My children have terribly picky eating habits.
“Man cannot live on honey sandwiches alone!” I’ve often said to my five-year-old, who laughs and parrots back, “I can, mummy!”
A rare breakthrough in the consumption of greens came when a friend bought said child a gardening kit complete with terra-cotta pot, paint and paintbrush for decorating, and a packet of watercress seeds. He painted a face on the pot, planted the seeds and in no time at all “Cresstopher” had grown a crop of lush green hair.
The part for motherly rejoicing came when he gobbled down his cress and mayo sandwich – and asked for more.
So, you will understand why there is a tray of cress perpetually on our kitchen windowsill and, though I’m no green thumb, it is diligently watered daily. These fine fronds of green line the innards of my son’s sandwiches (along with lashings of mayo), because spinach leaves, lettuce, cucumber or any other green filling is, “YUCK!”
I quite enjoy the process.
We lay out a bed of cotton wool before scattering the little brown seeds across the white. Then, we sprinkle water gently and watch because, within minutes, each seed has encased itself in a clear gel, like a protective orb. Overnight the seeds begin to split and push out a shoot that grows larger and stronger over the space of two or three days. Spidery roots run down into the cotton wool, making a network beneath the pale green shoots that now have tiny brown leaves. For a while, it looks as if they might be dying, the colour not quite right. But then, they turn that dark, bright green; hundreds of little caps reaching towards the sunshine.
Life is a marvellous thing. What a joy to behold – whether it’s a seed burrowed down into the earth (or cotton wool…) or a baby nestled in its mother’s womb.
I was struck by nature’s propensity to protect itself. Once the ingredients for life were present, out went that gel coating that encased the fledgling shoot until it was strong enough to emerge. We know the human body does the same. Amniotic fluid surrounding the developing baby serves as a cushion against outside bumps and pressure while also regulating temperature in the womb. The placenta protects against internal threats like bacteria. Even the ligaments attaching the mother’s pelvis to the top of the uterus become thicker and longer to provide a more stable womb.
The baby is wrapped in cotton wool for a while – as should be the case. This instinct doesn’t leave us necessarily. We seek to protect ourselves when unexpected things come our way. We allow safety nets to fall, the ones constructed by instinct, community and society.
Now I’m thinking of the woman who discovers she is pregnant with a baby she didn’t plan for; a baby she can’t imagine loving. A seed within her has been hemmed in with the natural protections her body diligently creates.
Yet, this woman, she is a seed herself, a vulnerable seed seeking to encircle herself with similar protection. What are you trying to protect? There are thoughts of youth and career, relationships and hardship, finances and housing. Things like breastfeeding and stretchmarks loom in her mind, and other unnamed and unknown fears. Are they the things to protect?
When it instantaneously produces that gel substance to protect itself in the change of circumstances, what is it guarding?
An undecided mother tries to figure out how best to protect herself while nature is telling her how, and it is happening right there, within her.
As she puzzles over the changes that might occur and the new responsibilities it might bring and whether she’s ready and what is right – nature has taken her body and wrapped it lovingly around this little seed.
Look to nature. Look to nature to know that support can wrap around a pregnant woman in the same gesture that nature demonstrates without hesitation.
When a woman falls pregnant without desire or plan for it, there is the potential for two victims – or two awakenings to life’s bracing gift.
Sprinkling cress seeds across the cotton wool in the takeaway container on the window ledge, I know I will never tire of this miraculous cycle.