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Food + Cooking

The Kid’s Menu: The Postpartum Appetite Crash

For my entire adult life, I’d basically thought about food all day long. Then I had a baby.
foods to eat while pregnant

At the end of our Lamaze sessions this summer, a lovely young couple with a six-week-old baby came to tell our class about what is known in the pregnancy world as “the birth experience.” The two were gorgeous, their baby was healthy, and all the couples in our class gazed at them enviously; while we still had our mountains to climb, they had successfully returned from the expedition, exuding a radiant happiness. At some point, the husband looked over at his willowy wife and declared, “Guys, your wives are going to be so engrossed with the baby, you’ll need to make sure that they remember to eat.”

I looked at my husband. He could barely suppress his chortle. “Somehow I don’t think I’ll have to worry about that,” he whispered.

The first blurry weeks after bringing Franklin home defied our expectations in many ways. I didn’t forget to eat, exactly; the ferocious hunger that snuck up on me in between diaper-changing and marathon baby-calming walks wouldn’t allow that. It was more that for the first time in my adult life, I had stopped fantasizing about food.

Before Franklin, during my morning shower I would imagine the fried egg sandwich that I’d be biting into minutes later, anticipating how its creamy, over-easy yolk would run all over my crunchy buttered toast. By lunchtime I had always hatched another longing, and would always try my best to fill it without straying too far from the office. Soon afterwards, I would begin thinking about what to make for dinner; by the time I left work, I had already mentally prepared the whole meal, so grocery shopping and cooking were a mere speed bump on the way to enjoying it.

Now, it seemed that my hungry will had withered. I hadn’t even noticed it at first, but one afternoon, when my sister was visiting, my husband offered to go buy us some steaks to grill—the simplest dinner imaginable. “I don’t really feel much like cooking,” I heard myself reply. Michael and Kim’s eyes met—was that a worried glance? It was if I had just admitted to the room that I was suffering from postpartum depression. Michael sidestepped the issue gracefully, returning from the store with some steaks, salad greens, and frozen French fries; he crisped the fries in the oven, grilled the steaks, and threw together a simple salad. In a rare event, Franklin slept through dinner, and between the steaks, the quiet, and the company, I felt very satisfied. Yet part of me remained unsettled: Would I ever feel like cooking again?

It had to get worse before it got better. Franklin had fussier evenings, and, as he had barely gained enough weight by his two-week checkup, I fretted about whether or not I had enough breast milk to nourish him. I truly worried about both of us when I realized I didn’t even have strong enough opinions about dinner to know what I wanted from the Chinese takeout place. I thought about forcing myself to just start cooking something, anything, because this strange new weak-appetite version of me was someone I didn’t like very much.

In the end, the fever broke all at once: Franklin’s next checkup revealed that he’d put on a pound and a half in less than a week; as I dressed him again, I basked in my relief and beamed at the nurses’ compliments on how cute he was. Walking home, with Franklin bobbing peacefully against my chest in his sling, I suddenly started to fantasize about twirling some al dente linguine on my fork, and savoring the briny sweetness of fresh clams and grape tomatoes. On a whim, I stopped in at the high-end supermarket, and took the beautiful display of fresh cockles as a sign of encouragement from the dinner gods. I bought two dozen cockles—a dozen each for Michael and me. When he got home, I handed him Franklin and set to work, sautéing the garlic, scrubbing the cockles, and chopping the fresh parsley. I could barely contain my excitement. Miraculously, Franklin drifted off to sleep just as I strained the pasta. But just as we were about to sit down to eat, the phone rang. Kim was going to drop in on us. “Have you had dinner?” I asked, nervously recalculating; her joining us would mean only eight cockles per person. “I ate already,” she said, “I just want to come hang out with Franklin for a little bit.” I smiled. My hungry self was back, and I was happy to have her here for dinner.

Linguine with Clams

In a large pan, sauté two or three smashed garlic cloves in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan; cook over very low heat, turning garlic occasionally, as long as possible without browning. When the garlic nears a golden color, turn heat to medium and add 2/3 pint halved grape tomatoes and some salt and pepper. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes wilt, about 5 minutes. Add about 2/3 cup white wine and raise heat to high until mixture is bubbling; cook 2 minutes to reduce slightly, then add 2 dozen fresh, scrubbed clams or cockles; cover pan. Remove clams as they open, and add 2/3 lb linguine, cooked to al dente, to pan; add a handful of freshly chopped parsley. Divide pasta between two bowls and divide clams on top of each. Serves 2 generously.