort Bragg to take command of a helicopter unit, I had to reapply, get accepted and restart school at NC State.
I had a rocky start at State. I’m sure that most of the trouble was in my head and that no one actually saw me as an outsider. But I felt it. I was bitter. I missed my Auburn classmates, whom I had become very close to. I missed my Auburn teachers and my Auburn study partner and best friend.
I’ve spent my whole life moving every two to three years, so the cycle was something very familiar to me, like the 12 steps of grief.
Step 1: Make fast friends.
Step 2: Superficially integrate.
Step 3: Have a break down around two to three months that involves tears, cries of independence and a false declaration that I don’t need any more friends to be happy.
Step 4: Acceptance of my lot in life.
Step 5: Usually about a year in finally feel like I belong.
And then five months into first year (Part 2) I’m pregnant … with TWINS.
Very few of my classmates knew I was pregnant, though I’m sure most were clued in by the Darth Vader-esque respirator I had to wear in anatomy. My anatomy group knew, though.
When I showed up to lab the day after I found out about Baby A and B, I was barely keeping it together. My group noticed immediately and gently peppered me with concern and support. With tears in my eyes, I told Shelby, Wes and Sarah about the twins. They were the first to know.
And they were perfect. No one got excited, and no one said congratulations. I realize that sounds awful, but I didn’t need cheerfulness and banal pacification. I needed real. I needed honest. I needed, “Damn, dude. Whoa.”
I loved that, right then and there, my partners – whose biggest concerns were passing anatomy and their weekend plans – knew exactly what I needed. You know what was even better? They continued to invite me out to bars, dancing and concerts.
Firmly entrenched in Step 4, I muddled through the exhaustion of single-handedly making two human beings while getting through the brutality that is second year. Then one day in August, weeks before my due date, in D235, at the end of a classic Dr. Gookin lecture, a slide popped up on the screen, smattered with twin memes and “Congratulations Tania!” written across it.
I was flattered and bashful, not comfortable handling attention well. Sam and my study partner/bestie, Brandi, had secretly planned a baby shower. I walked out of the room to not one but two cakes (one for each baby, of course), drinks, a T-shirt that declared my status as a “Mother of Twins. Classic Overachiever” and a beautifully written card, signed by all my classmates, exalting my alleged wonder woman status.
The kicker? The Amazon gift card with a ridiculous amount of money on it.
I completely lost it. I cried harder and uglier than when I found out I was having twins. It wasn’t about the amount of the gift card, per se. It was that I knew full well that the vast majority of my classmates live on hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans. They work jobs before and after class to pay rent, eat and drive. They truly hustle. I felt the weight of every dollar they donated to my family because I knew the financial impact on them.
And yet they chose to donate to me.
Step 5, usually about a year in, I finally believed what apparently was always true. I belonged at State, and the Class of 2022 was my family and I and my exponentially growing family were theirs.
– Tania Hummel