March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments
Here’s how you know I am not an optimist: I hate spring. True, I am blown away by the colors, by the way the flowers wait for the perfect moment to unfurl, by the gentle breezes and (FINALLY!) the warm sun. But there’s another side of spring too, and it never fails to break my heart. I am always cautious when the forsythia bloom. That pretty much guarantees another snowstorm. But when the magnolia trees are heavy with flowers? When the cherry blossoms ridicule the snow with their white? When the sun pushes on your back like a hand? Come on.
And yet, I fall for it each and every time. I count on the winter to be over. I breathe a sigh of relief. Then bam. The temperature drops, the wind blows cold, it snows, the kids get sick.
I think that’s why I love our garden so much. It’s evidence. It’s proof that we’re actually moving along, that we aren’t stuck or sliding backwards. I’m not really doing it for the food. I am sure much of what we grow will get eaten by squirrels and those damn raccoons. I am more in it for the miracle. For that astonishing transformation of tiny seed into a plant with fruit. That too breaks my heart.
I actually didn’t think anything would even grow in our little uncomposted, unfertilized, unprepared square of dirt. And then, one day, there was a tiny spinach leaf, as green as anything, as tiny as an ant, peeking up through all that dirt. You could have knocked me over with a feather.
It reminds me of another day in March, six years ago, when I had my first ultrasound. For most new moms, this is a glorious day, but for me, it was full of dread. Pretty much the last thing I wanted was to be pregnant. I had a job I loved in investor relations for a successful biotech company. I had an amazing boss I ran with twice a week, I regularly sat down with the CEO to write his quarterly conference calls, and I was working (writing!!) for a company that was trying to cure cancer. I had a boyfriend who lived all the way across the country. I had a cute apartment in Palo Alto while Scott lived in a former HUD house in Philadelphia. We had been dating long enough that we knew it was time to either get married or break up, but I really didn’t want to be a Navy Wife. And I really, really, really wasn’t ready to be a mother. We talked about an abortion because it seemed the sensible thing to do.
I like to think that from the first moment, I knew I would have that baby, but I am not sure. I do know that Oliver’s light was bright, that it was as intense as he – as a five-year old – is now. He felt like a flock of fireflies under my heart, like a lighthouse beam. He felt like a yes.
But still, on that first visit, Scott and I were talking to the doctor about our options. It was too impossible to have a baby.”Stay here,” the doctor said after we talked that rainy day in another March, and then she left the room.
A technician came in after a while and asked us to follow her. The hospital was part of the Stanford hospital and it was always under construction. She led us to a drafty trailer and had me get up on a table. “We don’t usually do an ultrasound so early, but well -” She shrugged. I wasn’t sure if we had to get one because we were considering an abortion or because she wanted us to change our minds. Sometimes I wonder if she saw something in Scott and I that we couldn’t see yet in ourselves, but maybe that’s just me, trying to make what happened seem better than it actually was.”It’s really too early for a heartbeat,” the technician said, putting that cold get all over my stomach. “But we’ll see.”
I almost didn’t look. But when I did, there on the screen, in black and white, was something that looked like an amoeba. It looked like the sun. I always thought that first heartbeat would be the whoosha whoosha like on the TV shows, but Oliver’s first heartbeat was like a silent movie, a steady beat whose absence of noise was shocking, like the quiet of the Grand Canyon.”Wow,” said the technician. “We don’t usually see that at five weeks.” How on earth, I wondered, can that become a person? It seemed too impossible. It was science fiction. And it was in my stomach.
Now that five-year old holds out a grubby palm full of seeds for me to inspect. “What are these Mommy?” he asks. “Are these the tomatoes?”
“They’re peas,” I tell him.
“Those sweet kind?” he asks.
“Don’t like peas,” Gus says. “They’re yucky.”
Do you know that bumper sticker that reads, “What if they held a war and no one showed up?” That’s kind of how it was for me. The night before the abortion was scheduled, I rented a few Sex & the City DVDs and bought a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for dinner. If I kept that baby, I would have to give up my great apartment. I would have to quit my job and move 3000 miles away from my friends. I would have to live in that goddamned HUD house. But if I didn’t keep the baby, I would lose the light that was pulsing silently within my ribcage.
That night, I left a message on my doctor’s voicemail, canceling the appointment. The next day, instead of going back to Stanford Hospital, I went to work, alternatively elated and flooded with panic. What have I done? What have I done? became a mantra for a while, another kind of heartbeat.
Now I know what we did. It was nothing extraordinary. We just started a garden.