Friday 21 February 2020

Circle of Courage

February 17th is one of those dates that I habitually acknowledge every year. Sometimes I’ve done so on the blog: see here and here. I don’t necessarily intend to mark it, but I don’t think there’s a February 17th since 2014 that I haven’t at least mentally noted.

This year was unique in that the 17th fell on a Monday, like it did in 2014. And that Monday was the Family Day holiday, same again. And we had my in-laws over for dinner, just like we did 6 years ago. My parents were not here; that was different. Still, it’s a level of synchronicity above the normal.

When I noted the match up of dates and circumstances at dinner, Mr Turtle said incredulously: “You keep track of things like that?”

Well, no....not deliberately, not exactly. The knowledge is just......there.

I gave my biggest girl an extra cuddle before bed, remembering the secret that we shared 6 years ago. Her life, from its first spark, gave our lives a new luminous centre. For her part she solemnly assured me that I will always be part of her life, even when I’m really old and a grandmother. “My kids might call you Grandma, or Baba,” she mused.  “You’ll be old with wrinkles and white hair.” She was looking forward to a time that I might be like my mother, I suppose. The cool conviction in her voice was a bit unnerving. There have been times in my life that I believed I felt Future Me looking back at Current Me. Usually time feels linear (past, present, future) but there have been times where I feel like I step into a time eddy and the past, present and future bump up against each other. It's not the power of prediction; I have no control over when it happens and I cannot "see" anything concrete. But it feels too real to ignore. Can AJ feel the same thing sometimes?

I don’t acknowledge the days following February 17th in the same way, though the events of both dates are shackled forever in my memory. I have blog entries for February 21st and 22nd 2014, but I don’t go back and reread them much. I have rarely linked to them on the blog, and I don’t want to now either, but they are easy enough to find.

February 21 and 22nd were the days I believed I was losing my pregnancy.  Losing  “Ember,” who would be AJ, but of course we couldn’t even imagine an AJ at the time. She was simultaneously hyper-real and out of reach.

I learned in the following weeks that I had a sub-chorionic hemorrhage, and that it wasn’t a threat to the pregnancy. Since then I have read of many similar experiences on other blogs, and commiserated over the stress and nastiness of it. Most people with a subchorionic hemorrhage, unless it is very severe, continue with a healthy pregnancy.

And yet, in the years since, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that rather than a happy ending, my life split into two parallel universes in February 2014. In one of them there is no AJ, and in one of them there is. For some reason, most of my consciousness exists in the universe with AJ, and her sister, and everything as I know it. But a small piece of me is still there in the universe where she didn't make it.  And even though the other universe is fuzzy and distant, it feels too appallingly real to ignore or forget about. Or perhaps I have been trying to forget about it, and that is why it persists. Maybe I need to acknowledge the dragon in the room.

So, this year, I choose not to (try to) forget. I've been thinking about past and present, looking for ways to knit them together. I don't think I'll succeed today,  but I'm allowing myself to be in that contemplative space. I'm exploring the questions, the contradictions, the unknowns that pull at me.

February 21st 2020 is also another special milestone now. AJ's school uses the Circle of Courage model for character education. At the beginning of the year,each student is assigned a blank circle divided into four quadrants. Each quadrant stands for a pillar: belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity. Throughout the year (or over a span of years) the concepts are taught and the teachers nominate students for each of the four pillars when they have evidence that they have made progress. When they are nominated, students receive a coloured quadrant explaining why they received it. The nominations are given out at a weekly assembly. AJ appears to have connected very well with these ideas in kindergarten. She would come home trying to explain them at the beginning of the year, even when her explanations were a bit muddled. Slowly she was able to give more concrete examples and as she was nominated for her pillars, she became increasingly motivated to get the next one. By last month she was at three out of four and starting to become concerned about her friends who only had one or two.

Last week I received an email from AJ's teacher letting me know she was about to receive her last quadrant, Mastery, today.  She would also receive a medal for getting all four. We were asked to keep this news a secret but invited to witness the assembly. Mr. Turtle and I both were able to go: I took the day off.  As a teacher I had missed AJ's first day of kindergarten, so it was very important to me to be there for something like this.

The assembly was simple and short but meaningful. The students sit in their classes around a circle and those that are nominated go to the centre of the circle to be acknowledged. AJ's teacher made a little speech about her and the other child who received their medals: every day they are a good friend to others, they help out, they do their best in class. AJ was so focused on the proceedings she did not even notice we were there: we did rather too good a job of keeping the secret. However I know from talking to her beforehand that she expected to receive her last pillar today, because she had been working very hard at it. I am so happy to hear this, more so than even that she was to receive a medal. To me this self-awareness is proof that her school is focused on the right things.

I never had many worries that AJ would do well in school: even as a toddler she showed many "good student" behaviours, and she's always been a quick learner. But I was slightly more worried recalling the anxiety and shyness I suffered from as a child. I was called smart and precocious too, but it arguably became too much a defining part of my identity. I developed brittleness in other areas.  My hope is that my children's education is holistic: I do not particularly care if AJ is an early reader as both myself and my husband were, although I want her to feel challenged intellectually. However, social skills, empathy and resilience are easily as important or more so, especially at her age.  Knowing what I know now as an adult, and assuming that she shares some of my genetics and personality, I hope to be able to make a positive difference.  As for AJ, she already is.

February 21, 2020....a day to think about courage, in all its forms. Circles in time, circles of people giving each other strength.   Days to circle back to with new perspectives. How our circles grow to encompass others.


  1. I remember when you thought that you had lost the baby. You commented on one of my posts when I lost my first ever pregnancy that you thought you were also losing yours. It was such a dark time for you and me. I am so happy for the life that AJ is, but I somehow understand about that alternate universe as I sometimes think about that myself. What if Clay had survived. Then I would not have these two amazing kids that I have right now. What would life be like then? I love love love your description of AJ. What a lovely post. Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you. It's so nice to see your name on my blog again. :-) I cannot help but come back to that difficult time in my life because it was transforming, in ways both obvious and less so. They way in which I come back to it will change, of course. I am so glad for how your story turned out, as well. And yet the experiences we have change us, they take away our innocence. Maybe that means experiencing loss, or in my case, realizing that loss is very real even if I didn't exactly experience it. I think it's important after that loss of innocence to keep going, keep trying to understand.

  2. Thought provoking post.. After our third IVF failure we were so close to stopping and moving on with our lives. However we decided to give it one more shot at a new clinic and it lead to our wonderful daughter. Sometimes I also find myself thinking about the sliding doors parallel version of me living a totally different life. Life is so precious.

    1. "Life is precious": yes. I think one of the biggest differences between the me of today and the me when I was younger is that realization. Perhaps some version of it happens to everyone as they get older. You start to realize how interconnected we all are. "Life is precious" can turn into over-protectiveness, so my goal is to channel that energy and awareness into making the most of my time and relationships rather than fearfulness.

  3. Oh, I love the Circles of Courage! It's so wonderful when schools focus on character education. The world needs it. Congrats to AJ on her medal.

    So many of my infertile friends suffered a subchorionic hemorrhage, and it's just cruel. It's good that it typically doesn't end the pregnancy, but the added anxiety, terror, and impending doom that it plagues you with is unfair when added to everything that came before the pregnancy. I'm glad you survived it.

    Ah, the sliding doors. For me they are different and cruel, moments of "what if the ectopic landed in the right place?" "What if I didn't lose the one that did?" It's not productive for me. I mourn my lost cuteness at a different life, but also know that this life has it's rewards, too.

    Beautiful post, and I am glad February is your secret month, your special celebration with AJ of how she came to be, and gratitude for this life.

    1. Yes, indeed, the parallel universe/sliding doors has many implications. Like you say it can be an temptation to dwell too long on what could have been, and we can't change the past.

      I don't know if it comes across in this entry, but my goal in writing here and developing that analogy is to try to reach out and find the "orphaned" piece of myself that still lives in that "parallel universe". Of course I wouldn't want to give up my life here with my children, but....well this sounds kind of daft and I'm reluctant to even write it, but truthfully many of the people who actually have experience loss have probably dealt with that trauma better than I have dealt with my much smaller one. I have always had a tendency to push my feelings aside because, well, it wasn't a *real* loss. What is real, that is what I am trying to confront.

      I did read your blog entry where you developed the concept of parallel universes. I love that you looked at it from a different POV.