Gardening Taught Me About Nurturing Outside of Motherhood


I was scrolling through Twitter one morning in summer 2020 when a familiar number popped up on my phone—my gynecologist. With the world gripped by COVID-19, I was expecting the cancellation of minor surgery to treat uterine fibroids and endometriosis, conditions that cause chronic pelvic pain that leaves me bedridden.

The gynecologist explained that the hospital had canceled all routine surgeries with resources diverted to the pandemic response. Then she dropped a bombshell: “By the time we reschedule, you may have reached the point where a hysterectomy will be your only option.” A hysterectomy had been mentioned before but it felt like a faraway prospect, something that may happen years down the line.

As we said our goodbyes, I realized I was crying. It felt selfish to weep over a canceled surgery when people were losing their lives, but a hysterectomy felt so final. I’m in my late 30s, and while motherhood wasn’t on my radar, the news left me shook up. At that moment, I needed my mom, who I’d lost to cancer seven years previously. She’d have consoled me in a way that no one else could.

In lockdown with my elderly father, I sank into a deep depression. Then one day, vegetable seedlings dad ordered in pre-pandemic times started arriving. We were lucky he’d placed an order before lockdown hit and seed companies around the world saw some of the biggest  increases in the amount of seeds sold. Dad has a piece of land in a community garden that he’s cultivated for over a decade. He was struggling with a back injury, so I took responsibility for planting the seedlings.

I’d visited the garden before but never wanted to get my hands dirty. I have limited patience and scream at the sight of a bug. I couldn’t deny the vegetable patch was special, though. Not just because it provided dad with a sense of purpose while grieving, but because mom’s ashes were scattered there. When we visited for the first time after the news of my canceled surgery, I could almost feel her presence and felt solace for the first time in weeks.

Most days, my dad and I visited the garden to escape the grim news cycle, planting a variety of starchy vegetables and a greenhouse full of tomato plants. I gradually got over my aversion to bugs when I realized how important they are for pollination and composting. I never thought of myself as particularly maternal, but on difficult days tending to plants brought out a nurturing side I rarely showed. When things went wrong—like the destruction of a whole vegetable bed by local wildlife—I found myself sobbing.

In a year where every day felt the same, the garden brought seasonality.

In a year where every day felt the same, the garden brought seasonality. I was in awe of the plants that overcame frost and flood to bear fruit. I thought about strength and resilience and how I’d coped with profound grief and loss, but I was still standing. I also wondered what a life without the organ that caused me so much pain and suffering would be like.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when I transitioned from casual gardener to millennial “plant mom”, like so many of us have. It might have been the day I deleted my dating apps and replaced them with ones that identify plants. Or maybe it was all the times I walked to the store for milk and came back with a new houseplant. I definitely crossed the line when I referred to my tomato plants as “thirsty b*tches.”

When I visited my gynecologist earlier this year, scans confirmed a hysterectomy would be the next step, and my operation was scheduled for this summer. I’m now coming to terms with the fact that I’ll never be a mother, and I’m looking forward to a life free from chronic pelvic pain.

If the past year has taught me anything, it’s that there are other ways to nurture. Being a “plant mom” isn’t the one-and-done solve for the processing to come post-surgery, but it has made me more compassionate, calmer, and more empathetic which makes me a better daughter, sister, auntie, and friend. Those plants may have relied on me to survive, but the truth is, we grew together.

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