On being “brave” – Anna Spargo-Ryan

On being “brave”

On being “brave”

Yesterday, Mamamia ran a story of mine. It’s almost prose, just a retelling of a time in my life about three years ago when Gaz and I found ourselves pregnant and at loggerheads. You can read it, if you like.

Since it was posted, many people – both women and men – have written to me on Twitter and in the comments section of the post to tell me how brave I was to share my story. That writing down the words and giving them to someone else to post on their website was really brave of me.

I thought to myself, “is sharing bits of yourself ‘brave’?”

There were things that happened in that period in my life that I thought were quite brave. Standing up for what I believed in and refusing to be talked into having an abortion was brave. Miscarrying naturally in my friend’s bathroom without my boyfriend (who had turned his phone off because he was tired of dealing with it) took some braveness. Waking up each day afterward and heading out into the world without my baby made me feel brave.

Sharing my story with other people who might find something to pull out of it and hold? Not brave.

There were lots of things I left out of that story because I wasn’t brave enough to include them. Like the way I had had an abortion the year before that and it had cut me into tiny pieces and I couldn’t go through it again. Like the way that thanks to my ex-husband, I received emails multiple times a day from my ex-mother-in-law to remind me that God loved my baby and that if I thought I couldn’t do it on my own I wasn’t trying hard enough. And the way that when I was on my holiday, I had a massage to escape the whole ordeal and have always wondered whether that contributed, even though the baby died weeks before.

I wasn’t brave enough to say “What if he died because I didn’t fight harder?”

I wasn’t brave enough to say “It was a little bit of a relief that he died.”

I wasn’t brave enough to say “Sometimes I love the memory of that little baby more than the reality of the children I do have.”

I wasn’t even brave enough to just write it out, instead of making it into a story.

I got pregnant by accident, and then fought with my boyfriend until I was 11 weeks along, at which point I decided ‘fuck him’, but just as he came around, we found out the baby had died and our relationship has never been the same.

I wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to stop grieving.

  • teresalawrence

    April 1, 2012 at 1:21 pm Reply

    Ok, I thought about it after yesterday’s article, now I feel absolutely compelled to share a story I wrote with you….May I ?

    I look forward to hearing from you.


    • Anna

      April 1, 2012 at 1:25 pm Reply

      Yes of course! If you don’t want to share it here, DM me on the Twitters and I’ll give you my email address.

      • teresalawrence

        April 1, 2012 at 3:41 pm Reply

        It’s been a while so I can’t remember how to DM on twitter. I’m sure it’s painfully obvious but I just can’t find it. So, I’ll post my short story here:

        Still Life 1994
        by Teresa Lawrence

        I am thinking of painting a still life. We have so many bunches of flowers around here. New ones arrive every other day, I have to do flower maintenance. I reduce the bouquets; I get rid of the dead ones and make new arrangements with the ones still living. There is a constant smell of sweetness and decay. And food, our fridge is so full. We won’t have to cook for weeks.
        I am still bleeding and swollen. I’ll have to go back to the hospital soon and have the stitches out. I really don’t want to go back there.
        And the plumber’s coming today to finish the storm water. We’ve been waiting for him for about two weeks. We rang him yesterday and he promised he’d be back today. He’ll have to dig another trench. My husband Bill has reminded me to tell him to fill it in again. He tends to leave things undone this plumber. I’ll have to shower and get dressed.
        In the bathroom, I avoid the mirror. The look of my body makes me angry; swollen and out of shape. I’m all stitches and bleeding, and huge breasts with blue veins coursing over their surface. But the shower is soothing; I make it as hot as possible and let the water calm me. A dull, persistent ring makes its way into the shower. It’s the phone. Could be Bill, he’ll worry if I don’t answer. Dripping, I run to the phone, ‘Hello?’ I say, making puddles on the floor.
        ‘Hello, Kath?’ says a woman on the other end.
        ‘Yes, speaking.’
        ‘Hi Kath, it’s Suzy here from Browns, I was wondering if you’re free to do a job for us? We’ll need it pretty quickly I’m afraid, as usual.’
        Everyone will think I’m mad for taking on a job now, but Bill’s working, why shouldn’t I? Besides, Suzy doesn’t know, it’ll be a relief.
        ‘Sure, I’d be happy to.’
        ‘Oh thanks so much, I’ll get the brief to you today, any questions, just give me a call,’ Suzy says, gratefully.
        ‘No worries, looking forward to it,’ I lie.
        I put the phone down and a wave of anger descends. What will I do with this feeling? It’s too big, too hard. I soon dissolve into tears and pound the floor with my pathetic, little fists.
        I seem to come too a few moments later, curled up, still wet on the floor; I take the phone off the hook and get back into the shower; back to the hot, dark, limbo.
        I dress in my usual outfit; big jeans, t-shirt and windcheater – all I can fit into at the moment. Here in the bedroom, there are still piles of unfolded clothes everywhere, clean, just not put away, and of course there are more flowers. The smell is here, the sweet decay. Perhaps I could put the bassinet in the other room; it just might just give us some more space, be a bit more manageable. I gently wheel it out and into the other bedroom.
        Then there’s a knock, it’ll be the plumber. I open the door and there he is again; tall, lanky, with shaved grey hair.
        ‘Gidday,’ he booms and takes off his boots to come in. ‘I suppose you’ve been a busy lady since I saw you last.’
        ‘Yep, sure have,’ I say and he walks through the house to the backyard, where the work is to be done.
        ‘So, what didya have?’ he asks without looking at me.
        ‘A boy.’
        ‘Oor he’ll keep you busy! Now let’s get going with that trench, should be finished today, just gotta find that leak and I’ll be on my way. It’s no good when the pipes aren’t working eh?’ No, Johnny, I think to myself, it certainly isn’t.
        ‘Okay Johnny, I’ll be inside if you need me.’
        I fold the clothes in the bedroom, starting with the baby stuff. Blue for a boy. Beautiful, tiny blue booties and a red pair too, with pom-poms. Soft blankets, one blue with yellow ducks and another blue one with a bunch of white flowers in the middle – a little still life. Tiny singlets; one with embroidered flowers, made by a friend. Fresh, white nappies. Where to put them? Where? And I sink to the floor and dissolve again, the tears come and come….. Minutes later, I’m back in the room again. The plumber’s here, his bulging, blue eyes aghast and amazed. ‘What’s wrong darlin’, did you fall or something?’ Mortified, I get up and dry my tears and try to give a little laugh.
        ‘Can I make you a cuppa love?’ the plumber asks me.
        ‘Why not?’ I answer and he’s out of the room before I start to move.
        I join him in the kitchen and sheepishly sit down. ‘He’s a quiet little fella isn’t he, doesn’t wake up with any noises then?’
        ‘His name’s William,’ I answer.
        ‘Oorr, aren’t you the lucky one, eh?’
        ‘Johnny, he died.’
        His face contorts with horror; gaping mouth, bulging eyes. I have made him uncomfortable; I am the bearer of unspeakable news. For a whole minute, he is speechless, mouth still open. Then he blurts, ‘But, you’ll have another one won’t ya?’ Like all I’ve lost is a teddy bear that needs replacing. And my body, so bruised, swollen and bleeding – it hurts. It took so long to get here, for nothing – months of effort and anticipation. It’s a big investment and a risky one. Still, I put Johnny out of his misery.
        ‘Yes Johnny,’ I answer, ‘I suppose one day, I will have another one.’

  • Emily

    April 1, 2012 at 2:02 pm Reply

    What’s bravery anyway?
    I think it’s highly subjective and modern bravery tends to relate to ‘putting yourself out there’. Not conforming. Being different, dealing with it. Honesty.
    It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel brave, maybe you made someone else feel brave, maybe everytime you deal with it you get a little ‘braver’. Maybe it’s someone else’s idea of brave. Maybe it’s just something people say when they don’t know what else to say.
    For what it’s worth, I think it’s brave, but I think you have courage. More than you realise.

  • Some lady

    April 13, 2012 at 4:56 pm Reply

    “I wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to stop grieving.”

    It took me a long time to realise this was a question I needed to answer. My grief for a child that was never born was like a full-time job. It chased my husband away and made me careless with my health. Eventually it was a showdown – either the grief goes, or I’m pretty sure I’m going to.

    Of course you can never entirely scrub it away. But eventually it makes room for the rest of your life.

  • Carly Findlay

    May 27, 2012 at 4:41 pm Reply

    I think bravery is the perception of others. I get told I am brave too. But I do what I do to live my life the best I can with my condition. And so do you. I am in awe over your ability to write so beautifully and honestly.

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