Second Sight

Second Sight

Second Sight 1920 1025 Leah Mele-Bazaz

On our honeymoon, my husband and I had the same dream. We found ourselves lost in the red rocks. On our last morning in Sedona black ravens lined the fence, with Cathedral Rock in the distance. I waved my phone around for cell service, to check in on my family, worried the birds signified death. When I got a connection, no one had died, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of those dark eyes and lush black feathers watching over us. I rubbed my belly with a sense of foreboding.

*

My great-grandmother was born with a veil over her head. Also called an “en caul birth”, this is when a baby emerges out of the birth canal tucked inside its translucent amniotic sac. In Norway, many people believed that this rare occurrence meant she was gifted with second sight, something I believe was passed down to me on my maternal side. I’ve always had moments of intuition that I’ve never been able to explain.

At twenty-six weeks gestation, I tended to the cornstalk dracaena in our apartment, clipping off the stale yellow leaves. The plant was the only other living thing in my husband’s condo before we met, and it was a prized possession. We tended to it dearly. Suddenly, I heard a voice in my ear. Your baby has died. There was no one around me. Had the plant spoken? I decided it had to be anxiety, a manifestation of my innermost fear.

*

My back began to spasm as the epidural wore off. A nurse unhooked my arm from the fluids and antibiotics. My husband groaned as he got up from the plastic chair and guided me to the bathroom. He helped me undress. He turned on the water and tested it until it ran hot, the steam from the shower fogging up the mirror. A baby screeched from somewhere down the hallway, which caused the hair on my neck to rise.

The shower rid me of the coated blood between my thighs. I did a slow dance around the low water pressure, cupping my hands to catch the water like it was something sacred. I scrubbed the hospital soap against my skin. I looked at my body: the gooey tape marks from the I.V in my arm, my flat belly looking sad and lifeless, caked in hardened blood. I scrubbed harder, avoiding the water spreading to the bandage on my back.

I stepped out of the shower slowly, careful not to slip. My husband dried me off with a coarse towel and opened the overnight bag. He had been in a rush when he packed the overnight bag, packing the wrong size pants, no underwear, and a sweatshirt. I returned his innocent smile. We made do. He tried to help me with my winter coat, but it zipped easily, no more baby bump for the zipper to get stuck on.

*

When we arrived home, the cornstalk needed water. My husband froze when he went to water it. One of the three stumps was completely uprooted and had fallen onto the floor. We’d often said the plant’s three branches symbolized the three of us: husband, wife, and baby. Now one of us was gone.

*

My great-grandmother also had a daughter who died young, at the age of sixteen. The girl was deemed unfit, institutionalized, eventually dying of pneumonia at the state facility. That’s how things were back then, my mother said, trying to help me understand.

I raided the fridge for a drink. I could only find the champagne we had planned to pop when we came home with our baby. When my husband entered the kitchen, I held the bottle up. His expression looked pained.

“Let’s go,” he said. “We need a proper breakfast.”

At the restaurant, my blood orange mimosa was the first thing to arrive on our table besides the water. I washed my Lorazepam down with the first sip. Before I left the hospital, one of the doctors had given me a prescription, although he technically wasn’t allowed. Extenuating circumstances, he said.

The champagne tasted bitter on my tongue, acidic with the fresh-squeezed orange juice.

My steel-cut oatmeal arrived moments later. The last thing I’d tried to eat was the fruit from the hospital’s sympathy basket, which had been sent to my room. I took a small bite of the oatmeal, but dropped my spoon with a clatter when I saw a woman with a stroller passing by the window.

Jealousy coursed through me and I felt the tears start to come. I wondered if we would ever try again to have a baby, but somehow that felt like a dishonor to the baby we’d had to leave behind. It dawned on me that I didn’t know where the hospital stored the babies who had died. I felt like a terrible mother because I forgot to ask.

*

A few years ago, the ghost of my great-grandmother materialized in the corner of my bedroom, just days after her death. Against the dim glow from my laptop, she appeared youthful, with her blonde hair curled under her chin. She looked happy. I wondered if she had been reunited with her daughter.

*

Back home, I was still bleeding. On the bathroom counter, my toiletries looked like a still life of my former existence. My cocoa butter for stretch marks was left out on the counter next to my prenatal vitamins. I swept the items into the drawer and shut it.

As I stripped down, I looked at my naked body again. It seemed even worse under the bright lighting. My breasts were red and agitated. A swollen rash on my back from the epidural was beneath a bandage on my spine. I ripped the bandage off.

I ran a bath, dipping my feet in first, even though the water was so hot they turned bright red. I squatted down and slowly sunk myself in. My engorged breasts floated like ocean buoys, close to three times their previous size. I traced the faint brown line extending down from my navel to my pubic hair, something I hadn’t noticed before. As I followed the path down with my finger, a thick, white drop of breast milk escaped from my nipple and trickled into the water like a teardrop.

*

My first funeral was for a young girl. A middle school classmate had a sudden brain aneurysm that took her life overnight. We had history class together and a few days before her death, we were assigned to work on an in-class activity together about Otzi the Iceman.

Side by side, we read through a chapter about the accidental discovery in the Alps of Europe’s oldest naturally preserved mummy, found encased in a block of ice. We brainstormed ideas about what this discovery could mean. I cringed to look at the page with Otzi’s shiny leathery skin, while she traced her hands around the image.

At her viewing, I bravely walked towards the casket, unlike many of my classmates. I peered over the casket; she was buried in her pajamas with a teddy bear in her arm. I blushed at the intimate scene, as if someone gently pulled her from her bed and placed her into the casket. She didn’t look dead, only frozen in time.

*

I don’t remember much about those three weeks I had off from work. I moved like molasses. I continued to drink. I refused to wear my maternity clothes, so I wore the same pair of green sweatpants. I could feel the eyes of the doormen in my apartment building looking at me with pity.

Sleep was pointless. My breasts throbbed without ice. I woke up from dreams about holding my baby again, and my nipples leaked through my pajama blouse. In my dreams, I didn’t believe my daughter was dead. She was my baby. My sleeping baby. She was so beautiful, so peaceful, but certainly not dead. The doctors had it all wrong.

Do all parents go through this denial when they lose a child?

*

In the end, we chose to cremate her. I collapsed onto the kitchen floor when I sensed the moment she burned. My skin was on fire. I regretted not having a proper burial. She could have rested next to my great-grandmother’s daughter.

*

On my first day back at work, I was still bleeding. My large maxi-pads felt like a sponge at overcapacity and gave me rashes. My body didn’t fit into my pre-pregnancy clothes; my cotton midi-dresses were the only things that fit.

My thighs were pale from lack of sunlight and twice their normal size, full of fatty white cellulite. I went from being a glowing pregnant girl to a barren one. My dresses were too short because of my weight. My face lost its glow. My large breasts sagged. My hips were too wide. I walked around the office embarrassed and exposed. I took the back door to bypass the bullpen of men whenever I had to use the restroom.

*

The lady on the suicide hotline was very kind. I explained to her that my transition back to work had been terrible, and that I felt like a failure. I told her about the blame I imagined others felt towards me and, even worse, my own self-blame. My doctors tried to tell me that I had done nothing wrong, that gestational death can occur with no reason. People told me I should work through my grief, and since I couldn’t, I thought, how would I be able to survive this? My own body was incapable of sustaining life. So why should I be able to live?

“Oh dear, that’s understandable. It’s good you gave us a call,” the woman said. She gave me resources for local support groups, and asked if I had a therapist.

*

I told my therapist I dream about death because I think I will see my baby again. That’s a normal response to grief, she said. I didn’t want to push my luck and tell her about the woman in white who seems to live a parallel life with me. I see the woman behind my eyes when I’m about to fall asleep. She’s not a dream, more like a premonition. I see her in a long white dress, rocking my baby on the same rocking chair I was rocked in when I was a baby. Just wait, the ghost tells me. This will be you soon. I think of the Iceman and self-preservation. I think of all of the little girls who died, and I think of my great-grandmother, who lived until she was one hundred and one, all those years without her daughter. I plead to her ghost to keep my baby safe without me, until we meet again.

Header photograph © Barren Magazine.

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