How the Garden Grows
Surrogacy means to have a fertilized egg implanted into the womb of a woman who, usually for money, will carry out the pregnancy and give birth to the child. This may be an option for couples who for some reason are unable to have children. But the issue is ethically debatable and raises the question whether having a child can be considered a human right. Surrogacy on a commercial basis is illegal in many countries, including Britain. But in other countries, India for example, the service is offered and carried out in special clinics under surveillance of medical personnel.
Read the short-story "How the Garden Grows" and do the tasks which follow.
How the Garden Grows
By W B Jenkins
When she came home from the playground she picked up the form again. Name: Connie Moore, age 36. Married. No children. The cold formality of it made it look like the application it was. She put it down again, sighed, and sat down. She was tired. Her thoughts went spinning again and there was nothing she could do to hold back.
Timothy – four years older than her, had somehow always been there. Their marriage just grew out of an adolescent infatuation, and was not a success. Well, that would depend on how one measures a successful marriage. They were relatively happy and they were relatively fond of each other. They had safe jobs, money was sufficient if not plentiful, and the apartment nice enough. Their marriage was probably what most people would call happy.
But there was this thing that had come between them and gradually had turned their relationship into a dysfunctional concord between the lame and the blind.
She got up again and went to the window. The swing was empty now, but slowly swaying like somebody had just left it. There was a toddler sitting in the sand-box, and a woman on the bench, talking on her mobile. Probably the mother. Connie tried to imagine herself as the mother she so desperately wanted to be, but no - she wanted to hold back. She didn’t want to go into the depressing deadlock of her misery once more. But her wayward thoughts were wandering off again, and she felt her utter existence being demolished like a little pebble in a grinder. It was eating her up. It was eating their marriage up. She picked up the form again.
God knows they had tried, desperately and passionately. In the beginning, at least. But it soon became more like a loveless act of duty; a repeated and pointless performance. And the lack of result was like a self-fulfilling curse. They had been through all the phases – the figuring and calculating of the fertile periods, the uncertainty and secret blaming, the arguing, the tears and the envy of other couples. And the endless testing. There was nothing wrong with either of them – it was just that she was unable to get past the first ten weeks. She had lost count, and had stopped smiling when she came home after having seen the doctor. Her malfunction was not any ailment that could be cured by medication or on the operating table. If only. Tim had been very understanding in the beginning, but now she felt his unspoken accusation because she was the one who could not complete their joint pursuit. They had come to the end, really – feeling that this inadequacy was corrupting their marriage altogether.
Tim came home and they dined in silence. He noticed the form, picked it up and looked at her.
“It’s illegal,” he said. “And it’s wrong.”
Oh, not again, Connie thought. How many times have we been over this? But she didn’t answer at first; she just sighed and looked at him.
There was a hard silence. And then after a while she said: “It’s not, really – it is a possibility for us, it is a – oh, I don’t know…”
She cleared the table and felt angry that she didn’t know what to say to him. Illegal? No – it may be disputable, she was fully aware of that, but did they have any option?
“Where…“ he started.
She cut him off: “On the net.”
She said: “God – we have been over this a hundred times, Tim – why can’t we just…”
It was getting edgier, and she felt this was going nowhere.
He raised his voice: "I say again: Why can’t we just go for an adoption?”
Her voice was shivering: “Because it wouldn’t be our child. I want it to be our own child, Tim – can’t you understand that? I’ve told you a hundred times. An adopted child would not be our own. We are perfectly all right both of us, there’s nothing wrong with our stuff, you know that – it’s just that…” she paused and looked away.
Timothy had suggested an adoption after her third miscarriage, but she had never seen that as a way. Every time it came up she had tried to explain why, but he did not seem to understand her at all. God – why was this so difficult?
“But,” he started again – “a pregnancy in another woman’s womb? Our child starting its life inside a strange woman in a foreign country? We are talking of our own baby here, not some manufactured product. Can’t you see that it’s wrong? What do you know of this other woman? Her lifestyle, hygiene, what she eats or drinks – it all will influence the life of our baby, you know. There is a reason why it’s illegal here. Where would this happen?”
“India is an option,” she said feebly. “That’s the cheapest.”
She felt like she was fighting for a lost cause, but for her this was the last straw.
She said: “It is cheaper than an adoption, which also would take much longer time.”
He did not let go: “Yeah, I bet – quick and cheap. I tell you again – it’s illegal! Do you seriously mean that we are going to India to deliver our stuff – as you so charmingly call it, and have it implanted in some strange Indian woman, and hope for the best? It’s simply absurd! Besides, there’s the issue of citizenship – have you thought of that? Will the baby be Indian or English? Connie, this is simply not going to happen!”
Her head was spinning. She did not answer, could not, and they fell silent again. She was so tired.
The next day she told him that she needed a couple of days off – to breathe some fresh air, as she put it. She packed and set off to see her parents who lived in the countryside a hundred miles or so up north.
The train carriage was packed, but she found a seat and put her little suitcase on the rack and sat down facing an elderly couple who did not speak a single word to each other the entire journey. She tried to read, but it was hard to concentrate because of this woman across the aisle who was trying hard to calm down her screaming two-year old. Probably a single mother, Connie thought for some reason.
Her parents met her at the station, and they exchanged hugs and the usual “so-good-to-see-you” formalities. Then Connie found herself in the backseat of a car heading for the greenery of her youth. Her father was a keen gardener, and was running a little nursery on the outskirts of the little village.
At the dinner table the conversation stalled; the empty words seemed to be hanging in the air some time before they evaporated or died like little buds that were nipped off. Connie slowly realised that the visit was a mistake.
After dinner her father went into the garden and she and her mother were alone in the kitchen. “Everything OK with you and Tim?” her mother suddenly asked. Connie hesitated, and said, probably not very convincingly – “Yeah, just fine.” Her mother didn’t answer, just went over to the window and looked out at the garden where her husband was busy cutting some small twigs off a plum tree.
In the evening they sat in front of the telly just like in the old days, only it was not. Connie was tired.
“There’s a gardening show on Channel Four I’d like to see,” her father said, “If the ladies don’t mind. It’s about grafting. You see, I have this problem with the two plum trees out there. The grafting doesn’t seem to work, the little scions just die. The scions are the little shoots I try to implant in the parent tree. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.”
“Maybe it’s not right,” her mother replied, “meddling with nature like that. Just leave them alone, and they’ll be all right.” He ignored her remark, and reached for the remote.
Connie finished her glass of wine, said good night and went upstairs. Her old room seemed like a place long ago and far away, a place where she didn’t belong any more. As she lay staring into the darkness she could hear the faint murmur of the telly downstairs, like someone was whispering to her. Her mind was surprisingly blank. Sleep came at last and took her to that strange and unknown land between dream and reality, between life and death.
At breakfast the next day she told them that she had to go home, and she left on the afternoon train.
Tasks and Activities
- In what way does the first sentence strike the theme of the story?
- Wat does it mean that the narrative angle is a limited 3rd person point of view?
- How does this angle limit the information we get about Tim's attitude? (See also p 5 under "Discussion" below.)
- Comment on the composition of the short story.
- Find examples of literary devices such as symbols, alliteration and repetition.
- If you don’t know, check the Literary Terms and find out about “epiphany”. How can that term be applied on this short-story?
- Check also the term “motif” and find an example in this story.
- Can you think of a symbolic interpretation of Connie’s visit to her parents?
- In what way does the episode on the train have any relevance?
- Why does Connie think that her visit was a mistake? Was it really?
- How would you characterize Connie and Timothy?
- Comment on the title and the grafting issue raised at the end.
- Where is the turning point of the short story?
- Which elements of a typical short-story do you see in this story?
- The story has a somewhat open ending. Why did Connie leave so quickly, and what was on her mind?
Topics for Discussion
- Why is the issue of surrogacy so debatable?
- Do you think that having a child is a human right?
- Discuss Connie’s view on adoption. Can you see her point?
- When Connie’s mother asks if everything is OK, why doesn’t Connie tell her about her situation?
- What are Tim's motives for not going along with Connie's plan? Is it fair to say that he has a "male" approach to the issue?
- Why is having children often a sensitive and touchy topic for childless couples?
- Discuss the line, “And the lack of result was like a self-fulfilling curse.”
- In what way does the story raise the issue of developing countries vs. the rich western world?
Check the net for surrogacy or surrogate pregnancy and find out:
- Which countries offer the service?
- Are there certain conditions applied?
- What are the legislative views on surrogacy in Britain, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, India, and the USA? Why do you think there are differences?
- What does the service cost in India, and how much of that sum goes to the woman who carries the child?
- See if you can find other examples of literature, e.g. short-stories, that raise questions about ethical dilemmas.