I have been having a very strange, recurring dream of late, one that pulls me awake in a panic.
First a bit of background without getting into the space of TMI. A few years ago, I had to have a minor medical procedure for health reasons. Although I was already 48 years old by then, my doctor made a point of telling me that after this procedure it was critically important that I not get pregnant, that in fact, I would face certain death if I did. At the time, I had a hard time keeping a straight face when she said those things to me with such gravity in her voice and eyes. The absurdity of that warning was too great to even begin to explain to her. So I thanked her and promised I would make sure not to get pregnant.
This is the dream: In the midst of perfectly normal, ordinary time, (and it is never clear how I find out, but it is made crystal clear to me), I realize I am pregnant. There is an immediate rush of exultation, followed instantaneously by the most suffocating fear imaginable because I am faced with a choice. I must immediately choose my own life by terminating the pregnancy or stay pregnant knowing I will die but may be able to carry the child for long enough for it to live. I wake up gasping and in a sweat, almost in tears, each time I have that dream.
When Sherod and I were going through premarital counseling, round about this time 25 years ago, the question of us having babies came up. Sherod had a son and daughter from his previous marriage and after his second child was born, had taken steps to make sure there wouldn’t be a third. He was adamant that he did not want any more children. I was madly in love, I did not know myself and I did not know how to be honest when that meant risking a relationship I desperately wanted to work. So I very blithely said that was fine since I was a feminist and didn’t need a child to confirm my identity and value to the world.
I’m old enough now that I can look back on those decisions without getting mired in regret, though I was most certainly not truthful with anybody, least of all myself. I am grateful beyond words for my husband, for his willingness to join me in parenting María when her path crossed ours. To have welcomed her and loved her as completely as he has, and at no small cost to himself, is part of what makes Sherod one of the most honorable, generous, good human beings I know. I have been blessed with so much. And even without the kinds of regret I worked through about 15 years ago, the truth continues unwavering. I would have loved to bear a child.
So now I am having this dream, this intense and intensely disturbing dream and trying to understand why. I guess no matter how much we’ve made our peace with decisions made in the past, as we reach new places in our lives, we double back and need to bring that peace to bear on life as it is now. That may be part of what this is all about.
I also know some more things now. More than ever, I understand T.S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, how, looking back on the journey to visit the Christ child, they asked themselves:
were we lead all that way for:
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I have seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
As life unfolds I imagine we all come to see how inextricably birth and death are bound together. But it is the fact that I am so certain in the dream that I must choose, and I must choose between my own death and the death of the child I know in my waking I will never have but in my sleeping still dream of. That we might have to make such choices in life. That is what I am wrestling with these days and nights…