I probably put in the same amount of time planning the menu for our wedding as I did curating my order for my first postpartum meal. Both events were equally life-altering, but I barely ate at my wedding. I was wearing a white dress and I had to make the rounds to greet our guests. It would be rude to actually eat, I guess. However, I dove into that first supper after giving birth with gusto. I had been picturing it for a long time, so when it finally arrived, I had some thoughts about that first postpartum meal. Thoughts that made me realize how much more significant the food from that take-out container was to me, than the chef-prepared cuisine at our wedding reception.
Though I ate pretty much whatever I wanted to eat throughout my pregnancy, save for food my doctor considered unsafe, I never got away from the idea that I was eating for someone other than me. For 40 weeks (give or take), I considered every bite that went into my mouth and asked myself, "Was it good for the baby?" For that first meal after having my daughter, my whole game plan about food changed. This was my dinner, and it didn’t need to satisfy anyone other than me. Selfishness never tasted so good.
So as I enjoyed that huge, sloppy chicken parmigiana hero my husband traipsed out that night to procure for me, I recognized the significance of eating for pure pleasure. So, with that, here some thoughts that ran through my head when I had my first postpartum meal:
As someone who has always battled body image issues and disordered eating, pregnancy weight gain really messed with my head. You would think I would have been elated to drop pounds fast by dropping that baby. However, having a healthy pregnancy, and a healthy baby, had a positive effect on my body image struggles. I was able to see myself more as a whole person — and someone’s parent — and not just a collection of body parts that didn’t always fit in clothes the way I wanted them to.
Tearing into a gigantic chicken parmigiana hero was the kindest I had been to myself in a while, as it honored how I felt — hungry — and not how I thought I looked.
And my mouth was full, well, for a while. For a hot second I felt guilty for enjoying my meal so much, and not thinking about the baby I had just brought into the world. However, when the labor and delivery nurses encouraged me to eat now and while my hands were free, I figured they were on to something.
The crinkling as I unwrapped the foil encasing my toasty chicken parmigiana sandwich was the most beautiful sound to me. The gooey cheese, tender chicken, and crusty bread drenched in the marinara sauce I had been craving was, altogether, a true taste sensation. I don’t recall ever eating with such wild abandon before in my life. I took huge bites, dripped on myself, and made yummy sounds. I also refused to be photographed because it would have truly come across as food porn.
Take-out typically travels well in New York City because so many places pack up food to go. Still, by the time my husband had walked back to the hospital with my desired order it was no longer piping hot, a sensation I was fantasizing about since I had just been eating ice pops the last several hours. I feel justified in nitpicking the temperature of this first postpartum meal, and it’s probably the only time I wouldn’t get shade thrown at me for doing so.
I ate such bland foods in the last hours of my pregnancy. During labor, I wasn’t allowed to eat at all, which was a bummer. Ice pops were all I got. So when I could finally eat again, I wanted an explosion of flavor. Only after I had consumed my sloppy, zesty hero did it dawn on me that what I had eaten might make its way through my system and back into the baby via breast milk. Sorry kid.
Propped up in that bed, under the fluorescent lights, with nursing staff streaming in and out checking on various orifices of my body while I tried to shovel my saucy dinner into my face was not glamorous. But it was comparatively better than trying on dozens of outfits and having a meltdown deciding what to wear in preparation for dinner out. Give me some plastic utensils and some heart monitoring equipment and I’ll probably enjoy my meal more than having to pretend I’m totally into being served tiny portions of delicious entrees in some moodily lit restaurant. Even my second meal of hospital food the next morning was pretty damn terrific, mostly because someone brought it to me in bed.
Motherhood just became real to me in this moment. Time and attention were no longer to be lavished on myself. I mean, there was a new kid in town, literally, and I was taking a backseat to her needs. Since birthing my kids, there have been some lame attempts (by them) to serve me breakfast in bed, but, while their intentions were pure, their meals were mostly inedible. (Who gave 6 year olds the notion that maple syrup on crackers is fancy?)
In any other circumstance, it would have been weird to be the only one eating in a room full of hospital staff, with my husband looking on, deliriously happy (and not starving, since he didn’t push a person out of his body). But in the wake of giving birth, this scenario just felt right, and my partner totally understood why I wasn’t about to ask him if he wanted a bite.
The downside to eating in the bed I just gave birth in is spotting the spillage, which may have come from my sandwich, or from my body. Typically a neat freak who can’t stand the idea of eating in bed (the crumbs), I was, temporarily, someone who gave zero f*cks about digging into a plateful of food while the aftermath of my afterbirth was in sight. Priorities.