Amber Villarreal has been a mom for as long as she can remember.
Villarreal, who grew up in Bay View, often had the responsibility of caring for her brother, who’s 10 years younger. “He’s actually like more of a son than a brother,” she said.
Her dad was a firefighter who worked 24 (hours), off 48, and her mom worked second shift at Masterlock so, when they couldn’t be at home, it was up to her. “I would get off from school and then pick up my brother from school. My ma would have dinner there but I would have to heat it up…then I’d have to do my brother’s homework with him, take him up, give him a bath and then put him down for bed; so, it was a lot, you know, as a teenager, doing it but it was just something that had to be done.”
When it came time to have her own children, Villarreal was ready for anything. But Villarreal, who met her husband at 29, didn’t know quite how challenging it would be.
“My tubes are, like, not functional,” she said. “So, we had to pay over $20,000 to have our beautiful babies.”
Villarreal and her husband went the route of in vitro fertilisation (IVF). The process involves doctors taking his sperm, her eggs and creating embryos. Villarreal then said she had to take shots to make her body believe she was pregnant, after which the embryos are transferred into the body.
“The first time I kept thinking, ‘Oh my god, I feel it, I feel I’m pregnant,’ and then when we took the test…I was kind of devastated and crushed, you know, cause I was so looking forward to it and it didn’t happen.”
But the second time was the charm for Villarreal and she became pregnant. However, while with child, she also had an ectopic pregnancy when an embryo embedded outside of the uterus.
The complication is rare but can be quite dangerous. “My right tube exploded and I had two blood transfusions,” said Villarreal. “Thank the Lord, I had her on my due date, perfectly healthy.”
To Villarreal and her husband, their first child was truly a gift. “We named her Mila and ‘milagros,’ in Spanish, means ‘miracle.’”
Since then, the now-39-year-old Villarreal went the IVF route again and became pregnant with their second daughter who, though being delivered prematurely at 6 months, is a healthy two-and-a-half months old. “It’s very expensive but it’s worth it,” she said.
With her daughter being born prematurely, though – she was only one pound, 13 ounces at birth – things were going to change. “The day after I had her I turned to my husband and I said, ‘You know this means I’m quitting my job, right?’ and he’s like, ‘I know, I know.’”
“It’s challenging because, you know, a whole income that we don’t have is challenging but we make it work,” said Villarreal.
And Villarreal has plenty to be thankful for. “I thank my husband daily,” she said. “You know, waking up with them…it’s a 24-hour-a-day job…I’m lucky if I get my shower in or if I get to put makeup on or, you know. Just staying home with them is great.”
“Some days, I’m like, ‘Oh my god, I wish I was working,’ but I couldn’t have it any other way.”
Did you find value in Amber’s story? If so, please subscribe to our newsletter; we publish the story of a different Milwaukeean every week.
Milwaukee Stories is a nonprofit organization that works to bring you the real stories of regular people all across our city. This work is solely supported by individual contributions from people like you. Please consider becoming a sustaining member, or make a one-time donation, today.
Patron | $3 monthly (or $50 one-time) donation
Member | $7 monthly (or $100 one-time) donation
Partner | $25 monthly (or $500+ one-time) donation