Elizabeth Clark Wessel
All my dreams are about disasters – a plane crash, environmental crisis, losing you, searching for you.
I read about puerperal fever. I wonder if Mary Wollstonecraft felt fear in those last days or if pain was too much of a distraction. I think about sacrifice, about Mary Shelley’s baby who died, and how they named her grief melancholy. I think about Samuel Richardson’s six dead infants referenced in an article on his life, his unnamed dead wife, her blood and infection. And I think about morning sickness, which killed Charlotte Bronte. And when I think of them I think of them as bodies rather than the words they left behind.
I come across this:
My dearest Hogg my baby is dead—will you come to see me as soon as you can. I wish to see you—It was perfectly well when I went to bed—I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it. It was dead then, but we did not find that out till morning—from its appearance it evidently died of convulsions—Will you come—you are so calm a creature & Shelley is afraid of a fever from the milk—for I am no longer a mother now.
Awoke to give it suck. So tender.
I check my blood four times a day to see if the sugars are absorbing. I try to avoid bad, delicious things. When I can’t eat ice cream anymore I weep. It’s embarrassing to miss it so much.
I’m tired. I’m overworked. I carry around my testing kit in a tote bag. I call it the blood bag.
I get sick and lose my hearing. I can’t take the medicines I need to fix it. Fluid fills my middle ear. I say what when people speak to me. I fantasize about my eardrum exploding, about the fluid rushing out, what it might look like, if it would be slick like oil or pink or yellow. Sometimes there’s a crackling sound, sometimes I feel dizzy. Sometimes I feel so tired I can’t lift my hand from the bed. Sometimes my stomach tenses up, turns hard and painful.
I read articles online, I stare at my phone when I can’t sleep, but I don’t read books. I carry a book around in my purse and inside it I put notes and prescriptions and gift certificates.
I chew ice constantly. I develop favorite forms of ice. I go through drive-thrus for ice.
I feel you move, and if you don’t move for too long I try to wake you. Sometimes it feels like you’re trembling inside me. Sometimes a kick lands painfully on my ribs. Sometimes you settle down on my bladder or poke it.
At night I wake up with puke in my mouth. I wake up with acid in my throat. I wake up to pee and walk in darkness to the toilet and don’t flush until morning.
I imagine your face.
I watch videos of women giving birth. I feel afraid.
I want to hold you. I want to smell you. I want it to be over, but also want time to slow down.
At the doctor’s office they put straps around my stomach and monitor your heart. I can hear it beating. Rise and fall, rise and fall. Faster, then slower. They’re looking for the peaks, they say. Staring at the line of your heartbeat on graph paper, one doctor says: she’s beautiful.
They check your size on a monitor, and your belly is swollen, too much sugar. I feel guilty for every stupid, delicious thing I’ve eaten in ignorance of how it might hurt you. I wonder, is guilt a new constant?
One night after dinner my sugars get too low. I start shaking and sweating and feel lightheaded, and I keep stuffing my face even though I already feel full, too full, and testing again, and the numbers rise, but only a little. I go to bed afraid of falling into a diabetic coma. (And what if I were to die, what would happen to you.) I set my clock for three am and put raisins and the blood bag by my bed. I don’t need the alarm. I wake up just before, and check the sugars, which are low, but not dangerously. I eat handfuls of raisins while I pee. I go back to sleep.
I fantasize about our life together. I want your touch and to touch you. Tiny clothes make me ache. I arrange piles of them and hold them like babies.
I like to look at myself naked. The distended belly makes everything else look better, and the belly itself seems monumental, smooth, grotesquely beautiful. The three circles, my two breasts, the belly, and then the triangle of hair beneath – it’s my favorite vision of myself. Though I feel clumsy as I move, uncomfortable, and short of breath.