Updated at the bottom:
homage to Wallace Stevens
I am six years old, standing in the pumpkin fields on a school field trip. I ask the teacher if there's a bathroom and she says, "not out here." Thus begins my penchant for asking a question the wrong way and not being able to ask it again without looking like an idiot. I pee in my pants in the pumpkin field. I tell all the other kids that I sat down in the field in some water. They believe me, but I ride home on the bus humiliated and lock myself in the classroom bathroom when we return to school.
I am around ten. We've returned many times since that field trip to this particular farm. On this day, my family is picking pumpkins again for Halloween. I will get to carve them with my father. In my heart, I really really really want a tiny pumpkin. But I know my sister will point out that a tiny pumpkin cannot be carved and I am an idiot for wasting my pumpkin choice on a tiny pumpkin. So I choose one that is bigger than I really want just so I can be like her and maybe we can be pumpkin twins when it comes to carving them that night.
I just turned twenty and I am at the farm with the boy I love. We are picking vegetables for a dinner party that we are throwing for all of his friends. I like being with this group of boys because they make me feel as if I am Wendy from Peter Pan and they are the Lost Boys. Everything I do is rewarded with such awe and affection. As the car bumps over the dirt road, I am rocked into a feeling of contentment.
I am at the farm again, now twenty-one. Twenty was a terrible year. An extremely painful and difficult year and the source of most of the pain is sitting next to me in the car--the boy from the summer before. We are bumping along the dirt road again and this time the rear view mirror falls off from its perch and cracks. We stop the car when we get to the fields and I pick up the mirror and say, "we fuck up everything."
My cousin and I meet a man in a small town near West Virginia. He owns a canoe, we want a canoe. We work out a deal where we pay him $15 each time we go out there and use his canoe. He tells us one day as he drives us 22 miles up river that his dream is to open his own canoe-rental-and-bait shop. We continue to meet him throughout the summer, stopping off at the farm to grab vegetables and fruit for lunch--pickling cucumbers, carrots that we peel with my swiss arm knife, nectarines. The next summer, we call him in June to let him know that we're coming out that weekend. He tells us proudly that he'll have to charge us $30 for a two hour ride because he now owns his own canoe-rental-and-bait shop. His gain is our loss. We only go a few times that summer and I miss being on the water with my cousin.
I am dating Josh and I bring him to the farm because it is one of my favourite places in the world. The trees bend over the road as you drive onto the farm--a mile of shaded road through a small forest. I wish we could get married on that road. Each time we visit the farm, I picture myself walking down that road in a long white dress.
I cannot get pregnant. We have our first appointment with the RE during strawberry season. Back in college, I tried to make jam and I ended up ruining a pot and a spoon in the process. I have this strong need to right all my past failures. We end up pickings pounds and pounds of strawberries and turn them all into preserves. I don't even particularly like strawberry jam, but I want to do something right when everything feels so wrong.
I take some students to the farm that fall for a field trip. All through the lecture, the only thing I can think about is that class trip to the pumpkin patch in first grade when I peed in my pants. All through the ride to the field, the only thing I can think about is how I worry that I'll never have a child. All through the time in the field, I think about how I probably shouldn't be lifting heavy pumpkins while on stims. But how the hell do I explain why I'm not participating to a bunch of eighth graders?
I am finally pregnant and know that I am about to be put on modified bed rest. I go to the field to pick some strawberries not because I particularly want strawberries but because I am emotional and it is a place where I am happy. It is difficult to bend over and I start gasping from the exertion as well as the contractions. The man picking in the row next to me smiles and says, "I know; I'm out of breath too. We really need to get to a gym."
The twins are born in the middle of the summer. They are in the NICU until late August. We bring them home on heart monitors and strict instructions not to take them into crowds that first year. No trips to the grocery store, no strolls around the mall. But we bring them to the farm on a warm day because we reason that it's outdoors. We unplug the heart monitors for the pictures because I am extremely sensitive about its presence in all of their early pictures even though I don't really know why. We hold the babies next to pumpkins in the field. I introduce them to the farm.
We bring the twins back in the spring to pick peas. We have photos of ourselves sitting next to neat rows of English peas, the babies facing outward in Baby Bjorns. I bring them home and shell them and steam them and puree them. The twins love these peas and it somehow makes up slightly for the fact that I couldn't breastfeed them. What could be more natural than hand-picking and steaming your own English peas?
The twins are in running mode. They enjoy running for the sake of running. They like to run in two different directions. We try bringing them with us when we go to pick blueberries. They want to be held so we pick one-handed. They want to run up and down the aisles so we take turns picking and watching them. They discover hayrides and are thrilled to ride on a continual loop through the farm. I can't get anything accomplished, but they're so happy to be on the tractor bed that it doesn't really matter.
They are now almost three. I am in the mood for blueberry muffins. We wake up in the morning and I ask them if they want to go to the farm. We haven't been yet this summer. We drive out to the farm and we pass a house that we've always called "Mommy's Dream House." It's a tiny farm house with a lake on the property. They have been talking about this house all winter. We ride the tractor out to the field and when we get to the blueberry bushes, I tell the kids to run up and down the row while I pick. After a minute of standing there watching me, my son says, "I want to help." I'm flustered and say, "this is really hard to explain and you need to know the right ones to pick and..." I pick up a branch and say, "you only want to pick the really blue ones. You want to leave the baby ones alone." My son plucks off the dark ones and waves his hand at the others, "I leave them alone." The two of them crawl and pluck and jostle the plants, searching down the berries that I never would have found if I was picking alone. They gently put them in the bucket and my daughter takes care to pluck out any small stem or leaf that gets mixed in with the fruit. We celebrate their hard work with a tractor ride around the farm.
They are both sitting on my lap, chirping on about the size of the tractor wheels and blueberries and the port-a-potty I used before we hit the fields (if nothing else, the farm has an uncanny way of reminding me to use the bathroom before I'm stuck in the fields). I bend my head over theirs and say into their ears: "I never thought you'd be here. You are two of my favourite people and this is my favourite place. And I've always wanted to bring you here."
"You waited a long time for me!" my son says proudly as if his delay were a good thing.
I don't know. Maybe it was.
Thank you to everyone who has been writing such kind words about this piece. I wrote it a few weeks ago and first submitted it to Washingtonian Magazine, but they said they didn't have a slot for a piece of this length. So I posted it here because it meant a lot to me. But I'm happy to offer up reprint rights if you feel like emailing Washingtonian and telling them that they missed out on something great. And the world should be hearing about infertility not from the sensational stories, but the human emotions involved in the hard choices of lifting pumpkins when you're on stims so you don't have to admit to your problem. Also feel free to badger This American Life, Washington Post, et al... Hell, it can't hurt to beg for a freelance infertility writing campaign, can it? Present the other side--the real side--rather than the stories about sextuplets from Clomid and adoption scams.