Lox, bagels, cream cheese, and sliced cucumbers. I remember thinking how Noah would’ve loved all this food, and being confused at the platters being there and him not. We had just come from the cemetery. My two-year-old son, Noah, had died in a swimming pool accident three days before.
It felt like I didn’t eat for months after he died. 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 ever again eating an apple in the shopping cart at Shoprite, 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.
The stage of depriving myself food, especially anything that Noah loved, 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. At some point, I went from the need to deprive myself to not being able to stop eating. I don’t remember exactly when or how that shift occurred.
The stress of fertility treatments, money troubles, and the overwhelming brokenness of our lives made me look for something that gave some pleasure. Writing was too difficult at the time. The introspection that it required was impossible. Food binges became the easy way to squash my thoughts for a little while. I found myself constantly in the kitchen, eating anything. No food was safe. I didn’t even know what being hungry felt like anymore.
I never weighed myself but I knew I’d 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.
We switched fertility doctors after not having any success or options. At our new clinic, there were kinder doctors and nurses, and a medical study was being conducted! If we qualified, it 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, “The nurse will call.”
I got that phone call in an Ulta Beauty store. Shopping for lipstick probably.
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. And I needed to do it in about two months to stay within the deadline of the study. The nurse then said that she didn’t want me to hurt myself and that it would be practically impossible and she was so 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 would do it. I would be safe about it and I would 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 had to burn off this fat to have a baby again. To be a family again.
I started the very next day. I told my boss at my wine sales job that morning what I needed to do. We had a wine luncheon to go to that day (we had them often). Great restaurants and great wine, but I needed to start immediately. I remember telling him what I was going to order: a salad and beef carpaccio, and I would spit 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. With a borrowed 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. The inner dialogue 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 when I 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’d 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 who had to go out into the hallway when we told her about the accident a week after it happened. She didn’t want to cry in front of us. I remember she was out there for a while.
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. I started a medication that would boost my metabolism and eliminate my appetite.
I tried a colonic. It was awful. The water flows in so strongly that it creates spasms in your stomach. It ironically felt like being in labor. I had hoped it would 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.
Then I started to lose weight. Numbers on the scale started dropping. I was now addicted to the empty feeling in my stomach. In a way, I 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 skewed challenges. You’re not even sure you want to survive.
I’ve never been a woman who talks about dieting. I’m more likely to talk about the latest commercial for whatever bastardized version of Mexican food Taco Bell is featuring. It always looks so good on TV, with a catchy name like BurritoChiladaGordoDelicioso.
But now my body was about pure function, not form. Scientifically, there was a better chance of pregnancy occurring at a healthy BMI versus the form of a chips, bagels, cookies, and canisters of Pringles body I’d been inhabiting.
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. My body was going to do it. I was giving it my all. Onto the blood tests, injections, and medications again, but this time it had to work.
We scrounged for the money we needed. Nothing was impossible. We would figure out a way.
December 26th, 2012, Miriam Phoenix was born.
When my husband or our daughter misplaces something in our apartment, and 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 wavered since Noah died, but it was still there somewhere. Sometimes it just gets misplaced amongst all the stresses of life. You shake out that blanket or move the decorative pillows around and you will always find it somewhere.