I had a miscarriage in the summer of 2012 after twelve weeks of pregnancy. I was 39 years old, and honestly, still a bit uncertain regarding whether I even wanted to be “mother.” But it was a possibility (and now an actuality) for the first time, and I was beginning to embrace it and be protective of it.
My partner and I named the fetus “Jasper.” A few days prior to the beginning of the miscarriage, I experienced the most vivid hypnagogic hallucination I’d ever had, likely due to increased progesterone levels. Or crashing ones.
I’ve had night terrors as well as hypnagogic and hypnopompic hallucinations all my life. Some of my earliest memories involve being frozen in place in bed, waking to paralysis and strange creatures peering into my room or leering at me from the floor or the next pillow. I thank Carl Sagan for his essay on these natural occurrences every day–for at points, it seemed the only explanation was budding madness or sinister supernatural forces at work.
In this case, it was an insect. A black insect. The blackest insect I’ve ever seen. There is a sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago by Katharina Frisch, Monk, that is one of the darkest things I’ve seen. It was that kind of dark, as if light was disappearing into it. It was on my bedside table, and it launched itself at me.
Where I had previously been paralyzed, suddenly I screamed and launched myself backwards out of the bed, over my sleeping husband, now startled awake and scared out of his mind. I was screaming incoherently about the creature, “Do you see it? Can you see it? It’s coming at me! Can’t you see it?” I was the apotheosis of abject terror and fear. We did not return to the bed or the bedroom for the remainder of the night.
A few days later I began bleeding. We went to the obstetrician’s office for an exam, and saw Jasper’s beating heart for the first time. The tech reassured me that “there was life there” and to have hope. Later, at about 3:00 a.m., alone in our bathroom, I struggled physically and emotionally as the last of Jasper fell from my body.
It is true that we die alone. Women have the additional potential for giving birth (or death), and that, too, is experienced alone.
A year and a half later, I gave birth to a healthy son, who is the light where Jasper was the dark. Today, I heard Norman Westberg’s (SWANS) album Jasper Sits Out for the first time, and although the cover art is spiritually terrifying to me, it is one of the most beautiful ambient albums I’ve ever listened to.
And I recognize that the beauty, terror, joy, and tragedy of that darkness–of Jasper–is still present in me.