Thursday, April 15, 2010

Infertility gardens

As I'm looking out at the glorious spring weather, filled with sunshine and bursting blossoms, my thoughts of infertility take a slightly different turn today. I find myself thinking of the ways that the healing balm of nature has calmed sadness and grief of friends and clients experiencing infertility. For those of us tempted to seek solace on the internet, by reading articles and books, through comfort food, or just seeking some solitude, there's yet another option: creating a garden.

First, I will confess that I do not have a green thumb. Nor do I have any experience designing green spaces. But I do love to walk and hike in natural surroundings, especially in the spring. I have many acquaintances who have shared with me the comfort they have received by designing, planting and nurturing special gardens in their back yards and on their apartment building roofs. Perhaps you can identify with some of these scenarios (I will be changing all names and some identifying information to protect the privacy of my acquaintances).

Janice and her husband Bob experienced three miscarriages over the course of two years. After grieving these losses, they wanted to move forward emotionally, but they did not want to forget the hopes and dreams for these children who would never be born to them. So they decided one winter to spend time designing a back yard garden to plant in the spring. They planned their garden with three sections, each one unique in colors and plantings. Poring over seed catalogs during the winter, they planted some seeds in small pots indoors and purchased others in local greenhouses during the spring. Once the threat of frost was over, they devoted several weekends to tilling the soil, planting the bulbs, seeds and sprouting blooms, and applying fertilizer and mulch. Janice, still hoping for a healthy pregnancy, kept herself at a distance from the fertilizer, as she offered suggestions to Bob. Both of them found the garden to be a source of pleasure and calm during the warm months of spring and summer, and as they weeded and watered, they found their own relationship strengthening as they were able to talk openly about their diminishing grief and their continuing hopes for parenthood.

It had been four months since the funeral for Missy and Joe's stillborn son, Jason. The baby's body had been cremated, and they had been unable to decide where to place the ashes, which remained in an urn at the undertaker's. Both were anguished at their inability to find a resting place for Jason's ashes. In conversations with their minister, they eventually decided to plant a back yard garden and to scatter the ashes there. Having reached that decision, they enlisted the help of loving friends and family to offer suggestions about plantings, manual help with tilling and fertilizing, and especially cherishing a hammock that could be hung between trees nearby with a clear and shaded view of Jason's garden. When the time came to scatter Jason's ashes, their minister joined them and their loved ones for a small dedication of this garden planted in his memory.

When Carla had a miscarriage, she collected the remains and took them to her doctor. He indicated that he would send a small sample for genetic and other tests, and Carla decided to bury the rest of the remains in a rose garden in her back yard. She and her partner Kelly buried the material in a shoebox. To their horror, two days later they found that a mole had tried to burrow into the shoebox, disrupting both the garden and their peace of mind. They responded by placing the shoebox into an airtight metal box, which they reburied without further incident. Both now feel that this pregnancy loss has been softened by the presence of the surrounding beauty of the nearby roses.

Susan and Jared were reluctant to plant a back yard garden in their baby's memory, since they expected to move into a different neighborhood within a few years. It would be too difficult to have invested the emotional energy in planting flowers and bulbs, only to leave that garden behind when another family purchased their home. Instead, they decided to plant a tree, with a bench nearby, in a favorite park where they often spent time. Beneath the tree was a rock with their daughter's name and birth date engraved on it. They both derived comfort from this memorial tree, as well as from seeing other people pausing on the nearby bench to read, rest, or enjoy the natural beauty around them.

After two failed adoption attempts, Sandra and Jeff were in a quandary about whether or not to continue to pursue adoption as a path to parenthood. They lived on a dairy farm with gardens in which they grew fruits and vegetables. One day a friend of Sandra asked if she could bring children from her day care center on a field trip to the farm. As they discussed this plan, Sandra suggested that the children might enjoy a chance to create their lunch from the gardens: some gazpacho, a salad and some strawberry shortcake for dessert. The lunch was such a resounding success that the children begged to be allowed to come back again. Future visits included the chance to milk a cow, to feed baby goats, to cuddle newborn kittens and to romp in the fields. As time passed, Sandra and Jeff found themselves enjoying these short term fun experiences so much that they decided to remain childfree, but to nourish their contacts with several day care centers whose children relished the opportunity to visit their farm in all seasons of the year.

Karen and Chris had buried their stillborn daughter Nora in a cemetery plot near that of her grandparents. When spring came, they realized that the ground was untended near the grave, and they decided to plant bulbs that would bloom annually, as well as wildflowers that would bloom throughout the spring and summer months. They found that the flowers and plantings had a calming effect on them during what they had feared would be tearful visits to Nora's grave site.

Infertility and sadness are intertwined. Yet the beauty of nature can be a cushion against grief associated with the losses of infertility. As the scenarios above suggest, our own creativity in using the bounty of blooms and bulbs to create a garden can be a different approach to healing from sadness. A green-thumbed friend said to me recently, "Gardening tills the soul." In these days of spring, consider whether some plantings could offer comfort to you or a loved one struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss.

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