Wednesday, July 11, 2007

On bravery and choice

What is the bravest thing you ever did in your life?

I think I am supposed to say this is the bravest thing, the trying again, the daring to hope for an actual live take-home baby at the end. But is it really bravery when you don't feel like you have a choice? My family is not complete. Simple as that. Nobody can ever take A's place. That is so obvious I feel silly even writing it. But even before A died, he wasn't supposed to be my last baby. To stop now would leave us with one amazing kid and a hole the size not just of A, but of all of Monkey's siblings. The hole, really, the size of our family.

Monkey takes my breath away every single day-- with the way she talks, with the way she moves, with the way she is-- and yet, she is not enough. There are people who would call me greedy--to want more after getting one living child, the child so amazing, but also so challenging, so complex, so real that you could fill volumes and not be nearly done, so all of these things that it humbles you, every single day. Heck, when I put it like that, I start to feel greedy myself. Only not really, because now I also know just how much more room there still is in my heart. Monkey can't possibly be any more than she is. But she also can't be more than she is. She can't be it. For our sake and hers, this house is too quiet, there are too few children living here, there are too few relationships in this family. And so we can't stop, we can't not try again, we can't not risk it. Is it really bravery then?

I know what the braves thing my parents ever did was-- they packed up the family, and moved to a new country, with a new language. Even today, their accents are pretty easy to spot, and my father had more than his fair share of professional disappointments along the way. There are other things, of course, but none are the point now. The point is that we wouldn't have starved if we stayed. My parents had an actual choice. They made their choice, and they made their lives harder for it. That was brave. Me? I don't think our choice is nearly that brave.

So what was it for you, your bravest thing?


Rosepetal said...
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Rosepetal said...

I don't know. My thoughts echo yours pretty well, lots of people call me brave because of what I've been through, but those things happened to me. I didn't choose to face them and frankly if I had had a choice, I wouldn't have chosen them, duh. Can you be called brave just for not checking out of life today? People call me strong as well. Not really. I don't consciously look into myself for inner reserves of strength. Life is buffeting me about in the wind and it turns out I'm still here at the moment. I don't think I can really take credit for that either.

My parents also did what your parents did. I have done it too, but it's much easier today. My Dad didn't go home for 8 years when he first came to Europe. No money, flights much more expensive. There was no email and telephone calls between the UK and India were very expensive and connections difficult to get. And he didn't know anyone. That's brave.

I often think about your blog title. I think I do sometimes fear love and fear life.

niobe said...

This doesn't exactly answer your question, but I'm basically a coward. It's hard to think of anything I've done that's even vaguely brave. If there's an escape hatch, I find it. If there's an easy way out, I take it.

Also I'm with Rosepetal. I think that if I had to choose the thing that terrifies me most, it's probably love. To love is to open yourself to the inevitability of pain and disappointment and the weight and sharpness of that pain and disappointment are calibrated perfectly to the love you once felt, couldn't stop yourself from feeling.

Finally, I'm a little in awe of people who "just know" things. Like, y'know, for example, "my family is not complete." I've never "just known" anything in my life. Or, rather, I've "just known" lots of things. And they've all turned out to be wrong.

Sara said...

Egad, I don't know. I agree with Rosepetal in that I don't understand why people call me brave for what I've been through. My aunt called it "bravery" to have made it through the funeral, but where was the choice? I'm his mother. The doctors called me brave for how I handled labor, birth, and his death, but again I didn't really see a choice.

On a totally different note, I did have an insane experience with two roommates in Israel where one actually attempted to murder the other. I suspected it was her, and went through this crazy series of events helping the police get the proof that it was her. She was absolutely insane, and ended up in a mental hospital.

That was my moment of television bravery, but seriously, it's a true story.

Catherine said...

Comparing bravery sounds as futile as comparing pain. There is no way to quantify it. And there is certainly nothing to be gained by having the most or the least. Don't discount yourself and your life story so much. The fact is, you do have a choice...and you've chosen the "more difficult" path because of the dreams you have for your family. That sounds a lot like your parents' story to me. I bet they are proud of your bravery. You should be too.

S. said...

The bravest thing I ever did was convert. I was going to say come out, but I didn't have a choice about that. But I did about converting. I knew it would separate me profoundly from my family of origin in ways and for reasons that they could never understand. I knew it wouldn't make me a Jew in the way that many, many Jews by birth could ever acknowledge as fully Jewish. I had no idea where I would actually wind up.

But I leapt anyway. And I wouldn't have my family otherwise.

Sara said...

Catherine's right by the way. It wouldn't be cowardly not to try again, but your self-knowledge is admirable.

Aurelia said...

Oh geez, I never feel brave when I'm doing something, I just do it.

But other people tell me I'm brave. I don't know...

Maybe trusting myself, or others? I've been let down so much and trusting other people to help me or take care of me is a huge leap. I need to do it more often, I think.

C. said...

To take the already very fragile heart and put it back together after being shattered into a million tiny bits.

It is now mostly all back together; each day I find one of the smaller pieces under the kitchen cabinet, or in a corner, behind the bed, and put it back in its place.

After what has seemed like a lifetime (4 years), I am mostly all better and ready to love again. Yes, it is scary, and yes it could happen again, but it might not and it might be great. I have to try to see.

kate said...

Good question, i will have to think about it. But i will tell you, my bravest thing has nothing to do with Nicolas' death or with trying again. I feel like there was an inevitability about trying again -- the drive to have another baby after he died was so strong, it was like no other drive i have ever experienced. So the trying was, to me, not a brave choice at all.

Lori said...

I have had the same experience of people calling me brave, or strong, about things that I didn't choose, or want, and simply endured.

I don't know if I have ever felt particularly brave. I just don't think that is a word I associate with myself. I will think about that some more.

But I love this post, and your thoughts. I completely understand the feeling of incompleteness, and the inevitability of trying again. I was there. I hear you.

Adelynne said...

You know my "bravest action" though it certainly didn't feel like it at the time. I was burned out, and I really didn't have the capacity to keep going without a break, so I took one. It seemed the only choice to keep my sanity.

I do keep wondering about the choices I will make as I grow, though. Whether I can stay on the career path I want or do something different because it's not family-friendly or female-friendly or shit like that. I think I'm at my bravest when I look at my choice and realise that one is so important to me I cannot countenance doing anything else. That's not to say I don't have a choice - I could compromise, give in, move on - but, well, I'm my parents' daughter, and it's not in my nature.

Aite said...

Do you make a distinction between bravery and courage? I can't tell what it is exactly, but I am just more comfortable talking about courage. I think it takes a lot of it to get through many things we don't feel we have a choice about.

It often takes courage just to be true to oneself and to be honest with oneself. I realize now that I needed plenty of courage for things big and small during much of my childbearing experience so far, and especially on the two opposite ends of a pregnancy. Big things like trying to conceive every time after the first, small things like giving myself shots. Learning to treat things the thought of which used to freak me out matter-of-factly. And on the other end of the experience, going through labor. Feeling enormously lucky instead of sorry for myself helped a lot. But sometimes I wondered, why do I have so little courage this time? And after the fact I realized I had just enough. There never seems to be an excess. Just enough. Barely.

Anonymous said...

I did not feel brave when trying over a decade to add to our family in the face of grim results and grief. I simply felt I was doing what needed to be done. I feel the same about my struggle to accept that we are a family with one child.

Are these things matters of bravery? It seems most of us who have been in it do not think so.

I think there is always bravery in having ones heart shattered and choosing to love again, but that bravery is not dependent on any one course of action.

slouching mom said...

What looks brave to an observer is very often what we ourselves see as nonnegotiable, the things about which we say we had to do them.

I sat and thought about my bravest acts and decided that each and all were ones I had to undertake.

So I guess not brave at all. Or maybe still brave? I'm not sure.

Anonymous said...

I've been quite brave for about 3 years now, while my teen daughter has struggled with depression and a severe mood disorder. I never know what I'm going to face when coming home from work or answering the phone when she calls. I had a particularly brave moment last year when she had a "failed" suicide attempt and helped her vomit up the pills she'd swallowed and washed/disinfected the gashes on her wrists. I've jumped through endless hoops supporting her in trying to get better. When I read all the blogs from people working so hard to become parents, I feel pretty cynical and wonder whether they really know what they're getting themselves into.

Mel said...

I think your bravery or courage doesn't come from the decisions you make but from the way you go about acting on or putting those decisions into place. Being a parent is a fantastic journey, albeit sometimes it doesn't turn out how you expected it, but it is worth it and it's worth fighting for. Julia you are courageous, we are all courageous with whatever it is we are facing in life, even if sometimes we do get a bit cynical.

Julia said...

Thank you, everyone. It's been a crazy week, and so it took me long to get back here.

Rosepetal, that must have been very hard on your family. We, at least, all came together. Loosing your father now must feel doubly unfair. I am so very sorry, again.

Niobe, yes-- the love. My sister and I were talking about what we were doing, how we were doing it in the couple of days before she suggested I rip the title out of that song. And in light of those conversations, it seemed to fit. And now, as I wait to POAS, I try to remind myself that I promised to not be afraid of it. But it's hard. Of course.

Sara, OMG! That must have been crazy. One day I'd like to hear that story.

Catherine, I know you are right. It's not really about comparing. I should've chosen my words more carefully. It's just that some choices look more like actual choices, and some look like the other option is much like cutting off a piece of your soul. And what choice is that?

S, you know, we took the intro class at our temple because we didn't know much about the religious aspects of Judaism. Most people were in that class because one of them was planning to convert. While everyone was still in this city, we used to have class shabbats and such, and we are friends with several of them still. We are even godparents to a kid in one of those families. This has nothing to do with what you wrote, except that it reminded me how we met some of the very important people in our lives. I hope you have some people like that from your conversion experience.

Hi and welcome to C, Mel, and both Anons. I am not going to try for anything profound to say about your struggles. I am sorry those are the ways you got here. Wish this wasn't how we meet.

Aurelia, I get it about trust. When I died, we made a decision to let our friends catch us a little. But we knew they were really good friends. Other people I don't trust nearly as much. I think we are lucky to have good ones around, such that we don't often have to force ourselves to trust new people. But once in a while I try. And sometimes it even works out.

In general, it sounds like many of us have made those choices that look brave to the others but feel like must dos to us. I like Aite's point about bravery and courage. I do think there is a difference, and maybe I would be more willing to claim courage than bravery.

Anonymous said...

One of my favourite quotes is:

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow. ~Mary Anne Radmacher

I think my struggle with loss and infertility wasn't about making huge brave acts but just the decision to keep trying over and over. My most recent act of courage was to try and get pregnant again even though pregnancy will (probably) take me back down into the depths of despair with the blackest depression I have faced.