March 30, 2011 § 7 Comments

Oliver pointing out the peas.

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.

The spinach.

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.”

Oliver with the seeds.

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.


§ 7 Responses to Seeds

  • “APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
    Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
    Memory and desire, stirring
    Dull roots with spring rain.”

    So begins T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” Your post, on the cusp of April, made me think of how the sprouting seeds of our beloved children also dimly toll the bells of our own demise. Interesting how mindfulness asks us to relinquish memory (which is also the very root of fear) and desire, while the mighty flow of life’s river cruelly, and perhaps even more kindly than we realize, mixes it all up… mixes us all up—connecting at the same time as confusing us toward the mute brilliance of a forming heart, of an enlivening earth that will nonetheless swallow us up again.

    Can we be so in love with our children, with our world (in all its darkness), that we somehow become okay even with the cruel aspects? All our words and strivings end up like so much compost, yet who knows what may grow out if it? Namaste

  • Melanie says:

    Holy crap, woman. Uber-vulnerable. Crazy moving. Hard to say on any given day which is more impressive: your writing or the bravery with which you live. Thanks, babe, for including us on the journey. Mel

  • Lindsey says:

    A flock of fireflies under your heart. My GOD, Pam, you get better and better. Oh, yes. The mantra like a heartbeat. All of this is so familiar to me, whose garden began, like yours, with an unexpected and unplanned pregnancy. And I remember that silent heartbeat so vividly, too … xoxoxo

  • Wow. This is just so beautiful. I have few words and lots of wonder in response to it.

  • Alana says:

    Somehow I missed this one and just returned to drink it in. I have tears in my eyes again at your strength, your vulnerability, your connection to spirit and the light. And last but definitely not least, your way of putting words together that touches my very core.

  • Nancy H says:

    this is a beautiful story, i hope someday when your little guy is old enough to understand the wonder in it, you tell him. it’s so happy that you and Scott found a way to start your family right then.

    this may be TMI.. but i want to share it: i had an unplanned pregnancy when i was 24. i thought about abortion. i wasn’t ready to be a mom, i had *just* started my career and adult life. and the guy i was with had no interest at all in being a dad. i actually didn’t feel such a powerful spark at that time, even though i was farther along than you. i went for an ultrasound to confirm how far along i was.. and i asked her not to show me until after she told me how many weeks. and she very kindly didn’t. but then she said “probably 16 weeks, hon.” and i sighed, and knew there was this little *person* in there already, and they(turned out to be a she) needed to be born. it was hard to do, but eventually i did feel the joy of her growing in there and sharing my life and body. i did love that little spark. i gave her for adoption, and haven’t seen her since. she’s almost 9 years old. maybe when she’s grown i’ll get to meet her and tell her my spark story, too.

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