December 22, 2015

9 Days after Giving Birth, I Had a Stroke. This is How I Healed.

garden path

We look like the typical hipster unit; except three weeks ago, at age 34, I suffered a stroke.

I was the Poster Pregnancy, a healthy and hearty bump growing me into the summer months. Pretty Prego outside planting pots in the hot sun. Dreaming of making my beauty her first foods straight from the garden. Farm to High Chair if you will. I private chefed my way through this pregnancy like a champ, my belly swelling over the kitchen island. My apron growing tighter, feet fatter, and that baby inside bouncing and bursting with every little bite I took. She was my secret weapon, my super taster, my portable sous chef. And together we were successful—on the job and at home in the garden. We were growing our dreams and anticipating the sweet taste of their fruition.

Until the trouble came.

Nine days after her birth, I sat in a pretty pink robe nursing my newborn, watching the trees sway to the summer breeze through the window, when I went blind and my brain began to bleed.

Upon waking in the ICU to blurred images of loved ones hovering above me, doctors wiggling finger, ”How many are we holding up?”  “Can you hear us?”  “Follow my finger with your eyes.”  All I could think of was the vision of flowers.

I came out of an anesthetic dream with a garden on my mind and a longing for my daughter—who I would subsequently not see over the course of the following week. PRES syndrome is what they called—short for Posterior Reversible Encephyloptic Syndrome—best explained as a reversible stroke. Sounded hopeful—to everyone but me. I was blind, and I wanted my brain and my baby back.

This was not part of the plan; this was not the dream that we sowed together in the summer sun.

I remember the nurse breaking the news that I would be in Intensive Care for twenty-one days, and then I would most likely be moved to a Rehab Center. I recall tears, my vision vacillated between the memory of my baby’s brand new face and a lifetime of disability; my pillow was wet with tears. Amongst the heartache, I kept a quizzical finger on the garden dream that woke me from my anesthesia.

Days passed; I beat the odds. My vision returned, I began to walk, I began to talk, to fight, to hope, to long for that beautiful baby waiting for Mommy to come home. I was released from the hospital one week after nearly losing the chance to be her mother.

Flash forward to now, and here we are radiant. There is a brown-eyed baby tucked froggy style inside a modern day papoose that holds her snugly against all the soft, warm and stubborn parts of motherhood. She is searching for the sound of the cicadas that bellow down from the high green treetops swooping lazily in the humid breeze.

Behind me I hear the lurch and glide of a seven year old on a swing, and before me, the sound of water.

I have set the hose to “Rain Shower”, and I’m steady enough now to do two things at once. I give the garden a good once over; somehow the neglect of the past few weeks has birthed heads of kale long and splayed, deep green and reaching for the sky. The fat green tomatoes are beginning to blush underneath their own weight. The jalapenos and cubanelles are perfectly shaped, an easy indicator of their intense heat from within…knobby cucumbers, wide-leafed basil. I know somebody somewhere planted some watermelon; and then there is the lettuce…rows and rows of lettuce standing rooted and upright—folded open to the sun.

Everything around us is growing and green.

It is good to be home. We have spent the summer on and off at the hospital, first wondering if I would ever see again, then walk again, then make it home to kids without any part of what makes me missing.

I had such perfect plans…but it seems the creator of the cosmic cookie proves yet again that my personal life map is a scribble on a napkin compared to the masterpiece being drawn by a hand much bigger than mine.

Will I cook again?

Can I cook again?

All my knives are dull…

Am I dull?

Will I write again?

Do I even remember how to cook like I know I could cook?

My hand guides the hose over all that we planted before this summer setback of 2015; and we are surrounded by growth…my two children and I. Life pushes forward in all directions at all times, shoots up from the ground, nourished by the sky.

Some of the best yield from the toughest of soils.

I could have gone dry, could have cracked, could have let those tears that soaked the pillow in the hospital be the last lubricant my soul would see.

Nature teaches us a lesson. We plant, the seeds of hopes and dreams oftentimes expecting an effortless yield. It doesn’t work that way. Things get bigger, things get brighter, deeper, fuller, juicy and ripe as they struggle. Dreams weave up through dry dirt, love rises in the harsh sun, strength roots itself in rocky soil.  We harvest our best selves in these landscapes. And through this struggle, we can bear beautiful fruit nourished by the healing rain of inner peace.

And now here I am, perhaps in the garden of my dreams.

I have been blessed to harvest all of this.

To be able to see her mud puddle brown eyes widen as we walk amongst the growth.

I am healing.

She heals me.

We pollenate one another with a bond I almost didn’t experience.

For the time being, I plan on keeping things simple.

We have got some good flavor going, no need to muck it up—I will let all the hard work of healing stand on its own.

I swoop down, cradling the baby before me, and lean into the fuzzy fragrant vines. I twist and pluck a tomato or two. We make our way over to the cucumbers. Again…snap and pluck. A ruffle and twist and now we have our lettuce. A few snips of chive and basil. We head inside.

I pull out the cutting board, my chef’s knife, and lay it on the counter. I take a knee deep breath, lay out the bounty from our backyard, begin to slice and chop and decide that tonight we shall start simply, with a salad.


Author: Quenby Schuyler

Editor: Caroline Beaton 

Image: Flickr/

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