During the first months after my baby son’s death, I often felt that I was on the verge of sublimating. I was bound to explode into a gaseous cloud of disconnected molecules that would disperse and leave no trace. There was an allover burning sensation, and a sense that I needed to intensely focus if I wanted to keep the various pieces of myself together, like Peter Pan pinning his shadow to his shoe. The effort to remain whole was laborious and ultimately impossible. The red-tinged cloud of my heart frequently drifted out the door while my vaguely floating skin maintained appearances by hovering above the couch.

This sensation had a similarity to meditation, though it was more painful and disturbing than peaceful and calming. Some of the pain was rooted in the reminder this detached state carried of the self-hypnosis techniques I practiced in preparation for labor. Early in pregnancy, I realized that I wouldn’t have time for childbirth preparation classes so I sought out Hypnobirthing tracks. But I was grieving the loss of my marriage throughout my pregnancy, and every recording I found frequently referred to the partner that was supposedly holding my hand and watching my belly grow. Those sessions left me in hysterical tears rather than graceful repose.

Instead, I turned to songs. I created a playlist and meditated to it each day. My favorite was an early song by Weezer, Only In Dreams, borrowed from the playlist I’d put together for my wedding’s cocktail hour.

“You can’t avoid her, she’s in the air,
In between molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide”

Before labor, I listened to this song with my hands splayed across my abdomen, feeling my baby as he shifted and kicked. During weeks of contractions, I listened to it on repeat as I distanced myself from the pain. I imagined both my little son and myself floating somewhere, waiting to finally meet one another as two separate people.

“You say, ‘It’s a good thing, that you float in the air
That way there’s no way I will crush
Your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces'”

And this was a perfect reminder that my baby was safe inside me, that it was okay to allow labor to take its course. At the same time, I cherished the image of my son’s tiny toes, knowing that they would be the last small piece of his body to emerge. It was a loving labor, supported by the constant reassurance from machines, doctors, nurses, obstetric review articles and even YouTube videos, that everything would be alright.

By the time of my son’s birth-then-confusion-then-hope-then-death, after those months of meditation training and weeks of willing a 1994 Rivers Cuomo to hypnotize me through my frequent contractions, I had come to associate a disembodied nebulousness with our relationship. Of course our relationship was, by definition, extraordinarily physical in its every moment. But the bond was also strangely incorporeal, because it was created when he didn’t quite have his own body.

My peripartum, then postpartum and postsurgical state took the illusion one step further: I wasn’t just floating ethereally, I was going to pieces. Unbearable incisional pain, lochia, diastasis rectus abdominalis, wound dehiscence, prolonged muscular injury, and the relentless loss of hair all provided a physical mirror of my metaphysical coming apart.

So the heady, hazy feel common to early griefs had a unique place in my experience of being a mother to my son.

My molecules only slowed down and began to reconnect with one another as I witnessed the horrible, marble-solid finality of what had happened. I stopped asking myself how my baby could possibly be dead again this week, since he had already been dead last week, and wasn’t that more than enough for us to go through? I stopped wondering how I could possibly still exist. I stopped attempting to construct an atraumatic interpretation of events, and started recognizing that I had been through a traumatic experience. I stopped imagining that my experience shouldn’t have any impact on my siblings and my friends, and started accepting that my son’s death had forever changed the world for many of the people who knew us.

I forgot how to put forward a Cheshire grin while fading into transparency. I forgot why anyone would ever seek out their dark and slithery shadow, as mine became stubbornly affixed to my sole.