Saturday, August 25, 2007

Sometimes Dreams Illuminate Reality

Many of you know the difficulties Steve and I have been facing the past few months with our troubled, yet unborn baby girl. Actually I shouldn’t just say Steve and me, because it’s also been very stressful for the kids, Jasper and Ruby. But the last several weeks we’ve felt quite a sense of peace. We’ve been content to calm down and wait for a while, to see what this child’s future may bring.

It’s amazing, though, to think about all the thoughts and emotions a person’s brain processes in a time of shock or grief—especially because much of that processing seems to occur away from the conscious mind. This became painfully clear to me when I woke up about 3:00 AM a few nights ago—horrified—and couldn’t get back to sleep. While my conscious mind had been focused on peace and patience, my dreams had been playing out my worst fears.

In the dream: I saw a 40-ish, nerdy father with glasses who had a daughter who was part-robot. Her limbs were robotic, and part of her torso seemed to be like the tin man’s in The Wizard of Oz. It was as if I were watching them on TV. They seemed to be in a small, dark apartment. The man and his wife, frumpy and out-dated in her appearance, appeared to have two new healthy and beautiful baby twin girls. The robotic daughter, much older, maybe 10, was acting up. She was frustrating the parents, and taking away from their ability to enjoy their baby girls. The mother told the father to take the daughter away. It was dark outside. He put her in the car, drove her to a dumpster, and dropped her in it. Somehow I understood that because of her robotic limbs she would not be able to get out of the dumpster, and would be helpless and die. At this point I woke up horrified, having to go to the bathroom urgently, and suddenly very afraid in my dark house, worried about Jasper and Ruby in their beds.

Unlike the clich├ęd movie scenes where the unkempt psychiatrist helps the confused patient unravel the meaning of her dreams, I knew the elements that had fed into this dream immediately when I woke up.

-It’s obvious the robotic daughter represented our unborn daughter with malformed limbs, but I knew that she was also partly the heroine from one of Jasper’s favorites shows—My Life as a Teenage Robot. This heroine is a true superhero, but she also breaks down when human children don’t, and sometimes resents her mother for creating her the way she did . . .

-The two healthy baby girls represented our two healthy children, and obviously my fears that this difficult pregnancy has already taken attention away from them, as well as the way their lives could be permanently altered if this little girl lives and is severely disabled. But I also knew that the healthy baby girls came from an Oprah I saw recently, featuring a woman whose ex-husband had murdered all of her children. She had eventually re-married, and had new twin baby girls with a new husband. Oprah asked her if these children would somehow replace the ones she’d lost, or if she would still keep their pictures up on the fridge.

Why a nerdy father, a frumpy mother, a small apartment, a dark night and a dumpster, I don’t know. It was the father’s choice, and it was casual—he didn’t even speed away. There was no abduction. So why I woke up so afraid in my house and for my children, I don’t know. And why was the robot daughter acting up, angering her parents? I certainly haven’t felt upset with our little daughter, or, of course, that she had any part or any blame in her unfortunately ill-formed body. I have only felt sad for her and protective of her--in my conscious mind.

But I guess the point is that this was not conscious. I remember this dream better than any I have had in my life. It’s jarring to think that my mind can be processing some things more acutely, more purely in the raw, than I dare to face them myself. But I’m grateful. Once thing I’m learning in this ordeal is that it seems to be in small moments, when tiny pieces of information penetrate your mind almost without your notice, that you come to terms with what you’re facing. The simple acts of arranging a burial plot and writing sample text for a birth and death announcement were mundane and not so painful. But after doing them, I realized I had begun to ease into the possibility of her death. Certainly, many thoughts and feelings in this process are very painful and very conscious.
I’d rather not have to endure them all the time. So whatever shock, grief, sadness, fear, anger, or frustration can be absorbed unconsciously, in my dreams—I’ll take it. I realize it’s importance now. My mind attempts to shelter me from some of the pain. What a blessing.

Jasper, His (USUAL) Happy Self

Jasper Absorbs the Situation

From the beginning, we have been honest and open with Jasper about the situation with our baby girl. He has been matter-of-fact and supportive, hopeful for the slight chance that she might live, saying he would defend her if people made fun of her, and push her wheelchair. He was also OK with her death. He felt comfortable that she would go back to heaven and be happy, and we would move on to either have or adopt another child. Recently, though, we’ve realized that we may have missed the magnitude of the effect of this situation on Jasper. We knew he seemed stressed, and we were sure it must have to do with the baby. But we didn’t realize how much the idea of death was penetrating his little 7-year-old reality.

Last weekend, I spent a night in the hospital for an acute intestinal infection accompanied by bloody stools. Jasper knew my stomach had been hurting, and that we kept having to stop for me to use the bathroom. But he was surprised to wake up Sunday morning and find Grandma in our bed because Mom and Dad were at the hospital. The day went on as normal, with fun at Grandma’s house, and no one thought or conveyed to Jasper that I was in any kind of danger. Still, somehow the thought entered his mind. When Jasper came to see me home in bed that night, he began to cry silent tears. He admitted that he thought I had something “life-threatening,” in his words, and that something was going to happen to me. I tried to reassure him I was fine.

Last night, Jasper had a little bit of bloody diarrhea, and said he thought he had what I had. This wasn’t a big surprise because the infection is viral and several people around us have had different versions of it. Most are mild, and Jasper wasn’t in pain. I assured him he was fine, and thought he believed me. But in his prayer last night, he prayed that if he had what I had, he could get through it. He prayed that if one of us must die from this sickness, me or him, that Heavenly Father would please take him so that Ruby could still have a mother and Steve could still have a wife. This was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever heard one of my children say. Steve and I realized we hadn’t made our reassurances often enough or convincing enough. We told him very clearly that neither he nor I were in any danger from this infection. I told him about a strong feeling I’ve always had that I will live to a very ripe old age.

I think we finally put Jasper at ease, but I won’t count on it for sure. We won’t doubt how deeply perceptive a child can be, or how troubled by something. Jasper had never mentioned or feared death before, and suddenly he was very sure of the possibility for both him and me. I’m sure this change was because of the reality of our baby facing death.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The New Kind of "Red State"

Steve and I thought it would be fun to post this map of the states we've visited. Looks like we're about 15 short of a full deck. Most of these states were visited by both of us (after all, we have driven cross-country SEVERAL times), but the ones around the edges of the country, like the south and northwest, were visited by Emily alone in her illustrious travel career before she was married. (Read, trips bankrolled by Ralph. Ahh, those were the days!)

(You may have to drag it to your desktop to see the full map.)



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