i dreamed of houses

I have a poem up at Glow today about the recurring dreams I had when I was pregnant with Joseph. I used to believe something about dreams. If not that they could be prophetic, then that they pointed us toward something. We could learn something from them.

Now, I’m not so sure.

I don’t really want to believe that they tell us anything at all about waking life. Because, in this pregnancy I have dreamed again of houses. It scares me. I don’t want it to mean anything about this baby’s fate.

And still, there is that dream my father had a few nights before Joseph died, the night before we drove up to visit them. In his dream, Death came.

How can I not believe in that?

expecting

“I didn’t know you were expecting again,” she says.

 

I put my hands

to my twenty-seven week belly.

 

Expecting

to feel my baby’s last kick,

the deep abyss of stillness that follows.

 

Expecting

the hollow silence

underneath my lone heartbeat.

 

Expecting

every day

my daughter will die like her brother.

 

My friend’s baby—

a rainbow—

over a year now,

pulls on her legs,

gives me a suspicious look

over her shoulder.

 

“Yes,” I say.

 

I rub my hands over the skin where

my daughter sleeps underneath.

Later, she will wake up,

gently kneading hands or feet,

crossing or uncrossing legs,

pushing into my right side

like her brother used to do.

 

For a moment,

I will be reassured.

 

Expecting

her first cry

as she is placed

on my chest,

new and wet.

 

Expecting

to swaddle her,

name her,

bring her home.

 

Expecting

my daughter to live.

 

“Yes,” I say. “Yes. I am

expecting.”

 

*        *         *

One more week. Or less. Expecting–wishful thinking, really–each day to go into labor. Saturday is Week 39, our voluntary induction day. It’s time to meet this little girl on the outside.

 

© Burning Eye

the babies inside me

At the end of yoga class, I lie in sivasana and think about this baby I still carry inside of me. I wait for the baby to kick. I worry about the blackness that would fill me if this baby, too, died. I squeeze my heart and eyes, hands around my belly, trying to shut out fear. I imagine the birth, holding my new baby on my chest, handing our baby—a living, wiggly miracle—to A.

We are so focused on this baby, on making it, putting one foot in front of the other. Some days Joseph is more present than others. He is a part of me that lives on a parallel plane just below my visible reality; the shadow that grows or stretches or shrinks with the angle of the sun.  I dread the weight of his loss when our daughter is born. The seeing, knowing, experiencing just how much we have lost that I’ve heard other babylost parents talk about. Losing him all over again.

Some days it is too much—the curtains I make for the nursery that I never made for Joseph; the crib we never assembled for him that now sits in the corner of the baby’s room—and I have to close it out. Disconnect the pieces of myself and fill my mind with something else. I cannot indulge the sorrow that wells up in me, as I did those first months after he died. I do not submerge my body in the bath while I weep. I do not sit, hands and fingers covered in charcoal dust, and contemplate the darkness I have just spilled on the paper. I do not read, and read, and read about grief and mourning and all the babies who have died. But sometimes I sit in the glider for a few minutes, just sitting, rocking, holding Joseph in my mind.

The yoga teacher rings a chime. I take her deep breath in, her soft breath out. I rouse myself, sit slowly up and put my hands in prayer position. She says, And bow to honor the babies inside you.

And I smile, an inward smile. I look down at my belly, where my daughter resides, and then at my heart, where my son is. One a temporary home, the other a permanent dwelling. I close my eyes and feel my blood pulsing, carrying with it fetal cells from both my babies mixed with my own genetic material. Endlessly circulating.

I touch my forehead to my fingertips and bow. I carry both of you,I whisper to them.

*               *                *

I am sad today. I sit in the glider and look at Joseph’s portrait. I am reading the poems in To Linger on Hot Coalssome of which are mine. Revisiting some of that early grief. Letting the grief of other mothers in just a little.

And I realize it is the 27th again. Joseph’s fifteen month stillbirthday. I don’t understand how these anniversaries seep into our unconscious. Why today? Two days ago, my anxiety spike as this baby slept peacefully away in my womb, ignoring my increasing pokes and prods. It was the 25th, the fifteen month anniversary of Joseph’s death.

Joseph, I miss you so much.

 

© Burning Eye

moments, waiting

I have a dream that I am driving home in the dark when I realize that I have left the road and am driving on the ties between two sets of railroad tracks. I can see the texture of the railroad ties more than I can feel them under my tires. The tracks stretch out in front of me in a slight arc towards the right. On either side of the bank is a winter wood, grey and brown trunks amidst a bare scrabble of saplings and brambles. Through the trees on my left, I can see the headlights of cars on the highway—the right road, the one I’m supposed to be on.

At least I’m going in the right direction, my brain says, before I think, No, no, no. I’m not supposed to be driving on railroad tracks!

I look behind me, unsure of when I left the road, how long I’ve been driving in these dark woods. I could just reverse. No, what if there’s a train coming down one of these tracks?

I try to see the ground beneath the trees. I wonder if its swampy, if my car will sink into ruts and get stuck. I consider calling my dad, calling the police, letting someone know my predicament.

Slowly, I turn the steering wheel and descend down the gravel bank. My car becomes some kind of super-strong all-terrain vehicle. I do not sink into mud. I crunch through leaves and over logs as I make a wide arc to turn around, heading back towards the tracks.

I look both ways, like I’m going to cross the street. I see a light coming, far away, but quickly. I wait. The train rushes past and I am relieved to be off the tracks. A minute later, another train comes from the other direction.

After this one passes, I realize I have noticed something. I think, There is enough room that I could drive on one set of tracks while another train runs on the second track. I feel reassured, pull forward and turn left, heading back the way I came.

*            *            *

I take Joseph to be framed. His portrait. But this is how I think of it: I take Joseph to be framed.

I carry him to the car, unsure of how to situate him. Face down? Face up? I end up propping him upright behind my purse in the passenger seat. His first ride in the car.

We drive to the frame shop, go in together. I put him on the counter and am pleased that the woman treats him gently. She lays out mats and frames, to match the softness of the portrait, she says. He begins to come together. Slight gray mat hugging him in close. Curved black wood cradling the outside.

Is this your baby? she asks.

Yes, I tell this stranger. He was our first. He was stillborn. I do not say how hard it was to bring him out of the house. I do not make the vague threats I want about what I’ll do if they damage his portrait in any way. I think she understands.

She asks if a week is okay. It’s okay, I nod, even though I’d rather wait and watch while she does the job, take him right home with me afterwards. Like we’ve gone for a haircut.

Do I say good-bye to him? Not out loud. I leave him sitting on the counter and walk out the door.

*            *            *

I get home and there is a wasp with purple wings dying on the deck. It turns somersaults, flashing its metallic purple to the grey sky.

*            *            *

I stay home now, alone, but I am never alone. The baby kicks in my belly, readjusting, pushing my ribs so I sit up straight. Bumble Bean is growing, healthy. This morning I get a swift, hard kick that wakes me up. Nothing like the last few days of Joseph’s life in my belly. The slowness I perceived but didn’t understand. The small shifts, less and less frequent.

I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. But I do. Every few hours I cycle through this remembering, unsure if I should cut it off, wondering if it’s a betrayal if I do. All the while anxious to get back to the moment where this baby fills me with hope.

I can’t help but wonder, as we watch Bumble Bean grow on the ultrasound screen each week, what we missed with Joseph. Why he was so much smaller than this baby. Why he died. We didn’t watch him so closely. We didn’t know.

We won’t ever know.

*            *            *

Another dream:

A nurse in pale blue scrubs stands at my bedside. There is something familiar about her slightly-curly, blonde hair; something in the shape of her face I recognize as she bends over me imperceptibly to rouse me. She calls my name softly in a singsong voice, then says, “It’s ti-ime.”

© Burning Eye

Dear Death,

I wrote this strange little thing last night. Thinking of Death again in a conscious way. I’m not sure what I think of it, but here it is.

 

Dear Death,

How have you been? It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. I wonder, is it that we’ve just missed each other? Are you there in the crowd but I can’t see you over other people’s heads? Have you just left the places I am entering?

I almost saw you a few weeks ago. You were at the house of the son of some friends. But by the time we went to see them, to sit with them in the wake of their grief, you had already left. I recognized the traces of you in their faces, their words, the way they spoke so matter-of-fact about their grown son and arrangements and their other children and the ways to carry on.

I remember those early days. I know it’s strange, but I yearn for them sometimes.

Your absence has left a particular emptiness in the house. I almost miss you. I had gotten so used to having you around, your presence following me in every room. Sitting across the table from me. There was a certain way I felt when you were here, both comforted and disconcerted.

I really feel like I was just getting to know you when you started to fade. You were away for longer and longer periods, and then you were here so rarely that I barely noticed when you had finally gone.

I think of you often, mostly in the middle of the night, when I get up to pee. I lie back down and wait for my baby to kick so I know you haven’t been to visit while I was out of the room. Oh, Death, this baby is going to be beautiful! You would think so, too, if you were here. But I expect you’ll stay away.

To be honest, it makes me nervous when I don’t know where you are. I worry you’ll drop in on me unexpectedly. Maybe try and call before you come next time. Or write.

I know I’ll see you again sometime. I hope it will be a while longer yet.

Take care,

Burning Eye

 

© Burning Eye

 

Advent

A. turns to me in bed and asks, “How do you explain nostalgia to a child?” I wait to see where she’s going with this. “Like, how are we going to explain to our children why we have so many crèche scenes? Neither of us is exactly religious.”

I wonder in the darkness if I should quibble with her characterization of me. Am I religious now? I certainly used to be. I decide not to derail the conversation and turn it towards my idle curiosity about my own faith since Joseph died.

We have just put up our Christmas tree, strung lights, unwrapped some of our ornaments—there are two new ones this year for Joseph—and found places for the four manger scenes around the living room. The beautiful pop-up crèche advent calendar that A’s dad gave us this year already sits on the coffee table.

A reminds me every year or two that her mother used to put their Wise Men figurines far away from the stable, and move them closer every day. They had several crèche scenes, as did my family. We each bring different childhood traditions to our Christmases together, but this is one thing we have in common.

My parents had a little crèche from Latin America when I was little. Its doors opened and closed on paper hinges. A lover of all things miniature, I was drawn to the ornament and played with it each year, opening and closing the stable doors on the colorful little family.

We also had a larger crèche of hard wax figurines that got unpacked out of a rickety wooden stable year after year. They were old, my grandmother’s, and some of the detailed coloring was scratched off. One of the shepherds was continually losing its head, which I tried multiple times to melt back on. The one angel that ultimately remained was missing her feet and wouldn’t stand. But still, I loved it. I played with it like a dollhouse, arranging and rearranging, strewing dried pine needles across the stable floor for authenticity.

“Well,” I say to A. I don’t really have to think about it, but I am surprised I already know the answer. “It’s about family. A new mother and father, a baby born. Christmas is about family. ”

 

I have always loved the Christmas story. Though from year to year, my relationship to it has changed—I cycle through folktale, pagan origins, Biblical scholarship, fervent religious belief in the birth of a great Light in our world, which I’ve sometimes called Christ. I am drawn to Mary, a young mother pregnant for the first time, afraid, tired, unsure of this burden God has given her. I feel tenderness toward Joseph, the man who has taken Mary and all her controversy into his house to care for her and protect her and be a father to this prophetic child. I admire the incredible faith they both had.

When I found out I was pregnant with our son, I dug out the journal I had been saving for this occasion since I was 18 and turned to the inside flap where I wrote out the Magnificat. My soul magnifies the Lord. I felt blessed. I was so happy. My journal from those months, when I wrote, was full of God. I was full of God, full of love, full of faith. Being pregnant felt like the star on top of the tree, the final piece of my life’s dreams falling into place.

I was pregnant through Advent. Like Mary, expecting a baby. Christmas was exciting. We bought our first real Christmas tree, and dreamed about how this would be our last Christmas without children. Maybe next year we wouldn’t travel, we’d make our family come to us. After all, having a little baby entitles you to certain privileges.

IMG_1504

When we decorated gingerbread cookies with my dad, I did myself as Mary, in her typical blue robe and blue veil. I added a little icing baby floating in my belly. (Decorating elaborate cookies is one of my favorite family tradition.)

 

How different I feel this December, pregnant again a year later. I am tentative, protective of the little sparks of hope I sometimes feel. Nowhere in my journal or my letters to this new baby do I talk about God.

It is painful to think of Christmas as the birth of anything good in the world. My first baby died on Christmas day. It is hard to think about Mary, her joyful song to God, awaiting the birth of her own baby, year after year throughout history. And yet, I’ve been thinking about her a lot lately. Remembering that she, too, lost her son. The baby she carried and birthed and raised. Something in this knowledge softens me towards her. Something in this tragedy makes Christmas a little more sorrowful.

 

This year, we buy another real Christmas tree, hang a wreath and stockings. I listen to Christmas music all day. I play my flute for the first time in months, drawn to Advent songs in the Methodist hymnal I grew up with. This nostalgia for the Christmas season is powerful. We are both surprised by how these parts of Christmas come so naturally, so easily.

Beyond that, I’m not sure how to think of Christmas right now. I am afraid of it. I am afraid it will pass like any other Christmas, that I will unintentionally shut down emotionally just so I can hold it together. I am afraid I will be an emotional wreck, that nothing we do to honor Joseph will feel right, that I’ll get angry, I’ll be inconsolable. I am afraid to feel relief when this first stillbirthday passes. I am afraid to remember, afraid I will forget.

 

And in the midst of all this, I wonder what this Christmas means for this new baby who thumps and rolls in my belly. I dare to hope that this time will be different. That the earth will turn again and Light will be reborn in our lives.

© Burning Eye

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee

We are leaving town for Thanksgiving and I am filled with anxiety. What if I need to talk to the midwives? What if I need to see the doctors? What if I need my mother-baby-friendly progressive hospital?

It feels like my security blanket, having the hospital and our OB-midwife practice so close by. I feel like I have a tether, a sort of umbilicus, between there and my house. It only stretches so far.

A reminds me there are doctors and hospitals in Charleston. This doesn’t really comfort me. I think I’m thinking about last Christmas, about being out of town when we learned Joseph had died. The hospital in Asheville was good to us, but I hate it now, because of what happened there. I hope never to go back. I don’t want to be out of town again if another baby is going to die. And any time we go out of state, there is the fear of discrimination, that another hospital won’t accept A as my wife, as this baby’s mother, won’t honor our powers of attorney.

I try to comfort myself by remembering that I’m only 20 weeks, and even if there was something wrong, there is nothing they can do. Today I am pregnant, I repeat to myself over and over. We listen to the baby’s heartbeat. I lie still in bed and wait for the one kick, the one roll I sometimes am now feeling. Baby’s okay, baby’s okay, baby’s okay.

And yet there is still this crazy, pervasive, underlying anxiety. Maybe the Zoloft isn’t working anymore, maybe the dose isn’t right. (I have a follow-up next week, so this will be addressed soon.) I weigh the same on the scale. (I was just really sick, so this could make sense.) I’m not feeling increased movement yet. (I have an anterior placenta, so this makes sense.) I’m still coughing. (Pneumonia takes a long time to recover from.)

I spend the weekend being anxious about getting a refill on my asthma inhaler that I haven’t used in four years. It’s empty, or it’s not working right. Do I need a new one? Really? A and I are both a little pissed that I might be having asthma symptoms again, despite the logical connection between pneumonia and breathing restriction. Do I think it’s helping me because it’s a placebo effect? I talk to a doctor friend at church on Sunday morning. No, she assures me, it’s not the placebo effect. Using my inhaler will help get more oxygen to the baby.

Monday morning I call in to ask please if I can get a refill. Of course they have to take a message, send it back to the nurse, say a nurse will call me back. Usually, the call-backs happen after 5pm. I have therapy at 5pm, I won’t be able to answer my phone. I turn my phone on at school and keep it out next to me where I can see the screen light up, something I never do. I feel like I can’t breathe. The puff that comes out of my inhaler is puny, a half-dose at best.

The nurse calls after school to let me know my refill has been called in. But I won’t be able to go by until after 6, it’s a long day, and the therapist is so far away, there will be traffic, and it will be dark and cold and the cold air hurts my lungs, and I’m not sure I like this new therapist anyway, I have too many appointments after school, I’m always driving to some appointment, I don’t have any time…

And on and on and on.

I get home and hug A and let out a soft, high-pitched whine: eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.

I do this, occasionally, imitating the anxious dog from Hyperbole and a Half (one of my favorite blogs). It’s an annoying sound, but it’s perfect. It’s exactly how I feel.

We whine, we comfort each other, we make faces, we put our hands on my belly, we wring our hands, we listen to the baby’s heartbeat, we furrow our brows, we cuddle, we talk. A cycle of anxiety and soothing that repeats over and over, many times each day.

 

© Burning Eye