Sweet 16

The birth – Part Two.

We waited.

It was the first week of October. I was around 37.5 weeks along in my pregnancy.  I had already been to the hospital, been told I was in labor, and that it wouldn’t be long.  As medication stopped my vomiting, my contractions slowed.  I never dilated past 1 centemeter and was sent home to wait. 

Over the next week, we walked along the Sacramento River.  We ate out.  We rented one of those covered bikes where you sit side by side and ride.  I had so much extra water in my body at this point, my skin would turn bright red and itch unbearably.  One day we went to PF Chang’s downtown and a bee crawled through the hole in my crocks. (Crocks were literally the only thing my giant, swollen feet could fit into.)  It stung me right on the tip of my toe.  (This was my second bee sting during my pregnancy and a part of me wants to think there is some sort of symbolism to it, although I haven’t figured out what. I haven’t been stung in the 16 years since.)  

The second week of October, I was back to my weekly appointments on base.  The doctor who had worked with us through our fertility issues basically said, “Hey, I have nothing going on on Friday.  Why don’t you come in and we’ll induce you!”  Me, knowing absolutely nothing about risk factors, anxious to meet our baby, and tired of being pregnant was like, “Sure, that seems like a great idea!”  He explained they would use a pill, Misoprostol, which would be put against the cervix.  He thought it would help me along.  I would be approximately 39 weeks. 

Gratefully, the universe had other plans.  The doctor called me Thursday, apologizing.  The base was having an air show on Friday (the 14th) and they weren’t doing any non-emergency procedures.  This baby would come when she was ready, and I think had we induced we would have had a very different experience.  While the information is mixed, there is generally the  opinion that induction can increase your chance of C-section. I didn’t want a C-section.  I really wanted to have her as naturally as possible.  (And yet, and yet, I thought this would all happen magically and my body would know exactly what to do.)

The third week of October, around 4 a.m. on October 17th, I woke to contractions.  These weren’t at all like those 2 weeks earlier. Thankfully, no vomiting with each squeeze.  This was steady and consistent.  We lived an hour from base and I kept thinking about the mom who can’t get to the hospital in time.  The mom who is birthing on the side of a road or in their passenger seat as the husband drives.  I was terrified I would be one of those which really didn’t help my anxiety. The hospital told us to wait until four minutes apart, but would that be enough time for the hour drive?  What if there was traffic on the freeway?  (This was Sacramento, there was always traffic on the freeway.)  I left my husband to sleep and went downstairs.  Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” was playing on TV and I used it to pass the time, recording minutes, walking, debating on when to wake up my sleeping husband, watching Madonna be Madonna.

I let him sleep and somewhere around 8:30, with my contractions coming closer, I woke him.  We packed and headed on our hour drive.  We had missed morning traffic and made it to base.  I was ready.  So ready.  My contractions were around 4 minutes apart.  We headed upstairs for them to check my cervix… 2 centimeters.  

What did they mean they wouldn’t keep me at 2 centimeters?  I just drove an hour to get here.  My contractions were 4 minutes apart.  I was NOT driving an hour home just so that I could drive an hour back.  But they wouldn’t let us stay.  They made us leave.

I sat in the car with Fred and started to cry.  Hysterical crying. The pain at this point was intense.  I couldn’t stand during contractions.  I couldn’t talk or walk during contractions.  And with my emotions came the vomiting.  It’s kind of my thing; get stressed, throw up.  Fred started to drive out of the parking lot with me crying.  He fully intended on driving us all the way home.  I told him I wasn’t leaving.  I was sitting in that parking lot until they let me in.  At this point, I was doubling over with each contraction. I was vomiting. Anxiety and fear were my companions.

Fred parked the car and up we went, back to labor and delivery.  In the time I spent crying in the car, I had gone from 2 centimeters to “almost” 4.  Despite their rules on only admitting at 4 centimeters, they let me stay.  Probably something to do with my propensity for throwing up.  

Art by Anna Loscotoff, 2008

They didn’t even ask if I wanted an epidural.  I guess my pain levels screamed “get this woman the anesthesiologist!” They got me checked in, and within minutes, the anesthesiologist was at the door.  They checked my spine, immediately noted the slight twist, and unlike every other spinal tap I’ve had, they easily got the epidural in place.  It was like a wave of peace floated down over my body.  The vomiting stopped.  The pain stopped.  I could speak and breath.  What I couldn’t do was walk.  At this point I was confined to a bed, but my body could finally rest.  

I think I was lucky on my epidural.  I could still feel my legs, nothing was numb.  I could still feel every single contraction, but there wasn’t pain associated with the epidural, just squeezing and pressure.  Checking my cervix, however, was still tortuously painful.  

At 7 centimenters, my labor began to slow.  Apparently this is a thing with getting an epidural too early, it can cause issues with the progression of labor.  And as I know now, one intervention almost always leads to another intervention which then leads to another.  My first intervention was the epidural.  My second intervention was their need to give me Pitocin to get my labor moving again.  But labor with Pitocin is stronger, the contractions are harder and last longer.  The stress on the baby increases as the contractions are medically strengthened.  Suddenly, I’m starting to hear comments about stress on our baby and the possibility of C-section.  They are telling me she needs to come soon, as if I’m somehow not birthing fast enough? As the hours had passed, the sensation changed.  The overwhelming pain in the upper part of the uterus was numbed by the epidural, but the sensation moved lower and lower until the contractions became sharply vaginal, perhaps pain within the cervix itself.  

We had arrived at the hospital that morning around 10 a.m.  At midnight, as the 17th turned to the 18th, they finally wanted me to start pushing.  “Am I at 10 centemeters?” I asked.  “No,” the nurse responded.  “You’re about 9.5, but the doctor wants you to start pushing.”  Wait, don’t you push at 10 centimeters?  Another thing I have come to learn is that the rate of C-sections increase as doctors come to the end of their shifts, and midnight was the end of his. So he wanted me to start pushing, regardless of what my body was ready to do. 

Laying on my back, our baby was also still really high.  She hadn’t dropped the way one would expect.  And so, with every push, you could see my belly lower, and on every break, she would move back up into position. The nurses commented that I didn’t seem to be making much progress and she seemed really high.  This is where laying on my back probably didn’t make too much sense.  Gravity would have been my friend.  A birthing chair, walking, squatting, these all would have helped.  But I lay on my back, pushing with each contraction, my energy fading.  My husband held my left leg, but no one held my right.  I had to hold my right which felt really lopsided and horribly exhausting.  Isn’t it enough to push?  Do I also have to hold my right leg continually up by my ear?

The first photo, October 2005

Some people might say labor feels like it lasts forever.  I started pushing at midnight, my contractions were right on top of each other due to the Pitocin, one on top of another on top of another.  My nurse monitored me the whole time, talking me through every moment.  Fred holding my left leg, me holding my right.  Finally, after 2 hours and 10 minutes of pushing, she was born.  (The male doctor literally walked in for the last 2 minutes and caught her, had Fred cut the cord, and the doctor walked out.)  I don’t know if you remember me saying that I first suspected I was pregnant on my birthday?  February 10th, 2-10, 2:10, the time of my daughter’s birth.  She was always going to be born at this time.  It didn’t matter if that doctor started me pushing at 2am, 2:10 is when she had decided.  While I certainly never questioned that she was my baby, that somehow cemented the idea that she was my daughter, the one we had been waiting for.   She was born on a full moon, and if you go back to the day I was born, so was I.  

First time holding my baby, trying to nurse. October, 2005.

Through all the pushing, she had passed meconium (the first bowl movement) and so they rushed her to another table to vacuum her mouth and nose.  Meconium, if inhaled, can lead to lung problems and even death in newborns.  She was strong, healthy, and had a beautiful wail of rebellion being pushed into this world.  7 lbs, 5 oz.  19 inches long.  A birthmark by her left eye.  Thick, black hair.  They cleaned her up and gave her to me, and almost immediately she tried to nurse.  So that one thing I actually researched and planned, it happened naturally. 

Sleeping at the military hospital, October 2005.

A few notes on our experience… Despite being 7 lbs, 5oz, the military hospital seemed to think she was heavier than she should be and were concerned about diabetes, pricking her foot to check her sugar.  I think maybe this was just their go-to to draw blood.  In the United States, the average birth weight is exactly 7.5 with normal being in-between 5.5 and 10 lbs and boys often being a bit bigger.  Because of the meconium and their concern on her weight, we had to stay an extra night, which was fine, she stayed with us in the room.  Within 24 hours, my milk was already changing from colostrum to mature milk.  Normal is usually 2-5 days.  Fred, after 2 weeks of waiting, had to go in to work on the 18th, which is why we have photos of him asleep in his flight suit.  As for me, despite the labor and hours of pushing, I wasn’t tired.  I must have been riding an adrenaline high for a few days.  All I could do was look at our beautiful daughter, mesmerized by this human I had been waiting to meet.

It’s 16 years later.  I had a daughter.  The one I envisioned and the only child I would ever bring to term.  She’s amazing.  And terrifying.  And smart, and honest, and complicated, and loving, and funny, and sarcastic.  I love seeing her everyday and know as she prepares for her life, the one where I don’t get to see her everyday, that I’m going to miss her desperately.  At the same time, I’m so excited for the life she gets to have, whatever direction it takes her.  One of the things that I was told when she was little, something I still hold on to is, “It’s all a phase.  The bad stuff, the good stuff.  It’s all a phase.  Know that the bad stuff won’t last forever, but the good stuff won’t either.  Appreciate it all.”

Happy Sweet 16. October 2021.

I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing the experience that other women have gone through.  I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.  

Are you interested in telling your birth story?  Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in-between?  Please contact me at anna@loscotoff.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.  I will happily share your biography through the blog and whatever you happen to be working on.

Links

Part One of my Birth Story

More about me

The Business of Being Born

La Leche League International – Breastfeeding Support

10 Ways First-Time Moms Can Avoid a C-Section Delivery

Meconium Aspiration Syndrome

Birth Stories

Drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2008

Sweet 16 – part one

I always saw myself having a daughter.  When I was in high school, I could see her in my imagination standing on a hill. Her back was turned to me and I could see her long dark hair.  When the time finally came in my life that I was ready to be a mom, it wasn’t as easy as it was for so many others.  There was a lot of testing, a lot of procedures, but nothing magically allowed an answer as to why conception was so difficult.  I would cry when I saw other women with their little girls and my husband would tell me, “you’ll have your little girl someday.” Eventually we decided to try a round of Clomid, a medication that tells your body to ovulate.  In today’s medical world, there are oral prescriptions.  For me, it was shots into my belly.  We only did the one month.  It felt too artificial for me, forced and scheduled.  Something about the process allowed me to take a step back, to be okay with the fact that this little girl was not ready to come into our lives. 

That month after Clomid (which wasn’t successful), I was acting in a children’s theater production near Sacramento.  I’m sure you can imagine the type; get dressed in a very silly animal costume, meet waves of buses as they drop off hundreds of children which fill the auditorium.  Ironically, I played the mama bird, sitting on my giant egg, singing to her, waiting for my baby to hatch. There were cages and kidnappings and silly dance numbers. I’m not sure I even saw the connection between the role I was playing and my own life.  If I did, I wasn’t affected by it.  The play had become a distraction.  

Me as “Mama Bird” in a Sacramento Children’s Theater. January, 2005.

On our final day of acting during the first week of February, the woman playing my baby bird brought in a chicken salad.  The smell of it was offensive, the look of it made me want to gag, everything about the chicken had my system on high alert.  My cycle wasn’t late, and I didn’t see it as some sort of clue that our lives were about to change.  On my birthday, February 10th,  my husband took me for a motorcycle ride.  I felt myself cramping, different cramping than I was used to, and that was my first thought that maybe, possibly, could it be?  The repulsion of chicken hadn’t gone away, was it a possible sign?  I didn’t want to get my hopes up and guessed it might only be my cycle which was due right around that time.  So I waited a few more days.  Finally on the morning of Valentine’s Day I decided to take the test.  For the first time ever, it was positive.  I gave my husband a Valentine’s Day Card which announced the news that I was finally, after so many tears, pregnant.  

Our baby’s right foot. 2005.

Anyone wanting a pregnancy knows the anxiety and fear that accompany the process.  Do you tell people when the risk of miscarriage is so high?  Do you choose to keep it a secret, knowing you’ll be alone through the process if something goes wrong?  I chose to tell. I knew that if something happened to this pregnancy, I would need the support of my family and friends to help me move through the grief. 

Nothing bad happened.  I told everyone she would be a she. I had seen her standing on that hill for so long, I just couldn’t imagine a boy.  My husband liked to tease me though, telling me he was pretty certain we were having a boy.  Even after the 22 week ultrasound, in which they said “most likely a girl, but not a perfect view”, he continued to sew doubt.  (He said after she was born that he knew she was going to be a girl, he though I knew he was joking.  I didn’t.)

Before I met my husband, I had an amazing 140 lb Rottweiler.  That dog was my everything.  Sweet and loving, basically my big baby.  People would cross the street away from us when they saw me walking him.  I had photo processing people ask if he was a bear because he looked so massive in pictures of him at a distance.  He was just so much love, even if he came is a scary looking package.  But I worried about a newborn baby and a 140 lb dog.  How would his life change and would we need to worry about our babies safety?  Would there be gates and separation? At about 4 months into my pregnancy, we noticed his right knee was swollen.  It was a rapidly growing cancer.  He needed his leg amputated along with chemotherapy.  His left leg and hip, however, were arthritic and he often struggled to move from sitting to standing with both legs.  We knew that amputation wasn’t the right choice for him.  We chose to give him as much love as was possible in his time left.  We promised to give him a humane death when the pain became too much.  But what is too much in a dog?  They hide their pain so well.  He walked me through much of my pregnancy, quite literally along the Sacramento River, past Old Town and under the I street bridge.

My constant companion. 2000.

About 6 weeks before I was due, he woke us at 2 a.m. in terrible pain.  For the first time in his life, he snapped at my husband.  He bit him. Not hard enough to break the skin, but hard enough to understand how horrible this was for him. We loaded him into our car for his last ride.  Even now, the grief of that night weighs on me.  I felt like we waited too long despite the fact that we were watching closely for any and every sign.  We think the tumor finally grew to the point that it ruptured his knee while he slept.  I sat on the floor of the emergency vet, crying hysterically, 34 weeks pregnant at 3 a.m.  We said our goodbyes.  I loved him so much and I’m so very grateful for the time I had with him.

Us with our wonderful boy. 2001.

While his death came far too soon, and despite the fact of waiting one day too long, his death allowed me time to grieve.  Had our baby already been born, would I have been able to be as present with him in his final days? Would I have been able to fully grieve, knowing I would need to be present for her?  Had he died earlier, would I have had the anticipation of our child coming to allow me some sense of peace in his passing?  He chose a time that allowed space in grief while allowing time to recover and prepare.  

The weeks passed. I grieved.  My excitement and joy returned.  But, in all honesty, I knew nothing about birth.  My husband was military and so we did the one required military birthing class.  They made us hold a bag of ice to practice breathing through the discomfort.  My husband lasted far longer than I did.  I have struggled with pain my whole life and even the ice was unbearable.  I had wanted to birth at a birth center in Davis, CA, but our insurance didn’t cover it and it was more than we felt we could afford at the time.  So we planned for the Air Force Base.  

My mom had been a La Leche League advisor growing up and I would go with her when she would help other women.  I went to the meetings. I remember trips to other women’s houses to help them latch while she was nursing my sister.  I remember bits of a gathering at the State Capital.  She believed in extended nursing and I planned to do the same.  I read books, learned about the proper latch.  When it came to breastfeeding, I was prepared.  But birth, birth itself?  Nothing other than holding a bag of ice.  This was still 3 years before “The Business of Being Born” came out. How I wish that movie had been available to pregnant me.  I knew nothing about home births, did people actually still do those?  What I knew of a birth center is that is was basically out of our price range.  I had had many spinal taps a few years earlier, so I knew I could handle an epidural if I needed it.  I visited labor and delivery and their anethestiologist to be sure that my spine was safe for an epidural.  (For the first time I even discovered that my spine has a slight twist, which explained why my earlier taps where so complicated and so excruciating.).  

Four generations of women; my mom Jean, my grandma Helen, my great grandma Lillie, myself at 4 months. 1975.

And we waited.  I was due around October 21st but during the first week of October (around 38 weeks), I began to vomit.  I couldn’t stop, it just kept coming.  We drove the hour to the military hospital and they said I was in labor.  They checked my cervix and it was just barely open.  (By the way, I don’t know how many people experience pain when their cervix is checked, but for me, it was terrible.  It felt like my cervix was being ripped out each and every time.) With every contraction, I threw up.  With every contraction, my intestines spasmed.  They started me on anti-nausea meds and as my vomiting stopped, so did my contractions.

They sent me home, telling me it would be soon.  My husband’s job told him not to come in until this baby was born.  

Again, we waited.  

Waiting, October 2005

Click Here for Part 2, the birth.

I have a passion for birth stories. I love hearing the experience that other women have gone through.  I think it’s important that we support each other through this process, whether it is natural birth, C-section, home birth, hospital birth, birth centers, the grief of miscarriages, the experience of abortion, menopause, hysterectomies, first periods, and every other aspect of our reproductive rights and experiences. I wish to add the stories of other women to honor the collective experience and help us to learn from and honor each other.  

Are you interested in telling your birth story?  Are you interested in sharing the experiences you have around reproduction, from your first period to menopause and everything in-between?  Please contact me at anna@loscotoff.com and title “Birth Stories” in the subject line.  I will happily share your biography through the blog and whatever you happen to be working on.

Resources

The Business of Being Born (IMDB)

More about me

My Creative Muse and the Afterlife

Mandalla drawing of my creative muse with a white mandala background and rainbow color shape. Her arms are outstretched and she wears a rainbow crescent crown on her head. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff.

In January of 2008, I took my first Artist Way class in Sacramento, California.  Artist Way is about making space for your creativity, identifying your critical inner voice, and clearing out the congested wounds that have gotten in your creative way.  During one of our classes, we were asked to meditate on our Creative Muses and draw them.  I closed my eyes and without a second of thought, she stood in front of me.  She consumed my vision with flaming light, radiant. She wore a crescent crown, her arms outstretched, a rounded base.  This vision of her filled every ounce of my conscience.  

A symbolic shape of a woman is drawn in rainbow chalk pastels.  Her arms are outstretched, she has a round belly, she wears a crown of the sickle moon. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff, 2008.
Drawing in chalk pastels of a vision of my Muse, January 2008, Sacramento. We were asked to meditate on our creative muses and this image came immediately to my closed eyes.

The image was new to me.  As time has passed and technology grows, I see hints of her on the internet through the Triple Goddess and her horned consort.  I see the other Lunar Deities and how the image of the crescent crown has been used over time.  But for me, in that time and place, the crescent moon sitting on the head of my Muse was new. 

In 2011, I tattoo’d her shape onto my left wrist.  Her tattoo was a reminder; she is always present with me and creativity is a part of who I am.  I chose my left arm because the left is often seen as our spiritual, creative, and feminine side with the right side being rooted in the here and now, our masculine, logical side.  I signed my art with her shape, honoring my muse.

A new tattoo in the shape of a symbolic woman with arms outstretched, a round body, and sickle moon crown.
In 2011 I got a tattoo of my Muse on my left wrist. She stands in the shape that I saw her in 2008.


In the spring of 2013, we left Sacramento, moving to the dry Tehachapi Mountains.  I left behind a very dear friend, Susan.   A woman who was constantly reminding and supporting the divine feminine within me; reminding me of who I was and who I could be. Just after Christmas of that year, she called me.  Her friend was dying and she wondered if she could come and visit. 

Susan’s friend was Signe.  Signe was blind, and Susan, an avid hiker and outdoors woman, would take Signe with her.  She would guide her through the trees, up paths, and gave Signe an opportunity to see the world through Susan’s eyes. Susan instinctively felt that Signe could not pass with her in town, and if she came to visit me, Signe would be able to transition.

Signe passed the first night and, in her honor, Susan asked if we could go hiking.  As we drove up the mountain, Susan’s brother called.  He told her, “Signe can see every color of the rainbow now.”

We arrived at Mountain Park, a camping and hiking area just above Tehachapi with beautiful pines.  We stepped out of the car and began to climb. Two baby trees caught Susan’s attention and she pulled out her digital camera and took a photo.  She stopped, looked at me, and said, “Look at this!”

There in her photo, in the upper right corner, was a glorious rainbow burst of light.  It wasn’t at all like the shape you get from the sun, with circular orbs.  This was quite different. My daughter, 8 at the time, asked to see.  Immediately she stated, “Mommy, it’s your tattoo.”  And she was right.  The shape of my tattoo had appeared in Susan’s photo and she was every color of the rainbow, just as Susan’s brother had said not 15 minutes earlier.

A orb, every color of the rainbow, which appeared in a digital photograph. The shape of the orb mimics the shape of a woman with a round bottom and crown on her head.
A glimpse of the Afterlife. The first photo taken after the passing of Signe, this orb appeared in the upper corner of the picture, mimicking the tattoo of my Muse and containing every color of the rainbow, symbolic to the woman who passed.

We knew in that moment that Signe was with us.  We knew Signe could now see every color of the rainbow in this new space. I also understood that what I had seen in 2008 was real, not something my mind created in the moment.  The figure of the Goddess on my wrist wasn’t a figment, but rather a form that exists outside of our human bodies. 

When I find myself doubting or fearful as to what comes next, I return to Mountain Park and my time with Susan.  I return to Signe’s message of existence after our earthly death.  I return to my Muse, the form that appeared to me when I asked for her support and guidance. I am comforted that there is more.  I am comforted knowing we have glimpsed the Afterlife.

A drawing of my Creative Muse using every color of the rainbow on black paper. Drawing by Anna Loscotoff.
A drawing of my Creative Muse on black paper in every color of the rainbow.

Thank you to Susan, for allowing me to share her part of this story and for being such a powerful and beautiful influence in my life.

My Dear Readers, what gifts have you been given that allow you faith in an Afterlife? Have you seen, felt, or heard something that you hold on to? Do you have an interpretation different than mine? Are there books that have influenced you? You can send me a message here or comment below.

Links:

Lunar Deities

The Faces of the Goddess

Cernunnus, the Horned God of Celtic Mythology

Books:

Maiden, Mother, Crone: The Myth and Reality of the Triple Goddess

By Oak, Ash, & Thorn: Modern Celtic Shamanism

The Mists of Avalon (my all-time favorite fiction about the Triple Goddess)

Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations

Original Mandala by Anna Loscotoff. Drawing of experience with Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations, drawn on Procreate. Image of woman with blonde hair dreaming her arms are too long. She's sitting in blue bed with orange light in background. 2020.

I recently had a rough night of sleep.  The hallucinations kept coming, one after another, for hours.  Because I understand what’s happening, or at least understand it’s not real, they don’t last as long as they used to.  I can generally pull myself out fairly quickly, but on nights like this I become afraid to close my eyes again and the anxiety rises. The adrenaline and fear is exhausting and at a certain point my brain begins to think something is really wrong.  On this particular night, after hours of partially waking, I told my husband that I thought I was having strokes. I was mostly asleep, not fully conscious of what I was saying. Other nights I’ve told him I was having a heart attack.  One night, I got up and told my daughter, full of panic, that my arms were too long. Yes, my arms were too long.  In reality, my brain is somewhere in the in-between; not yet awake, not completely asleep.

Anna sleeping at around 5 years of age with her dog.

When I was in high school I slept with my lamp on.  My dad, always conscious of the energy bill, would come in at 2 or 3 in the morning, my light having somehow woke him. He would switch it off, unintentionally waking me, and quietly reprimand me for keeping it on.  I’ve come to learn it was a sleep survival instinct. Research has shown that increasing light pulls the individual out of the hallucination.  That’s why, in second grade, the skeleton on my shelf didn’t disappear just because my dad came in the room.  It disappeared when he turned on the light. Many nights, with the lights off, I would see doors in my bedroom walls.  My brain told me I needed to go through the doors, curious about where they went.  Only I couldn’t get to them, something was in the way.  That something was often a dresser or bookshelf, and I would fully wake trying to move them.

You’d think a solution would be to sleep with the light on.  As an adult, I wish that were an option.  I do sleep with a salt lamp, but that often feels too bright and doesn’t allow me to fully sleep.  Nightlights cause shadows.  Those shadows become stories, creatures, forms.  Those shadows become anxieties to my sleeping mind. 

I go through stages of hallucinations, my mind fixating on certain subjects, sometimes for years at a time. I’ve had weeks of aliens coming through the ceiling, years of an important ring that I have lost or swallowed (and the loss of that ring to my sleeping mind will end the world), fairies flying around the room, floods. Lately my mind has a preoccupation with electricity. All of these are symbolic and visions into where my subconscious is centered. I will go more into symbolism, both in dreams and in hallucinations, in future posts.

Could there be something really wrong? This condition can be found in completely normal, healthy individuals, but there are some genuine medical reasons that people experience nocturnal hallucinations.  I just don’t seem to have any of them.  I don’t have hallucinations during the day, either visual or auditory, which is common in Schizophrenia.  I don’t have Epilepsy.  I don’t use drugs or alcohol.  No sight deprivation, Parkinson’s or Lewy body dementia.  Complex Nocturnal Hallucinations are also common in Narcolepsy, however Narcolepsy has several other defining factors such as excessive daytime sleepiness and sleep paralysis (neither are issues that affect me.) Also, it started when I was in 1st grade, (perhaps earlier, I just don’t have the conscious memory), which makes me think it is just how my brain fires. 

What types of things have you experienced while sleeping?  Any common symbols that keep coming up for you?

Want to explore deeper?  Here are some studies about Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucination:

Complex Visual Hallucinations in Mentally Healthy People

Complex Visual Hallucinations; Clinical and Neurobiological Insights

What You Should Know About Sleep-Related Hallucinations

Melatonin-Responsive Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations

The Skeleton on the Shelf

Anna in 1981, age 6, in her backyard.

I was only in first grade, nestled into my blankets on the loft of my bunk bed. It was late, everyone asleep, all the lights out. I opened my eyes from my deep sleep. Sitting across the room, on my book shelf, sat a skeleton. Not a little one, like a toy, but a full sized boney form, staring at me.

I screamed.

I kept screaming.

It kept staring at me.

My dad burst into the room; the skeleton sat until my dad flipped on the light. Mercifully, the light banished my visitor.

At school, I told the third grade girls who I so delightfully looked up to about my experience.  They were convinced I had been visited by Bloody Mary and I feared they were right.

Anna holding her birthday cake in the shape of a giraffe on her 7th birthday.

This is my first memory in a long history of sleep disorders, all falling under the umbrella of Parasomnia.  Parasomnia includes common sleep disorders you’ve probably heard of like Sleepwalking, Sleep Talking, and Nightmare Disorders, but it also includes sleep disorders a little less familiar, like Hypnagogic Hallucinations (upon falling asleep), Hypnopompic Hallucinations (upon waking), and Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations (middle of the night.) While  Hypnagogic and Hypnopompic Hallucinations are often connected to Narcolepsy, Sleep Paralysis and Excessive Daytime Sleepiness, Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations often disappear with increasing light and don’t cause that same exhaustion during the day.  

Through my years of sleep disorders (Sleepwalking, Sleep Talking, Nightmares, Teeth Grinding, Complex Nocturnal Visual Hallucinations) I’ve become deeply invested in the world of sleep, how our dreaming brain works, symbolism and dream interpretation.   

This blog will be an exploration of dreams and symbolism, mandala work, art, meditation through art, and sleep. It may lead us down unforeseen paths, like the time I followed a red balloon through my parent’s room, trying to convince them it was real and them trying to convince me I was asleep and needed to go back to bed. I hope you will join me on this journey.