I have a dream that leaves me restless, woken up in the morning with a shaken sadness, and it follows me through the day like lose hair that sticks to a sweater, or nagging doubts that poke at your memory. I am pregnant in the dream, largely so and in the hospital to give birth, and yet though I am there in a hospital gown, my feet spread apart to manage the wide girth of my swollen belly my dream self is still suspicious that this isn’t real, that I’m not actually pregnant. I give birth anyway, in what is unusually fast and yet somehow understood in the dream to have been difficult, long and touch and go. I give birth and the doctors leave and I am alone waiting to hear about the baby. For some reason this does not trouble me, but I am still worried that the birth wasn’t real.
I am handed a written note on yellow paper like the stacks of post-it notes I grab for each day at work, and on the note is the name of a girl and some numbers I can’t read which must correspond to weight or a date of time. “Is this real?” I ask looking up to find a doctor there.
He is not a pleasant doctor. He does not appear happy for me. “I think you know that,” he says and then he motions with his hand and says “C’mon,” as if I am the one holding back.
I am able to get up without any trouble and I follow him into another room with a long table and chairs throughout and there on the table in a very small clear glass box that I assume is an incubator is a small red angry object that looks like a baby but which is clearly not anything that can sustain life. “You had a baby,” he says in a disappointed patronizing voice, “but all of the medications were too much. It can’t live.” He talks to me like I should have known better, like I had pushed so hard to get something I wanted that I pushed beyond the limits of human decency, or reasoning or the acceptable rules of science; as if I chose to play god and damn me for it. And to be sure I haven’t misunderstood him, he adds bitterly, “This is your fault.”
I have had dreams before about babies and pregnancy – my infertility dreams, I call them. I have dreamt about being pregnant. I have dreamt about having children. I have dreamt about not being pregnant, of tests coming back negative or feeling sick and needing more surgery that might forever eradicate the ability to have children. But I have never had a dream like this. It is so rich, so vivid and graphic that the image of that red, dying child does not leave my mind. It shows up periodically throughout the day, without thought or intention, as if I was flipping channels in my mind and stopped there on accident. Whenever it appears something in me breaks. On more than one occasion in court I have to hold back tears. Twice I am mid-conversation with someone when it happens and I grow suddenly cold and teary-eyed.
But it is the final words of the dream that haunt me the most, and by late afternoon I have worked myself into such a mess that every ailment in my body has flared up. I sit in my office in pain, try to take some medications and feel like my stomach may rupture when all I do is drink some water. I am nauseated, and more than once sneak off to the bathroom thinking I will be sick. I’m the third time I go. I think at least it will bring relief, but instead I return still sick to my stomach, still hurting. I eat a chocolate mint and have a client meeting during which I rush him along for fear of being sick in front of him.
I don’t know how it is that a dream, that something we know is not real, can have such a tangible impact on us, how it can affect us back in the real world, and do it so extensively. I’ve always been someone who remembers their dreams in detail. I’ve also always been someone interested in what they might mean. But I am not interested in what this dream means as it appears to be on the obvious to the point of disturbing side. I think of it through the day not to wonder about it or analyze it, but rather because it just won’t go away.
I don’t have a horrible day. In between the bouts of feeling sad or sick to my stomach, I get my work done, have a nice lunch with a co-worker, joke with a funny client, talk with MJ, check in with my parents as they visit my brother and his family, continue my obsession to Google information on Munchkin’s cancer. It is a normal day, I try to treat it as such. It was just a dream, and I try to treat it as such too. I also try not to crawl back into my collegiate brain and remember what Freud or Jung wrote about dreams.
It’s just that when we say “dream,” we think instantly of something happy, uplifting, or just fanciful. A kind of world where whimsy and imagination triumph over reality and the laws of physics. Dreams (and sleep) are things to look forward to, not to cower from. And I could use the word “nightmare” but it sounds so dramatic, and really those are just subsets of dreams too. And if I’m being honest, sometimes it’s those infertility dreams with the successful conception and the happy baby that fill me with the most joy and hope. Sometimes those are the dreams that I carry with me because they just make me happy.
I am disturbed and upset by this dream on so many levels. I worry about what my mind is trying to tell me. I am floored by the possibilities of such loss. I am scared about accepting that things may not work out. I am concerned it could come true. But at the same time, and at least in one way I know is absolutely true, I think that I am so upset because this nightmare invaded the one spot, the one time in my life where my dreams come true.