The drive up to the Ferncliff Copper birthing house was long. My old Honda swayed me gently, as the dirt and pebbled road beneath the tired and worn wheels made its way up the road. The motion felt hopeful and promising. The property rolled subtly with hills and fences for the few cows that grazed in the grass. It had taken me almost 40 minutes to get to the house, tucked back in the hills of wine country but it wouldn’t have been hard to miss even if it had been a mile from the main road. The tawny house erred on the side of victorian with a mix of countryside, with its white filigreed wood hanging from the eaves and broad wooden porch with swing. It was soft and welcoming and I imagined that this is what the first days of parenthood might look like. The visual of smiling parents with smiles drawn up to the lobes of their ears, with the weariness lining underneath their eyes. The weathered house, dainty and delicate in appearance that brought babies into the world was the epitome of how exhaustion and pure bliss could co-exist so seamlessly at the same time.
The field of dahlias circled the house, vibrantly seven and eight rows deep. Deciding to come to this birthing house was easy for me. The simple fact that it was swallowed whole by flowers in the summer time was enough for me to have a baby here. Flowers were reason enough to uproot my life to a whole new state, thousands of miles away from what I had always known, even if flowers were how I knew what love really was. It all happened so fast, the moving and the life change.
Mother would always say, “Sienna, you will be given things, and sometimes those things will be taken away. No reason. No explanation. Just gone. Like a drop in a bucket, you’ll hear the thud of absence.” Most of my life I’d allowed those words to brim on the surface of my front brain for years, never really expecting them to plant literally into my life like they would. It felt like it was just something that parents would say out of habit, for no reason other than to fill the moments that can be so quiet in parenthood. Don’t sit too close to the TV. Caffeine will stunt your growth. Wait 30 minutes to swim after eating.
Most of my life went on plainly, and I preferred it that way. I went to University in the northern part of the state, not too far from home. I kept my part time job at the local plant nursery, and it was there that I found a love for horticulture studies and late night burrito runs to the local taqueria. Jesse, studied Anthropology there. The story went, or at least this is what Jesse told all our friends, that we met by “accident,” or rather intention on his part. He used some line about printer credits, and asked if I could let him use my card to print up a page or two on his paper about agricultural practices in small rural areas on century farms. He had glassy blue eyes that told me he wanted more than just my print credits. We shared library time scouring pages of heirloom flower catalogs and reciting facts about plants. From afar we looked like garden geeks I’m sure of it. The love between the two of us was kind, generous, easy, and never forced. Our wedding was in the backyard of my Grandma Birdie’s backyard. On a brisk Spring day, in the hand me down prom dress my grandmother held onto for such a special occasion, I wed Jesse holding flowers he had grown himself just for our day. His vows went something like this, “Sienna, cultures for years and years have used flowers to celebrate love and loss. To heal the broken, and bring beauty to the eyes of the weary. They’re a symbolic language to say something very specific. Today these flowers say that I am forever and always will be willing to proclaim how madly I love you, because it’s the most certain representation of flowers I know.”
The groan of the seasoned steps of Ferncliff Copper House held the heaviness I hoped to leave at the door once I walked through the doors. I thought maybe I should knock, then decided that this was a place of business so knocking might be a bit strange. On the phone with the head midwife Mallory days before, I confirmed that I would be there on a Tuesday in the high heat of the afternoon. Knocking would only show how nervous I was feeling, walking in when you’re expected somewhere is a sure way of exuding confidence.
There hadn’t been any time to sort out how I would even feel in the birthing space without Jesse. I had a tendency to be swift and intentional with my grief, there wasn’t time to labor over decisions that needed to be decided right then and there. As certain as his love was for me, I was twice as certain there was no bringing him back from the very soil that grew the flowers we both loved so dearly. I thought back to a few weeks ago when I finally heard words that helped me make this precipitous decision.
“You can’t push her through the grief. There is no picking her up and depositing her tired, broken sadness on the other side. You simply have to sit and be ready to walk through it at whatever speed you’ve got to give her. It will be messy, and she’ll hate every minute of it, because you’ll be dying inside too at feeling unable to help her. Let her go where she needs to.” I overheard Jesse’s nurse tell my mother this moments after he was gone.
“Hi, Sienna? We’ve been expecting you.” Mallory was just as warm in person as she was on the phone, a sunny disposition with curly hair streaked with gray in spite of being in her mid thirties.
“Welcome to Ferncliff Copper House. If you’re interested I’d love to give you a tour first of the house and property before we talk about having your baby here. Does that feel okay with you?” There was no rush to her proposition, more like a genuine curiousity of what might feel best for me. Mallory was right in her perception that she’d need to go slow with me. Upon approaching the fields of dahlias, my heart stuttered to a full stop. The heat urged sweat to cover the underside of my very rotund belly. If I’d known any better I would have thought my water had broken at the rate in which the sweat dripped down my tired swollen legs. There were so many flowers. Bright and peppy, tall and sturdy. Jesse and I had many conversations about the durability of the dahlia, and how it was so incredible that such a flower could look so different from variety to variety.
“My family has been on this farm for over a hundred years, growing Dahlias. We are a century farm mostly for our dahlias. My great great grandparents emigrated here from Mexico, their family had grown flowers in their home country for many years. For medicine mostly, but also for the rich. They came with their culture and their flowers to heal and to grow. It’s been a small change in the last fifty years to add the birthing house to our century farm, but it’s been a beautiful evolution of what my ancestors created.” Mallory gleamed with nostalgia and deep pride. The evidence of her family’s gift sprawled before the both of us.
“We call it the Ferncliff Copper house because these flowers here are that variety of dahlia.” Without thinking my fingers reached for the orangey melon colored flowers, brushing my thumb back and forth.
“They’re beautiful. Can we go inside? I’m feeling a bit overheated.” Mallory didn’t need to tell me what strain of dahlias they were, Ferncliffs were in my wedding bouquet. It wasn’t that I was hot at all really, the heat I could handle. I’d been burning up with grief for three weeks now, no it was more the ache that the flowers brought to my heart. The knowing that I’d be having this baby alone, surrounded quite literally by Jesse’s love language. His maddening love in hundreds of different colors glowing into the space in which our baby would come into this world.
As Mallory led me back to the main room, I noticed that each room in the house had a bucket outside of it. Some of them were empty and some had bundles of dahlias in them. “Mallory, it’s beautiful here what your family has. I hope having my baby here feels peaceful, because honestly it’s all that I need right now. Peace, and well, flowers.” Mallory nodded at my sentiment, brushing her warm palm alongside my sunned arm.
“Can I ask, what are the buckets outside of the rooms for?” The image of the buckets wouldn’t leave my mind, they felt symbolic somehow. The empty buckets, and the filled buckets.
“Oh, dahlias in the buckets? It’s something we started doing after someone gave birth. We’d gather flowers from the field and overflow the bucket outside of the door. One, to show that there’s a mother with a new child behind the door- a new life. But also, when family comes to visit they are encouraged to take some of the flowers from the bucket into the room as a gift to the new mother and baby.”
“They know the flowers are there, and to expect them to be given. But something about filling the bucket, tells that new parent that we won’t let their bucket of love be empty- ever.”
It was then that my mothers words about things being taken away without reason, sounding like a thud in a bucket came ringing back in full force in my mind. Jesse had been taken from me, but it was clear that the personification of his love would refill my life with flowers to celebrate the arrival of our baby. As long as there were dahlias in the bucket, there’d be his love for others to bring to me.