Prenatal Dreams, 2018

Gabrielle Cadenhead

My belly protrudes, oversized and uncomfortable. This swollen sack of cells recycled, reused, re-forming, yet to be rebirthed. Waiting, sleeping, deep in some alien realm of sound and smell and touch. Lined with redbrown and nutrients. Two organisms sustained by the power of one.

Deep inside me, life wriggles. Sporadically and uncontrollably, small limbs curled in the safedark. It’s the most direct translation of his dreamling thoughts that I can come up with. His prenatal brain jumbles through emotions and sensations, incomprehensible to my adult mind. What I call a womb, he considers his whole world. He doesn’t even know that he exists yet. Cocooned inside me, his wet, pink body folds and flexes as he trains new limbs in preparation for his grand escape. A single fleshy cord ferries life between us.

His thrashing limbs drive me from my own dreams, my movements bent to the whims of a foetus who thinks he knows what’s best for both of us. I slip from bed, dainty as a small elephant, and shuffle towards the en-suite. Before the mirror I come face-to-face with frazzled hair and tired eyes, but I am grateful this foetus only mandates insomnia.

I, too, remember the warm safety of slimy walls and rhythmsleep. I remember snippets of Mozart; my mother’s gentle voice, muffled by her own envelope belly; my father’s hands, waiting for a kick. I remember her weariness, shaded with joy. The fatigue of sickness which struck her most mornings. As a foetus, I knew more than most about my own experience inside the womb. I remember my parents’ nervousness, their excitement to welcome their first child, just as I anticipate my own.

In the bathroom, our hearts thump in free polyrhythms, each pulling the other through alien cycles. Embedded within my body’s processes, his heartbeat learns to keep up. He calls it lifesound. Rhythms stretch and condense against the fluidity of our symbiotic existence. He doesn’t need his fledgling ears to feel the vibrations that pump blood through his system and mine.

He knows me though he cannot yet comprehend. I am life-carrier, safedarkhome-maker, encapsulation of everything he knows. Our relationship is not one of deity and worshipper, but rather home and resident; protector and protected. He exists because of me, and my existence is compensating for him. It’s all very biological. But it’s difficult to extract emotion from this process when he doesn’t yet know the difference between biology and love. When I can’t separate biology from love.

His mindtendrils draw me in, pleading for attention, for some sort of sense in his uterine world. Suddenly I am inside myself, wet and warm and ebbing at the edge of sleep. Dreamlets flicker past prenatal toes, bland and warm and dark and safe. Lifesound and lungfuls of amniotic fluid juxtapose in a cacophony of biological noise. His esper dreams weave melodies from sharp breaths and heartbeats, hang suspended from umbilical totem poles, and flicker as with sleepless eyelids. He has not yet learned to see, but he knows the sound of red.  Eyes roll beneath lids, passive in the midst of the visceral processes that foreshadow his birth. He is unaware of the transience of his current existence, swallowed by a reality fused with delusion. Fluid and impermanent.

I cannot tell him of the trauma of birth that is to come: a trauma we will both experience but that perhaps only I will remember. He does not yet understand the words I might use to describe how difficult being human will be. Right now is the closest we will ever be; already I can feel his dreams slipping away. He cannot exist forever in this safe cocoon of a womb. When his limbs have grown and he is unready for the world, it will consume him, and he will be left to fend for himself in the waters of adulthood. All I can give him is flesh and blood.

His small mind releases me, and I return to the bathroom. Dressing gown draped over swollen breasts, my blue-grey-green-rimmed eyes meet themselves in the mirror. Lethargy blurs my vision and my shape shifts, distorting my rotund stomach into angular shadows. Shadows which creep and tug at the edges of consciousness, mouth twisted from yawning. An illusion of my weary mind. Another glance and my envelope belly is round again, protector of prenatal thoughts.

Dragging tired feet over tiled floors, I return to my safedark bed, and succumb to lucid, alien dreams.

Mine or his.


Gabrielle Cadenhead is an emerging writer and composer who blurs the line between music and poetry. She writes short-form fiction and poetry, and loves telling stories that aren’t often heard. She is most interested in the intersection between her artforms – the rhythms of poetry, and the ability of music to tell compelling stories.