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The First 40 Days Without My Son

Sweet Afton 14 The First 40 Days Without My Son

A few weeks before Afton was born, I bought a book called The First 40 Days.

Have you heard of the 4th Trimester? You know, those fresh days after you bring your baby home, when you – the powerful, beautiful, natural mother – are reeling and healing and head-over-heels in love all at once? This book embraces the idea that we should look at pregnancy and birth as more than three trimesters. That there’s so much healing and adjusting that needs to happen after a baby is born, and that we should really view those first 40 days after birth as the 4th Trimester.

The book is really beautiful and intentional, and I’d recommend it for any hippie-leaning mama who is preparing for life with a new baby.

But that’s not me anymore.

Sweet Afton 1 3 1 The First 40 Days Without My Son

I need a new book – one that’s written for moms who never brought their baby home. Whose first 40 days included, mainly, surviving the shattering of their own hearts. Instead of giving us recipes for how to promote healing or lactation, this book, in my imagination, would tell us what to eat when we literally cannot find room for anything in our stomachs other than rock-heavy grief.

As far as I know, that book doesn’t exist (does it? please tell) and this post is not my attempt to write that book. I’m in no position to be giving advice. In all honesty, today I could hardly get out of bed and it was 50 degrees in February. 50 DEGREES IN FEBRUARY.

Earlier, in my happy days of being pregnant, I decided to share first trimester and second trimester posts. Now, after his too-early arrival at 23 weeks, I’m going straight to the fourth.

Here it is in all its wordy honesty: a full documentation of the first 40 days without my son.

Phsyical Healing

Sweet Afton 11 The First 40 Days Without My Son

People often ask me, how are you healing? physically?

And I really appreciate it.

But I have almost nothing to say because, if I’m being honest, having a major abdominal surgery and several very large incisions on both the inside and outside of my body is really a non-issue in comparison to the emotional pain of losing my baby.

Sweet Afton 1 4 1 The First 40 Days Without My Son

For the record, everything seems to be healing just fine. I bought these things which seem to be helping on a cosmetic level, maybe? I guess I didn’t realize that a c-section scar would not heal super smoothly, so there’s that special and very glamorous detail that I will now live with forever. The uneven scar would have really bothered the old Lindsay, but it doesn’t ruffle even one single feather of my new exhausted self. Okay, maybe half a feather. I might still have a little shred of vanity hanging on.

Bottom line – I’m healing. I can sit up, I can walk, it’s all fine. And even though I never wanted a c-section and I definitely never wanted this story, I’m grateful that my body is putting itself back together.

Milk!

Sweet Afton 3 The First 40 Days Without My Son

After giving birth at just 23 weeks, my body started producing that liquid gold for my baby, and it was incredible. I’m obnoxiously proud.

I decided to pump and donate milk, primarily because the idea of just stopping lactation immediately upon getting home from the hospital was so heartbreaking that I couldn’t handle it. I knew I needed to have this experience, even if it was just for me.

Meeting a mom and handing her a bag of almost 100 ounces of hard-earned breastmilk that should have been for my son was sweet and weird and super emotional. I thought: maybe I won’t cry. I cried immediately. Her baby was a former one-pound preemie, and the mom hugged me and teared up with me as her happy little buddy smiled at us from the backseat of the car. I smiled back at him and thought: that could have been Afton. That one-pound preemie who grew up to smile happily at strangers could have been my son.

As amazing as the donating experience was, I would do the pumping all over again even if just for me. It was so emotionally healing to just find a quiet place to sit and be close to the memory of my baby every day. I’d hold his blanket and think about him, and a lot of times I’d light a candle or just cry, but staying close to Afton and close to the pregnancy through pumping milk was one of the best things I did in the first 40 days.

It gave me structure, purpose, and a really bittersweet joy. It made me feel like a mom.

Sweet Afton 9 The First 40 Days Without My Son

I decided to officially stop one month after his birthday. It’s hard to describe the level of emotional pain that I felt as I watched my body produce less and less milk, and then eventually none. There were so many hard changes: My nursing bras no longer fitting. My appetite completely vanishing. The feeling that my heart was literally, physically, breaking. For two days, I had a hard time talking to anyone about anything without needing to leave the room for a good hard sob. Those were some of the darkest days of my life.

Letting go of this crazy-beautiful body miracle has made Afton’s goodbye official for me. He’s here in my heart, yes, always. But he’s not a part of my body anymore.

Sleeping and Eating

Sweet Afton 2 The First 40 Days Without My Son

Sleep? Sleep has been okay.

The time before I got to bed and the time after I wake up are the hardest for me. Bjork and I realized our differences one morning when his use of the paper shredder just after I had woken up was enough to trigger full-on waterworks. I don’t know why. I don’t even know. It’s just one of those things. When I wake up from sleep, I am so emotionally fragile that I cannot handle a paper shredder.

But sleep is there. It’s happening. And that’s a really good thing.

Sweet Afton 15 The First 40 Days Without My Son

But oh, the eating, you guys. The eating during these first 40 days has been unlike any other season of my life, and I don’t mean that in a good way. My stomach is constantly full, unnaturally satisfied, not hungry at all, because it’s heavy with emotion and anxiety and grief. There is absolutely no space left for food.

Food fits neatly into two categories: Okay and No.

Right now in the Okay category, we have:

  • sugar cereals (calling back to those first trimester days)
  • avocado toast
  • hot chocolate, of which I can drink exactly one third of a small size from Caribou
  • soups and crusty white bread with butter
  • chocolate covered animal crackers
  • ginger tea

I’m trying to eat just a little bit every day, but even foods in the Okay category are just okay. Nothing tastes good. Nothing gets me excited. It sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. Food has lost its flavor.

Sweet Afton 10 The First 40 Days Without My Son

Can I just tell you, though? My one successful experience with food came after a day of really struggling to eat. I had picked at my oatmeal that morning (as with almost every morning) out of sheer obligation to keep my body alive and then just skipped lunch altogether because I couldn’t even handle the thought of forcing myself to eat any more food.

That day, Bjork and I went to Afton’s grave. We spent some time just being with him and near him, crying together, loving the sweet spot that we picked for him (pictured above). And when we came back to my parents’ house that evening, I smelled lasagna right when I walked in the door and I came alive. Garlic and cheese and meaty tomato sauce… ah, there you are, hunger. I had a huge bowl of lasagna that night and felt just a little bit like my normal self again.

The strange thing is that every time we spent time with Afton, even after he had passed away, I felt a little bit better. It’s like after I was close to him, holding him or being near him even after he was gone, it pulled up my last reserves of strength to keep putting one foot in front of the other. It feels symbolic: when I was with him, I was okay for a little while longer. I could eat.

Food = survival in the first 40 days.

Emotionally

Sweet Afton 16 The First 40 Days Without My Son

If you came for the juicy stuff, this is your spot.

To use a super common analogy, the first 40 days have been nothing short of an emotional shipwreck.

Above all, it’s disorienting. One moment I’m having the thought: “I think I actually love being pregnant,” and the next moment I’m slammed, pinned down under a waterfall of grief, trapped and scrambling to right myself but not knowing which way is up. I find the surface, I catch my breath, I scramble to hold on to Bjork, and then I get pounded again by a new wave. There is heavy water rushing over my head and pushing me back under, and this time I know which way is up a little better than I did before, but I’m also getting tired. It’s getting harder to claw my way back up for air the second, third, fourth time. The exhaustion is bone-deep.

And then between the waves, in the periods of stillness when I come up and catch my breath, I look around and see a wide expanse of open sea in every direction which brings its own type of panic. Here I am, stranded, in the middle of my own ocean of sorrow and confusion. Where is everyone? Just a minute ago, I was on solid ground, safe and naive, and now it will be years before I ever make it to shore. Wait, will I ever make it to shore?

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This is where I live now: in the heart-and-soul identity crisis of being a mom but not.

It’s my ocean. I’m out here in the middle of it, miles away from my baby and all the dreams I had for our family, present and future. And what’s really overwhelming is knowing that my new identity – a mom without a baby – is one that I’ll carry for a lot longer than I’d like. Maybe, in some ways, forever.

I’m not a soul without hope. I know that I will be okay, and I know Bjork will be okay, and I know that because we made that promise to our baby as he was dying in our arms.

“It’s okay, Afton. You can go. We will be okay.”

I WILL keep that promise. For him, I will.

But damn. My heart.

Hard Things Vs. Helpful Things

Sweet Afton 4 The First 40 Days Without My Son

Things that are hard:

  • Seeing baby bumps
  • Seeing babies, kids, families, and anyone who doesn’t know about Afton… so basically all people
  • Looking at social media because the babies are everywhere
  • Getting dressed – maternity clothes are too big, regular clothes are too small
  • Talking to people without acknowledging Afton
  • Making small talk with anyone about anything
  • Listening to music without crying
  • Caring

Things that are helpful:

  • People asking us questions about Afton
  • People making plans with us and understanding if we have to cancel last minute or if we are a little on the socially weird side right now
  • People texting us throughout the day just to say, “How are you today?”
  • Writing about Afton
  • Writing to Afton
  • Sleeping
  • Snuggling with Sage
  • Walking with Sage
  • Doing anything with Sage
  • Following a bunch of animal accounts on social media
  • Lighting candles
  • Browsing trash magazines
  • Binging on TV shows
  • Reading about other peoples’ similar experiences with loss

And Now What?

Sweet Afton 5 The First 40 Days Without My Son

I was probably moderately good at this in my Before Life, but in my current state of mind, my ability to fake my way through anything has gone down to zero percent.

My counselor recently asked me: what feels good right now? And I said: telling the truth.

Which is good – it just means that the hardest possible thing for me to do right now is to pretend to be excited about something I’m not. So I’m going to honor the honesty that this situation is asking of me.

I think the answer to the Now What question looks like slowly trying to cook and eat, just for me, just because. Now What looks like walks with Sage and naps as needed. Now What looks like finishing those thank you cards and finding the right special box for packing away all of Afton’s clothes and blankets. Now What looks like writing posts about whatever is true, and only when the inspiration comes, such as at 1am when I am drafting this post. That night owl lyfe tho.

Now What looks like love and grief in a holy mix: slow and steady, little by little, day by day.

Sweet Afton 7 The First 40 Days Without My Son

My vision for these next few months involves a slow re-assembling of all the pieces of our life… and the blog sort of coming along with it. My promise to you is that when I’m ready, I’ll write about food. And when I’m not, I won’t fake it.

To all of you who read these posts? Even though it’s such a hard and weird season for us, I’m thankful that you’re here for it. Really, deeply thankful.

I closed my other baby posts with this note, and as I stand here on the other side, I think it’s worth ending with that one last time.

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To you mamas who are pregnant – I’m glad you’re here. Please love your precious babies the very best you can. ❤️

To you mamas whose journey involves loss of a pregnancy, a child, or a dream  – I now stand bravely with you. I see you, I love you, and I’m cheering for you and your babies.

To you readers who are in a completely different life stage altogether but still show up to be friends on the internet – you are amazingly cool. We’re lucky to have you here. 

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The post The First 40 Days Without My Son appeared first on Pinch of Yum.

What Internment Did to the Japanese-American Diet

It’s been 75 years, nearly to the day, since President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which forcibly uprooted the West Coast’s Japanese-Americans from their homes and sent them to live in camps. Roughly 120,000 people of Japanese descent fell victim to this order, distributed like cattle among ten facilities spread across the West Coast. They weren’t freed until 1946.

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A grandfather and grandson at Manzanar Relocation Center in Manzanar, California.
Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Internment robbed Japanese-Americans of many aspects of day-to-day life—one of the most crucial being, of course, food. Meals in most of the camps were highly regimented, and most were made of bland commodity foods—hot dogs, Spam, soggy potatoes.

Yesterday, I came across a 10-year-old old episode from the Kitchen Sisters, the radio producers behind NPR’s Hidden Kitchens series, that details what happened to the diet of those who were interned after they emerged from the camps. The episode speaks to a number of people who survived this incarceration, detailing how staples of the internment-era diet fused with what Japanese-Americans cooked at home. This period saw the genesis of sushi with hot dogs and Spam, along with such dishes as “Weenie Royale,” made of hot dog franks, eggs, and rice.

The episode is the most exhaustive document I’ve encountered on the subject of what people ate in this hideous chapter in America’s past, and how it bled into what they cooked as they effectively rebuilt their lives from scratch. Give it a listen today.

The Best Menu Item at Zahav is a Humble Side You Can Make at Home

I was recently in Philadelphia and ate at one of the best restaurants on the scene in recent years—and the best dish I tasted was a humble side of basmati rice.

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Green Garden Herby Basmati Rice with Basil, Mint, Chives & Rosemary
by Basil and Roses

At Zahav, Chef Michael Solomonov beautifully highlights modern Israeli cuisine, and I was greatly inspired by his vision, the story behind his culinary venture, and the flavors of the amazing meal. As I looked around, I saw that most diners had a sense of exploration as they discovered the colorful melody of flavors and layers in each dish that payed homage to the chef’s roots, to his fallen brother, and to the pleasures we receive from earth.

What resonated the most for me were the familiar flavors of home in the smoky eggplant, the homemade bread, and the grilled meats. But most notably, in the herbed basmati rice. The Al’Haesh dishes (grilled over coals) are served with a side of basmati rice that was not only delicious, but momentarily took me home. This humble side dish became the center around which all the other plates harmoniously danced, a little pot of rice that had the power to transport me to another place and time, to the the familiar places where I feel safe, comforted, and loved, to my grandmother’s old kitchen in Isfahan. 

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What to Cook from Zahav by Michael Solomonov
by Emily Stephenson

Rice is the ultimate comfort food. It has been farmed by people for over 10000 years, and growing up in a Persian family, its beautifully fragrant and earthy aroma (in Hindi, “bas” means “aroma” and “mati” means “full of”) was part of the essential scents of home. Cooking traditional Persian rice (with tahdig of course) is truly an art form (to create such a saffron-scented masterpiece, check out Persian Mama’s great recipe).

But for a simpler and quicker version, I use a rice cooker. Not all rice cookers can deliver the crunchy and golden bottom of the pot goodness—generally the PARS brand rice cookers do the trick.

In this rendition, I highlight herbs in the garden using basil, mint, chives, and rosemary for an aromatic rice dish guaranteed to feed the soul (nousheh jan…). Nine years ago, I had the opportunity to visit my grandmother in Iran shortly before she passed. It was the New Year and we made this dish together. I’ve had herbed rice many times before, but never had it tasted more wonderful. I learned the recipe from my mother, who had learned it from her mother. And here we were, together for the first time in nineteen years—three generations of women cooking a family meal together as if distance and time had not kept us apart for almost two decades.

Maya Angelou says, “I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.” I found myself at home in this beautiful experience at Zahav, and I hope you do, too, by trying my basmati rice recipe.

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Green Garden Herby Basmati Rice with Basil, Mint, Chives & Rosemary

By Basil and Roses

  • 3
    cups basmati rice

  • 1/2
    cup olive oil

  • 1
    large white onion

  • 1
    cup chopped fresh chives

  • 3
    tablespoons chopped mint

  • 3
    tablespoons chopped basil

  • 3
    tablespoons chopped cilantro

  • 1
    tablespoon chopped rosemary

  • 1
    tablespoon ground turmeric

  • 2 1/2 to 3
    teaspoons black pepper (adjust to taste)

  • 2 1/2
    teaspoons salt (adjust to taste)

View Full Recipe

17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Stress. Ugh. To heck with it! Good riddance to the headaches; the eye twitches; and the lack of sleep, appetite, and general good feeling that come along with it.

You know what you can do with stress? Chop. Whisk. Stir. Knead. Get all those feelings out—and food on the table. Feel better. Eat something you made with your own hands. Smile at it. Do it all over again.

Here are 17 stress-relieving recipes:

chop chop chop

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Shades of Green Chopped Salad
by fortheloveofyum
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Lacinato Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
by dymnyno
f3f95bfd 802a 4fff 9e99 8a92f3d08420  Crisp Tender Roasted Veg 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Crisp and Tender Roasted Root Vegetables
by Merrill Stubbs
f4300013 5efb 4268 ab34 73763881ca14  2016 1114 green curry porridge bobbi lin 12523 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Green Curry Porridge à la Heidi Swanson
by Sarah Jampel
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Beef Vegetable Soup Bourguignon
by Waverly

whisk (or stir) it real good

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Blueberry Almond Breakfast Polenta
by One Hungry Mama
4d394d42 167a 4149 aa7a c07408dd7c72  roastedmushroomsandpolenta 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Roasted Mushrooms with Sherry + Creamy Polenta
by Alexandra Stafford
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Celery Risotto with Asian Pear and Shiso
by gingerroot
acf36b15 c248 4a11 af45 8a607ec02309  2015 0203 grits mw 312 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Sean Brock’s Southern Grits
by Kenzi Wilbur
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Yogurt Whipped Cream
by Genius Recipes
e1552796 765b 4311 98d2 c023957e57f5  2015 0818 crunchy almond butter meringue with berries and cream james ransom 016 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Crunchy Almond Butter Meringue with Berries and Cream
by Alice Medrich
8337d192 8d07 425e 9007 765826036600  2016 1215 burnt caramel pudding james ransom 211 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Burnt Caramel Pudding
by Midge

knead with speed

52bb52b1 2fe2 43a9 aa9c 67395cf11e97  2017 0104 deep dish pizza james ransom 314 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Deep Dish Tomato and Mozzarella Pizza
by Erin McDowell
%name 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Beet Casunsei
by Sara Jenkins
b99164ec 5acf 425a 8db4 c3a32a97bde6  food52 04 02 2013 1188 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

Beet Ravioli with Goat Cheese, Ricotta and Mint Filling
by bethmichelle
5344ba67 20bd 40ef aa9d d90b79be76e4  2016 1215 fried pizza dough james ransom 155 17 Ways to Chop, Whisk & Knead for Less Stress

(Nothing Better Than This) Fried Pizza Dough
by Sarah Jampel
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Cinnamon-Sugar Cardamom Rolls
by Posie Harwood

Do you have a go-to stress-less recipe? Tell us about it in the comments.

A North Carolina Living Room, 2 Ways (& Tips for Rearranging)

Every few months, a room in my house will start to feel stale, or inefficient, or just plain boring. Sometimes it’s because the function of the room has shifted (like maybe we’re spending more time in the living room, after a long winter of watching TV and hanging out in the den). Sometimes I think I want to buy something new, but have since learned that I really just want to try something new.

That’s when I know it’s time to rearrange. It can be as simple as moving a single piece, or exchanging something from another room. Or maybe a full redesign is in order.

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Our living room.
Photo by Liz Johnson

Below are two layouts I’ve used in my living room, and three things to keep in mind if you’re feeling the rearranging itch. In both arrangements, I’ve used the same major pieces: a couch, a coffee table, two armchairs, a credenza, a lamp, art, and my ubiquitous fiddle-leaf fig. (I did use different rugs in each room, which also made a noticeable difference—but that’s a completely different post!)

Note: I used Adobe InDesign to mock up simple floor plans, but graph paper and a pencil would work just as well in a pinch.


Arrangement 1

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Photo by Liz Johnson

Arrangement #1 is a little more of a formal or traditional living room layout. There’s strong symmetry, and the couch and armchairs face each other, across from the fireplace. It’s full but doesn’t feel crowded. Floating the chairs creates two distinct zones: an entryway near the door, and a seating area across from the fireplace. This was arrangement I set up when I first moved into our house, and was excited about also having a (separate, more casual) den.

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Photo by Liz Johnson

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Photo by Liz Johnson

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Photo by Liz Johnson

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Photo by Liz Johnson

Arrangement 2

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Photo by Liz Johnson

Arrangement #2 is a little more modern and organic-feeling. It uses all the same furniture, but the room feels more expansive. The layout is asymmetrical yet balanced—the chairs are on separate walls, but mirror each other, making the whole space feel unified. I had this arrangement when my son became mobile (seemingly overnight!) and needed more floor space to explore.

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Photo by Liz Johnson

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Photo by Liz Johnson

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Photo by Liz Johnson

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Photo by Liz Johnson

Here are three things to remember when (re)arranging your own space:

Consider the “flow.”

Where are the doors or entrances? How do people most often walk through this room? A room can feel “off” when there isn’t enough room for the intuitive paths through it, so make sure there’s space to move around, and through, your room. If you’re not sure, try it out! If you have to really squeeze by or around something, it’s probably not an ideal layout.

Don’t automatically put everything up against a wall.

I understand how placing all the furniture up against walls would sound logical—it makes more room in the middle of the space, right? But purposefully floating some furniture can delineate functional areas—“mini-rooms”—and encourage flow through the room, which actually ends up creating a more spacious-feeling space. It’s also helpful for rooms that have to serve more than one purpose.

Try a new angle!

If your room feels static or kind of lifeless, try shifting a piece or two to an angle. This can be slight (like the two chairs in the first arrangement), or more extreme (like the couch in the second arrangement). This brings a kind of coziness to the arrangement—I like to imagine if people were actually using a piece of furniture, how easily could they interact with others? Does this layout foster conversation (or whatever you might be trying to foster in a particular room)?


And finally, remember: If you don’t like it, you can always move it back.

Liz Johnson is the Creative Director, Designer, and Writer at Braid Creative in Durham, NC.

Are you a serial room re-arranger? Discuss in the comments!