By Bethany Fitzpatrick
Web Exclusive December 1, 2008
In the dream, my limbs feel heavy with sleep or the fatigue of travel. I am riding with my family in the brown Chevy van my parents once owned. The seats are plush, the floor carpeted, the windows lined with velour curtains—all the consistent, creamy brown of washed river sand. My sisters present me with a car seat holding a newborn baby. “She’s a girl, and she’s yours,” they say, but I don’t remember. I grow confused. The air inside the van grows viscous. We’re traveling so quickly. I want to secure the carrier, to keep her safe, but I am molded to my seat, paralyzed by the night lights streaking by and the questions looming too numerous and too chaotic like stars scattered across the sky. What happened? When was she born? Why can’t I remember? But no one knows. No one was there. I struggle with the car seat and the unanswered questions, while trying to see and to recall her eyes and hair.
This dream becomes significant only weeks later, when I wake from anesthesia after a cesarean and a red-faced and squalling female infant is thrust into my arms. Again, my husband, my mom, and my sisters surround me telling me that she’s mine. This time I am shrouded in a fog of anesthesia and morphine. My confusion and feelings of disconnection take on a dream-like quality. The dream and reality merge in the days that follow. I am all but immobilized by drugs, pain, and the demands of an infant who is too exhausted to eat and awake only long enough to cry out in frustration, expressing her confusion at being so suddenly pulled into a world where there is hunger, brightness, and cold.
In other dreams, in the weeks that follow, I am searching through piles of dolls in a darkened room, examining each face, unsure if the features resemble hers. Or I am walking down a long corridor as if in a hotel, searching the empty rooms. I wake suddenly, surprised to see her sleeping soundly in the bed beside me, her round face shining like a moon against the dark sheets, her presence an anchor in the stormy sea of dreams. I press my head close to her chest as if to a shell, listening for the oceanic whisper of her breath. I curve my body around hers, the rib cage encircling the heart. In sleep she burrows against me, finding my breast. We’re pressed belly to belly, and I can almost feel the cord still pulse. In waking hours, I trace the contours of her ears, the ridge of her backbone, the smooth plain of her chest, mapping her into my mind, drawing her into my life. It takes days to recognize her tiny foot once lodged beneath my ribs, those hiccups, and her slow movements like a cat stretching.
Though I felt her growing and moving inside me for so many months and labored with her for days, the entire hospital experience was so surreal that I almost believe I was given a potion (poison?) to make me sleep and then given a baby when I awoke, a strange sort of fairy tale. I am afraid to leave her alone even for a moment. Though my left-brain logic knows it is impossible, I’m afraid she’ll disappear or be kidnapped by the goblin king. My claim on her feels so tenuous, so ephemeral; I hold her tightly and for hours.
We stay in bed for weeks sleeping, nursing, writing, and trying to stay warm in our drafty Victorian house. I read her Sylvia Plath’s Morning Song, silly poems by Shel Silverstein, and sonnet-like praises I’ve written for her. When my husband returns home from work, he makes dinner. We eat in bed and then fall asleep listening to a movie play. I drift in and out of dreams, confusing and fragmented shards, but now somehow less piercing, when I am holding her, and he is holding me.
I begin to love this becoming, this transformation, the snake-like way my new scales shine in the sun. Now I know how it feels to have my heart outside of my body, to have a reason, if necessary, to make a deal with the devil to save her every precious breath. I know how it feels to fall in love all over again, to fall from unfathomable heights into the family bed, to sacrifice and to be redeemed, to be ripped in two and to survive, to protect, to serve, to feed, to feel, to love.
The emotional world of emerging motherhood is kaleidoscopic—there are shining yellow beads of bliss, beside purple and red fragments of fear, anxiety, and frustration, mixed with tear-shaped pieces of blue for exhaustion and feelings of loss, alongside the glimmering green slivers of hope and healing and the pearly pink blobs of newness all spiraling together, coloring this new life.
The dream fades in importance as the reality of this new life shines brighter and brighter. Perhaps I’m part mermaid now, with my long hair, large breasts, and silvery stretch marks shimmering like the scales of a fish. I’m even learning to sing lullabies and nursery rhymes, not quite a siren’s song to dash the hearts, hopes, and ships of men, but hopefully irresistible to my little mer-child who swam from the salty waters of my womb into my waiting arms. I hold my daughter closer and feel a new self emerge, a sea-change, a transformation, bright colors and lifted wings, an awakening.