It was a hot, hot day. Heat radiated from the ground as I scanned through the prickly vines for the plumpest, ripest blackberries. The air was thick and still, my blackberry bucket was heavy on my arm, and the bees buzzed out from the stack of hives beside me, nuzzled up to the blackberry blossoms and returned to the hives full of nectar and pollen. My two girls had given up on blackberry picking some time ago, claiming it was “too hot” and “too prickly” and “too boring.” They sat behind me, sharing the puddle of shade cast by an apple tree and eating blackberries out of a bucket I’d already filled.
So I picked blackberries alone, my hand reaching out to pluck the fruit and returning to the bucket again and again. The blackberry hedge stretched out along the entire perimeter of our CSA farm, filling the air with the scent of thousands of ripe blackberries warming up in the sun. I picked and picked, slowly entering a sun-induced trance. As I stood there in the heat I looked at a blackberry and saw it for what it was: the reproductive hope of the blackberry plant. Each fat, juicy berry was full of seeds and sugars, the perfect lure that would entice birds and other animals to eat the berries and disperse the seeds. This blackberry vine sat there in the bright August sun, photosynthesizing and fattening up its babies, while I gathered those babies and dreamed of the berry smoothies I would feed my own children all winter.
At the same time I could feel my own body thrumming with the energy of fertility. Twinges in my belly told me I was ovulating. As I continued picking, the whole world seemed to be organized with the sole purpose of reproducing life. The blackberry vine existed to create blackberries, which exist to create more blackberry vines. I existed to nurture my children, and my body wanted to continue fulfilling this purpose. I wanted another baby. I wanted another baby in the same way that blackberry vine wanted to make blackberries; it was a simple, single-minded, biological wanting.
But, as our children know well, we don’t always get what we want. For various reasons, another baby wasn’t the right choice for our family. As the year turned on through autumn and winter I came to terms with this, eventually giving away the baby clothes, the tiny rubber boots, the cloth diaper stash. We ate up the blackberries, sending the seeds away through the plumbing to a fate of decomposition somewhere blackberries don’t grow. And I wondered, what next? Does the end of childbearing mean the end of fertility?
I’ve been working to figure out what comes next, and it appears that the answer is, well, work. Birthing babies is an expression of our biological fertility, but fertility expresses itself in other ways too. Inventiveness, creativity, art, supporting our community, doing work that solves a problem or helps others live whole, sustainable lives – all of that is the expression of fertility within a culture. We conceive ideas, gestate projects, give birth to finished products and then send them out into the world just as we will someday watch our grown children leave the nest.
For me, and for many other women, I suspect, both kinds of fertility peaked at the same time. In a surprising and frustrating twist, as soon as my daughter was born I had less time and energy but a stronger drive to write, sew, knit and garden. After years spent wanting to write but not really knowing what to write about, suddenly I had something to say and about 30 minutes a day broken into five-minute intervals in which to say it. My passion for psychology finally found a practical outlet as I looked for the unmet needs that were causing my child (or myself!) to act out in a negative way. I wanted to do creative, intellectual work but the baby years weren’t the season of my life to do that work in.
Now that my daughters are growing out of the hands-on baby and toddler years, there is a space opening up where light can shine on the brambly vines of my creative, culturally fertile work. It is once again possible for me to write for an hour or more at a time, and I now fully appreciate what an amazing, wonderful thing that is. Ideas open up like blackberry blossoms waiting for the honeybee. A book is born after a year of patient gestation, building up the words and refining them over time, and I watch it take its first tentative steps into the world with the same apprehension as I’d watch a toddler learning to walk.
I’m still not entirely sure where my creative, culturally fertile work will take me. Having babies is definitely hard work, but it’s work that I know. Nursing. Diapers. Baths. Night waking. Toilet training. Once you’ve had one child you can predict the work involved in the next one. Growing my creative work feels more like groping my way along in the dark, which isn’t very comfortable. I’m hoping it’s an indication that I’m pushing the boundaries of my skills and learning new things.
I suspect that my body will always yearn for the continued fulfillment of my biological fertility. My body will keep pushing an egg out each month until my childbearing years are past, and it’s possible that the sight of newborn babies will always make me wish I had just one more, no matter how many I already have. But I can hear the voices of my creative projects too, and it’s time for me to focus on nurturing those babies now. I’m glad there are so many ways to offer our sweet blackberries to the world.
Michelle Carchrae is often asking those important life questions: “who moved the scissors?”, “how would you do that differently next time?” and “are you finished with the glitter glue?” Homeschooling two girls, ages 6 and 3, is her full time job. The rest of the time Michelle can be found blogging at The Parent Vortex, hiking in the forest or knitting and reading simultaneously. She recently published her first ebook, The Parenting Primer: A guide to positive parenting in the first six years, and moved to Bowen Island, BC.