After my third miscarriage in a row, I started baking bread.
This was 2019, a year and a change before the boredom of quarantine ignited a sourdough craze that lit up the blocking of all Instagram feeds with images of hot, fresh breads.
At that time, my bread was simply a secret habit born of a desire, as is so often the case when one has gotten to one’s knees in desperation, to do something with my hands.
I didn’t know where to put them, not even myself, because my pain was an unexplored landscape, every notch of loss had further destroyed my sense of security in my body. I had thought of making bread, of what seemed like the happy days of blissful ignorance, the years when I had believed that my ever desired future babies were coming, they would surely grow fat and strong, automatic like the breads in a commercial kitchen. , because that’s how it works, right? So when I decided to “try” for a baby, and it happened right away, I didn’t think much of it.
Ten weeks later, the first one was gone. Three months later, a second pregnancy ended. A month after that, two lines in a test gave way to the familiar rush of blood.
The maddening pain I experienced that year put a slick sheen of terror on the surface of everything I felt, thought, and knew. I stopped seeing friends, ignored emails, and tried, in vain, to heal.
I eliminated Instagram, with its stream of baby and pregnancy announcements tied to each season (a special package is coming this New Year! Can’t wait to meet our little pumpkin! Introducing our beautiful Christmas present!); I visited an acupuncturist who grimaced after I stuck my tongue out at him (too much salad, apparently); stopped touching paper receipts (something about hormones); I cut out the dairy half (why?) And spent hours lazing in savasana in mercifully dark yoga studios, where I would quietly cry in the strangely comforting company of strangers.
Drowning the perpetual cloak of longing, confusion, and ignorance was impossible. My agony was a tide, and a brief moment of light on the shore, be it a funny joke, a friend in town, or a delicious croissant that fertility diet books would frown upon, would only herald the swell to come, yet another pregnancy announcement from a friend or relative that sparked a kind of wild envy that embarrassed me to the core, and phone calls in those that I cried like a wounded animal to those who loved me, who in turn were speechless and terrified by the weight of my anguish.
Still, despite everything, the axis on which the tragedy / comedy line sits had discovered the coordinates of my New York City kitchen. I knew, in my heart, that it was a sad and bad joke on impulse. There are no buns in my oven, at least not for long. But i had to do something. So I hit dozens of sourdough loaves. Although many failed for no reason, as smug and unpredictable as my wayward embryos, I couldn’t stop. Even with wrinkled green forearms at the elbow from daily blood spills at the fertility clinic, where I had turned back to try to see if charming and trustworthy science could figure out why my long-awaited babies never stayed. .
The battery of tests takes months, with invisible curveballs at every turn. Five months later, I dream of trashing the waiting room, with its overly fancy mid-century furniture, thumbless Us Weekly magazines, and devastated, dead-eyed inhabitants waiting in their work shoes for daily blood. I wish the nurses would stop asking that “How are you?” Shrugging and no eye contact as they peel off their gloves on their way to the blood room, like we’re going to have a cappuccino instead of reaping even more flaws. , blood without babies for the laboratory. But they always do.
It’s on the 34th consecutive day of blood work, as I obediently roll up my sleeve and try to ignore the sound of a woman crying through the fragile plastic partition as something breaks inside me. This is how I find myself telling a blood technician named Dulcia, whose beautiful face is covered in caramel freckles like pollen blown from a lily, that my way of being is that “I really would like to die.”
To my great surprise and immediate regret, she solemnly drops the tourniquet and her eyes are flooded with visible wet drops. Then he asks me if I believe in God. I’m mortified, but I keep saying no, because I don’t. “Oh,” she says, not without kindness. “I was going to tell you to pray.”
So days later, at home, watching the thick lines of my score swell sensual tendrils on the top of my bread, I am surprised to realize, with a start, that I am doing just that. I am kneeling by the oven, head bowed, like a pilgrim in a shrine, talking to the humanistic god (or goddess, or both, or nothing). That I’m saying, out loud, over and over, ‘God, please let me have my baby. I’ll do whatever, I’ll be whatever you need, whatever you want, just please let my baby stay. “I’m not sure how long I’ve been on the floor. All I know is that when I put my hands on the sticky cheeks are red hot, as if the oven flames had licked them for a long time.
IIn this new world I live in, in which, through the snap of the new condom on the dreaded ultrasound wand, I gaze into the black and white abyss of ignorance on a weekly basis, my sourdough habit allows me a perfectly baked recipe. Full stop to any and all medical mysteries, pregnancy announcements, or unsolicited advice.
“Looks like you haven’t ovulated at all” Pan.
“We must arrive in October!” Bread.
“Have you thought about adoption?” Bread.
Each one takes 18 hours, from start to finish, and each loaf amazes me, individually carved, just as they are, by the particular way the rain fell that day, the dust in the air, the breeze filtered through a broken window. I learned that baking bread is a useful coping tactic for the depressed, a habit that fosters productivity despite despair, inexplicably linked, as it is, to the essential rest between dusk and dawn, requiring nothing more than holy trinity that are the hours. , hands and that good time of friends, hope. Once they come out, and their personalities have been determined through color, furnace spring, density, height, I give them names. Not like babies, I tell my husband. Like hurricanes.
Hercules, a veritable beast of bread, was my first true triumph: a round, tall, whole loaf with a perfect indentation carved from the cornmeal from the banneton. Penelope emerged after a successful scoring attempt, the leaves I cut into her quivering moon belly revealing flirtatious little touches of outward-facing bread meat. Nigel was a mess, his ass black and strangely dense. I learn that a well-baked loaf whistles on the grill with its own mystical swan song, a low-level exhalation that is part fireworks bursts, part ear shell. It is the sound of something that explodes in life.
In addition to searching the miscarriage message boards, I start to spend time wringing my hands baking bread with many men living in Wisconsin named Dave and Mike. It is one of the Mikes who points out that in the United Kingdom, where I am from, they call the bread starter “the Mother”. This makes me cry. Then I see myself fully: the sad owner of the loneliest bakery in New York City. I think of the Lord’s Prayer, the only prayer I have ever known by heart, spoken en masse at the austere English school assemblies from ages four to 18, with its simple plea of ”Give us today our daily bread,” and the haste to reach the end, in the silent and murmuring crescendo of the ancestors.
I keep baking, I keep praying.
I bake my bread to mark the days. I don’t know how many I win in the end. But one day, right after firing the fertility doctor, I get pregnant again. I dare not hope or dream. Every time I go to the office bathroom, I cover my mouth with my hand before pulling down my underwear, anticipating the need to stifle a cry. I still feel guilty about my lattes. I keep saying no to receipts. Before every doctor appointment, I replace kneeling by the oven with kneeling on the hospital bathroom floor, which beats the waiting room. Kneeling on the ground finally feels good. Without fail, behind the closed door, with one ear cocked in case my name is called, I lay my forehead on the indifferent regulation tiles and say the good Christian prayer that my despair has turned into an enchantment. Our Father who art in heaven… Give us today our daily bread. Every week, miraculously, I take to the streets of the city with a contact sheet that, without mixing, reveals images of a shiny gummy bear that is not dead.
The slow Treacle days go by, boring as the test. My belly stays flat but the worst doesn’t happen. Slowly, slowly, the skin tightens and rises, surrenders to the old chemistry. I learn that the baby (baby!) Is a girl. She doesn’t care about my terror. She insists on growing up.
On the full moon in March, she is born, red as a raspberry, utterly furious, with a sweet, mild, yeast smell, not unlike the bread I will one day teach her to bake. The same bread, I will tell you, so that one day you will see yourself on your knees, convinced that all hope is lost. But it won’t be. I’ll tell you the next moment, you may be dancing barefoot to the Graceland album with a daughter in your arms, while the scent of your oven announces five blocks out of town that someone is surely home. That bread, like babies, is delicious. But fickle, mystical and hard-earned. That we are all just salt, water and time. So forgotten, so arduous, so sacred.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism