I learned how to make hardtack this year when I tried out a Greek recipe to share with friends.
It was super easy to make this dense pastry that poured like milk until it baked and set.
In case you don’t know what it is, hardtack is basically a cracker but a bit more flakey, softer and more thick.
It’s also a great survival food. Not much to it, easy to make, can be frozen, and will provide some sustenance, even if it doesn’t have all the nutrients your body needs. It’ll fill your tummy.
And the holes are there for a reason. If the steam and heat isn’t allowed to pass through (especially if you’re pouring it onto a casserole), it will crack. I forgot the holes. And craaack — right down the middle.
It was still tasty.
Uber-kitchen witch I am not. But, wait! Yes, there’s a metaphor here! (How’s that for a segue?)
For more than a month, I’ve written the same blog post draft at least half-a-dozen times. And I’m still having problems getting it done.
It’s isn’t the topic. When chatting with my bestie or sitting around with the girls discussing girl things, I’m perfectly comfortable telling details and the story and so forth.
It then occurred to me: This is a public forum. My private life details, when I choose to write about them, are on display, along with my opinions, hurts and joys.
My hardtack. (There’s the metaphor.)
By not talking about it, not putting it out on display, I become just as guilty as the women — no, the cultural stratification I criticize. There’s nothing here to do with gender, either: Men are just as guilty of not discussing these things as the women. Personally, I’ve never heard a man discuss it and very few women.
There’s a crack forming in my hardtack.
Letting the steam rise
If you’ve ever had to consult with a breastfeeding clinic to get help or had to have anyone teach you how to breastfeed after reading about it, then you may have discovered that this not knowing is a fairly unique thing to Western culture. Women of other cultures who bond together through pregnancy losses and births and the rearing of children were brought up around women as young girls, seeing how all this is done and the traditions that enhance the experiences; they don’t have to go to clinics to learn how to do it all.
Because we don’t talk about how to do these things with our daughters while they’re growing up. There’s a taboo on allowing children to see what goes on in an adult’s world. Although this is sometimes appropriate, why are we sending our young women to clinics to learn things we should be teaching them in our social communities in the first place?
Instead, we either omit the needed information, or we lie, to ourselves and to other women.
After my son was born, a friend of mine was in her third trimester. A few of us women were discussing what happens in childbirth and telling our individual stories. No one mentioned how incredibly, undeniably, excruciatingly painful labor actually is.
In the course of this conversation, I mentioned, “And, oh my God, the pain.”
Another woman leaned over to me, put her hand on my arm, and said, “Shh. You don’t want to scare her.”
Scare her? No.
Prepare her? Yes.
So, here’s a heads-up for some mothers-to-be: It fucking hurts. There is no other pain like it in the world. And it’s not just really bad cramps, no matter what anyone else (including your doctor) tells you.
And at the same time, it’s the most worth-it pain you’ll ever endure.
I have known a couple of women who say that their birthing experiences weren’t that painful, my mother included. With my son, I used meditation, breathing techniques, water, walking — you name it, I did it. Thirty-six hours of labor later, and I was screaming for drugs, telling the nurses at the hospital that I wouldn’t tell them anything until they made the pain stop. (Yes, I’m one of those patients who’s a pain in the ass.)
And no one told me. I was completely unprepared for the amount of potential pain. I had an idealistic concept that childbirth was: cramp, push, baby screams, done.
Little girl lost
Two years before I became pregnant with my son, I lost a baby.
A girl I named Elena Marie.
Before experiencing a miscarriage myself, I never knew how many had gone through the same thing. Almost every woman in my life came to me and began telling me their stories.
Seems this is just another of those things we never talk about.
I miscarried on November 20. It was my first pregnancy, and I was at 13 weeks. I was five months into a new relationship, working full-time, going to college part-time and thoroughly flunking Algebra I, and had recently been in a fender-bender.
That morning, I went into work, as usual, a clerical job that didn’t have benefits and didn’t pay much more than minimum wage.
About mid-morning, I felt a warm gush between my legs. I went to the bathroom to discover I was bleeding.
Then the cramping started.
I started crying, and freaking out a little, walked back into the office to tell my manager that I was leaving to go to the hospital because I was bleeding. I didn’t wait for her response. I just left.
Once I got to the emergency room, I walked straight up to the window and told the nurse, “I’m 13 weeks pregnant, and I’m bleeding.”
I was admitted immediately.
The intake nurse was lovely. She let me take my time answering all her questions and patted my hand when I was having a hard time getting out my words. I was then taken into a private room in emergency.
Ever wanted a baby and just couldn’t get pregnant, meeting with disappointment after disappointment every time your period would come on?
Now imagine seeing that line on the pee-stick, getting the confirmation from the doctor — then having it all ripped away.
Literally and figuratively, something inside you is dying when you see those first few drops of blood.
I was crying, even though I was trying to hold myself together. I hadn’t been able to get a hold of my then-boyfriend, and for another hour, when a friend of mine would arrive, I was alone.
The nurse practitioner who was handling my case was stern and cold. She began treating me more indifferently when she found out I wasn’t married. She told me that I needed to calm down, to which I replied that this was traumatic for me.
“This is not a trauma,” she frowned.
I sat up, looked her right in the eyes, and said, “This is emotionally traumatic for me. I want this baby.”
She gazed back at me for a moment, then left, allowing the door to slam behind her.
Every time she would come in after that, she would make a veiled comment regarding her low opinion of unwed mothers.
At first, they tried to stop the bleeding, presumably trying to save the baby by forcing my body to not have contractions.
Having a miscarriage is going into labor before the baby is developed enough to, at the very least, live with medical assistance. A woman’s body goes through many of the same things during a miscarriage as it does when going through labor after a full-term pregnancy.
It didn’t work.
I had to have a transvaginal sonogram with a wand covered in a condom. One of my co-workers came with me for this part, having informed our office manager that she didn’t want me to be by myself and was taking the rest of day off. She held my hand.
Another friend arrived a bit later to provide support, just before I was given the suggestion to have a D&C.
Actually, it was so highly recommended, along with all kinds of horror stories about bleeding to death, that I was scared into having the surgery. A natural miscarriage was not provided as an option.
Ironically, I had to sign a disclaimer that I understood excessive bleeding after the surgery should be a warning sign of potentially bleeding to death and would need to seek immediate medical attention.
The only words of comfort I received other than the two friends who showed up later were from the anesthesiologist, who said, “It’ll be okay, honey. We’re going to take care of that pain, and I’ll be right here to make sure you don’t remember any of this.”
No placations. No saying that I could try again. No saying that having a baby would eventually happen. No apologies.
While he was being honest, what no one could do anything about was the physical feeling of something missing from my body afterward. There was a hollow space over which I continued to put my hand, expecting that the area of my abdomen would suddenly be filled.
A woman I knew showed up at my house about a month after the D&C. She had been through two miscarriages herself, one abortion and had, at the time, two children. (She’s since had a third baby.) She’s also a Reiki master and had come over with the offer of helping me heal. It was one of the best gifts I was given during this process.
The emotional loss and mourning went on for what would have been the remainder of my pregnancy — 6 months of crying, wishing, asking why.
What I do with the loss
I try to be present.
Not being able to speak for what the men who have been involved go through, I will do what I can for both the women and the men.
I provided a presence, just sitting, fetching, listening, talking, cleaning, helping the women be as physically comfortable as possible as they experience their loss. And the whole time, I monitor to myself any actions, pain levels, reactions, fever, amount of fluid intake, trips to the bathroom, the quantity of blood, availability of immediate first aid and so forth.
A friend once told me a long time ago that witnessing someone’s pain can be the best thing one person can do for another, that it should be an honor that the other person is willing to share it.
So, I offer witness. And I cry with them.
This is how the steam rises through my hardtack.