When my son was four years old, I was in one of the darkest places of my life. My son’s father and I were in an extremely toxic on-again, off-again relationship that wasn’t good for anybody. My mental health was at an all-time low. I was 25 years old, and I was still trying to figure out who I was and who I wanted to be. Even during the brief periods when my son’s father and I were together during that time, I was still a single mother. He hardly contributed anything to our son’s wellbeing. Certainly not time or money. I knew our relationship was a lost cause, but I was so desperate for a piece of the Happily Ever After narrative that had been shoved down my throat by Disney Channel ever since I was a little girl. I just kept trying to make things work with my son’s father. It was a really depressing time in my life.
Strange things occurred that year, and I still haven’t been able to come up with a logical explanation for what I experienced. I know I was sleep deprived and not in the best place mentally or physically, but I know what I felt and saw during that time. As crazy as it sounds, the only way I can put my experience into words is to tell you that I truly believe I met my daughter before she was born.
At the time, my son and I were sharing a room in our one-bedroom apartment. Since my son’s father didn’t contribute anything to us financially, I couldn’t afford a bigger place. So, we just made do with what I had. Even during the brief lapses of time when his father and I were on good terms, he was never there. He rarely slept in that room with us because he was always “working night shifts”. He was too busy using what money he did make to pay off his legal debts and finance his addictions and gambling problems that I didn’t know he had at the time. Like I said, our poor excuse of a relationship was a disaster.
One summer night, my son and I were both sleeping. He was in his little bed on the other side of the room, and I was in my own bed. I awoke when I felt the weight of his tiny body climb up the foot of my mattress and crawl under the covers beside me. I was exhausted and didn’t move. I waited to see if he would try to wake me up because he had a nightmare or an accident in his own bed, but he never did. He was silent under the covers behind me. Without thinking too much of it, I fell back to sleep quickly.
The next morning, I rolled over carefully when I remembered that he had crawled into bed with me. I didn’t want to wake him or accidentally roll on top of him, so I moved as gently as I could, then looked over my shoulder, where I expected to find his little sleeping body. To my surprise, the bed was empty beside me. I hadn’t felt him climb out of bed that morning, but I felt a small pang of panic in my gut at the thought of him being awake and in the living room unsupervised. I quickly sat up in bed and threw the covers off of me, but felt instant relief upon seeing my son on the other side of the room, still asleep in his own bed.
When I woke him up later that morning to eat breakfast, I tried to ask him about the night before.
“Hey buddy, did you have a nightmare last night?”
“What?” he asked in his small voice.
“I felt you climb into Mommy’s bed last night. I was wondering if you had a nightmare and got scared.”
“No, I didn’t,” he said, over a mouth full of cereal.
“You didn’t have a nightmare? Well, why did you crawl into my bed? And why were you in your bed this morning? Did you change your mind?” I moved his hair, which I had been letting grow out and now fell in cute little ringlets over his forehead and around his eyes, away from his face.
He looked up at me with his big, innocent eyes and said, “Mommy, I didn’t go in your bed. I slept in mine like a big boy.”
At that point, I just dropped the conversation and didn’t think much of it. For the last few months, we had been working on sleeping in our own beds after he had gone through a phase where he wanted to be attached to me 24/7. I didn’t want to discourage or embarrass him by making a big deal about his recent hiccup in the progress that he had been making. I figured he climbed into my bed when he was half asleep, then woke up and went back into his own bed before I woke up that morning, hoping I wouldn’t notice. It was also possible that he genuinely might not have remembered any of it because he was half asleep.
Later that week, my son slept with me because he had a cold and was feeling pretty miserable. I’m not sure if he wanted to receive his mother’s comfort or simply wanted to share his cooties, but he accomplished both. The following day, I asked him to stay in bed and rest so he could recover quicker. I put a movie on for him and told him he could either watch it or go to sleep, but whichever he chose, he needed to take it easy and stay in my bed.
I decided to use his down time as an opportunity to take care of some of the household chores that I had been neglecting. As I was in the kitchen doing dishes, I saw him peeking in at me from around the corner of the doorway. When our eyes met, he giggled, and before I knew it, he was out of my sight. I could hear his little footsteps recede back down the hallway and into our room. Annoyed that he had disobeyed me, I went into the bedroom and was prepared to yell at him, only to find him asleep in my bed.
I stood there for a moment and watched his chest rise and fall as he was lying there. I even exaggerated my footsteps to the edge of the room and shut the door, hoping to trick him into thinking I had left, so I could catch him faking that he was asleep. He didn’t budge. He was genuinely asleep. How was that possible? I had just seen him in the kitchen and heard him running down the hallway.
I sat on the bed beside him and placed my hand on his forehead. He was very warm, and I knew I needed to give him another dose of medicine to bring down the fever, so I didn’t feel guilty about waking him. I gave him some medicine and a popsicle, then got comfy in the bed beside him.
“Hey, were you in the kitchen a few minutes ago?” I already knew it wasn’t possible, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask him.
“No, Mommy. I fell asleep watching Finding Nemo.”
I stared at him for a moment as he ate his popsicle and continued watching the TV screen. As hard as I tried to find any trace of dishonesty on his little face, I couldn’t see a single reason not to believe him. I told myself that I wasn’t feeling very well, either. I figured I probably had a fever of my own, causing me to see or hear things that weren’t there. Again, I dropped the conversation and left my son to finish his movie in peace.
A week later, as my son and I were sleeping in our own beds again, I felt him crawl beside me and snuggle up against my back. As before, I waited for him to say something but took his silence for contentment and allowed myself to fall back to sleep. A couple of hours later I woke up, and I could still feel him behind me. I had to use the bathroom, so I gently got out of bed. In my best effort not to wake him, I tiptoed across the bedroom floor, navigating my way through the room by the moonlight streaming in from the window. Just as I was about to exit the room, I froze in horror with my hand on the doorknob as I noticed my son sleeping in his own bed, which was right next to where I was standing. On instinct, I flipped on the light switch and walked back to my bed. I slowly approached my side of the mattress and gasped when I discovered the bed to be empty yet again.
I had just felt my son’s body pressed up behind me a moment prior. There was no way he climbed out of my bed and ran into his own, in such an impossibly short amount of time, without me seeing or hearing him. I walked back over to his bed and saw that he was still sound asleep. I could hear his gentle snoring over my own racing heartbeat.
I left the bedroom light on and ran to the bathroom. I splashed my face with cold water, then sat on the edge of the bathtub. I spent the next few minutes calming myself down. By the time I left the bathroom, I had convinced myself that I only dreamt that I felt my son crawl into bed behind me, and I must have still been half asleep when I got out of bed, thinking I could still feel him there. I told myself that what I had misinterpreted as my son’s body must have simply been one of the blankets that had gotten bunched up behind me and was reflecting my own body heat back onto me.
By the time I went back into our bedroom, I was feeling much better, but decided I wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep. So, I turned on my bedside lamp, and turned off the overhead light. Thankfully, my son was still sleeping in his bed. I sat up in my bed and played on my phone for the next two hours, until the sun came up that morning, before falling back to sleep.
Later that day, my son’s father made one of his rare appearances, in a half-assed attempt to bond with our son. It had been weeks since the last time they had seen each other, so this visit was welcomed. I desperately needed a well-deserved break from parenting, so I suggested they both go hang out in the bedroom and watch a movie or something so I could relax on the couch and have a brief period of time to myself. All I wanted to do was paint my toenails in peace and catch up on the latest season of The Walking Dead that was on Netflix. Half of an hour into the show, I caught a glimpse of my son running into the kitchen from the corner of my eye. I then heard noises, like he was getting into something. I tried to be patient and waited 30 seconds to see if his dumbass father would come into the kitchen and help our son with whatever he was doing, but of course he never did. His dad had a bad habit of falling asleep during the rare moments when he was supposed to be watching our son, which is why I never left him alone in his presence.
Irritated, I went into the bedroom to see if he was sleeping so I could scream at him and tell him to go help his child in the kitchen. Sure enough, I found him asleep in my bed. I reached for the glass of water on my nightstand from the night before and was ready to dump it on him, but I stopped when I realized he wasn’t alone in the bed. I was horrified to find our son curled up in his arms, sound asleep next to him.
I ran into the kitchen, which was now silent, and nearly fell over when I noticed that every single one of the lower cabinets and drawers were open. Nothing above the kitchen sink appeared to be touched. It was like nothing was disturbed outside of the height of a child’s reach. As if on autopilot, I reluctantly went into the kitchen and closed everything. Then I peeked back into the bedroom, where the two of them were still sleeping, and I closed the door. I resumed my spot on the couch and played the next episode of my show, but I couldn’t focus on anything that was happening on the screen in front of me.
After being sufficiently creeped out, I had my son sleep in bed with me that night after his father left. I didn’t want to admit it, but I was scared. I felt like my son would be safer beside me instead of across the room. I left a movie playing on the TV in our room with the volume down. I didn’t want to sleep in the dark that night.
A few hours later, I once again felt someone crawling into my bed. This time, I couldn’t dismiss what was happening or try to explain it away, because I was already holding my sleeping child in my arms. I continued to feel the weight of someone climbing across the covers towards us. I wanted to lift my head and look to see if there was anyone there, but I was too terrified to move. As before, I felt the body of a small child climb under the covers behind me and snuggle up to my back.
I forgot how to breathe for a moment as I just laid there, paralyzed with fear. What the hell was happening? How did I have my small child in front of me, but feel another one behind me? I knew I wasn’t dreaming. I knew I wasn’t imagining it this time. Something wasn’t right.
Finally, I took a deep breath into my aching lungs, summoned every ounce of courage that I had within me, and reached over my son to turn on the bedside light. My son woke up instantly and rolled over to look at me. I sat up and looked over my shoulder at the space where I could still feel someone laying behind me. I didn’t see anyone, but I could see a small, child-sized indent in the mattress.
“GET OUT OF THE BED!” I screamed at my son as I shoved him off of the mattress. He fell on the floor and landed hard on his knees. I know it hurt him, I could see on his face that he wanted to cry, but he just got up and ran to the other side of the room as fast as he could. I tried to follow him, but my foot got tangled in the blanket and I fell on the floor.
When I finally tugged my foot free of the blanket, I stood up and looked at the mattress again. The imprint was gone. At this point, my son started crying on the other side of the room, so I ran over and grabbed him.
“Oh my god, I’m so sorry baby,” I said, pulling him closer to me. “I had a nightmare and thought I saw a bug in the bed behind me,” I lied. “I didn’t mean to scare you or push you off the mattress.”
“My knee hurts,” he whined into my shoulder.
“I’m sorry. Let’s go look at it.”
I guided my son down the hall to the bathroom, where I examined his knee. There were no cuts on it for me to clean, so I just carried him to the couch and handed him a washcloth with ice in it and told him to hold it on his knee. We spent the rest of the night on that couch, eating ice cream and binge-watching Netflix. I refused to go back into that bedroom again.
The next day, I called my son’s dad. I never asked him for anything, and it had been months since we were on good terms, so when I begged him to come stay over for a couple of nights, he obliged. I didn’t tell him what I had been experiencing around my apartment over the last couple of weeks, because I knew he wouldn’t believe me. Instead, I lied and told him that I missed him. By this point, I was truly exhausted with our dysfunctional relationship, as well as his inability to be the kind of father that our son deserved. I admit that I still had residual feelings for him that I was still trying to work through, but I was realizing that I could never be truly happy with him. I had seen enough. Unfortunately, I also knew that lying to him and making it seem like I was open to the idea of giving us one more chance was the only surefire way to get him to come over and stay with us for a couple of days.
Unfortunately, my newfound awareness of the reality of our relationship didn’t stop me from drinking the second night that he stayed with us. One thing led to another, and we ended up doing something stupid on the couch that night after our son had fallen asleep. I wasn’t into it like I used to be with him, but I think I really needed to be intimate with him one last time. I think it was my attempt to say goodbye to my hopes for us and let go of our relationship. It was my unhealthy attempt at seeking closure from that miserable chapter of my life with him. Little did I know, I had just written a major plot twist into my own story.
After that night, the strange things stopped occurring around the apartment. It was like someone flipped a switch. I stopped seeing and hearing my son in parts of the house where he was not. I stopped feeling someone crawling into bed with me at night. I stopped being afraid to sleep at night.
About a month later, it was like I just woke up one day and my senses were heightened. I could smell everything. The scent of my son’s playdough made me nauseous. I thought maybe I was going to start my period, because sometimes that caused me to be extra sensitive to my surroundings and not want to eat anything. When I headed to the bathroom because I was afraid I might throw up, it hit me. I realized I hadn’t had a period in 6 weeks. My period had always been irregular, but this was a stretch, even for me. I told myself that I had been under a lot of stress recently with all of the weird stuff that had happened around my apartment, and maybe that caused me to miss a period. I decided to use the pregnancy test that I had kept stashed in the medicine cabinet just in case.
I spent the next half hour locked in the bathroom, crying on the floor with that little pink plus sign. I wasn’t sure if I was happy, sad, or terrified. Maybe it was a combination of all three. One thing I knew for sure: If I kept this baby, I would raise it alone, just as I’d had to do with my son.
After thinking long and hard about my options, I decided to go through with the pregnancy. As expected, the father dropped the ball with this child, too. I ended up cutting off our relationship for good during that pregnancy, and the father of my children is barely around even to this day. I don’t regret either of my children, but I often wish that I’d had them with someone else. However, a part of me is thankful that both of my children have the same father, as poor of an excuse of a father as he may be.
My daughter is four years old now, and she looks just like her brother, especially when he was that age. She has the same murky emerald eyes and tight ringlet curls that fall across her forehead and frame her face. The resemblance between the two of them is uncanny. It is absolutely amazing how the same face can look so beautiful on both of them.
I got goosebumps and a major sense of déjà vu last week as I watched my daughter peek in at me from around the corner of the kitchen doorway before giggling and running down the hallway into her bedroom. She also has a habit of opening all of the lower cupboards in the kitchen and hiding things from her brother in there when she’s mad at him. It’s one of the only hiding places that she can reach.
We have a new, bigger apartment now, and all of us have our own rooms. And yet, one of my daughter’s favorite things to do is to crawl into bed with me in the middle of the night and cuddle up against my back in the most oddly familiar kind of way. I always believed that we had encountered each other before she was officially mine, but tonight confirmed it.
My daughter woke me up a few hours ago by crawling into my bed and cuddling up to me. When I rolled over and put my arm around her, she giggled.
“What’s so funny?” I whispered.
“Mommy,” she giggled again, “Do you remember that one night, a long time ago, when I scared you guys, and you both hurt yourselves trying to get out of bed?”
I stared at her in wide-eyed silence.
“I didn’t mean to scare you,” she explained, “I just wanted you to know that I chose you.”
Then my daughter hugged me and proceeded to fall asleep with her face buried in my chest. I have no idea how she fell asleep like that, especially with my heart beating as loud as it was. There was no way in hell I was going to get any sleep after what she said to me, so I waited until about 10 minutes after she fell asleep before getting out of bed.
I’ve been sitting in my living room ever since, writing this. It’s so hard to confine the entirety of my experience into words, but I feel like it is important to at least try. I need to share my story, even if no one believes me. I know it sounds crazy, but I swear to you, it’s the truth.
I met my daughter before she was born.