My friend from work, Giselle, had a dream about me. In her words, this is how it went:
“I was back in the Dominican Republic, where I had spent my honeymoon a few months before. What I vividly remember is that I was on a beach. I was walking out and I saw you sitting in the sand. Your back was to me, but I knew it was you. You looked sad and you were grabbing at the sand with your hand, digging for something at your side. I remember thinking I wanted to go talk to you, but then I had this overwhelming urge that I needed to get you sunblock first. It was so hot and the sun was hitting your back.
So, with the Dominican peso that I had in my hand, I walked over to the grass roofed huts that made up the “town” but they had American store names like Target and Home Depot. I went into the Target one and it was just like a regular Target on the inside. I kept walking the aisles looking for sunscreen, but no one knew what I was talking about. I came to an aisle where a woman was training baby elephants. I thought you would want to see it, so I went outside to find you but you weren’t there. So I went back to the store and instead of buying you sunscreen, I found a necklace in the sunscreen aisle that had a baby elephant on it. I bought it for you because I just had a feeling that it would make you happy.
A few weeks later, in real life, I saw almost the exact same necklace on a website that I like to shop at. I bought it for you, just like that, without even thinking. I remember thinking, why did I buy that? I wondered if you were going to think I was weird.”
Early November 2013…
I walked the aisles of Target looking for some sunscreen for my upcoming trip to Mexico. Worried about parabens and recent warnings about the spray kind, I pulled a bottle off the shelf to read the label. To my surprise, a coin fell off the shelf from beneath it. I picked it up and discovered that it was actually a peso. Not sure what to make of it, I superstitiously put the coin in my pocket just in case it was good luck.
One year ago…
I was lying in the sun on a Mexican beach drinking something delicious and rummy, recovering from my friend’s wedding the night before. I was probably thinking about how smart it was to buy a lot of sunscreen before I left the states, on account of the $25 bottles available in the resort gift shop. I also ruminated on the deep and significant topic of how everyone’s butts looked in bathing suits. I didn’t know in that moment that I had just started the very serious job of growing a tiny human in my womb. A blob of cells I would gaze at on a screen just a few weeks later. An idea, a hope that I would start to call my angel while I rested my hand on my tummy and sang it songs. I didn’t know that I would feel the highest highs and the lowest lows of my life in the short span of the next three months.
Giselle invited me to join her in a relay race called My Muddy Valentine. Besides the fact that I was wildly out of shape, I was also pregnant. I texted her my decline along with my excuses. She replied with:
“You are going to be an amazing mother! I have something for you. The whole story behind it is actually pretty freaky now that I know you are pregnant. The story involves a dream, a peso, and an elephant. You will have to wait and see…”
I sat on the exam table at my 12 week check up, eager to hear the heart beat of our little blob. It never happened. Though never confirmed, I felt like it was a girl. We named her Angeliki.
I finally saw my friend Giselle and she told me about her dream. My arm hair stood on end as I discovered that she had the dream months before my real life event of finding a peso under a sunscreen bottle in Target. I had no idea what it meant or if it meant anything at all.
I went to see my father’s grave, as I always do when I go home to Michigan. I have developed a little bit of a ritual for these visits over the years. If the ground isn’t too wet, I’ll sit on the grass right in front of the headstone. I talk to my dad, sometimes out loud, but mostly in my head so I don’t appear nuts to the passersby who are walking their dog through the cemetery. After the right amount of time, which varies from visit to visit, I will trace my fingers along the etching of my last name Willson on the headstone. I then kiss my fingers and touch the name Daniel, tell my dad I love him, and go on my way.
On this day, the sun was shining through the huge tree that shades my father’s grave. I sat for a long time with my arms wrapped around my knees and thought about the past year. I thought about dreams and miscarriage, pesos and baby elephants. My dad was a man of great faith and I asked him if he could help me with the things I didn’t understand. As I listened carefully to the still air around me, I got a sense that I should pray. But when I tried to say God’s name, I felt stuck. Like a kid paralyzed with fear on the edge of the pool.
It’s been a while since I’ve known what to call God. A few years back, I asked God what to call him or her and in a comical vision I was told, “Just call me Susan.” This time, in hopes of a more serious answer, I whispered again at the sky, what’s your name? And soon I heard, or thought, or dreamed some semblance of these words: Call me wind, call me peace. Call me pain but also call me hope. I am love and dreams. I am not the reason for your loss, I am Loss. I am just as much grief, as I am joy.
Tears came, just as they did almost every day. But this time, instead of asking God why or getting frozen in prayer, peace came for a fleeting moment as I formed this prayer: Patience, hold me up when I see those stupid negatives. Distraction, keep me from focusing all my energy on something that doesn’t exist yet. Hope, carry me forward into my future. Love, wrap Mikey and me in your arms and bind us together. Laughter, replace the tears that won’t stop streaming. Sanity, keep me from falling apart if this goes on for months and months. Peace, come dwell in my soul no matter the ending of the play. Bravery, use me. I don’t know how, but use me.
My friend Giselle gave me the gift that had been in her purse for nearly a year. It came in a tiny white gift box, tied up with a sheer maroon ribbon. Inside was a gold necklace that held a charm of a baby elephant. She told me about her dream again and how she went back and forth on whether to still give it to me after my miscarriage. I was so glad that she did, the gift solidified something that had been forming for while. It was like understanding the message someone was trying to tell me, even though I didn’t speak the language. I immediately put it on and haven’t taken it off since.
I decided to start a project called Baby Elephants. I named it this for a few reasons. My first thought was an overwhelming sense that the details of the past year meant something. I knew my friend’s dream was too strangely prophetic to dismiss, though I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with these clues besides walk away with an increased faith in “something more”.
In hopes of discovering the missing clue, I started to read about elephants. I wanted to find the thing that would make me put my index finger in the air and say, “Aha!” I knew that elephants were highly intelligent, but I didn’t realize how this played out in their experiences of grief. How “tears” stream down the sides of their faces when they lose a newborn calf. Or when a baby is separated from its mother, how it will wail for days and often will perish without her. And, for reasons we can only guess at through anthropomorphism, how elephants return to the site of a dead relative to rub the bones with their trunks over and over. Though, as someone who traces the name of her father on a gravestone, I think I understand it a bit.
While “researching” elephants, I came across a quote by Sharon Salzberg from her book Loving Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.
“The first step in developing true compassion is being able to recognize, to open to, and to acknowledge that pain and sorrow exist. Everywhere, absolutely everywhere, in one way or another, beings are suffering. Some suffering is intense and terrible; some is quiet and small.”
I was struck by the concept of “quiet and small” suffering. It was what I saw when women came out of the woodwork to tell me that they still thought about their loss every single day. That some, who have gone on to have several children, are still pained when they see a diaper commercial because it reminds them of a time that they couldn’t bear to watch them at all. One idea that I seemed to return to was the concept of the elephant in the room that is miscarriage. Or in this case, the baby elephant, quiet and small. It’s a suffering that doesn’t seem to fade, yet we expect ourselves to stop talking about it within a specific time frame. For some women, it is a few months. For others, they are expected to move on the very next day at work.
As time and space grew between my loss and my future hope, I felt the unspoken command that it was time to stop talking about it. Even though I thought about my loss almost every second of every day, it didn’t feel right to dwell on it. But I couldn’t just will myself to move on. I still cry, almost every single day. It’s irrational and possibly hormonal, but it’s real and doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much healing I try to fabricate. I wondered if there was a way to create a space for people to “talk about it” even when their time for grief is supposedly up. A place where the elephant in the room is recognized, brought to light, and honored. An opportunity to understand that you aren’t alone. Not just through anecdotes or well-meaning friends sharing the statistics of how “common” your situation is, but through real stories and voices.
Since posting my request for people to share about their loss, stories have been streaming in, slowly but surely. Though they are each unique, there are threads of similarity and familiarity. And even though I don’t quite understand it all nor do I know the shape that this project will take, it’s something that I’m just choosing to be a part of because, for lack of a better phrase, I feel called to.
If you still have a story to share, or a need a space to talk, please contact me. Thank you to those who have already reached out. Yours are the voices of Bravery, you are my Sanity, and my Peace.
To learn more about the Baby Elephants Project or to share a story, click here.