I was newly pregnant. We found out on a dreary December morning just past Christmas, after having waited for four months.
It was my final chance to see that little plus on the pregnancy test, as a later due date wouldn’t fit in with our schedule and I’d have to wait a whole other year.
Yes, having children is that romantic in real life.
I was nervous. I didn’t know if I still wanted this, as I was deeply aware that pregnancy and parenthood could be laced with many heartaches along with the joys.
That particular morning I woke at 6am, Brani alert and eager for me to go to the bathroom.
I peed on the probably one hundredths goddamn plastic stick and settled in for the wait. Only… I didn’t have to.
The magical line appeared immediately.
“I think I might be pregnant”, I said drily into the bedroom.
Congratulations for joining your personal hell. Because what followed was the hardest nine months of my life.
Harder than surviving my father’s suicide. Harder than coming out of an abusive relationship without wanting to die.
What happened was a culmination of everything I was, everything I am, everything I ever experienced crashing down on me.
Society expects pregnant women to be happy. Magazines give us the impression of having to glow.
Imagine if you’re nothing but depressed and in darkness for all of your pregnancy. It’s… Hell.
I’m a firm believer in what Gwyneth Olwyn has to say about eating disorders. It’s not an addiction. It’s a fear.
It’s fear from food in absence of the same. In theory it’s making a lot of sense if you think about a hunter-gatherer kind of society, who, in times of a famine, need members of their tribe thriving on starvation.
I hadn’t done it on purpose this time. I was sick. I was so sick for 16 weeks, I couldn’t get out of bed most of the time.
I didn’t eat. My brain switched into famine mode, as it had after every single diet I put myself on during adolescence and early womanhood. Once more, food had become my enemy.
As humans, we always strive to make sense of our thoughts, our emotions, our actions.
Whatever seems most plausible, most acceptable to society, most innocent to our dark minds – it’s what we decide is the root of our behavior.
For young girls who don’t want to eat it’s usually “looking good”, because as a society we currently decide all women need to want to look sleak and thin to always fit in. So not eating because you want to look slim is a very plausible train of thoughts these days.
There are records of eating disordered women in Medieval times, who declared the root of their behavior unreturned love. Religion. Whatever helped their minds find reason in their behavior, suited to their current times.
As a pregnant woman? The most easily defendable motion is “I fear for my baby’s life”.
And so I feared for my baby’s life. It was not about calories, or fasting, or losing weight this time. I lived on dry crackers because I was scared to my bones that something would take my baby away from me.
I already said it was a culmination of all my experiences. One experience was losing my dad. The other was having a miscarriage, just seven months prior, and anyone who ever claims it’s not such a drama or it wasn’t even a life yet is a complete asshole.
To me it was losing my child, it was deepening my idea of not deserving anything good, of having everything taken from me.
And so, as I was pregnant with Em, I was irrationally fearing food because I had been fasting for 4 months. I was also irrationally fearing losing my baby, being positive something would kill this little soul growing inside of me.
I felt her kick at 19 weeks. I cried because I thought the ham on that pizza wasn’t cooked enough.
Brani felt her kick at 23 weeks. I panicked because I wasn’t sure if the pancakes were done all the way through.
She made the water in the tub jump at 28 weeks. I screamed into my pillow because I had eaten an outdated yogurt.
She pressed her head into my ribcage at 33 weeks. I broke down because I didn’t know if the parmesan in the risotto we had eaten out at a dinner party had been cooked.
Brani gave up and called my doctor. I was referred to psychiatric urgent care.
My psychiatrist was pregnant.
I told her how I didn’t think I deserved having this baby. How I was sure I was to be punished, never to hold this perfect little miracle in my arms, living and breathing.
She made me eat poultry. She made me eat a deli salad at our neighborhood summer party.
She firmly challenged my irrational fears and somehow, I don’t quite know how, she helped me survive the final few weeks of pregnancy.
Em was born early on a Sunday morning. With the moment of her birth, by breaking the physical connection between us, my explanation for not wanting to eat vanished.
And with it vanished my suffocating anxiety around food, for the final time.
I have to be vigilant every single day for myself and my daughters. I do not want them to see their mother in such mental agony over food, ever.
Em’s third birthday is coming up. We’ll celebrate her turning a year older, with all the bells and whistles an understated party has to offer.
But I’ll always celebrate something else, too.
I’ll celebrate living another year without spiraling into darkness, 12 months of peace around food, 365 days in the light.
That light? It’s worth every single tear I swallow. And it wouldn’t be a celebration without cake, so let’s bake one.
A streusel coffee cake. With stone fruit. Almonds. Star anise, tonka and cardamom, because are we plain and vanilla? No, we’re loud and bold and stark. We’re women.
Start with the fruit. Any kind of stone fruit you love.
Halved, stoned, large ones quartered or sliced, even.
The cake batter is thick and sturdy. You need to whip the butter and sugar long enough, until the sugar crystals dissolve, before adding the eggs.
Add them one at a time, beating well in between, the resulting mass should taste almost like a glossy and fatty meringue. (Don’t worry about it actually turning into meringue, the fat in the butter will prevent the proteins from forming that structure.)
Creaming cake ingredients works best with a scraper beateryou can find on Amazon here*, by the way.
Spreading the batter in the tin is no easy task, it has willpower. You can do it.
Stick more fruit on top than you feel comfortable with, otherwise you’ll ruin the cake by leaving it too dry. I scattered a few red currants on top, too, because it felt like a smart move (it was).
I wasn’t actually truthful, you will not start with the fruit after all. You’ll start with the streusel, as it needs to be chilled.
On it goes, in a thick layer, until the fruit merely shimmers through in spots of orange and purple.
If you have beaten the butter and sugar and eggs enough, the cake will rise beautifully. It won’t need to bake for as long as you think it does, so take it out when a toothpick inserted comes out just clean.
Sliced into bars it is perfect to take to picnics, summer outings or a backyard barbecue.
You can even eat a lonely square all by yourself, immersed in thoughts of summer melancholy and the weird and heavy sadness the inevitably approaching end of a season brings.
We do still have a while of summer left, though it is fleeting and slowly starting to run away from us. But I’ll hold on to every last day of sunshine with the same ferocity as I let go of my fears around food.
And until summer is officially over, I’ll eat as much stone fruit studded streusel coffee cake as my hands can carry, for I am not afraid.
I suggest you do the same, especially so if the mere thought of it is one terrorizing to your mind.
Take my hand and dance out of the darkness, dear.
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup cold butter
- 2/3 cup ground almonds
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 pounds stone fruit
- 14 tbsp butter
- 1 cup caster sugar
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp ground star anise
- 1 ground tonka bean OR a scraped vanilla bean
remaining cake ingredients
- 2/3 cup natural full fat yogurt, I used sheep's milk
- 1 handful red currants, optional
make the streusel:
- Place all ingredients for the streusel in a medium bowl. Crumble them together with the tips of your fingers, rubbing the butter into the flour and sugar. You should end up with soft blobs of various sizes and incredible taste. There should not be any dry patches of flour left. Chill in the fridge until ready to use
prepare the dry ingredients:
- Stir together all dry ingredients in another medium bowl. Set aside until ready to use.
prepare the fruit:
- Wash and dry the fruit. Slice it open and remove the stones. Slice smaller pieces in halves (like small plums or small apricots). Medium ones should be quartered and larger peaches and nectarines sliced into wedges. Set aside.
prepare the wet ingredients:
- Beat on medium speed until the mass looks fluffy and is light in color, 3-4 minutes. The sugar crystals should start to dissolve if you pinch a little between your fingers.
- Add one egg at a time, beating well after each addition, adding the spices with the final egg. Your mass should have increased in size and feel/taste almost meringue-like. The grit of the sugar should be pretty much gone.
prepare the cake for baking:
- Heat the oven to 360°F (180°C). Prepare a 9x13 (23cm x 33cm) rectangular baking tin by lining it with baking parchment.
- Set the mixer to the lowest speed. Alternate between adding a tablespoon of yogurt and a few tablespoons of the dry ingredient mix. Try to finish with dry ingredients.
- Spread the batter in the prepared tin. Add the fruit on top, closely together, pushing it into the batter. Scatter the red currants on top (if using) and evenly sprinkle with the chilled streusel.
- Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out just clean. Cool in the pan on a rack, dust with icing sugar and slice into bars.
Soundtrack to your Sweet Saturday baking:
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