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Authors: Bristol Palin

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He took me ice skating, and we laughed as we skated and I—sometimes—fell on my butt, though he was there to make sure I didn’t totally wipe out. While being out there on the ice with him, I had the same sensation I had when Hunter sent me roses in Juneau. Levi’s idea of a fun date was watching television in his mom’s basement. But this guy was polite and fun, and he showed me what dating’s supposed to be like. I remember noticing how nicely he was treating me. Then, after the fun ice skating experience, he leaned over and kissed me.

It wasn’t a big romantic deal, but I remember instantly being overcome with guilt about “betraying” Levi.

I never went out with that guy again. It was like there were invisible strings tying me to Levi, and nothing—not even those scissors I brought in to that human relations class—could cut through those bonds.

T
hough I missed seeing my mother while she was governing, Aunt Heather really stepped in and helped me navigate the difficult waters of high school—dating, peer pressure, and even the more embarrassing matters.

Then another thing happened that continued to bind me to Levi. Aunt Heather noticed that my cramps caused me such intense pain that I sometimes struggled to walk. It ran in my family, and every month I basically shut down.

“Bristol, we have to do something about that,” she said. “Let’s go see a gynecologist and find out if there’s anything he can do to help with that pain.”

Within a week, we were sitting in my doctor’s office, listening to her describe the benefits of the birth control pill.

“Birth control pills help with cramps because they stop ovulation,” she explained. “This decreases the amount of prostaglandins . . .”

I couldn’t believe my ears. Many of my friends had to go to an awful no-questions-asked clinic for pills, but here I was with a legitimate way to get them. What a great development! This meant Levi and I could stop using condoms, and I could make sure I wouldn’t get pregnant.

Mom called me from Juneau when Aunt Heather told her about taking me to the doctor. Though she was glad I might get relief from my terrible monthly pain, she had a not-so-veiled message for me.

“Now, Bristol,” she said, “just because you’re getting birth control pills doesn’t mean you can go out and have sex!”

“Mom!” I said, totally embarrassed. “Puke!”

I felt like Levi and I had figured out a way to cheat the system. Sure, I knew it wasn’t best to have sex before marriage, but I was doing the second-best thing. I planned on only having sex with one man my entire life. Since Levi and I were going to get married, I rationalized that our premarital sex wasn’t
that
big of a deal.

Mom, however, was so oblivious to the hidden side of my life, she didn’t see my total humiliation for what it was—a desperate fear she’d see through me. Instead, she figured her golden child was laughing along with her at the absurdity of such a thing.

My ruse wouldn’t last much longer.

Chapter Six

Van Palin and Other Surprises

I’m gonna go bear bait

Levi texted to me.

Want to come?

We loaded up our gear, got on a snowmachine, and headed out for the day.

Maybe you’ve never heard of this practice. In fact, you probably try your best
not
to attract bears when you’re out in the wilderness. But up here, it’s a common practice that starts long before hunting season. The way it works is simple. First you set up a huge fifty-gallon yellow drum (like the kind that holds fuel), then you strap it to a tree, and put a hole in the bottom of the drum. The hole has to be just the right size—not so big that the food falls out and not so small that the bear can’t get his paws in. Then, you fill it with grease, cupcakes, stale doughnuts, dog food . . . basically anything around the house that you have to attract a hungry bear. Depending on what area you’re in, there’s a certain time to put the bait out before hunting season. Hopefully, the bears get used to coming by for snacks. By the time hunting season comes, you’re ready for them.

Levi had already set all of this up by the time we arrived on our snowmachine. I checked out the big yellow drum, dumped some old food on top, and then walked the twenty or so feet to the tree stand.

Now, this isn’t a rickety old stand, like some deer hunting stands. Rather, this is like a big tree house, with a screened-in window to watch for bears. Still, it was a little intimidating to climb up the handmade stairs on the tree—about fifteen feet in the air—and see the claw marks all over the stand.

After you fill your drum up with food and climb into the stand, all that’s left to do is wait.

And wait.

Even if you aren’t hunting, it’s fun to be up there in the stand, right in the middle of nature. You can see moose, porcupine, and sometimes even wolves! So we carried our sleeping bags and a space heater up into the stand, leaned our rifles up against the wall, and whiled away the hours.

Levi and I were in a pretty good stage of our relationship. Even though I was in Anchorage, I’d see Levi every couple of days—any day I wasn’t working late, I’d take a quick trip to Wasilla. Also, he seemed to be really into me (though I lived too far away to realize he wasn’t actually being faithful), and I enjoyed seeing him during these trips. We drove home in the pitch dark, so the only light we had was from the snowmachine. I was holding on tight. As we drove home, Levi hit something—a snow-covered berm or something—and we wrecked. The snowmachine rolled over our legs.

As I got up, slowly dusting the snow off me and getting dirt and branches out of my clothing, I remember thinking, I wouldn’t have wrecked if I was in control and was riding without Levi. After all, I had been snowmachining with my brother Track since I could walk. He taught me everything I needed to know about how to safely ride a snowmachine. I couldn’t help but miss him at times like this. Track played on the elite Alaska All-Stars team before moving to Michigan to play hockey his senior year of high school. And it wasn’t long ago that my protective big brother decided to leave Wasilla and protect our country overseas.

T
rack is the most private person you’ll ever meet. Though he’d been talking about joining the military for a while, he hadn’t mentioned it to me that past summer. I was blown away by the news then that he’d been talking to recruiters, the same ones who would come to the cafeteria at Wasilla High School to talk to potential recruits at lunch. I figured he’d stick around Wasilla. He was a full-time student at the University of Alaska at Anchorage, the largest college in our state, and he had a full-time job.

In hockey, he was the type of guy who was always getting injured, and finally it caused him to give up the sport he loved so dearly. He had even had shoulder surgery earlier in March of that year. I think that’s when he started considering joining the army more seriously. He missed the camaraderie of the team and was sick of the way the war was playing out without him.

When he told Mom that he had been visiting recruiters, she was a little surprised. But Track had a very strong dose of the independent spirit my parents instilled in him, and he knew exactly what he wanted to do. He and his friend from high school, Johnny, enlisted into the U.S. Army as infantrymen when Dad was on the Slope.

Everyone was so supportive—yet emotional—about his decision. I knew he’d be a great soldier. He loves to help people, he loves his country, he’s a very hard worker, he’s very athletic, and he’s really smart. What a perfect way to apply his skills by serving his country!

A few days later, after everyone had adjusted to the idea that he’d be gone, he went to his doctor to get his physical.

“A physical?” The doctor looked at him. “For the army? Are you nuts? You can’t go to Iraq with your bad shoulder.”

Track went from the high of deciding to join to the low of being told he wouldn’t qualify.

But he is not easily dissuaded. He went straight to the military doctor, who looked over Track’s forms, looked up at Track, and asked, “Are you good to go?”

“Yes, sir!”

He and Johnny took the oath at the military recruiting office in Anchorage on September 11, 2007, as my mom and Johnny’s mom blinked back tears.

As his little sister, I beamed with pride at the thought of Track serving his country. But part of me wanted to just have him here in Wasilla forever. He had always been the kind of brother who watched out for his sisters and helped us in ways too numerous to mention.

The thought of him going to Iraq was especially unsettling, but it wasn’t the only transition that lay ahead for my family.

W
hen I was back home visiting Wasilla and having my bear-baiting outing with Levi, in early March 2008, Willow walked up to me, holding something in her hand. “Mom’s pregnant,” she said.

“Shut up,” I said. “She is not.”

That’s when she told me she had found a black-and-white ultrasound picture. It was the first time I knew of my little brother.

“I found it on the table,” Willow said. “They left some papers behind, and it was in an envelope.”

“They were here all weekend,” I said, trying to make sense of it all. “They didn’t mention anything about a pregnancy!”

I immediately picked up my phone and dialed my dad, but he was already on the plane heading back to Juneau. My call went straight to voice mail.

“Dad, call me as soon as you get this,” I said frantically into the phone. After I hung up, I turned to Willow. “I told you she was getting fat!”

In fact, I’d told my friends just a couple of weeks ago that I thought Mom was either gaining weight or was pregnant.

My guy friends protested; they always said she was hot, and they didn’t believe she’d suddenly let herself go like that. And the fact that she had just turned forty-four made us wave off the idea that she could be pregnant.

But there I was with an ultrasound in my hand, trying not to be upset. As I waited for their plane to touch down in Juneau, I struggled with a wide array of feelings. Mainly, I just didn’t understand the need for the secrecy.

Later I’d realize that Mom was worried that critics would complain that she wouldn’t be able to perform all her tasks as governor with a baby on her hip. Only one other governor in American history has given birth while in office—Jane Swift gave birth to twins in Massachusetts. As the first female governor of Alaska, Mom worried voters would regret electing a woman into office.

Dad called me back as soon as he landed, and I realized there was more to the story.

“Yes, you are going to have a little brother, and he may have special needs.”

His statement was very calm and very direct, but my heart felt like it had fallen out of my body. Not only was I dealing with the fact that Mom—
gross!
—was pregnant, I had no idea what to think about the fact that he might not be healthy. My cousin Karcher, with whom I lived in Anchorage, is autistic, but you can’t tell by looking at him. Would my new brother look different than we do? Would he struggle for the rest of his life?

I started crying and clutched my phone so hard that it broke. My initial shock wore off quickly. By the next morning I was so excited to have a baby brother that I’d gone shopping for blue baby clothes!

The next day, Mom called three reporters with whom she had a good working relationship and asked them to meet her, Dad, and Piper at the Capitol. There was a big seafood reception for legislators put on by the city of Kodiak to celebrate its seafood industry. Mom thought it would be fun to break the news to these reporters before walking down to get some good lobster and king crabs.

But first, she decided to have fun with them.

“Hey, we’re expanding,” she said.

They were confused. Expanding government? That didn’t sound like my Republican mother.

“No, the First Family is expanding . . . I’m pregnant. I’m having a baby in two months!”

The whole state was in shock—Mom didn’t look seven months pregnant. However, the people of Alaska didn’t respond as negatively as Mom feared they would.

KTVA11 did a news report on its six o’clock news, explaining how some people worried she wouldn’t be able to fulfill her duties as governor. Reporters went to the street and asked people what they thought. The way they set it up, you’d think there would be angry voters shaking their fists in the air. So when they showed people from the street, it was almost comical. Every single person reporters interviewed said they believed it was great news. (One woman said, “If she can handle a state, she can handle a baby.”)

It was only a few weeks later, however, that my aunt Heather got a call late at night. Mom had gone into labor early.

This didn’t give me a lot of time to process all that was going on. On the drive to Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, I was almost overcome with worry about my new brother. Would the delivery be dangerous?

Dad, Willow, and I were in the room as Trig was born on April 18, 2008. When I saw his tiny body, I immediately knew that this little boy was perfect. As I held him, I noticed he didn’t look like the rest of us. His neck seemed thicker than those of other babies I’d held. About thirty minutes later, Dr. Catherine Baldwin-Johnson came into the room. She was a longtime family friend, and we called her Dr. CBJ. She was the same doctor who delivered Piper years before and had made her a Noah’s ark quilt.

When she came back into the room, Mom said, “Show the girls that line on his hand.”

Dr. CBJ opened Trig’s hand and said, “Now this deeper line is a characteristic of Down syndrome.”

That was the first time we heard his diagnosis.

Down syndrome, I’d later learn, is a condition caused when a baby has an extra chromosome. This causes delays in mental and physical development. Although some kids need a lot of extra medical attention, others lead healthy lives. The miraculous thing about these babies—and children and adults—is that they see the world with delight and bless their families with unconditional affection. Even though Trig was just a few minutes old, I felt like he’d already changed me.

Dr. CBJ opened his tiny little palm and showed us a crease that ran horizontal on his hand. As we admired this new addition to the family, all of my cares and concerns evaporated. He was absolutely perfect, pure, and beautiful.

Which brings me to
his
name.

Believe it or not, Mom threatened to name him Trig Zamboni—after the ice resurfacers that clean and smooth the surface of a hockey rink. Thankfully (surprisingly), she chickened out. Like the other kids, his name is chock-full of personal meaning.

Trig is Norse for “strength” or “true,” and Paxson is for one of Mom’s favorite snowmachine areas in Alaska. Plus, my dad has an uncle named Trig. However, Mom did make good on a promise to make his middle name “Van.” Get it? Van Palin, like Van Halen?

She even sent out birth announcements that looked like the cover of a Van Halen album, but instead of the iconic VH against the ring of fire, her girlfriend designed a VP. Seriously, you cannot make this stuff up!

The arrival of Trig confirmed to me that God knows what he’s doing—he blessed us with a “perfect” child, allowing us to see firsthand that every baby is worth protecting and worthy of respect. Trig changed all of our lives for the better and solidified my pro-life stance. I also would like to share with others that you don’t need to fear the news that you might have a special-needs child. It’s a tragic fact that 85 to 90 percent of Down syndrome babies are aborted, and I have to assume it’s because of fear of the unknown. If you could experience the joy we’ve found in Trig, that joy would erase any fear. In fact, we’re proud that Trig is different and embrace and enjoy him so much more! We even have a bumper sticker that reads
MY KID HAS MORE CHROMOSOMES THAN YOUR KIDS!

As I sat there looking at my new baby brother in the hospital, I’d never been more emotional or joyful in my life. Little did I know that in eight short months, I’d be lying in the same hospital room, in the same hospital bed, delivering my
own
baby boy.

I was more than a month pregnant, and I didn’t know it.

M
y back was killing me. I was sitting in the coffee stand, and I thought I was going to die.

Maybe I’m pregnant,
I thought to myself, though it was hardly a real possibility in my mind.

Then the next morning, Lauden and I went off campus for lunch, and I told her how weird I was feeling.

“I thought you were on the pill now,” she said. “Isn’t it taking care of your cramping?”

“I don’t think it’s working,” I said, as I tried to calculate how long it had been since my last period and that day in the bear stand.

“I have ibuprofen,” she offered, digging in her purse.

“No, I mean I’m afraid the pill
isn’t working,
” I said again, and then more slowly, “I mean, that it
really
isn’t working.”

She looked at me sideways. “No way.”

“Let’s go buy some pregnancy tests.”

We bought a pack of two and went back to Lauden’s house.

BOOK: Not Afraid of Life
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