Insatiable

Most of my pregnancy was scary, but one thing I really enjoyed was THE FOOD!  My sister Amanda and I were pregnant at the same time and our kids were born exactly 10 weeks apart.  She is now in her 38th week of her second pregnancy, and I was amused to come across this post on her Facebook page the other night:

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In honor of my sister’s pregnancy I wanted to share one of my favorite (interpret this to mean ‘not terrifying’) stories from my own pregnancy.  

Amanda and me two days before Carter was born and ten weeks before Sidney.
Amanda and me two days before Carter was born and ten weeks before Sidney.
Growing up with a sister 8 years my junior, I never would have believed that we would one day have a joint-baby shower.  : )
Growing up with a sister 8 years my junior, I never would have believed that we would one day have a joint-baby shower. : )

Before getting pregnant, I didn’t believe in “pregnancy cravings”.  I believed that women used them as an excuse to eat whatever they wanted.  Probably some people reading this are seething with rage over the words I’ve just written, but you must understand something about me.  I grew up as a chubby kid.  And even as an adult, for the most part, my mind centered on food.  I sort of assumed that everyone was wired this way, and that when women got pregnant, they used the unavoidable weight gain as an excuse to stop fighting off the constant food fantasies that I assumed floated through everyone’s minds.  So, that’s what I believed.  Right up until the incident of the steak-grilled-stuffed-burrito.

I worked a closing shift at the store on the day of my 12 week ultrasound and appointment with the high risk doctor.  I had packed my dinner; my usual; a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on wheat bread with a side of carrots and an apple.  I was hungry that night, and ate my dinner early before returning to work.

Shortly after dinner, the phone clipped to the waistband of my pants chirped as I was straightening toys.  I grabbed the phone, and saw from a glance that Steve was calling.  “I stopped and got dinner from Taco Bell,” he began. “ I didn’t know if you’d be hungry when you got home, but I got you a soft taco and pintos and cheese.”

Regretfully thinking of  my already-eaten dinner I confessed:   “Oh, thanks, but I already ate.”

Sounding a bit deflated, he said, “Well, if you are hungry for a snack when you get home, it will be in the fridge.”

We chatted for a couple of minutes and then I got back to work.

As I bent to retrieve and replace discarded toys, a new thought suddenly possessed my mind:  Taco Bell.  But I wasn’t thinking of the soft taco and beans waiting for me at home, but a grilled steak burrito.  My mouth began to water.

I should probably back up here, a bit.  Years before, I’d committed to healthy eating, and for the most part, I stuck with it, even with some episodes of weight gain.  (I’d gained that weight without fast foods.)  Though not a vegetarian,I ate meat only sporadically.  (This is a result of living with cows in a field two doors down from your house.  It makes you think about what you are eating.  At least that’s how it worked for me.)  I could barely remember the last time I’d eaten fast food, but when I did indulge, it was always with the healthiest choices.  This grilled burrito that was suddenly the object of my fantasies was something I’d not tasted in nearly 10 years, and I wasn’t even sure if it was still available.  But suddenly, all I could think about was the old memory of biting into the crispy grilled shell, the melting sour cream, the dripping, oozing, grease…. the perfection!

I spent the evening fighting a fierce mental battle.  “You’ve already had dinner, and Steve has that food at home for you, you can eat that,” I told myself.

The part of me that longed for the burrito didn’t have anything of eloquence to say, just “but… but… I WANT IT!”  And this part did not shut up.  Nevertheless, when I left work that evening, I was prepared to do the right thing, the adult thing, the healthy thing, the rational thing.  I was prepared to go home and eat my taco and beans, which, I reminded myself, was already a bonus meal.

I walked to my car, climbed inside, closed the door, and started the engine.  I snapped my seat belt into place, sat up straight, put the transmission into ‘Drive’ and headed for the exit.  When I came to the traffic light, I was faced with two choices.  If I made the ‘right’ turn, I would drive through the country and towards my house.  If I made the ‘left’ turn, however, I would still be heading towards my house, but via highway, so this would also put me on the path to Taco Bell.  I decided it was too much temptation.  I turned right and headed through the country.

As I drove through the darkened night, I congratulated myself on this commendable level of healthy maturity.  The feeling of smugness lasted right up to the moment I had to make the final turn, taking me, once and for all, away from the highway and towards my house.  And in that moment, I just couldn’t do it.  Instead of the ‘right’ turn that would lead me home, I jerked the wheel to the left and headed towards the interstate.

As I gunned the motor, speeding up the on-ramp, I kept thinking, “What are you doing?  What are you doing!”  I had no answer.  I didn’t know what I was doing, but apparently I was committed to doing it (whatever it was), so the time for questions had passed.

Moments later I found myself in a place I’d not been in some time:  In line waiting for fast food, late at night.  As I inched forward, I squinted my eyes towards the menu board.  Did they still carry the burrito?   I prayed they did.  I’d given into this madness, and I didn’t know what I would do if I found myself thwarted now.  I’d gone past the point of no-return.

God was smiling on me.  Not only was the burrito still on the menu, it had been upgraded to an ‘XL’ status.  Part of my brain cheered, “Yes!  Excellent!” The other half said, “Well, just because the burrito is XL doesn’t mean you have to eat it all.  Just eat half of it and throw it away.”  I ordered my burrito and a drink.

As I sat waiting to pick up the food, I mentally planned the rest of my evening.  I would drive home, change into my pajamas, and sit down to eat my burrito in front of the TV.  I decided to throw away the food Steve had gotten for me…. perhaps even bury it in the trash.  I was ashamed of this craving madness, and didn’t want to fess up to this evening’s antics.

All too soon, it was my turn to pay.  After the clerk swiped and returned my card, I was presented with a bag of food. I thanked her, placed the bag on the seat next to me, grabbed the steering wheel with the perfect “10 and 2” hand placement, and with a straight back, maneuvered myself from the window and towards the road.

Then a funny thing happened.  The smell of the burrito began to waft, enticingly from the seat next to me.  I’m not sure about the science behind this explanation, but to me, this is what happened:  Dragging my eyes from the road, I stared at the bag.  The scent of the meat entered through my nose, and somehow traveled down to my stomach, causing it to cry out in insatiable need.  And then my stomach overpowered my brain, overrode my will, and took over completely.  I had to have the burrito!  Now!

My fingers ached to rip the burrito from the bag, to tear it from the paper, but there was still a tiny part of me putting up a fight.  Longingly, I thought of my plan of eating the burrito in front of the TV, all cozy in my pajamas.  I still wanted that!  I tried to reason with this ravenous, barely controlled side of myself.  “It’s just a few more minutes, you can wait, right?  It will be worth it.”

The other side of me longed to scream out, “NO!”  But the primal, stomach led-side of me had a more sly and cagey plan.  “Sure,” this side agreed.  “But maybe you should just take one bite, just to see if it tastes as good as you remember…”

This seemed like good sense.  Just take a bite, wrap it back up, and wait to finish the rest until I got home.  As the car climbed the interstate on-ramp, I steered one-handed as I worked to free a corner of the burrito from the wrapper.  Gingerly, I took a delicate bite.

The next thing I remember, the car was coming to a stop at the end of the off-ramp.  I looked down to see grease stains on my work shirt and two shriveled diced tomatoes in the empty wrapper… the only remaining witnesses to what had most assuredly been a savage devouring.  Aaahh, the guilt!  But so worth it.

I arrived at home, brushing a few pieces of dehydrated lettuce from my lap, and quietly destroyed the evidence.  Then I changed into my pajamas, ate the food Steve had gotten for me, and went to bed.

*****

This was only the beginning of the food-mania.  Days later I received a phone call from the high-risk doctor.  The results from my most recent blood tests indicated a protein deficiency.  I was brusquely informed that they would continue to monitor my levels and I may need to take supplemental pills.  He made to wind down and end the conversation.  But I wasn’t having it.  “Hang on a second,” I said, stopping him.  “What should I be doing?”

“What do you mean?” he questioned.  He sounded baffled.

“If my protein levels are low, I assume that means I should eat more protein.  Is there anything else that would be helpful?”

It seemed I’d stumped him.  Surely I wasn’t the first mother who asked what I should do to correct this problem.  Could I be the only person he’d encountered who was not satisfied with increased medical monitoring and supplemental pharmaceuticals?  Slowly he answered, “Well, like I said, we’ll keep an eye on it, and there are pills….”

I cut him off.  “I don’t want to take pills.  What can I do to fix this without pills?”

Half-heartedly he rattled off a list of foods to add to my diet.  Since cutting down on meat, I’d amped up my bean and nut consumption and assumed it would give me all the protein I needed.  It seemed I was wrong.  I’d have to get back to the animal products.

I was chilled by his response to my query on fixing this problem without meds.  Is that really where we are now?  Where when there’s a medical problem, the pharmacy is the first place you go to fix it?  But, that’s a rant for another day.  I’d like to focus on another truth gleaned from this brief exchange:  pregnancy cravings are real!  My body wanted meat, and it seemed that was behind the inexplicable madness of the burrito adventure.  Ah, such a relief to know I wasn’t going crazy.

*****

Though I now believe in the legitimacy of pregnancy cravings, I can’t, in good conscience, hold them responsible for all of the food-lust-related antics I got up to while pregnant.  With a mixture of wistfulness and sheepishness, I still recall a work lunch from this particular period.

It was just a regular Monday morning at work, and I was doing all of my regular Monday morning things.  I was only going through the motions, however.  My mind was occupied with a problem, and while on the outside, I was making signs for the store, on the inside, I was wrestling my way through a mighty battle.  This is the essence of the battle:  The night before, Steve had grilled filet steaks and baked a couple of potatoes for dinner.  Dinner was fabulous, and I’d brought my leftovers for lunch.  But it was Monday!  Monday was the day the chefs prepared the Cuban sandwiches for the lunch cart.  This sandwich included several varieties of pork products, a few different cheeses, and pickles. I was hooked!   I thought with longing about the Cuban sandwich, but, in the end, I decided to do the responsible thing.  I was having a baby.  I couldn’t allow expensive steak to go bad while I ordered a $5 sandwich that I didn’t need.  It was wasteful.  Though I believed I’d made the right decision, that knowledge didn’t bring contentment.

When I decided it was lunch time, (I was the one who usually decided this for the group.  Even before becoming pregnant, lunch was the highlight of my workday.  Since becoming pregnant, it took on the significance of near-religious ritual,) I began paging the other managers to inform them it was time to eat.  After making the calls, I morosely took my food from the refrigerator and began microwaving it as I waited for the others.

This fateful Monday was Carl’s* (Carl is not his real name.  He is a super nice guy, and my description of him was filtered through my food-lust…. this should make ME look bad, not him…. so for that reason, I changed his name) first day at our store.  Carl had worked for the company for many years, quit, and returned.  He was really talkative, and in an extremely exhausting way.  He wasn’t content just to talk, he wanted feedback on each and every point he made.  I learned this the hard way when I called him to give him his schedule for his first week.  The call lasted about 45 minutes. Face-to-face conversations were more difficult.  He maintained piercing eye contact throughout each exchange.  It wasn’t possible to allow your mind to wander while talking to Carl.  He made sure of that. If you lost focus for one second, he would rehash each and every comment.  Better not to risk it.   Still, he seemed like a nice guy, so every time I found myself feeling irritated with him, I mentally called myself down.

The real trouble began when Carl arrived in the office as I was removing my food from the microwave.  He walked past me, all high energy, and asked where we ate.  I pointed towards the boss’ office.  I couldn’t speak.  I couldn’t trust myself.  He’d bought one of the sandwiches!  And I wanted it!  With all that was in me, I wanted it!  And he was casually talking away like nothing catastrophic was about to happen.

With trepidation, I joined him in my boss’ office and took a seat.  As I would soon learn was his habit, he quickly launched into an intense business-related conversation.  Talk.  Make an expressive hand gesture.  Stare soulfully into my eyes.  Talk.  Take a bite.  Try to assess if I agreed with whatever he was saying.  As far as I was concerned, he may have well have been saying ‘blah, blah, blah.’  I had no attention for his words.  My focus was completely on his sandwich.  Like in an old cartoon, the scent coming from the sandwich seemed almost visible…. I could almost see the smells wafting up towards my nose.  And it was difficult, oh, so difficult, to carry on normally.

Without much appreciation I began stabbing at my expensive steak.  I just couldn’t keep my eyes off Carl as he ate his sandwich…… bite. after. torturous. bite.  I think I actually started to sweat.  Suddenly my mind was flooded with scenes from Lord of the Rings… Bilbo, by chance catching a glimpse of the ring under Frodo’s shirt, his face suddenly transformed into a demonic mask as he lunged towards Frodo in an instinctual and unplanned attack…. Gollum and Frodo rolling around on the lip of Mount Doom, each trying to keep the ring away from the other, Gollum biting off Frodo’s finger as he tried to gain what his withered soul longed for… This sandwich was driving me mad!  I was fantasizing myself into the role of a Tolkien character… and not even one of the beautiful elves, but a character tortured by the presence of The Precious and willing to attack or worse, to get it.

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Alas, my quest went unfulfilled.  I didn’t attack Carl and steal his sandwich, or, less dramatically, go buy one.  I just waited it out, feeling the sadness.  I feel it still.  Before leaving my job the following year, I had several Cuban sandwiches, but I’ll always be sad that I never had that one.  It was, indeed, the one that got away.

(photo credit:  scifi.stackexchange.com)

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