Wednesday, 8 September 2021


Ella In Her Garden  

by Elizabeth A. Havey

            Ella can feel numbness moving into her legs. She’s been sitting in the garden for about ten minutes, her feet tucked under her buttocks, her gloved hands probing with the iron weed digger. But her angle is wrong. She shifts, pulling her legs out from under her, the tingly sensation of flowing blood bringing back her legs, her feet.

The baby shifts, a slight wave of motion that is soon over. She studies the tiny elm tree still rooted among the coreopsis. Leaning another way, she continues to work with the digger, her mind plotting what she has to do next: repot the small begonia that lies on the ground, its clay container broken by running squirrels; deep-water the newly planted Spirea that could die in this drought.

            The planting is a game of distraction, and the hot sunlight, and the intense thrumming of the crickets and cicadas in the trees. But she loses the game at least once an hour, sometimes every twenty minutes. The amniocentesis results are due today. She has her portable phone on the picnic table. David will be calling her at lunch, talking about other things, waiting for her to break in, tell him, if she knows.

            The baby moves again. Ella throws the digger to the ground, works to stand with some effort, her movements slower, her body no longer lithe or elegant. She’ll have to have Steve, who mows the lawn, dislodge the elm with a pitchfork. But then she reconsiders, she can try it, being careful, watching her posture.

Months and months of her life have been taken over by a fierce desire to bear and deliver another healthy child, a child to ward off the fears of aging, of losing touch with growth in the world. She will do nothing to lose this child, and yet living is in match step with exposing oneself to loss. The doctor’s words: “No matter what the results, Ella, with the choice you have made, there’s nothing we can do. You realize that.”

            Yes, she does, over and over, hours and hours before she is sure she wants to get pregnant, to know the health of the fetus. But when she finally is pregnant, it is now, the moment far too close. The irony of testing.  

She’s carrying this baby around inside her and it’s moving now, and no matter what the words are at the other end of the phone, it will still be moving around inside her. If the doctor calls in two hours and says, “Ella, you are carrying a Downs Syndrome child,” the fetus won’t disappear, it won’t begin to shrink and slip away like a cloud losing moisture. The Downs Syndrome baby, the baby with neuro-tube defects, the anencephalic baby will still continue to grow inside of her. Grow.

            She walks toward the shed at the back of the yard, hunts in its mustiness for the pitchfork. The grass is brittle beneath her tennis shoes, the waves of air that touch her are like solid warm hands. She walks back dragging the pitchfork, taking her time, easy with herself. Though her body is full and blooming, years of exercise and walking are not foreign to her. She looks like a perfect balancing act, moving about her tasks as if every breath in the last few years has been stored up to get her to this point. Ella isn’t just pregnant. She is experiencing an amazing fulfillment of a wish. She is living out hours of planning and imagining and remembering. 

            The cicadas hum. The phone doesn’t buzz. She works at the elm seedling with the pitchfork.


            The word flies at her. She stops, but then continues to reposition the pitchfork, “Mommm…”

            Sarah comes around the corner, her hair springing away from the right side of her head where she has tied it with a big pink ribbon that matches the pink tank top and shorts she is wearing. Her tanned legs are scratched and bruised, and Ella knows the source of each mark, for Sarah always comes and tells her in detail how the bike fell or why she hit the side of the pool.

Ella reaches out to touch the top of her daughter’s head, the two strangely silent with each other. Even before this pregnancy, Ella had crazy moments when she would look at the two young woman growing up in her house, see them as her own flesh and blood, yet slightly changed blueprints of herself.

She would reach out to touch them, make sure of their reality and from the hugs they gave her, her body would expand and become warm like the bodies of pregnant women. Her breasts would soften against Carrie’s chest, her abdomen would balloon out to hold Sarah’s tiny buttocks when she snuggled in Ella’s lap. The physicality of motherhood shouted at her. She needed that again, needed to make her body work again. She argued against this for a long time. Educated women do not succumb to thoughts of being “baby machines.” But Ella had succumbed.

            Sarah has sensed a distance in her mother all week. She doesn’t know what it’s about. She does know she can use it to her advantage.

            “I want to ride over to Lockwood’s and buy a pop.”

            “There’s some in the house, better yet, I have fruit juice.”

            “I’m kinda in the mood to ride my bike.”


            “Can I take a couple dollars? For a treat?”

            “Take what you need, but watch the sugar. You know how you get.”

            Sarah comes and puts her arms around her mother’s disappearing waist, buries her head in her chest—just for a moment. Then she flies away, across the brown lawn, waving and running in one liquid motion. She is the child who can cure even a drought, Ella thinks, going back to her pitchfork, glad she has given in to her daughter. And though Ella knows that her concentration is fragile and can be splintered into pieces at any moment, she hopes Sarah will come back to the garden when her excursion is over, share what she saw, who she met.


During the months when Ella was first trying to have another child, the relationship between all family was normal. Even excellent. Then after two months of trying, Ella was pregnant. She and David shared secret winks and hugs. But then Ella miscarried—and though she sometimes thinks about it now, it’s not as painful, this new pregnancy altering that sorrow, that pain, the hours of Ella being silent and wounded.

She drops the pitchfork, goes into the house for a glass of cold water. Waiting for the amnio results is better than what she has already been through. She is sure of this. She’s lived it, learned from it.

Because fear is a destructive force that can work against your joy and hope. From the beginning, after David agreed to have this third child, Ella feared the statistics would be against her. The doctor was firm, telling her to set fears aside. Statistics revealed that only one fetus, out of one hundred conceived by women over the age of forty, would come into the world with Downs Syndrome. Ella had 99 chances of having a healthy baby—plus, she already had delivered two healthy children. He also reminded her that anytime a woman conceives, there are chances that she could give birth to a child with some anomaly.

Then at six weeks Ella started bleeding. It was light, but fear consumed her. This was so similar to what happened when she miscarried.

She called her doctor. He prescribed more progesterone to help support the pregnancy. It worked and Ella began to relax, allow her own female power to take over. She has conceived this baby after the age of forty, and she has kept it safe within her, despite that first upset. She can and will do this.

Her fertility is a gift, a chance to bring life into the world once again, though modern medicine has played a part, Ella having blood tests, post-coital exams, and lists of questions answered by her doctor—Ella fighting for what she wants. And yes, she has walked down some dark passageways in her mind, but nothing will go wrong. Now she has set aside her fears. She will love this baby no matter the sex, the birthweight, the chromosomes. No matter any of it.

Back in the yard, refreshed by three large glasses of water which will drive her back in over time, Ella picks up the pitchfork, again works to loosen the elm sapling from her garden patch. If she is careful, and there are enough roots, she can replant it at the back fence.

And then, her phone rings. 


* * * * *

Elizabeth A. Havey achieved a BA in English, taught literature at the secondary level, worked as a freelancer for McDougal Littell Publishing, and as a proofreader for Meredith Books. In her forties, she earned her RN, working as a labor and delivery nurse, health educator and author of CEUs for nursing. Havey studied at the Iowa Writing Workshops at the University of Iowa. Her stories have appeared in little magazines and her collection, A MOTHER'S TIME CAPSULE. She blogs at, devoted to health and navigating the third act. She is a member of the Women's Fiction Writers Association. 

No comments:

Post a Comment