When I joined my husband's family, I found that I had to learn a new language...latin! All his sisters seemed to be avid gardeners and would chatter about moving the pieris japonica, or the joys of alchemilla mollis (I love showing children how the rain drops glisten on this plant, also known as Lady's Mantle). Three of us were pregnant at the same time, and we would dig and plant flowers and vegetables at the family cabin as our bellies grew, after our babies were born, and as our extended family expanded. Pregnancy strengthened our need to nurture the gardens.
As my love of birth grew, so did my bookshelves fill with gardening books that linked women's bodies and plants, from Herbal Healing for Women to Susun Weed's Wise Woman's Herbal, The Complete Book of Herbs, Plants of Coastal British Columbia (great on car trips!) and Michael Pollan's books, the first of which was my favourite, Second Nature. I discovered that the Lady's Mantle that I loved has been used since medieval times as a medicinal herb, and rainwater collected in the leaves was used for its alleged magical powers. I never tested its use as a tea to reduce excessive period bleeding, but I like knowing that women in the past had used this plant for that purpose.
Crawling on hands and knees, digging and dividing in the perennial garden, helped me to turn my son from posterior to anterior. Squatting and weeding between the vegetable rows helped prepare me for my daughter's birth. There's no sitting still when you have a growing garden! Sheila Kitzinger's daughter laboured in her garden and held trees as she pushed. My own clients have laboured on hillsides in the dark, in Queen Elizabeth Park by the flowers, leaning on trees, and squatting on the grass. Many birthing centres in warm climates encourage women to labour in gardens specifically landscaped for labour and birth. This "Birth in Nature" video shows a woman whose labour is entirely outdoors.
One Master Gardener, Donna Guillemin, opened my eyes to the "art" of gardening, and the world of Plant Spirit Medicine. While I would work in my garden, raising my children and attending births, she would (seemingly magically) help clients of mine to conceive, or cure their PUPPS, or relieve their anxiety. She would send them (or me) to Finlandia Pharmacy or Gaia Garden for tinctures and teas, if her own tinctures and teas weren't quite what was needed.
Fast forward to today - and we have two more helpers, Jack and Finn, in the garden. They have changed the soundscape of my mother's garden - windchimes, stellar's jays and shrieks of laughter are now heard over the sound of the sprinkler. They are also learning to ask if they're pulling out a weed or a plant, or if the berry they hold in their hands is a "bird berry" or a "people berry". We pull and squat and crawl in the dirt and work hard and play hard together. From age 3 to 89, our family work together in the garden, connecting to the earth and each other.
Do we garden safely? Pregnant or not, we try to remember to wear our gloves (or at least have a good soap and water wash at the end of a gardening session), and take precautions to avoid toxoplasmosis or chemicals, and avoid strains or sprains. But any potential risks of gardening during pregnancy (or postpartum or otherwise) are far outweighed by the positive emotional, physical and spiritual benefits (check out the Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association for more).
Our gardens in Point Roberts, Tsawwassen, and Vancouver have nurtured four generations of our family. They have helped our babies turn into the perfect position, strengthened our legs for labour, watched us nurse our babies on the grass, calmed our minds when we've been anxious, and cleared our heads when the 21st century has been going too fast. Sure, we buy our vegetables most years, but we try to buy local and organic and ride our bikes or walk to the local farmers markets.
So, if you're starting to grow a baby, try adding a garden to your family. There you will find joy for a lifetime (and you might just be able to avoid a posterior labour, too!)