In the beginning I couldn’t eat a thing. I remember eating at the Shiva right after coming from the cemetery. My brother Barry brought me a plate of food. That is tradition. Someone brings the mourners a plate of food. Lox, bagels, sliced cucumbers. I remember thinking how Noah would’ve loved all this food . And being confused at the platters being there and him not.
I had a hard time eating because now Noah couldn’t. It felt like I didn’t eat for months. I couldn’t stand thinking about him never eating that béchamel and mushroom pizza we used to get at Trader Joe’s. Or him never eating an apple in the shopping cart at Shoprite ever again. And then throwing that apple on the floor in the third aisle which was the candy aisle. We would share a bag of chocolate licorice as we shopped and I would pay for the empty bag.
I tried to tell myself he was somewhere where there was no need for food. No snacks. No meals, no shopping cart treats.
When I was a little girl, my mother would make cakes from boxed Betty Crocker mixes. My favorite was a fudge mix with tiny chocolate chips that was so delicious. Yes, the finished cake was good. But the batter…oh my god. I would sneak spoons full of the batter when my mother turned her back before she poured it into the non stick pan. Chocolate waves folded onto each other. And while I remember all of this clearly, what is most vivid in my mind was this thought: I couldn’t wait until I was older and I could make this batter all by myself and eat it all with a spoon. I wouldn’t even bake the cake.
The stage of depriving myself food, especially anything that Noah loved (and that was a lot of things) lasted a long time. I lost a lot of weight. By the time we began fertility treatments about nine months after the accident, I was eating so little. The pleasure of food was lost. But at some point, I went from the need to deprive myself of what Noah could no longer have to not being able to stop eating. I don’t remember exactly when or how that shift occurred.
The stress of fertility treatments, money, and the brokenness of our lives made me look for something that gave some pleasure. Writing or drawing was too difficult at the time. The introspection that required was impossible. Food binges became the easy way to escape and squash the thoughts and feelings for a little while. I found myself constantly in the kitchen. Eating. Anything. No food was safe. I didn’t even know what being actually hungry felt like anymore.
I gained and gained weight. I never weighed myself but I ballooned to the highest weight I’d ever been. I was out of breath and out of my mind. I never looked at my body anymore. Just my face and hair.
And then we switched doctors and our lives were about to change yet again. There was a medical study being conducted that, if we qualified, would save us many thousands of dollars in our next fertility cycle attempt. We told the doctor we would do anything to get another chance. He smiled and said the nurse will call.
I got that phone call in an Ulta Beauty store. Shopping for lipstick probably and looking for makeup that would continue to hide my sadness.
I answered my cell and went off to a quiet corner of the vanity lit store. I was told in the most sensitive way possible that, based on my current weight, I needed to lose 55 pounds to qualify for the study. And I needed to do it in about 2 months to stay within the deadline of the study. The nurse then said that she doesn’t want me to hurt myself and that it’s practically impossible and she was sorry. I remember crying amongst the lighted mirrors displayed on the shelf. I saw myself over and over magnified in the shiny silver circles and ovals. I told her I will do it. I will be safe about it and I will do it. “PUT US ON THE LIST,” I begged.
I had to willingly go back to the days of no appetite, no desire to taste or enjoy. I was now a machine that had to burn off this fat to get back in the game. To have a baby again. To be a family again.
I started the very next day. I told my boss that morning that I needed his support. We had a wine luncheon to go to that day. We had them often. Great restaurants and great wine. I needed to start immediately. I remember eating a salad and beef carpaccio. And spitting all the wine instead of drinking a glass or two of the one I liked best. He gently but firmly encouraged me to keep my eye on the prize. This was the last chance. We had to qualify.
I started walking every night after work. I borrowed a flashlight from my neighbor Kim. At first walking up any slight hill was impossible. My knees hurt. My feet hurt. I was so far from my goal. I talked to God while I walked. And Noah. And myself. That inner dialogue just never stopped.
I walked and starved and walked and cried and starved and then started to walk a little faster. I was so hungry. So that’s what hunger feels like! It had been so long. I had nights I had reached my breaking point. I cried for so many reasons. I was hungry. I was tired. I wanted my son back. I was angry at my body for not getting pregnant. I was angry I had let my gluttony get so out of hand that I may cause us to lose this chance at having a baby again.
Within the first few days of my new regimen, I went to see my regular medical doctor. This was the doctor that had to leave the room when Hal and I went to see her about a week after the accident. She went out into the hallway to cry. She didn’t want to cry in front of us. She was out there for a while I remember.
This visit, I sat down in her office and told her what I needed to do. I asked her if there was anything she could do to help me do this. She said she will help me this one time. I started a medication that would boost my metabolism and eliminate my appetite.
I would try anything. And I did. I tried a colonic. It was awful. The water flows in so strongly that it creates spasms in your stomach and I swear it felt like being in labor. I had wanted it to be an easy bonus to the exercise, starvation, meal replacement shakes, and pills. But it wasn’t. It was not only a pain in the ass but also an unbearable pain in the gut.
And then it all kicked in. I started to lose. Numbers on the scale started dropping. I was now addicted to the empty feeling in my stomach. In a way it was back to punishing myself for losing Noah. I was punished through gluttony and through hunger. That’s how much losing a child changes you. Basic functions to survive became a challenge and skewed because you’re not even sure you want to survive.
I have never been a girl who talks about dieting. Ever. I’m more likely to talk about the latest commercial for whatever bastardized version of Mexican food Taco Bell is selling. It always looks so good on TV. There’s always a ridiculous catchy name like Burritochiladagordodelicioso.
But now my body was about pure function not form. Function follows form. Scientifically, there was a better chance of pregnancy occurring at a healthy BMI versus the form of a chips and bagels and cookies and canisters of Pringles body I had been in.
I was now a finely tuned fat burning, waist cinching machine again. I did it. I made it to the weight I needed to be. The nurses and doctors were shocked and thrilled. I just kept smiling through it all on the outside at least. My body was going to do it. I was giving it my all. And onto the blood tests, injections, and medications again. But this time it had to work.
We scrounged for the money we needed. We knew that if we could still be here after all this, nothing was impossible. We would figure out a way. It’s like when Hal or Miriam misplaces something in our apartment. If I know the item hasn’t left the confines of our home, I always say ‘It has to be here somewhere!’ Miriam has started saying that too now. My willpower and strength has wavered throughout the time since Noah died. But it did have to be there somewhere. Sometimes it just gets misplaced amongst all the stresses of life. But you shake out that blanket or move the decorative pillows around and you will always find it somewhere.