It’s approaching the middle of February and yet it feels like April. My Instagram is filled with excited people getting out and doing things that normally they wouldn't be able to, but for me the warm weather is a very unwelcome change. I was looking forward to winter. I very much needed three months of hibernation, watching snow fall and cooking comforting meals and spending time snuggled in with books and my journal and hot cups of tea. I needed time to restore my mind, body and spirit. I needed at least seven snow days (for which I have dutifully asked multiple, multiple times). But instead, I’ve received buckets of rain and too many days of temperatures reaching fifty degrees or warmer. Yesterday was in the sixties and it not only felt like spring but it smelled like it, too.
I can’t handle the change in smell. The memories I have attached to the smell of spring are all closely tied to being pregnant with Joe. I was entering my third trimester last year as winter warmed into spring. Chris and I went on our babymoon to Los Angeles at the end of March and when we came home we had to live with my sister for a week because we were having our hardwood floors refinished on our second floor. From this time on I was trapped under a weird, unexplainable fog. I would cry for no reason, was often melancholy and couldn't force myself to feel happy. Although I desperately wanted to be blissful and joyful during my entire pregnancy, I simply wasn't. And I was disappointed for not being so. There are times now when I think my sullenness could have been the result of Joe communicating to me that something wasn’t right. Perhaps he was trying to warn me that something was going to go very wrong. I’m obviously not sure what caused it, but as the air and the ground outside warm up and the birds begin to sing in the early morning hours, I am overcome by the familiar unsettling pit in my stomach that found its way in and stayed there last spring.
My bedroom used to be my favorite place in my home. It is very peaceful and inviting for relaxing activities, and I used to prefer lying in bed reading or watching tv rather than sitting downstairs on the couch. It was a very safe space for me, physically and emotionally, during my entire pregnancy. Now, I am not a fan of being in there. I don’t sleep well in there, I don’t feel calm and safe when I walk in there. I actually sleep in a different room most of the time, and on the occasions when I do fall asleep in there, I almost always end up regretting it. I have often thought of smudging the room with sage, but Chris has such an adverse reaction to any sort of “incense-y” smell, I haven’t yet tried it. Nevertheless, the time has come to do something to fix this problem.
On the weekends I often sleep upstairs with Chris because even if I don’t sleep well, I enjoy being near him while I sleep and it’s worth it to me every so often to make that happen. Last night I slept upstairs and woke up from a dream in the very early morning hours feeling deeply unsettled - I'd had my first dream about Joe. My dreams of him while I was pregnant were always hopeful, hypothetical dreams about breastfeeding. These dreams always pleased me and gave me a sense of calm and rightness. This dream, however, was vivid, very realistic, and unmistakably frightening. For almost nine months I have been safe from images of him during my sleep. My conscious waking hours are filled with plenty of images of him, both pleasant and upsetting, so I have been grateful to be able to either rest during my slumber or have unsettling dreams about a variety of things other than Joe. Until now.
In this dream I was in labor with Joe. My water had already broken and he was flopping around slowly with no buffer of fluid. In real life, the change in sensation from before the break of the water to after was so bizarre, and in my dream I was feeling that exact experience all over again. The doctor with me was unfamiliar. She told me she would take care of my baby but emphasized that I had not come to the hospital for the purpose of giving birth - something else was wrong. In real life, when Joe was actually being born I had been concerned that he wasn't moving much after his water broke. This feeling was very present in this dream as well. He did move in the dream, and dreaming me felt relieved. His arm moved across my stomach and I put my hand on it, able to feel this upper arm, elbow, and lower arm perfectly. I cradled his arm in next to his body and kept my hand on top of it, thinking maybe he was comforted by the feeling of my hand there. I was so warm and happy in that moment where I was still protecting and nurturing him. The dream doctor left me alone in my hospital bed to “progress” a little in my labor, and I had an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and stress about a decision I was going to have to make soon. It was unclear what the decision was, but I understood that it was about Joe and his delivery.
At this point I woke up. As I came more and more into awareness of my waking reality, I realized my hand was on my stomach in the exact place it had been on Joe's arm in my dream. I smelled the warm, spring air in my bedroom and looked around at the dark space that failed to bring me joy anymore. I woke up feeling like Joe was actually there, like he should be there. Each moment I was awake was another stinging jolt back into my unwanted reality. The smell of the air urged me to run out of the room screaming, but there was nowhere to go that would make me feel any better. I tried talking to my mind, telling myself the simple things that emotions make me forget. "It is not last spring, you are no longer pregnant, you are safe and ok, Joe is safe and ok, spring air is gross, but everything will be fine." Staying awake and writing the whole dream down was the only thing that helped.
I know I have made amazing progress on my journey since Joe was born. I am fortunate to have the support I do, I am blessed to have created the life I have, and I am dedicated to moving ever forward with intention. Over time I've shifted out of shock and settled into a comfortable flow that I can maintain and also be proud of. The photographs I look at now give me a different feeling than they used to, a more positive, nostalgic feeling rather than a longing, unraveling feeling. But this dream has shoved me straight back into those first days of waking up without him. I am so deeply saddened by the flat, empty stomach I feel when I place my hands there each morning. I sometimes resent the (perceived) expectation for me to answer to my various responsibilities even though I know I am capable of fulfilling them. I have been so functional, sometimes it’s hard to tell that I ever experienced such a devastating trauma. I have done well and forgotten what it’s like to be literally paralyzed by emotions. And suddenly, today I remember. I know the "falling back on your ass" is a part of all of this, though, and so I am brushing the dust off of all my old coping companions and letting them ease my broken heart once more. Meditating (which, for me, means private conversations with Joe), long walks or just sitting outside, writing, coloring, reading, and listening to music are some of my most soothing activities. As time goes on and grieving takes on new forms, it's comforting to find the same things providing the necessary nourishment.
This dream brought something new to my attention. In my waking, conscious hours I am aware that Joe is no longer a part of my physical body. I also know that the changes happening in my body are not a reflection of a choice on my part to no longer be attached to him. I know that in taking care of myself I am honoring him in the highest way, and I know that allowing my physical body to change back into its original state would not mean that Joe was somehow more gone than before. But this dream made me clearly aware that subconsciously I might be holding on to the body that Joe lived in. I might be wishing he was still safely in there, where I could protect him and supply everything he could ever need. I might need to work toward letting him go in ways I thought I already had or didn't know I hadn't. It makes sense to me that I may be held back by things I’m not even consciously aware of, and I’m grateful to suddenly have this new layer of my grief to carefully and lovingly attend to. This work is not easy but was always going to come. Joe showed me that it needed to be done, and fortunately I have many strong arms holding me up and helping me remain on my feet while I continue to show up in this motherhood and do this work.
As I am revisiting some of these aspects of my journey, it is so amazing to be able to share my experience. I’m going to take some time to lean into this feeling for a while and hopefully come through with some insight and some purpose that I have been lacking. Thank you for your company and your support. It means more than you know.