On Courage

“Having courage does not mean we are unafraid. Having courage and showing courage mean we face our fears. We are able to say, I have fallen, but I will get up.” – Maya Angelou


Pregnant women are no strangers to courage. No matter what the outcome of a pregnancy is, the woman faced with it is brave and courageous. Deciding to have a child after never wanting one takes courage. Deciding to have an abortion, a scary enough procedure without hateful protesters threatening women outside of clinics, takes courage. Deciding to try to get pregnant in the face of terrible odds because of infertility takes courage. Deciding to give a child up for adoption takes courage. Deciding to get pregnant again after multiple traumatizing miscarriages takes courage. Even just being an average healthy person deciding to carry a pregnancy to term takes courage because anything can happen to anyone. Women still die from childbirth, and babies still die before being born. The partners, family, and friends who stand by these women also carry with them their own kind of bravery and courage–this whole “creating life” endeavor is filled with uncertainty and fear, which means it requires courage to pursue.

I really did not want to fly to Manchester (UK) last weekend, and I have never not wanted to travel to England or Europe. Hell, I haven’t not wanted to travel anywhere, except maybe home to Florida for loved ones’ funerals but that’s different. That’s loss and mourning and an unwillingness to face both because grief hurts. I’d flown to Rochester (NY) without any problem, so why was I having such a hard time with the idea of flying to Manchester? The answer was easy: hormonal imbalance, heightened emotions, stress of giving a paper at a new conference, traveling transatlantically without John, stress of having to work on another more rigorous paper when I return, stress of having to pack the house when I return, etc. Harder question: Why did I decide to go?

Today, after skipping the last day of the Middle Ages in the Modern World conference because I needed sleep (stayed in bed until 11:30am!), I found myself with three new books, a pot of tea, and a caramel shortcake in the café of Waterstones. Instead of beginning to read one of the three books, I opened up a mini Moleskine notebook I’d bought and began to write to the Rage Monkey.

See, I have a plan. Rather than use one of those prefabricated “baby’s firsts” books, which I know I would be terrible at filling out, I’ve decided to write a journal to my baby, starting this weekend (first, I just need to find a nice leather-bound journal). The entries will be sporadic and likely nonlinear, like my own writing practice and mental thought process, but it will include thoughts, firsts, travel adventures, bits of motherly wisdom (ha!), pictures, receipts, and other mementos, and I plan on giving it to the Rage Monkey when they graduate high school. Or maybe as a quinceañerx (I don’t know the sex of my baby, let alone their gender identification) gift. We’ll see. I’m sure I’ll know when the time is right based on how I feel.

Anyway, as I was beginning to write some notes down that I’d like to make sure I include in my first entry in the journal, I wrote, “We almost didn’t make it here,” followed by my confession that I had “an unreal amount of anxiety about leaving your Papa” and even cried “five times in the days leading up to my departure, three times alone on the day of.” At all points, John hugged me and assured me that it was okay if I didn’t leave, if I didn’t step on that plane, even though I had already paid over $1300 for this conference in the flight, hotel, and conference registration alone–and if I didn’t go, NYU wouldn’t reimburse me for any of it (partial because I only have about $600 left in my research fund). It didn’t matter to John. All he cared about was that I was anxious enough about leaving that I was sobbing, my stomach was hurting, I was in danger of making myself vomit from it all, and he just wanted to hold me to make it all go away.

Stubborn as I am, though, I had to go. Sure, part of it was the money we’d already spent. A bigger part of it was the professional commitment I’d made to the conference, the panel organizer, and my fellow presenters. But the biggest part of it, which I can now understand in hindsight, was about courage, about proving to myself that I could do this despite what every cell in my body was screaming at me and about proving to the Rage Monkey, even before they were born, that they have the strength to overcome, too, even when their greatest emotional support is giving them permission to give up, to not fight this fight on this day. We all must choose which personal battles are worth fighting and which ones we can raise a white flag in surrender to, and for me, I just couldn’t do any flag waving unless it was a battle standard.

And guess what? It was the right choice. I haven’t been sick at all since arriving, even when I’ve gone too long between meals (because the Rage Monkey makes me ravenous), and I slept for the first time ever on a transatlantic flight for more than an hour (three hours!!). Our panel was great, and I had some wonderful responses to my paper, including some good notes to follow up on. I met new colleagues, made new friends, tightened other connections, attended a new conference, visited Manchester for the first time, and tomorrow the Rage Monkey and I are off to visit their Aunt Bebe in Bath–another English city that I’ve never visited!

The best part? I did it with a companion who doesn’t yet know how special that is. And while the hormones that surged and caused such anxiety were due to my body incubating the Rage Monkey, the courage it took to get me here was also because of the Rage Monkey. Thinking ahead to the kind of mother I want to be, like the person, the woman, the scholar, the teacher, the sister, the daughter, the friend that I hope that I already am, I want to be courageous, not fearless. I want to take my fears and face them, like I did with the spider tattoo on my left forearm. I want to be able to tell my child that fear is nothing to be ashamed of but acknowledged, embraced, stroked, known, and then tucked away as you say, “Not today.”

So, here’s to you, kid, for making me choose courage again. ❤

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