For over a year now, I have promised him that — if this ever happened — I would announce it with this sentence:
The Chef has knocked me up.
(There you go, my love.)
I know that these are pretty incongruous words to write about the most awe-inspiring, hilarious, and life-changing experience we have ever undergone. But really, when it comes to describing what it is like to be pregnant, with the love of your life, for the first time at 41 years old? There are no words.
We’ve been keeping this secret for awhile. I’m halfway through my fifth month of pregnancy, actually. Oh, our families know, and our closest friends. And in the last month, I have been sharing the news with those of you whom we have met in cooking classes and promotional events for the book. At a certain point, I had to share. I have quite a little bump going now. It’s pretty clear when you see me.
But even more than that, these past four months have been some of the most astonishing of my life. There were the first 12 weeks, when I felt nauseous all the time, as though some little devil with a pitchfork were poking at my stomach every three minutes. Ha ha, you’re nauseous! And the exhaustion so penetrating that I found myself drifting away to sleep at least three times an afternoon. (Thank goodness I work from home, and I can do this. I feel deeply for those of you in offices and classrooms. How did you manage?) These were days I wanted to write about, to explain them to myself, and commiserate with you.
Mostly, there have been ineffably beautiful moments in these past few months. The first time we saw the baby, a little tadpole swimming in waters deep in my body. And that little heart thrumming, a sweep of hummingbird wings beating against a small circle. The first time we heard the heartbeat, tiny horse hooves pounding out their rhythm. The longer ultrasound, when we saw the baby’s spine, ten toes wriggling, small hands furling, and even a quick wave at us before a turn. We have been full of happy tears and in a place beyond words.
And in the last two weeks, I have felt the baby moving in my belly, the first small kicks of a tiny creature no bigger than an avocado. It feels like champagne bubbles bouncing against my abdomen. And every time I feel this, I stop and gasp, and then rub hello back.
For someone who loves to share stories (and how), these most important stories have been difficult to silence in writing.
But we decided to wait for the right time until we shared this with the internet. In the first trimester, every pang and stretchy ache made me worry about a miscarriage. I have been healthy for nearly three years, after cutting out gluten, but would those years of un-diagnosed celiac take their toll on the baby? If I got gluten through unintentional cross-contamination while I was pregnant, would that catapult my system into letting go of the embryo? And then there were all the tests. Would they reveal abnormalities, truths beyond our control? These were days far too tremulous, and too much ours, to share.
There are no guarantees in life. We still don’t know that this will all come out well. But the doctor called this morning, with the final test results. Everything is normal. Our baby is healthy.
We have been dancing all day.
And so, this feels like the right time, finally. We’d like to introduce you to Little Bean.
We call the baby Little Bean because there’s a little human being in my body. This makes me walk around in a constant state of awe. How do our bodies do this? How is it possible that in five months we will be holding a child, someone born from us and our love? And knowing that every human being I see on the street, in cars, in the stores where I shop for food, came from this same awe? This makes me love humanity, even more.
And in a funny way, every pregnancy book I read (and there have been plenty) likens the size of the baby to food. When we first read that the little one was the size of a fava bean that week, we fixed on the name. Little Bean.
(As an aside, we do now know the sex and name of the baby. We’re keeping that to ourselves until the birth. Some things still need to be private.)
Speaking of food, eating has been spectacularly weird. I could write for pages about the food aversions and cravings my body has been surging through for the past four months. Perhaps, in another context, I will. Suffice it to say this. Ice cream, cookies, and homemade pie? No thank you. Sweets have totally turned against me. I didn’t have a bite of chocolate for nearly two months. I didn’t want it. I didn’t know who I was.
Now, I like them some. But I still haven’t been interested in that pregnancy cliché: sitting up in bed with a pint of ice cream, late at night. I tried, once, to eat some, just because I felt so removed from the process I was supposed to be undergoing. Five bites of coconut ice cream and I put the pint down.
What have I wanted to eat? Meat. That bacon party happened for a reason, after all. My body has craved protein as though I am a Russian weightlifter at the Olympics. Pork, mostly. But all meats. Beans. Nuts. Safe seafood. Eggs. Cheese. (God, I hate the fact I’m not supposed to eat unpasteurized or raw cheese. Meat cooked less than well-done. No raw eggs — this takes away homemade mayonnaise and cookie dough. And also, missing sushi is nearly killing me. I’m having sashimi delivered to the hospital when Little Bean is born.) Yogurt. And milk. Good lord, I’m drinking three glasses of milk a day, avidly. And I don’t even like milk. Or I didn’t.
One of the funniest parts of this? The days when foods I have always loved suddenly seemed repugnant. One morning the Chef made us roasted potatoes and eggs, the way he does most mornings. He makes the best roasted potatoes I have ever eaten, and on some days he threads roasted onions through the pile of them too. That morning, I took one look at the plate, and then used my fork to shove every sliver of onion to the side.
“What are you doing?” he asked me, incredulous.
“I don’t know why, but I just can’t have onions right now.”
“Okay,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He had already learned not to question this.
So had I. I have learned to trust my body, deeply.
That’s why I could stand the two weeks when suddenly every vegetable seemed repugnant to me. The texture of salads grossed me out entirely. What? This isn’t me.
But now, it is. (Vegetables came back, thank goodness.) Maybe this is all just preparation for the days when we have a child, and I’ll have to give up control of my life almost entirely!
(Still, this doesn’t really explain those two weeks when I needed a Tootsie Roll every day.)
All this absurdity and daily changing? Not to mention the sleepiness, the growing belly, the unexpected inability to stand up without starting to tip over these days? They are all worth it.
We’re having a baby.
And in the midst of this, I never forget how blessed I am.
You see, at 41, the charts and statistics insist that my chances of becoming pregnant were quickly diminishing. And I know that there are — and I feel the deepest empathy for —millions of women out there who are struggling to become pregnant. IVF, drug treatments, surrogacy: they were all looming in our future. That we became pregnant after only five months of trying? Oh my, what a blessing.
Five years ago, I suffered with a fibroid tumor that grew to the size of a grapefruit in the span of six weeks. The bleeding, discomfort, and pain were nearly unbearable. It became so bad that I stumbled into the emergency room one day, where the doctor who examined me explained what was happening to me. And then she told me I needed a hysterectomy, that day. Crying, I asked for a second opinion. The second doctor, several days later, said the same. I would have given in, but some stronger voice within me knew that I wanted children, even if it seemed unlikely. I asked everyone I knew for a doctor she trusted, and then I found mine. She told me she only needed to open me up, take out the tumor, and sew me up. I left the hospital with my uterus intact. This baby would not be inside me without that doctor entering my life.
And of course, for all those years, I suffered with celiac disease without knowing what it was. Now, I know, from reading and speaking with people, that undiagnosed celiac can be the source of multiple miscarriages and infertility. (In fact, to anyone reading who is suffering these problems? Ask your doctor to test you for celiac.) If I had met the Chef earlier in my life, we might have tried, in vain, for years. And all because of gluten.
The readiness is all. Thank goodness I met him when I did.
And he has been, without a doubt, the best partner I could ever ask for in this. All those pregnancy books? All they talk about is the woman’s experience. But he feels this as deeply as I do. He has the ultrasound shot of Little Bean saved as the opening photo on his phone. He makes me whatever food I want, and pushes away the ones my body disdains. He is tender and loving, funny and willing to cuddle whenever I need it. He is my best friend, without a doubt. Having a child with my best friend in the world feels like the biggest gift there is.
I’m writing this tonight, because we wanted to share this with you. All of you reading, who have left kind comments and vulnerable letters before this? You are part of this. Without this community, we would not be who we are. Literally. This feels like the most exultant news we can ever share, and we are so happy to be sharing it with you.
Still, even after I publish this, and this is public knowledge, this will go back to being private. The Chef will come home from the restaurant, and I will read this to him. He’ll probably cry. And then we’ll go into the kitchen, to start to make dinner together. As he does every night, he will kneel on the floor before me, lift up my shirt, and talk to the baby through my belly. “Hi there!” he’ll say in his cartoon voice. And then he will tell the little one all about his day, and how much he can’t wait to meet him or her. He’ll hold the baby close with his words. He’ll kiss my belly, deeply, trying to reach that little one. And then he’ll look up at me, and I’ll hold his head in my hands, and we’ll smile at each other. No one else will ever share this.
Just me, the Chef, and Little Bean.
PORK AND BEANS FOR LITTLE BEAN
Only six weeks into my pregnancy, as soon as the nausea began, the food aversions and cravings began. And what did I want to eat, most every meal of the day? Protein. And plenty of it. If I could have chosen, I would have eaten slabs of meat at every meal. Luckily, I also feel even more deeply in love with beans than ever before. Combine the two, with a bit of garlic, rosemary, and good olive oil, and you have my perfect pregnancy meal.
This will feel like an alarming amount of olive oil in this recipe. Frankly, it is. But, remember a few things before you flinch away from making this delicious recipe. One, you don’t have to buy the expensive olive oil for this recipe. We all know the stores where big jugs of extra-virgin are no more than $8. Feel free to use that oil. The other is that you will have a large quantity of olive oil left over at the end. Drain it, and save it. Sear your favorite meats in it, or vegetables. Don’t let it go to waste.
Barring that, you could always use duck fat or pork fat for this dish, if you wanted. (I sure wouldn’t mind.) But make sure you find a fat with flavor, as this will make the beans tremendous.
In this case, we used heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, one of the coolest food growers around. Steve Sando grows incredible heirloom beans, most of which you have probably never eaten before. Instead of letting these old varieties fade into the dust, he has been growing them, and selling them, to grateful customers across the country. When we were in San Francisco in November — just before Little Bean showed up in our lives, actually — Steve gave a bag of Black Calypso beans to our friend Tea, to give to us. Frankly, they are so beautiful that we waited for the right time to cook them.
Making a meal to feed Little Bean? That was the right time.
16 ounces high-quality beans
4 cloves garlic, papery sheath removed
2 stalks rosemary, chopped
24 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 pork chop (fat on, and don’t go for the extra-lean)
salt and pepper to taste
Soaking the beans. Soak the beans in hot water for at least six hours, preferably overnight.
Boiling the beans. Drain the beans of their soaking water. Rinse them clean. Put those beautiful beans into a large pot. Snuggle the garlic cloves and chopped garlic into the beans. Cover the beans entirely with olive oil. Then, add an inch more of oil. Turn the burner on and put the beans on the heat.
Searing the pork chop. As the olive oil is starting to come to a boil, sear the pork chop in a hot pan with oil brought to heat. When it has seared well on both sides, plop that pork chop, whole, into the beans. Let them nuzzle together.
Allowing the beans to simmer. When the olive oil has come fully to a bubble, turn the heat down as low as it will go. here’s the hard part — walk away. Do something else and forget the beans. You won’t be able to eat them for hours. Simmer the beans for at least six hours, by which time they will be full-to-bursting soft, and the pork will have fallen apart and become one with the beans.
Eat. (The Chef especially likes these with sour cream dolloped on top.)