Tuesday, June 16, 2015

If One of Us Falls

Piper fidgets as I pull her dark hair into a pig tail. Today is her spring trapeze show and it's been a full year since she last performed in front of an audience. We always miss the winter show due to sickness.

"There were a TON of people last time." she says, jumping up as soon as the elastic snaps. "You said there would only be families." She twirls around the kitchen her pig tails spinning to the sides of her head.

"It was just families." I reply. "You'll be fine." 

"There's only two of us." she answers getting to the heart of what worries her.  "Wonder if E doesn't show?"

Her friend and classmate E does show. They run off together to the backstage where they will paint peace signs on their cheeks. They will bound onto the mat, the two of them, to perform an amazing duet to "Spirit in the Sky." And when they finish to the applause of the audience, they will glow.

After the show, Piper tells me "We had a plan if one of us fell off the bar. The other would wait until we got back on." 

I don't often write about Piper and trapeze. Piper started the family trend almost two years ago after a field trip with Freedom To Grow. I, overjoyed that finally one of my kids wanted to do this, signed her up the next week. Piper took to the air with her usual enthusiasm. I waited for it to dim as Piper tends to cycle through her interests in ways that resemble my own. Great passion and borderline obsession followed by a lost of interest and a move to something new.  But that didn't happen for Piper. Instead, even when things got tough she plowed through until she found the joy again.

Piper is our anxious child. The one who had a series of panic attacks when we first moved to Athens. The one who frets about the night. Monsters. Every ache of her body is a cause for concern. But in trapeze Piper transforms into something entirely different. She unfurls her wings and takes flight. She pushes herself until she masters new moves. I've watched her practice with hands aching and red from holding the robe. Watched her breathing become heavy because she refused defeat in the face of challenge. Trapeze makes Piper stronger. It calls to the courage deep within her and helps her to express it in the muscles of her arm, the way her legs spin around a robe and a bar. Trapeze transform Piper into her best self giving her the power to bring that self out out into the world.

There are no doubt many sports that could have pushed Piper out of her anxiety shell. I do think that exercise helps us to feel our body in the world in a less anxious way. But I also think the key to why trapeze works so well for Piper, and for our family, lies in two girls who made a plan to lift to each other up instead of tear each other down. My family, as so many of you know, are anti-capitalist which means we actively attempt to eradicate certain features of a capitalist society from our life. One of those things is competition. This is not an easy one for me as my insecurity tends to push me to compare and then to want to compete to be better. I've tried very hard to be conscious of not passing this onto my children especially Piper. I suspect competition is the kind of thing that could sink someone with anxiety. 

And I admit to being nervous when Piper started. I had to rein myself in from comparison which I never expressed aloud but too often thought as I watched in her class. I worked to weed it from my thoughts as part of my work on not comparing or ripping down others. Piper didn't need to compete against her classmates. She never once expressed jealously and instead celebrated her friend's triumphs. Her teachers never encouraged competition and I admired how their emphasis on team work wasn't inspirational word fluff. I saw it in the way the teachers performed. They lifted each other up, stepped back to let others take their turn to shine, and showed genuine appreciation for each other's work. 

For Piper, with her all her bottled up anxiety, trapeze became a place where the only competition came in the form of pushing herself. Today I watched as she worked with a new group; all girls who  more advanced than she. They worked on a metal cube something Piper has longed to do for awhile . At some point, Piper was standing and I watched as she asked Ann if she could practice some moves on the bar. Ann lowered a bar for her. Piper had told me earlier she wanted to master a move called the Tango Turn. And that is what she did for a good twenty minutes. Again and again she went through the move until her face grew flushed and her hands red. Even then she didn't stop. I realized as I watched her that she didn't do this to be better then anyone else. She did this because she wanted to be better for herself. To prove that she could do this move. To push her body to it's amazing potential. At trapeze there was no one to beat. There were only others, including oneself, to pick up if they fell. 

Friday, June 12, 2015


When she says "I'm sorry honey there is no heartbeat," I am not surprised. I knew from the first ultrasound that something went wrong. I nod, brusquely and say "Well it's not as if we planned this pregnancy." And I tell myself that it's for the best, really. Then I go and sit among women who happily hold ultrasound pictures of their live babies. Babies who will likely continue to grow and be born. I feel the emptiness yawn up in me. My poor fetus didn't make it to six weeks. I hold it together until I hit the exam room where I proceed to sob silently as the nurse quietly takes my blood pressure and weighs me as if nothing is wrong. When the midwife arrives, I am relieved to find it to be the woman who delivered Jude. She holds me while I cry and I feel validated in the conflicting emotions between relief and a deep grief.

"You have some choices." she says. But none of the choices are the ones I want to make. I ask for a week.

The next few days are difficult. I have to tell everyone I am not pregnant. Not really. I shouldn't have told anyone. I end up being more public that many think is prudent but it's easier to tell a mass of people instead of waiting until I see someone or until I'm asked. Still there are many people who do not know and what follows is a awkward exchange where I have to explain that I have a missed miscarriage.

Perhaps that is part of the pain and the awkwardness. I haven't really miscarried. Nothing has come out of my body. Instead I still feel pregnant. I still have the bloated pregnant belly. I still have morning sickness. And when I tell people what happened they assumed I have miscarried. Not that I am still carrying something, what I don't really know, in my body.

Still everyone is kind. And women whisper to me that they too have visited this place. There are the warm touch of hugs and compassion. It keeps me moving through the daily rhythm of my life.

At night, I wake up on the edge of panic attacks. Dreams of doctors coming at me with knives. I hold Jude when I wake up and soak in her babyness.

During the day, my rational side keeps me afloat. We didn't plan this baby. Jude was supposed to be our last. We don't have the room or money for another baby. But deep down I still mourn what could have been. We would have made it work just as we made it work with them all.

As my week deadline draws closer, it's clear that I will need a D & C. I choose to not get an abortion and here I am basically walking into what is similar to an abortion. The universe sense of irony is cruel, I think.

On the day my week is up, H and I walk to the midwife clinic. I am tense and angry meaning we argue before we leave. As we get closer, I start to cry. I am not going to this place to hear a heartbeat as I did with Jude. When we arrive, I go through the routine as if I was pregnant. The wait is agonizing as I sit among pregnant women. I cry silent, burying my face into H's shoulder. When the newborns come in, I tell H that I am going to leave. Their tiny cries pierce through me. The thing in my womb will never cry these hungry cries. I carry something dead inside me, I think. I cry through the weighing, the blood pressure check and when the midwife comes in to talk to me. Again there is compassion and wisdom, and eventually there is nothing left.

The doctor arranges for a D & C the next day. It is so soon but I am glad. I need to be done. This half way road is not leading towards a good place. I need the completion so that I can began to process and heal. To put behind me my fertile years and focus on new stages of life. I am lucky I know to have five children at home.

The night is spent in nightmares again. The doctors tell me that there was something living inside me but they made a mistake and now it's gone. It is my biggest fear even though I know the fetus never even developed a heartbeat. I saw with my own eyes the lack of change in a two week period. But my subconscious plays tricks. I go into the hospital tired but resolved. Calm. Once again I am meet with gentleness and compassion. People are kind when they hear what I am there for. My friends love me and I feel their love and support as I wait to be put to sleep.

I wake up clam and alert. I even get into a debate about insurance with the nurses. H comes to me and we chat about the kids. I don't feel any pain. I feel almost high. I feel guilty like maybe I am betraying the future I just loss. The nurse gives me the care instructions and I say

"This is like when I gave birth." And it hits me just a little then.

"Kind of, " she says, "But it is different."

Different in that I am not coming home with a newborn in my arms.

We go home and I embrace the present in my children. I smell Jude's warm hair and laugh at Rowena's antics. I marvel at the man my son has become.

When I wake up from my nap, I notice that my stomach is no longer bloated. Then I feel the first twinge of grief. My stomach will no longer feel that swell of baby. The kicks and the flutterings. I realize I don't feel sick any longer. As I wobble around, I feel like I did after I gave birth but there is no gift for the pain. No sweet baby to hold to my breasts. I have given birth in a way but it's a birth that we only whisper about, that we pretend isn't a birth. A grief often dismissed because it was early on, because you already five children at home, because there was never a heartbeat.

But there was something. A flicker. A story. A future to imagine. And now that is gone. So while I mourn the end of my fertility, I will also give myself the space to mourn the baby I had began to want. The future I imagined in a tentative Amazon wish list and in the plans for a bigger van. I will hold this future with me forever really because even though that heart never developed it still is imprinted on my own cells.