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?

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I remember this body

I remember this body.

 

The sudden softness of belly skin,

a tender curling inwards

over fresh emptiness.

 

A disbelief.

 

The rib cage spread wide,

trying to remember how to

settle

and close.

 

A lightness.

 

I remember this freckle,

hidden for months

under my roundness.

And the slight brown curve of the linea nigra.

 

These breasts, heavy with milk.

 

In labor I cried.

I want both my babies.

I want to birth both my babies.

 

But I had already birthed you.

 

Mothered my emptiness.

 

This body—

stretched,

worn,

but strong—

has birthed both our babies.

 

The linea nigra fades.

I have new scars now,

red stria

clawing the soft curve of my belly.

 

This body,

once hollowed by death,

These arms,

aching with your absence,

These breasts,

heavy with milk

 

nourish a new life.

 

 

© Burning Eye

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

my little boy

I look at Joseph’s picture every day for a few days before Christmas. We put two of his photos on the computer, make them black and white to hide some of the discolorations, and send them to an artist who is going to do a pencil portrait of him for us. We meant to delete them right away. Keep them safe and private on the CD the hospital gave us, tucked away in Joseph’s box. And yet we didn’t.

Looking at those pictures, deciding which ones to send the artist, writing out the details of how we want him to look in the portrait, was bizarre. I hadn’t seen Joseph’s pictures in months. Sometimes I thought about them, wondered if I was ready again, but then I wouldn’t get them out. I would look at his footprints, hold his blankie, rub the soft edge of his hat.

This time I felt like I had to be objective somehow, to try and see his features as the artist might, what the contrast in the photos is like, the shape of his nose, his eyelids, his lips.

But all I could think was, That’s my son. That’s what he looks like. That is his nose, and his lips, and his eyelids.

 

That’s my son.

Now, I look at the photo that has become my favorite and it doesn’t scare me anymore. That’s my little baby, tucked in the yellow blanket the hospital gave us, his head covered in a knit winter hat. That’s my little boy, featherlight, who I held for just a little while one year ago.

Memory is fickle, blurred by the shock and despair and fear. The room is dim. A and I sit side by side on the hospital bed, holding our son, deciding to name him. We look at him and don’t want to look at him, and all we can think is he’s gone, this is not him.

I wish I could hold him again. I wish I could squeeze him gently to my chest, rock him, brush my lips against his forehead. I wish I could see his face again, so that this handful of photos, this portrait we are getting, will not become him.

I wish I could hold onto him.

 

Not sure at first about getting the portrait, now I wait impatiently for it to arrive. Every few days I ask A if she’s heard from the artist. I check the mail hoping there will be a package. I want to see my little boy, my firstborn. I want to point to his portrait and say to people, “That’s my son.” I want this new baby, his sibling, to grow up recognizing him. To say to him, as A told me she read on another’s blog, “Goodnight, baby Joseph.”

I know some babylost mamas are cautious about fetishizing their baby’s memorial things. They avoid photos and baby blankets, throw away the trinkets from the hospital, holding on only to the memories of knowing their baby and the feeling it move in their womb.

I’ve always had a strong attachment to physical things. I save every condolence card, every record of donation in our baby’s name, every scrap of paper related to his birth. I know all of Joseph’s things are not him. I know photographs and this unseen portrait are no substitute for my little boy. But in Joseph’s absence, I need things to hold. Something tangible, to help keep him present in my memory, my heart, my life.

 

© 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