The Gardener’s Daughter
The Gardener’s Daughter has given birth. She has labored for many days and we have had several sleepless nights. But now the baby is at last born and they are resting in the soft misty light of an afternoon rain.
The cook says she will make a special squash soup tomorrow. The farmer has brought us a beautiful stripped squash that has sat on the counter for many days now. It is the custom to eat this soup on Independence Day but that is not until January 1st and the squash will not keep. It seems a good day for a festive pumpkin soup.
I first met the Gardener, as everyone has come to know her, on a busy clinic day. I noticed a tall, thin mother with her pregnant daughter standing there trying to catch my eye. When the hall way, in time, became quiet and nearly everyone had left, the mother approached me.
There are many stories in Haiti and many people who need an extra hand. It is easy to become resistant to individual stories and need; to put up a wall that says I can not bare to hear anymore. Perhaps I was too tired to not listen or perhaps there was something about the strength and dignity in her face that caused me to stop and gather one more story into my heart.
The two of them and the one soon to be born, I was told, had no where to sleep that night and for the days to come. The daughter was 18 and they had not eaten all day and the day before. The daughter was eight months pregnant.
I am not aware of any women’s shelters or places where meals are served or clothes closets or food banks; all the things in my community that we maintain to offer a minimal standard of humanity and survival.
I was quiet for some time, waiting for some thought and then I looked out on the gardens that were in such need of care and then I suggested a plan.
She should go out and see what she could find in ways of housing and I would help her if she would help me with the much neglected gardens. If she would be my partner in reviving the gardens each morning for a few hours, I would pay the rent and she and her daughter could eat breakfast with us each morning.
She returned that evening after finding a small one room house with a dirt floor. It cost $37 for the whole year. “The whole year?” I asked in disbelief. “The whole year.” They had nothing to put in the little house so I gave them a bucket to carry water and a sheet to lay on the ground. It was so little to offer.
At 6:00 the next morning and every morning after, the two of them arrived at the birth center ready to weed, water, plant and clean the gardens. Cheerfully, they made their way through the yard; planting flowers and vegetables and herbs along all the borders and in the shade houses. They rested for a breakfast on the porch and then when the sun got hot, they walked down the road to their little house. It was their only meal of the day.
In time, I took my share of meat or eggs that I did not eat, and gave it to them. The daughter had lost 8 pounds and she was painfully thin. I poured vitamins and water into her as she leaned on a shovel or hoe. I sent her to birth classes over and over again just so she could sit and rest. The Gardener, like many women in Haiti has perfect posture, long strong arms and a beautiful piece of cloth tied around her head. She smiles easily and was happy to meet everyone here and make new friends. In time everyone came to call her, The Gardener and her daughter became “The Gardener’s Daughter.”
There were six other children, living with relatives. When the daughter became pregnant they could no longer live where they lived and everyone had to move out.
It was not until the second day of labor that I felt I had to ask about the baby’s father and then learned of the abuse of her daughter by the landlord, that drove the gardener from her home even if it meant having no where to live. I learned that the oldest son had killed himself and that shortly after the father had left them all. They had moved in with an uncle whose elderly friend had, through force, caused the gardener’s daughter to be pregnant.
Somewhere in the midst of this long labor, we talked of these things and how they happen the world over. We acknowledged their many sorrows and loses and how it would be understandable not to want to bring a baby into such a world. We also talked of how much hope and joy a baby can bring.
I thought of the Diary of Lewis and Clark and how they describe Sacajawea’s birth as particularly violent. I thought perhaps it was the same for The Gardner’s Daughter and that when we give birth after a great violence has been done to us, it takes a special form of courage to open up to the great love that mothering asks of us. I thought of Pomp, Sacajawea’s son and how much she loved him. I told myself that other women have survived unwilling conceptions and have gone on to love the children and to heal themselves.
After we talked to the Gardner and her daughter about all they had worked to overcome there was a change. Our sweet laboring mama, held us close and in time and with much work, opened up and pushed out a baby girl whose eyes found and held her mothers; a little girl with soft, black curls and a mouth that smiled even as she slept.
Perhaps I have a soft place in my heart, for young pregnant girls, barefoot in the garden or for strong determined women who hold their families together and their daughter in their arms no matter the hardships. I watched them; grandmother, daughter, grand daughter all nested one within the other.
Later they asked me to name this baby and I named her Maddie Mae because I always thought it was a name that had a cheerful way of rolling into the world and because it reminded me of the names they love and most of all because I know a Maddie Mae who is strong and wise and kind and I thought that might be a good name for the baby of the Gardner’s daughter.
And so as in all birth stories, as my tale ends it also is just beginning.