The Shrinking Baby

This is a recurring dream.

In my dream, I’m often charged with taking care of someone else’s baby or child. It’s never my own child, always someone else’s that I’ve agreed to take responsibility for. Usually, this includes finding a way to feed the child. When the child is given to me, it is normal size, whether it’s a six-year-old or an infant. As the dream continues, I glance at the child every so often and notice that it is getting smaller. At first, it doesn’t worry me, but there comes a critical point when I realize what is happening. The child looks the same throughout, it just miniaturizes. It’s always quiet and doesn’t seem to notice that it’s changing. As the child gets much smaller, I realize there is some kind of clock running out and that if I don’t figure out how to stop the shrinking, the child will become so small that it will be impossible to feed or impossible to keep it from dying—it could drown in my coffee or become lost in my clothing so that I accidentally crush it. These are actual terrors I have in the dream.

I never save the child. But I always wake up before it completely disappears or I kill it. Usually, the last part of my dream is seeing the tiny baby or tiny child, often cradled in my hands and feeling filled with fear, sadness, and a feeling of failure.

There is also usually a landscape that I have to contend with. One of the first times I had the dream, the landscape was an enormous grocery store where I was trying to find formula to feed the infant. It was as if Hayao Miyazaki has designed a Whole Foods, with enormous staircases that I kept running up and down as time ran out. In that one, I finally found the formula and ran out of the store into a beautiful sunny day in what looked like California, but by the time I did, the baby was too small to eat. One of the other times, I was navigating the streets of Brooklyn by bus and on foot, trying to get to the grocery store with the child.  The streets were exaggeratedly narrow, like streets in Rome, and I kept winding back to the same intersection even though I kept going forward.

Kate, 37, Brooklyn | Image from NYPL Digital Collections