hope is the thing with feathers

It was another dream, significant because I do not dream, at least not that I can remember.

I was on a train with no windows, nor any sense of movement. It was a very elaborate, social, wandery sort of train filled with people and mahogany and rich velvets and brocade, a train of a hundred years ago. Liam was with me, toddling. Evan and Ben were not. I didn’t wonder where they were—in this dimension they did not exist. I found a car full of cribs, rows upon rows, although it made no sense because it was also filled with flickering lights and people milling about, talking and being loud. I lay him down there because I was supposed to, and he slept as if under some spell. He was alone. There were no other babies. Just empty cribs, and passerby, and him.

I went to meet a large East Indian family who had a baby that I might adopt. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing—someone had come up to me on the train and said psst… want to adopt a baby? and I said sure.

Suddenly I was in the waiting room of a rural stop, a whitewashed room. I sat down and then the East Indian family came in one-by-one, all dressed in saris and such. There were dozens of them, it seemed, women and old men and a few children, so many people that none of us could move. Two young, pretty women wearing heavy makeup pressed through the crowd to stand in front of me—one was holding a tiny bundle. She put the bundle in my arms without hesitation as soon as she saw me. She is yours, she said, and she looked almost triumphant and not sad at all. The family prepared to leave, all of them turning their backs at once and beginning to file out of the room.

I looked down. The baby was premature and not in a good state, not more than a pound or two. She had a large head and lots of hair, and a sweet face. Her body was unresponsive and floppy, her skin was like ash, her muscles toneless. I felt terribly for her but realized we couldn't take her, that there must be some mistake. I tried to give her back but the family continued to file out of the room, insisting over their shoulders that the baby was fine.

Then I was back on the train holding the baby. Liam appeared wearing in a blue footed sleeper. He had climbed out of his crib, and was grinning broadly and wanting to play. I gave the baby-bundle back to the adoption representatives saying I'll be right back and took Liam back to the crib car, put him into one with higher sides. He was happy and curled up to sleep.

On my way back through the cars a figure caught up with me and said Is it true that you think you’re going to adopt a baby? You can't do that. I thought of the tiny, sick East Indian girl and felt our fates pulling apart—like I was backing out of a deal, betraying her, choosing to send her into an unknown future. I walked back through the cars feeling solemn and ashamed, staring at my feet, head down.

+++

Her water just broke and the skies here agree with a soaking, splatty downpour. What does it mean? Is this a sign? Is this renewal, a storm that scrubs the sky clean, or is this another godforsaken, mud-splattered mess?

I can’t sleep. I stay awake with her, with her husband, from across this province, across the Northumberland Strait, my soul and all my hopes and fears weaving as an apparition through a minefield of lobster traps and jellyfish.

+++

Me and birth have unfinished business. I’m plugged in with a bad wire, spitting wayward sparks out either side of my mouth no matter how hard I try to keep it shut. (My soul was cynical long before it deserved to be. I think it knew.) This truth, this knowing, it’s a burden. I see someone at the grocery store on a Wednesday and she’s staggering around with a medicine ball under her shirt, and then I see her at the market on Saturday morning and she’s got a baby in a sling and yes, Medusa, it really is that straightforward for 98% of the rest of the world, or so it would seem.

Every pregnant woman I see smiles and glows and I stamp and snort, eyes peeled back with fear like the only horse who smells the smoke of a barn on fire. What I can say is that it’s fading. I don’t feel so ugly, so leprous. I have compassion. I still have apocalyptic visions but they’re muzzled. I am no longer quite so unpalatable. It comes naturally to stand with her as a sister, staring down the universe with rooted feet, hands on our hips, defiant. And with every day that passes I'm more able to stand with the other 98%, not so paralyzed, all of us the same, almost.