The Unsinkable Apocalypse Frau
My family has always had clear athletes, and I was never one of them. Every family member ruled the rink on their ice hockey teams, and even my mother has old hockey injuries. The only things that I pursued with such tenacity were books, and maybe an athletic amount of eye rolling. I warmed the bleachers at every event while inhaling my nerdier pursuits without apology, nose buried deeply in this or that escapist tome.
This continued well into my twenties: I wasn’t athletic; I was heavy; and I treated my body with as little respect as I felt it deserved. I am not sure how or why, but at some point, a switch flipped. I found the gym and the quiet Zen of moving heavy things, the deep, delicious satisfaction of sore muscles and shrinking measurements. All told, I lost about 80 pounds, but I still didn’t consider myself an athlete. Until I found derby I didn’t realize the truth about my body: that it was capable, powerful, and strong. My thick thighs hardened, and I laughed at the thought of a thigh gap. I built a sense of community with other bad-ass, powerful, and intelligent women, and I uncovered a seemingly new identity that meshed flawlessly with who I understood
myself to be. I surprised myself time and time again with what I could learn, with what I could accomplish with hard work.
The surprises didn’t end there. It was the morning of a bout, as I passed the pharmacy aisle to get to the eggs that I was going to wolf down before lacing up, that I slowed absentmindedly
before the shelf of little pink pregnancy tests. How long had it been? A month? Less? …more? In that golden, blurry summer of getting rostered, comparing bruises, and drinking beers with
new friends, I had lost sight of the previously overwhelming drive to start a family as soon as possible. Derby was all-consuming as, I think, derby tends to be. I grabbed a test, just to set my mind at ease, so that I could focus during the bout.
A half hour later, my blood chilled in my veins as the little test showed one extra line, both tiny and immense. I woke my husband, and we sat in silence for a while, holding on to each other,
feeling excited and trying to grasp the enormous gravity of the situation.
I had always wanted to be a mother, and I was convinced that it would be difficult. My doctor had assured me that, due to my PCOS, we would most likely start some fertility treatments when we were ready to try in earnest. This development was welcome but wholly unexpected, and I quickly began to grapple with what would be happening to my body – the body that I had worked so hard for. I was overjoyed to be pregnant, but… somehow the timing felt unfair.
After a flurry of googling, which is always ill-advised in such situations, I decided to skate in the bout that night. It was the last home bout of the season. My husband’s anxiety was palpable from the sidelines every time I hit the ground, but I was convinced that the tiny sesame-seed-sized daughter buried deep in my belly was protected well enough by bone and muscle. After the bout, as we broke down the rink, I recall spilling hot tears in the locker room, already feeling a sense of mourning for the woman I was before. I remember saying to my husband that nothing would ever be the same, that I’d never get to do this again without a care for anything besides derby, this part of my life which I had grown to love desperately.
I could feel the empowerment drain from me with each new wave of nausea, with each new inch on my waist. I continued serving on our board, and I had the privilege of staying close with my teammates, but it wasn’t the same. I hated going to practice and watching them whirl around the track, crashing into each other with such awesome force. I missed feeling that my hips were powerful, even as they harbored new life and nurtured it into being. My body was exerting the rawest form of power that a human body can exert, but I felt alienated and small, even as I
swelled. I watched the scale tip back up to where it was years ago, before I found any respect for my body, and I was shattered.
Delivering my daughter and looking into her tiny face on my chest were the most dazzling flashbulb moments of my life. The sheer awe of what my husband and I had wrought left us dumbfounded. I felt my love for her take hold immediately, and our world felt inexplicably complete. There is no doubt in my heart that I would take this journey a thousand times over to get to her.
After about six weeks, I was ready to go back to practice. I was exhausted and struggling in the throes of new parenthood, but I needed the physical outlet as much as I needed to feel that some shred of my former identity had remained intact. I arrived to practice and saw so many familiar faces, faces that are so dear to me. I geared up, trying to yank the elbow pads of quite a
different person over my now-much-larger arms. I painstakingly re-laced my skates over my comically Flintstone-esque feet, permanently altered by the weight of the life that had grown in
my belly. I felt awkward and un-athletic, missing my 27/5 by almost 6 laps and gasping for air afterwards. My body was foreign and I felt completely incapable of doing this again.
A funny thing occurred, though. It’s a thing that, looking back, I should have expected, but that, in the moment, felt strange. My friends still loved me. They still encouraged me. While my inner monologue clanged and echoed in my head with self-loathing and self-doubt, it baffled me that my friends had the audacity to like me regardless of whether I had earned it by being strong
enough, thin enough, or athletic enough.
Derby taught me to treat myself like my teammates would treat me: with patience; compassion; and kindness. Derby taught me, by means of numerous kickass role models, that being a
mother and being an athlete aren’t mutually exclusive. Derby taught me that I don’t have to change myself to earn the love of my friends, which is a lesson that I’ve struggled my whole life
to learn. Derby taught me that I shouldn’t berate myself for the physical and emotional changes that I’ve undergone while completing the minuscule task of CREATING. HUMAN. LIFE.
Maybe I’m not the same Frau who peed on that stick a year ago… but I’ll be damned if I’m not better. I’ll be damned if I’m not unsinkable.