All my life I have had an active sleeping life. I’m a sleep talker. Former sleep walker.
I do it nightly, sometimes multiple times a night. As a kid, and well into my teens, I walked in my sleep. When I was 15 my Dad built me a mezzanine floor in my bedroom. The mezzanine was accessible by a ladder attached to the wall and the mezzanine itself was around 10 feet high. I woke one night at the bottom of the ladder, with my duvet slung over my shoulder, no recollection of climbing down the precarious steps.
My patient and light sleeping partner (who swears he doesn’t mind my nightly ramblings) recounts my anecdotes back to me in the morning. One night I told him very firmly “it was Macgyver’s fault. Macgyver was to blame”. When he tried to keep me going by asking, “so it’s Macgyver’s fault?” I turned on him and told him off with, “don’t try and pin this on Macgyver”.
I also have a tendency to talk about chips while asleep. He has heard me talk about “lots and lots of chips” more than once. I don’t blame my subconscious, chips are delicious.
When I got pregnant I noticed a direct upturn in my dreams. I clearly had always been dreaming, but now I was remembering them. And there were a lot.
After Eva was born, they didn’t stop. And now that she’s gone, I still have vivid dreams on almost a nightly basis.
About once a month I have what I call an Eva dream. She appears in my dream, sometimes she’s older, the age she would be if she were still alive, sometimes she’s held in time, 10 and a half months forever.
Sometimes she is herself, and sometimes she can talk, and I look about me in my dream as if to say, “see! I knew she would talk”.
These dreams are wonderful and confusing and stay with me for days afterward. While it is always amazing to hold her and see her, every dream has a heightened sense of anxiety because something in my conscious mind won’t let my subconscious just enjoy it. There is almost always a moment where I wonder where she has been all this time. Sometimes I tell myself matter of factly that she has died and that seems straight forward in the moment. Other times my subconscious comes up with a narrative to explain her absence, which usually leaves dream-me feeling guilty and horrified that she has been away for me for so long. I wonder how I could have let it happen again that I had been living without Eva while she was out there somewhere. I snatch her up and hold her and say sorry in her ear.
Last night I dreamed of Eva. She could crawl and talk and I had to keep a really close eye on her. I enjoyed the cuddles, and Eva whispered words in my ear. But then I realised I didn’t have a car seat she would fit into anymore. The brand new car seat we got the day she died had been returned to the hospital. I wondered in my dream how likely it was that her physio had held onto that carseat. I thought about calling her.
Then I realised I had no formula, and not only that, but no tubes or pumps or any means of feeding her. I spent the second half of the dream with Eva being held by someone else while I ran around the house trying to get organised.
I woke up and felt cheated. She was there, in my dream, and I spent it worrying about things that didn’t matter.
I mentioned it to my Dad and he said. “I suppose it’s your brain fighting it out over letting her go, but not wanting to or being able to. I expect you’ll have those dreams your whole life.”
And he was right.
She’s there in my dreams, but part of my brain knows she’s not really there, so instead of letting me enjoy it, enjoy her, it sifts through guilt and anxiety and the worrying reality that I have no way to take care of her. That my house doesn’t have feeding tubes and a suitable car seat at the ready.
It’s one thing to get rid of equipment and change what would have been her room into a recording studio, but it’s quite another to convince your brain and heart to push it all aside too.
In my sleep, my brain tries to make sense of the world. It tries to work through what my conscious brain cannot. It was that way when I was 11 and we were doing the high jump at school. I found the jump terrifying and would let students move in front of me in line to try and avoid having to take my turn. One night my Mum found me in the hallway muttering about how I couldn’t do it, it was too high. I was cowering as if the high jump was some demon I couldn’t conquer.
Nothing has changed. It’s still that way now.
I just wish I could recognise it was a dream a little sooner and let the anxiety slip away. Pull out Eva’s feeding tube, sit down and hold her. Slow the moment down and push out the unnecessary characters and look at her, enjoy her. Because before she died, those things I worried about in my sleep weren’t an issue. We had it all down. We could enjoy each other without the systems and symptoms getting in the way.
But I have never been able to control my sleeping self. She yells at invisible spiders, and wakes up in clothes she put on in her sleep when she dreamed of being in front of a group of people naked. She’s a stranger to me. A stranger that shares Eva with me.