Wednesday, April 29, 2015

From the Iris

"I think it's a weed."

"I think so too," I agreed, scowling as I stared up at the near 6 foot tall stalks growing in my new-to-me garden.  "I'll never be able to get those out of here without leaving a big hole."

"I'll remove them," Marcos assured me, "but first I want to see what happens when they bloom."  There were multiple buds at the top of the stalks, ready to burst.  Sure enough, the next day the scarlet blossoms had emerged to be admired.  I sent a picture to Marcos, who did a google search for the name of the plant.  "They're called hollyhocks," he later informed me.

"And it's a weed?"

"No.  People buy them and grow them.  Those other stalks over there," he said, pointing to another bunch of five stalks at the south end of the yard, "those might even bloom in a different color.  They come in lots of colors."  A week later I was still surprised by the large pink blossoms presented by the hollyhocks.

We've been in our new house for two months now, and surprises in the garden await us at every turn.  It's a veritable paradise in continuous bloom.  The snapdragons, a favorite of mine, have withered away in the dry Bakersfield warmth of April, with a promise to return again when the weather is more favorable.  In their place some of the more drought-resistant, heat tolerant shrubs and plants have begun to flower.  Tufts of lavender grow fuller and more purple every day.  The three bougainvillea climb their trellises, their pink petals reaching for the sun, falling and carpeting the ground to make way for fresh new petals.  A cluster of fortnight lilies have made their appearance.  There are more varieties than I can identify, with new ones cropping up with routine.  Though our grass has struggled with the local watering restrictions, the flowering plants have remained resilient.

With the blooms have come the humbingbirds and the bees, peppering the space around the plants. Hummingbirds hover in the air, saturated by the possibilities. Honeybees and bumblebees dance among the blossoms. I was recently stung for the first time in my life, and Marcos was stung the very same day, leading us both to worry about Eden.  We'll have to instruct her soon that though the garden is beautiful and appealing and even tempting, it presents a certain danger when we're not careful, a lesson I suppose that will require a lifetime of reminders.

Longing for a touch of the yellow house, I bought a couple of irises.  The irises, which first bloomed for me in my third spring at the yellow house, came to symbolize for me a sense of surprise and newness as I found my post-baby loss, post-divorce self.  Their bold purple evoked a hope in me that had been smothered to but an ember among the ashes of the life I've left behind.

My thumbs are anything but green and I don't find much promise in the new irises.  The irises in the yellow house would have bloomed by this point. . . Except that they haven't.  When I make my weekday drive by the yellow house as I take Eden to daycare, I stretch my neck for signs of the irises, but even their proud stalks appear wilted this spring. Perhaps they've left with me.

Maybe my new irises will bloom, and maybe they won't.  I hold out a tentative hope, but have learned that they do best when I just stand back and let them grow as they will.  With or without the irises, all around me a lush Eden grows, bright and fresh and continuously changing, seeking a delicate balance of love and support without overbearing.  The garden is a gift I hadn't anticipated and I'm sometimes overwhelmed by the responsibility.  I know that maintaining its beauty will require a series of trial and error, learning when to plant an a perennial and when to give up on an annual and where the sun hits and when and constant lessons in how to keep the bursts of color reappearing year after year.

Trial and error don't seem like the best ways to manage the care of the gifts that I've been charged with, but they are the tools that I have. While I don't like to be unsure, and I don't like to lack a book to consult for a guaranteed answer, I know that I love the hope that bursts from the promise of the flower's bud.  I love every stage of growing, from the first appearance of the tender green sprout to the stretching of the stalk to the forming of the bud to the unveiling of the petals. Even with its dangers and uncertainty I'm enjoying every day of my Eden with a heart that sprung anew from the iris.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Heartbeat Song

I watched the blank screen with still breath, waiting for the signs of life. 

"There's no sack.  There's no heartbeat."  I looked at Ben with horror, searching him for a different answer, as though he could right this hideous wrong.  "These things just happen."  I recall that the doctor had more to say, but every word was cold, her lack of compassion chilling.  

My first child was gone.  I would never hold him or her, never see his or her face, never even hear his heartbeat, silenced on this earth. 

The absence of that first child remains the greatest absence in my life.  The unanswered questions fill my days and have left me with an ever-present longing.  I suppose it was because of the miscarriage that one of the most vivid memories of my pregnancy with Gabriel continues to be November 8, 2010.  That was the day I went for my first pre-natal visit.  I was surprised that they would be able to pick up a heartbeat then, and the nurse practitioner warned me that at that early stage, I should not be disappointed if they could not.  When the Doppler quickly picked up its sound, and its sound filled the room, the tears spilled uncontrollably from my eyes.  That sound was the answer to a prayer.  That memory could never be taken from me.  Not even anencephaly could rob me of that moment.  When I think of that pregnancy, its ups, its downs, its heartache, my mind always comes back to that day when I heard my son's heart beat for the very first time.

Tears of joy have been forced from my eyes with the sound of Eden's heartbeat too, and last Monday, when I heard a heartbeat for the first time this pregnancy.  There's nothing in this world like that moment.  There is nothing like that sound.

Looking back, I suppose I overreacted when, last Tuesday while at work at the bar, I saw the blood.  My mind flashed back to that day back in May 2010, when the miscaige began.  With barely a word I gathered my purse, murmured to the day shift girl that I had to leave, and walked out of the door.  I'd never done that before and my mind felt conflicted, even as I drove across town with the aching in my abdomen, wondering if I should turn back and finish my shift.  If my fears were being realized again, there was probably nothing that a doctor could do.  But I had to know, and I had to know that night, so I kept driving and checked in at the Urgent Care center where I was immediately triaged, then informed I was likely looking at a three hour wait.

I was joined shortly by Marcos, and together we waited until we were among the last three patients to be called.  My mind knew why - All the doctor could do was check for status, but he couldn't "fix" anything.  Even while my heart pled with God, my brain began preparing for the loss and planning what unpregnant Andrea would do with her weekend, defending me from another hurt that might just shatter me.

We were called back to a room sometime around midnight, and were immediately told by the doctor that in 50% of cases where there is bleeding during the pregnancy, the result is miscarriage.  The odds did not seem to favor me, but even when they have, I have a history of ending up on the wrong side of them anyway.  I began saying my goodbyes to my unborn child.

He did a Doppler scan.  Nothing.

"We'll do an ultrasound."   Marcos and I were led to another, brightly lit room.  I was given a hot sheet by a sympathetic male nurse who said, "I know it's cold."  I thought back to the cold of the room five years ago, and the empty screen, as they seated me for the ultrasound.

The doctor began opening drawers and cabinets.  "I can't find the gel," he muttered, presumably to himself.  "Where's the gel?"  He looked out into the hallway, my anxiety growing with every second, and called, "Where's the gel?"  The male nurse returned and located it for him.  I could feel my body shaking under the hot sheet as he squeezed the warm gel across my belly and applied the ultrasound wand.

Immediately, I could recognized the shape of the tiny baby that I had seen for the first time just the day before.  "We have cardiac activity."  The doctor pointed at the screen at a pulsating blur.  At almost the same time, the tiny stump of an arm moved.  I could see the skull, bright, white, with some dark shading where the baby's soft spot will be until sometime after its born.  My body relaxed with relief, tears falling and sobs coming uncontrollably from my mouth.

The bleeding, never as severe as what I experienced during miscarriage, stopped the following day.  The abdominal cramping, never anything more than what I have experienced with every pregnancy, no longer triggers alarm.  I followed up with my nurse practitioner the following day, and she seems to think everything is fine. At 12 weeks, I have begun to feel the earliest flutterings of fetal movement.  We seem to be over last week's hurdle.  I've told my parents, close friends, a couple of co-workers, but have otherwise wanted to gloss over the moment until now, when I feel safe.

It is one of the earliest signs of life, one of the things that makes us alive.  My heart beat for 28 years but I never had a heartbeat song until the day someone else's heart beat inside of me.  This is my heartbeat song.