The Garden

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September 23, 2021 by The Citron Review

by Whitney Lee


Today, I spent three hours digging a bed for lilies––my muscles depleted and sore. On my knees, fingers covered in dew and dirt, I pressed amaryllis bulbs into the ground. I tucked the roots of tomato plants under soil, anticipating the sweet taste or their fruit and seeds. Then, I watered the wavy folds of iris pedals. 

I am an obstetrician-gynecologist and I’ve extracted a uterus––clipped away the organ’s blood supply, sliced its buttresses, and pulled the pomegranate-shaped structure from a body. In six weeks, a surgeon will harvest my uterus, the place where my children planted their embryo bodies, then grew hearts, lungs, eyes, ears, taste buds––where they unfurled their limbs, stretch, yawned, and hiccupped for the first time. This space of fertile potential nestled deep and safe in my pelvis will be gone by winter. 

In an operating room, I’ve admired a womb inside a body: pink, glistening, bold. Strange how “womb” and “wound” sound so similar. I’ve also seen the organ gray, dead, slumped in white bucket. This fate for my uterus is unceremonious. Shouldn’t the organ be memorialized for her work, for carrying my three babies? Shouldn’t we bless her for her faithfulness? 

Instead, the sick pieces of her will be sliced, preserved, magnified, examined, graded, then stored. A pathologist will write a report about her diseased parts. The rest of her, the healthy parts, will burn in an incinerator with strangers’ gallbladders, appendixes, and amputated feet. 

Today, as I pluck withered pedals from impatiens, pull weeds, perfect the once wild land, I worry the lilies won’t bloom next year. I’ve loved knowing every spring there will be fertile soil to tend––energy to expend toward beauty. Even if I choose to leave the beds empty, a simmering potential has always waited. Now, I wonder how one tends to barren spaces. 


Whitney Lee is Maternal Fetal Medicine physician, an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University, former OpEd Public Voices fellow, and veteran. She received her MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Pleiades, Ninth Letter, Booth, Typehouse, Lunch Ticket, The Rumpus, Crack the Spine, Gravel, Numéro Cinq, and others. She is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award and runner-up for The Fugue’s 2021 Writing Contest. She lives in Chicago with her husband and four children. Currently, she is working on a memoir about a physician’s experience with uncertainty and perfectionism.


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