The Paradox of Mothering Nature

Laura Díaz de Arce
10 min readApr 28, 2024

Thoughts of motherhood and gardening.


Outside our front door we had planted two vining plants. One, a bleeding heart vine that we found on clearance at a big box hardware store. When we bought it, it had been barely a struggling twig, emaciated in the harsh Florida sun. The only evidence that it had potential was the picture on the tab. It had been left outside on the roof-less lot, even though it could only thrive in shadow.

Bleeding heart vine, photo by the author.

We set it below an overhang in the dry season and its leaves grew a deep green with hints of sapphire veins laced like crochet patterns. It bloomed with these plum colored diamond-shaped balloons that spilled out dripping red flowers.

Next to it, under that same awning, we replanted a red passion flower that has never flowered. Within the first few weeks, it was devoured by caterpillars. The limped leaves hung in tatters upon the trellis we’d tied it to. We did nothing to protect it, or heal it. The caterpillars left the carcass to its own fading. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, our neglect, that same plant began to thrive as well. It has yet to flower, but its lime-tinted leaves glow in the noon-time light.

With these two thriving vines, I worried there would be competition. In such a limited space, who would be the victor?


I was at a lecture once, where the speaker suggested that we take a house plant and name it after ourselves. The idea was that in naming a houseplant after yourself, and taking care of it, you would internalize the need for self-care. These tactics often feel a little too… “hokey” in all honesty. These gimmicks to better mental health often feel dubious. But I was resolved to attempt it. For the worst that could happen would be that perhaps we’d have a nice plant to bloom.

On mothers day, we’d purchased this orchid with flowers the pinkish hue of an abalone shell. That poor little orchid, like our vines, had sat neglected for weeks. It had a little root rot and its leaves had died after its orchid flowers had peeled away. I did as the speaker said and named it “Queta,” my nickname. With the help of a few YouTube videos and a trip to that same hardware big box store, I cleaned it and replanted it in a happy yellow ceramic pot. Just a little bit of attention and care it grew back for a few weeks. Its base and roots sat tall while a long, luxurious leaf sprouted. For a time, Queta was well and healing.

The “Queta” orchid in question

In the months that followed, other things took over in importance. That orchid sat uncared for after placed in its lonely corner on my patio. Its leaves again struggling for attention, affection, and a steady stream of water. I can see it through the sliding glass door and mentally note that I should go out to water it. Then promptly forget, and it sits there ignored. There is no expectation that the plant Queta will bloom, starved and thirsty as it is.


In one of my college art history classes, we did a short unit on 18th century gardens, focused primarily on the difference between idealized gardens of England and France. The French garden was typified by Versailles, still famously preserved as a museum. French gardens were orderly. These gardens were reflections of a strong monarchy with meticulously manicured bushes, hedges, flower beds. Strictly trimmed topiaries in straight rows as silent sentinels. Highly symmetrical, intricate designs adorned the pathways. The world tamed away from chaos. Rigid spires and layouts that sought to control nature itself.

These gardens, to my mind, were deeply unappealing.

Photo by Yvann Karamoko on Unsplash

English gardens were cast in opposition to the French in this course. They tried to replicate nature, albeit with a little more order. Their flower beds were clusters and patchworks broken up by rocky trails. Sloping hills and copses of trees that clung to the edges of verdant fields. Large man-made or natural lakes adorned with swans for feeding. It was nature with a polish. A convincing imitation, but an imitation nonetheless. Still a ways away from my aesthetic.

My favorite parks were never the large expanses of greens or well kept fields. My favorites were the wilds, the untamed and unbidden natures of the swamps with their overhanging and inconvenient trees. The type of nature that is best left to its own devices. There are no swans to feed, but herons to give a wide berth to as they spear the water. Forested pine hammocks whose thin trees hide secrets. Mangroves with roots for navigating with care.

We live in a suburb, which in its own prosaic way will prescribe to either English or French gardens. Our neighbors have manicured lawns, and some are more orderly than others. A curated imitation of nature complete with exotic, non-native plants in little hedges and flower beds. Artistic renderings of the pastoral in miniature.

Our house sits in opposition. Our carelessness is evidenced by some of the weeds that have taken root in the abandoned spaces. Our hedges sticking out as mussed hair. We do not prioritize its order, not when we have more important things to care for.


There is an inner part of myself that desires to garden. At points in my life, I have been able to devote sufficient time to the endeavor. But I lack constancy or energy to turn it into a long-term habit. Besides, my responsibilities have changed in the last two years. Especially with a body that grows more in weariness than vitality.

My autoimmune disorder has made things more difficult in the past year, and I have struggled to get it under control. My fatigue is worse. My pain is ever-present. The idea of spending time outside, bending, digging, letting the heat roast me like a ham sandwich, sounds less like recreation and more like a march towards decay. The sound of joints creaking from the activity alone is its own daunting reminder of these increased limitations.

It is a difficult thing when one’s body becomes less of an aperture and more of a prison. It isn’t as if this hasn’t happened previously in episodic spurts, but I’m having longer and longer bouts of soreness than before. I’m going on my second straight month of pain days. This is a normal process to aging, when the body breaks down and we must adapt, physically and mentally to the changes. At only 36, however, I am experiencing arthritis I shouldn’t have had for at least another two decades.

This, aside from the fact that my life has shifted. I have a daughter now. My responsibilities are to her, primarily. Between work, home, her, and the increasing resistance of my joints, stomach, and energy reserves, there is nothing left. And I am also lacking when it comes to those core functions as it stands. There is no room for digging or nurturing the outside.


Before she was born, I had this secret desire that my child would be a little feral. I was made to be the mother of beasts, not to prim young ladies. Not that I wouldn’t have loved her if she wasn’t, but perhaps she was already telling me about her nature while in my womb and I subconsciously adopted it. Or I had broadcast this hope onto her and that broke through the placental barrier. She has a little wildness to her, albeit, most toddlers do as well. But there is an intensity to her, a savagery that I admire. It remains to be seen if this is a natural course of development or a core part of her being.

Since birth, she has shown a discontent with cages of all sorts. She hates gates, cribs, corrals, even elevators. Anything that restricts her ability to roam. She bites, which we do not support, but she comes by it honestly as her mother was also a biter. She loves the outdoors and will walk us around the yard or park. My daughter is all id, also much like other children. She wants what she wants, when she wants it.

There is a caveat, however, to having such a child. You need to be wild with her. You need to have the attention, the ability, the energy and vigor to raise them like you want. In this, I am falling short. My inadequacy made plain by my exhaustion.


I will confess to experiencing a non-small amount of jealousy when I see some people with my child. She is luckily surrounded by a number of maternal and paternal figures in different contexts who are better parents than I. They are patient with her, know her cues and needs before I spot them. I had this notion while I was pregnant that our communication would be fluid, that instinct would take over. Our connection would be such that mothering would be easy.

That has not been the case.

Children, wild things or no, need structure. I have no structure in my own self-governance, or if I do, I am finding it difficult to accommodate hers. We have attempts at a bedtime, attempts at a bedtime routine, at a morning routine, but her growth has been too quick for me to adjust to.

She has these wants and needs but I’m still finding myself confused about her cues. We’ve taught her some sign language, which helps, but I’m often in the dark. Others have said it is fine, she doesn’t really have language yet and that these things will become easier. I would partially disagree, she has a language, it is that I lack fluency.

Photo by Taylor Kopel on Unsplash

There is an acuteness to the deficiency I feel when I watch her with more capable parental figures. Or when I see people having more energy and physical ability to take care of her. Each nap or feeding time is a reminder of the millions of ways I will fail her as she ages. Each hour spent playing with her that my reactions are slow or absent is a demonstration of my lack of internal resources. This mothering nature has not come naturally to me, its idea was a prepartum fantasy rendered useless.

My wild one needs nurturing, but her mother is sparse of nutrients to help her grow.


The Giving Tree, by Shel Siverstein, has been controversial since its publication sixty years ago. It is the story of an apple tree and a boy that the tree loves. That boy takes and takes until nothing is left but a stump of that tree.

Cover of “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein

Being the contrarian, this book is one I often give as a gift. It’s less a desire for people to be uncomfortable and more to see how others interpret the story.

Is it a sad story about a motherly love that destroys the parent?

A parable about selfishness?

Is it about our relationship to nature and the environment?

At this point in my parentage, I am less inclined to go with any of the above. It is less a destruction of the body and more an inevitability of motherhood. My pregnancy did things to my body that I am still contending with. It has caused a possible allergy to birth control. It may be at the root of my inability to contain my autoimmune disorder. Because I continue to breastfeed, I’m unable to switch to better medications for one of my conditions.

A fetus, in some ways, is like a weed, stealing bits from the natural flora for itself. Its placental roots grasp upon the body making way for it to nourish itself. Women sometimes lose their teeth from pregnancy, as the growing fetus takes calcium from the body. We alter our diets and prioritize its wants and needs. A fetus takes and takes what it needs and uses the host’s body with impunity.

And that is fine. Like that apple tree, I am happy. Happy to give my fruit, my branches, my trunk to her. Let her take it all. I need nothing left.


While it is too soon to tell, it may be that my fears of competition were for naught. The vines have crept towards one another thriving and winding. Rather than choking away their neighbor, battling for the trellises, they have intertwined in sections. They encroach on each other’s territory, their tendrils are delicate hands grasping at one another’s outstretched arms. As the days have passed, they have curled their into their compatriots, eking out their sunlight from the path. They have done such on their own, with no help from us.

There was never a need for competition, they only sought to embrace.

Passion Flower and Bleeding Heart Vines intertwined.



Laura Díaz de Arce

Laura is a South Florida based writer & the author of MONSTROSITY & Mask of The Nobleman.