Two hundred ovulation tests dipped in urine in a plastic Tupperware container once used to hold black olives. Nineteen negative pregnancy tests that taunted me with their one pink line. Twelve months of menstrual-cycle data—disappointment marked with blood drop icons. Eight orange pill bottles that lived on in a landfill. Five crumpled medical bills in the wastebasket. One seesaw month at a time. My OBGYN said it was PCOS (Probably Can't Ovulate, Sorry). I wasn't surprised. At 16, I had a period that lasted for 20 days. After that, my period came only whenever it felt like it, a persnickety feline. I liked to be in control, to follow routines, but my body never listened when I told it what to do.
A seed settles into the soil. In the wet, warm, earthworm-world, it sprouts its first set of leaves, soaks up sunlight. The leaves multiple; the roots reach down. A central tap root, like a long skinny carrot, travels deep, seeks water, wisdom. The sunshine head sprouts, a mane, the honeybee’s best buddy.
I’m seven. I ask my mother why dandelions are called weeds, instead of flowers. “I think they’re pretty.” I twirled my hair. “Why do people want to get rid of them?” “It’s because they grow where they haven’t been planted.” They don’t follow the lawn owner or landscaper’s plan. They disrupt the green grassy uniformity.
After numerous doctor’s appointments and blood tests, purple forearms, and pills that made me swear and sweat and seethe, it was my husband’s turn to get tested.
The results—millions and millions of healthy sperm, swirling, spinning, salivating for a plump egg with which to tango.
I was the problem, the one preventing us from becoming parents. I was the reason my patient, loving husband wasn’t a father.
The seeds develop in secret.
The golden petals die, dry out and crumble away to reveal the seed head—a slender green tube on the top of the stalk, a tuft of white feathery fluff peeking out. The tube opens, revealing a cloud-like head of seeds, called a pappus. Each pappus carries around 100 filaments clinging to the center, like the head of a baby bottle brush. One hundred tiny parachutes, designed to slow the descent of each seed, allowing them, once aloft, to be carried by the wind to unknown locations near or far.
I’d been overweight my entire adult life but never dieted, never had the desire. However, when I researched solutions to getting pregnant with PCOS, losing 10% of one’s body weight was the most recommended and least invasive option. I tracked every crumb, every calorie, every crunchy carrot that I consumed, plus ran daily. Finally, something that I could control.
But as my weight decreased, my anxiety increased. “What if we are never able to have children?” I curled up on the couch next to my husband.
“Don’t think like that. We’re going to have kids. It’s just a matter of time.” He reached for my hand.
“Yeah, but what if we don’t?”
Dandelions reproduce both sexually (through pollination) and asexually. Once a dandelion establishes itself, it blooms each spring, producing more seeds, more flowers.
I was never the little girl who pined over wedding magazines and dreamed of getting married and making babies. Sure, I always imagined I’d be a mom one day, but it wasn’t something I thought about much. So when the thought of never being a mom sent me spiraling, I was angry. Angry at myself for caring so much. Angry at my body for not doing what it was supposed to do. Angry at God for filling the wombs of sixteen-year-olds who had sex once and drug addicts whose babies were born addicted to crack—but not filling mine.
“What did I do wrong? Why them and not me?”
The name dandelion is from the French “dent de lion” meaning “tooth of the lion.” A dandelion by any other name—blowball, cankerwort, cochet, priest’s crown, swine snout, wild endive—is just as sunny. In a photo from my childhood, my sister and I have dandelions tucked behind our ears. We’re grinning, completely carefree.
I’m the opposite of a procrastinator. I pay bills the day I receive them. I finish assignments a week early. I’ve always been a chronic overachiever, straight-A student, annoying teacher’s pet, in part because of a nagging anxiety that won’t let me live any other way. I can do anything, right? Isn’t that what my parents taught me? Also, you could get pregnant from having sex just one time. Isn’t that what they said?
I attacked the problem in every way I knew how—with vitamins, food, exercise, medical testing, prescriptions, with “taking my mind off it,” relaxation trips, prayer, and biblical declarations.
“I don’t understand why this isn’t working, why we’re not pregnant already.” I sighed and plopped onto our king-size bed.
“Well, it’s not something that you can control. We’ve done all that we can do for now.” My husband laid beside me, hands folded on his stomach. “But at least we can enjoy trying, right?” He winked, hand tracing down the side of my body.
I smacked his hand away. “It’s hard to enjoy sex when you HAVE to have it on certain days. It ruins the fun.” I rolled over and crossed my arms, like I crossed the days off the calendar so I always knew when it was time to “baby dance.”
I scheduled an appointment with a reproductive endocrinologist. The appointment was a month away. In the meantime, I mulled over what my husband had said. Some things in life, I cannot control. I could plant seeds, water them, but it wasn’t up to me if they would grow. My prayer evolved to: “I know I can’t control this. Help me to release it from my clenched fist.”
In the plant world, the dandelion seed travels the farthest, up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) from its parent plant. Researchers discovered that when the single parachute falls, air flows between the tiny bristles and creates a low-pressure vortex above it, creating increased lift. For something as small as a dandelion seed, the air is extremely viscous. In a similar way, the tiniest insects fly, not using wings, but by paddling through the air using bristles.
When I first saw the positive pregnancy test, those two pink lines sang a hopeful melody. I shook my husband awake at 4:22 a.m. to exclaim, “We’re pregnant!” and wave the pee stick in his face. He rubbed the sleep out of the corners of his squinty eyes.
“That’s great, babe!” he gurgled and sank beneath our turquoise comforter.
Three years later, in our front yard, I teach our son how to blow dandelion seeds. He giggles and waves his arms with excitement. “More, Mommy? Please, I do more?”
I nod my head and point to the next fluffy ball of seeds. He races to it, picks it, and shakes his arms wildly. I watch as the wind carries the seeds, wondering where they’ll end up—where he’ll end up—trying to embrace my inability to control the breeze.