Lessons in gardening, lessons in motherhood
I never used to be a huge gardener. While growing up we always had apple and cherry trees and an occasional garden with sweet corn, green beans and strawberries. I vividly remember sitting in the grass, snapping beans or shucking corn and feeding the husks to our horses. When Erik and I lived in the burbs we didn’t have enough yard space so I tried container gardening which was 30% successful. Once we started house hunting, we both knew we wanted a lot of yard space to be able to have a bigger garden. There's nothing quite like seeing a plate of food and being able to say you grew it. Our first summer in the house we planted the garden when I was 38 weeks pregnant. After Tucker was born, my recovery and the complications that came along with it didn’t afford me a ton of time to spend in the garden. I told myself that next year (this year) I’d make it up to my sweet little garden and give her the time and attention she deserves.
Like so many things in life, there’s life lessons disguised in the ordinary. But oftentimes we’re moving too fast or surrounded by too much noise to truly uncover these lessons. I’ve spent a lot of time this year reflecting. On Tucker’s birth, on becoming a mom, on navigating first-time parenthood in a pandemic, balance work and small business and trying to not lose my own identity in the process. I feel so much peace when I’m watering my flowers, tending to my vegetables and walking the weedy rows of my garden. It's strange. I've literally felt an emotional connection to it this year. A few weeks ago I was doing some more reflecting and realized why it's felt so different this year. Looking at and tending to my garden was like looking at myself from the outside. The growth, the care I needed, the blooming, the blunders and everything in-between - it was a representation of my journey in the first year of motherhood.
And it came full circle. Life lessons hidden in the ordinary.
If motherhood were a garden.
You gotta water it.
Seeds don’t bloom on their own. We don’t cover them in dirt and expect them to grow without a little help. They need proper soil, water, sunlight and a little TLC. So why at times is it so difficult to ask for our own TLC? Why do we expect so much out of ourselves as mothers without giving ourselves the proper support needed to bloom? I had such a hard time asking for help after Tucker was born. After being laid up for so long after my csection and relying on my mom and Erik for so much, I felt like I had to prove myself and make up for all the lost time I’d spent resting and allowing my body time to heal. Motherhood’s version of proper soil, water and sunlight may be a bubble bath, someone to come watch the baby so you can take a nap or tapping out and asking your spouse to take over. I know asking for help is ‘easier said than done’ because to this day I still have a hard time asking for help and it’s something I’m still working on. But we all know, beautiful flowers don't get that way on their own.
It takes time and patience.
. Gardening is a humbling reminder that beautiful things take time and patience. Physical healing, the godforsaken hormones leveling out, baby sleeping through the night, hell just some type of ‘schedule’ in general takes two things - time and patience. Expecting instant gratification from motherhood is like planting all of your seeds and expecting to walk out the next day and see all of your plants in full bloom. Spoiler alert. It ain’t gonna happen. It’s hard to be patient when you’re sleep deprived, hormonal, in pain and not feeling like yourself. This was honestly one of the hardest parts for me. It took 15 weeks and two rounds of antibiotics for my c-section incision to heal (blog post for another day). Every day I’d wake up and tell myself, ‘maybe today it’ll finally be healed.’ And for 15 weeks that wasn’t the case. It got worse before it got better. Then it got worse again, and again. A reminder every day of a body that had failed me in childbirth and that continued to fail me in healing. It was so hard. I had to find patience within myself that I didn’t even know existed (and some days I had to fool myself into believing it existed). But with time and patience, seeds will grow - and wounds will heal.
Sometimes things don’t work out.
For the first time I tried sowing some winter seeds this year. Some seeds need the warm dirt and air to germinate and some will do just fine with cooler air and cold dirt. I sowed 72 seeds in 3 seed trays, tended to them meticulously and maybe 7 of them sprouted, then they all died a few weeks later. I read everything on winter sowing, rotated them in the sunlight like I needed to and watered them daily. Gardening is a humbling combination of succeeding and striking out. Which brings me to my next topic of doing your research only to fail miserably. Breastfeeding. Or lack thereof in this case. I had every intention of breastfeeding Tucker for as long as I could, and I didn’t even last a month. It took over a week for even just my colostrum to come in. My OB felt that the physical strain of being on pitocin for 40 hours, two nights of zero sleep, and almost 10 bags of IV antibiotics (from group B strep) really took a toll on my body and disrupted the process of my milk coming in. Tucker wouldn't latch and ‘breastfeeding consisted of him screaming, me crying and not much else. If you’re wondering who gets the award for most nipple shields ordered off of amazon in a single day - you’re looking at her. I dreaded breastfeeding and it gave me immense anxiety. The second Tucker started crying because he was hungry, I knew what was coming. A screaming baby who wouldn’t latch and another reminder of a body that failed me. A combination of Tucker not being able to latch, me needing rest from a terrible infection I developed a few days after I got home and the mental strain was what made me throw in the towel. And the day I told myself I was done breastfeeding - some of the clouds began lifting. Much like gardening, you can read all the breastfeeding books, buy the fancy pump, take the lactation supplements, expect things to go your way only to find out - sometimes they don’t. And much like gardening, take the failure in stride and move forward knowing you gave it your all.
Everyone does it differently.
One of my friends told me that the biggest mistake she made as a parent was comparing her child to others. Thinking she was behind when other babies her age were walking, thinking she was behind when other babies her age were saying three times as many words as her….etc. It’s not hard to feel like you’re ‘doing something wrong’ as soon as you see a few posts on a ‘moms facebook page’ or feel like you’re going to scar your child for life if you don’t buy have all the latest and greatest gadgets for them. The things that make us unique from other parents are the very things that set us apart. Don't get me wrong - it’s helpful seeing how other moms ‘do it’ and it can give us ideas and other perspectives on how we parent our own children. But it can also make you feel less than, and behind and inadequate. Much like gardening, it’s easy to feel inferior upon seeing someone frolicking through their garden, looking like a Better Homes and Garden magazine with freshly manicured spaces and vibrant blooms while you’re outside still in your PJ’s with a baby on your hip trying to pound your hand-me-down trellis in the ground (that was actually me). Comparison is the ultimate thief of joy. My garden may not be the most beautiful or the most fancy or vibrant, but I’ll take it any day over someone else’s because I did it my way and with my own two hands. Much like motherhood, it can feel intimidating a lot of the time to look around you and see how ‘others are doing it.” Don’t feel pressured to measure up or simply do things a certain way because everyone else is. Your way is just fine. And that little baby loves you just the same.
The grass is always gonna look greener on the other side.
To be a gardener, one must first be an optimist. I’ve always considered myself an optimist and a positive person. Sure, we all have bad and frumpy days, but most days I usually find myself pretty cheerful. But it wasn’t always that way with motherhood. Breastfeeding being an epic fail and having an absolute nightmare of a delivery and traumatic birth was not what I had envisioned for myself. Hearing about other peoples ‘beautiful, quick and easy birth’ became so triggering for me. I’m still grieving what I thought Tucker’s birth was going to be and with the help of my AMAZING therapist I'm still in the process of working through all those emotions. But that’s how life works. Experiences are never the same. Some have it worse, some have it better. Sometimes in gardening others peoples grass, flowers and/or plants are literally greener. And sometimes in life people have the experience that you so desperately wished, hoped and prepared for while you’re left picking up the pieces after what felt like a wildfire of torture and destruction. There’s always going to be someone who had it easier, or who’s life looks a little more put together, or whose garden is in full bloom while yours is squandering. The key is gratitude. Knowing that some may have it better, but no one else on this entire planet will have walked the journey you have and have the same story to tell.
Because that journey is yours.
Some days I have dirt under my nails and some days I have poop under my nails. It’s dirty ya’ll. There are few things in the world that I dislike as much as the glorification of ‘bouncing back’ after you have a baby. If giving birth in a full face of makeup and lashes is your prerogative - you go girl! I’m all for women doing what makes them feel empowered and confident. But to me, there are so many things in postpartum that are so much more important than ‘bouncing back.’ Like making sure you’re eating, nourishing yourself, bonding with your baby, newborn cuddles and so much more. But all of the ‘glorified’ stuff is always on social media because it’s just that - glorified, and oftentimes not real life. I’ll admit that I was ill prepared for the things that would happen to my body in postpartum. The night sweats, hormonal roller coasters, the bleeding that never ended, blood clots that almost put me in the ER, swelling..etc. It caught me off guard sometimes. When we first started tilling the garden, we unearthed a problem - it was full of grubs. Then after I planted, all 30 of my sunflower plants and almost all of my sweet corn was eaten by ground squirrels. Sometimes it’s not pretty, but there are so many more things about my garden that bring me joy than the gratification of having everything look ‘perfect.’ Perfect does not exist. Not in our bodies, not in gardening and sure as hell not in motherhood.
When it blooms, its beautiful.
I go to bed every night looking forward to the morning when I can walk out into the garden with my coffee in hand and greet all my little plant babies. Seeing how they’re growing, pick my vegetables and flowers, listen to the birds chirping as the dew glistens and enjoy something beautiful that I can say I did with my own two hands. The gratification of hard work, diligence and stewarding nature. I get teary-eyed out there sometimes and it’s nothing I can really explain, it just brings a sense of peace that's sometimes overpowering (if you have a vegetable or flower garden then you know what I'm taking about). The feeling of hard work paying off and reaping (and eating) the fruits (and vegetables!) of your labor. One of the things I’ve learned since becoming a mom is that it’s possible to love someone so much that it makes your heart hurt. There’s really no way to explain it, it just is. No books, advice or classes can truly prepare you for the type of euphoric bliss that motherhood brings. Looking at someone and knowing the lengths you would go to in order to protect them is kinda scary sometimes. It's that powerful. It's messy, happiness, terrifying, blissful, exhausting and inexplicably beautiful.
xo - Carolyn