Several months ago – back in mid-October, in fact – I went out into my back garden and planted dozens of bulbs. I can remember exactly what the date was, because we went to the garden centre for a calming cup of tea on the way back from a most exciting event: an ultrasound scan.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m expecting a baby – my first. Back in mid-October, we went for the regular 20 week anomaly scan at the local hospital. That’s what they call it, in case you weren’t already freaking out enough already about the status of your unborn foetus, which you can’t quite yet let yourself believe is an actual baby at that point, especially if you’re paranoid about the pregnancy progressing.
The thing is, they give you dates to worry about and fixate on. Before twelve weeks, you’re advised not to tell anyone, really, because it’s such early days and anything could happen.
After twelve weeks, your odds start to improve, but you still have other things to worry about: like the anomaly scan at twenty weeks, when they tell you if the baby inside you has enough lungs, or a brain developing on the inside of its skull, or whatever.
At twenty-four weeks, you know that, scientifically, the baby could juuuuust about survive on the outside – with a lot of medical support and a long spell in one of those premature baby units.
After an eternity of waiting, there’s thirty-seven weeks, when your baby is officially ripe enough to not be counted as premature, and you’re allowed (!) to give birth naturally.
And then of course there’s the always-looming due date at forty weeks, on which only 5% of babies actually arrive, but which is counted down to (and then up from, frustratingly, on the other side) as if it has magical powers.
If you’re like me, you can’t bring yourself to look forward to each date as it approaches (all-too slowly), but you give yourself a quiet mental fistbump at the passing of each milestone. We made it this far. Keep on baking, little bun. There’s another staging post a way ahead. And each new goal looks impossibly far away and impossibly precarious. How will we ever get there?
But back in mid-October at twenty weeks, I couldn’t even think about the later stages of pregnancy, because I was too overwhelmed with the immediate challenges, like staying awake on my commute, finding clothes that fit and flattered my changing shape, and scouring the anomaly scan for clues about the health of my – shush, whisper it – baby.
On the way back from the scan, where junior was pronounced healthy, whole and gender revealed, we stopped at the local garden centre for a much-needed cup of tea. We stared at the ultrasound screengrabs we never thought we’d see – A nose! Little fists! A footprint! – and contemplated the reality of the newest, not quite real member of the family. And then I did what I tend to do and swiftly found a displacement activity, because this was simply too big to consider: I bought bulbs.
Back at home, I planted daffodils, miniature irises, tulips, crocuses and more. I filled planters and pots and nestled a few in among the bottoms of the hedges. I lost myself in activity, and buried my worries in the soft soil, tucking the bulbs in tightly for the winter in the hope that they made it through to the other side.
I’ve always loved spring flowers. As a spring baby myself, my birthday – 12 March – is often accompanied by daffodils and tulips. Our wedding anniversary (5 March) is usually marked with tulips, because on the morning of our wedding eight years ago, I went to Newcastle’s flower market looking for tulips to carry down the aisle. Ours was a rather casual affair as you can probably tell, and there wasn’t actually an aisle. Neither were there any tulips, unfortunately – but Paul has made up for their absence every year since.
And for the last few years, we’ve been in Cornwall in early March, around our wedding anniversary or my birthday, and I’ve relished the cheerful golden blooms which peek out from every hedgerow and garden. I’ve struggled to resist the temptation to come home burdened with armfuls of fresh local daffs, because you can’t just have a few, can you? There must always be armfuls. What can I say? It’s a weakness.
So in any normal year, you’ll find my house full of daffodils and tulips for much of February and March, and since we’ve had a garden ourselves, I’ve ensured that at least at that point of the year, there’s something jolly popping out to say hello for my birthday.
When I planted out those bulbs in October, it was in the hope that they would grow at the same rate as the baby inside me, and emerge from the soil, to greet the pale spring sunshine at about the same time as she is due to make an appearance – which is coincidentally around my birthday, too.
When just a couple of weeks ago we had a severe cold snap, followed by several sudden inches of snow which blanketed the garden for a week or more, I worried about their tender shoots, vulnerable and not yet hardy in the frozen ground.
But today, on the first properly springlike day we’ve had, I went out to the garden and noticed that it has finally started to spring into life.
The early irises have come out:
And the daffodils have sprung back from being flattened by snow, and are getting ready to bloom. I think they’ll be here in a couple of weeks.
And as for me, I’m nearly 38 weeks along, the size of a house, cleared for the home birth we’ve been preparing for, and as ready as I’m ever going to be for the arrival of the baby. It could be any day now.
I’m on maternity leave, drinking raspberry leaf tea, bouncing on my gym ball and going for occasional reflexology appointments or antenatal yoga classes, but otherwise just pottering around the house and garden, performing mild nesting tasks and pausing slightly, holding my breath at each Braxton Hicks contraction and flurry of kicks. Is it time yet? Is this the beginning?
Like the bulbs in the garden, the baby is waiting for the right moment to enter the world. And all I can do is watch and wait.