This evening as I was leaving work, one of my colleagues, who was my office-mate when my nephew was born six years ago, asked me how he was doing. Actually, her exact words were, “How’s my man doing?,” and I instantly knew who she meant. A huge smile crept across my face as I thought about him, his crazy antics, his growing mind and spirit and just how much I love him.
“He’s great,” I told her. “I’m actually going to see him the week after next and go to his school to read a story to his class.”
“All right!,” my co-worker exclaimed. “Give him a hug from me!” She’s never met him, and she doesn’t know much about my life, but one thing she does know is that I am one seriously devoted aunt.
Moments later, as I stood waiting for the elevator, my mind, while still filled with happy thoughts of nephew, turned to my ghost child.
My ghost child haunted me pretty actively in the immediate aftermath of my hysterectomy and cancer diagnosis. Everything happened so suddenly – there was no chance to process the emotional impact of losing my fertility, much less freeze eggs or any of that other good stuff. As a result, in the first weeks and months following my diagnosis, I could do nothing more than suffer unexpected swells of grief for the child I would never bear. These suffocating moments were a defining part of my early cancer experience, and were made all the more painful by the pharmacological assault of chemotherapy and hormonal nightmare of menopause – a devastating one-two punch.
Time heals all wounds, or something trite like that. Too many tears to count later, and here we are, over three years on, preparing to adopt. Next week, our social worker will come to our home for the first time. It’s still impossible to know exactly when, but this is going to happen. We will have a child.
My connection with my nephew is based on so many things: birthdays two days apart; religiously regular contact; a shared love of the absurd; genes. It’s the last bit that trips me up. Before cancer, my husband and I – like most people, I suspect – talked about the “Bubz Junior” we would produce: some quirky, completely delightful miniature combination of us both. We never imagined a boy or girl in particular, but I think it’s safe to say that we both imagined having a child in whom we could see some essential part of ourselves reflected.
Our ghost child still visits me every once in awhile, like today, but without the same paralyzing force. The grief is more muted – perhaps he or she is receding, pulling further and further away from the reality that was supposed to be into a place of peace. I keep seeing a preview for this wretched looking film, Rabbit Hole, about a coupling dealing with the death of their toddler son. It’s a subject many people can relate to. It’s almost impossible to imagine the same film being made about a couple grieving for the child they could never have.
Periodically, I dream of being pregnant. I had one of those dreams a few nights ago. As in most dreams, logic was completely absent, reality distorted. I’d been through my cancer, but was somehow still going to carry a child. I found myself in a doctors office with a group of women who were all going through fertility treatment. In the exam room next to me, a woman in labor screamed in pain. I was terrified of going through the same thing, but was also amazed at the miracle of my pregnancy.
I attribute these dreams to my ghost child; I suspect I will have them for the rest of my life, even after we welcome our adopted child into our family (perhaps even more so at that point.) There is real terror and confusion in those subconscious imaginings, but waking from them, and remembering how far I have come, provides a renewed sense of gratitude for what I still have, and what is yet to be.