Being pregnant is a lot like having an imaginary friend: No one really understands the relationship except you. At least, that’s what it feels like.
I guess I wouldn’t know for sure. My friends have always had visible legs and arms, and heartbeats. But seeing people nod and smile, then change the subject when I talk baby, it seems like a rational comparison. Baby kicks, and I think it’s the most fascinating thing in the world, even if I’ve announced the same thing 200 times already that day. Apparently, though, baby’s newfound ability to use my bladder as a trampoline—“Ohmigoddidyou…? Wait, of course you didn’t!”—just isn’t that interesting.
Conveniently enough, nature plans for women’s waistlines to explode at right about this stage in the relationship. Which means no matter how much crazy talk comes burbling out of my mouth, there’s a nice bump sitting about a foot below, a permanent basketball-sized excuse for anything I could possibly say or do. Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t come up with more outrageous things to say, just to use it while I got it.
So, yes. I haven’t talked about it much, but I’m getting quite pregnant. My shirts are getting pilly on my belly, where I’ve been rubbing them. And truth be told, I’m starting to slow down. You know how much I must like that.
About a week ago, I stopped some of the medicine I’ve been using for 3 or 4 years to control lupus-related joint inflammation. Wednesday, I had trouble using my right hand. It got all frozen up, there between the two big wrist joints, and plum refused to cooperate. (It’s really hard to pull maternity pants on with only one hand.)
Thursday, it was a little better, and my friend Bree taught me how to soak my wrists in hot water in the morning to loosen them up. By Friday, I seemed to be adjusting to the change.
But there, in that timeframe—three days of symptoms so similar to what they were when I was first diagnosed—my body reminded me that the wolf, she’s been so so quiet these last six months, but she’s still there. And now, more than ever, I need to listen. We need to listen.
Apparently, during pregnancy, one’s kidneys take quite a beating. You know, increased blood volume, etc. Mine, which are naturally a bit weeny because of lupus, are no exception. They’ve been working very hard, and they’re getting very cranky.
To be clear, there’s nothing really wrong yet. But the doctors are making me feel like a ticking time bomb. They’re using words like preeclampsia, and bed rest, and suffice it to say that these words aren’t the prettiest ones, coming out of my mouth or anyone else’s. I want to gather them up like spilled dried beans, and stuff them back into their plastic sack. Bind the twist tie good and tight. But words, unfortunately, don’t come in a resealable bag.
Monday, I started a new program. It’s called halvsies. I take whatever I’d normally do in a day, and cut it in half. And at 2 o’clock, my timer rings. From 2 to 6, I’m down. Sleeping. Reading. Staring at the ceiling. Anything that doesn’t require my feet to move one after the other on solid ground. Anything that keeps me resting. Anything that keeps me home for as many weeks as possible, doing things slowly but still doing things, instead of on bed rest in a hospital somewhere.
This bed rest thing is by no means a foregone conclusion. I don’t mean to be dramatic. But when I think about the mere possibility of lying in a bed and ordering breakfast off a menu that rotates weekly, I almost panic. I can deal with doctors; I have lots of practice. But if I have to eat overdone scrambled eggs, I might cry.
(For the record, this halvsies program does not apply to food. On that front, I’m doing doublies.)
Oh, wait. There’s a small correction. I said I started today, but really, I tried to start on Friday.
See, the problem with a week of painful wrist joints is that the refrigerator suffers. Some lettuce went bad. I didn’t feel like hacking into the rack of lamb I’d planned one night, so it’s still sitting there. I’d brought home great big yellow onions, six golden-skinned beauties, from the farmers’ market the weekend before, purchased for a whopping 75 cents each. I’d wanted to make something like French onion soup, but for a couple days, I just wasn’t using a knife.
Friday, though. Friday, my wrists felt fine. The top of one of the onions was threatening to get a little grey and soggy, succumbing to the weather outside despite its cool, comfy home. I’d had a few nights out. I missed the kitchen. My parents were coming for the weekend, and I loved the idea of letting the soup sit in the fridge for a few days, so on Sunday night, we could just heat it up, scoop big ladlefuls of rich brown onion-laden broth into bowls, top them with croutons and copious quantities of gruyere, and broil them just until the cheese started to toast.
I thought I’d make a bit of a bargain with myself. I’d chop, after lunch, and get the soup started. (It’s a lot of chopping, if you’re not used to it, but nothing pleases me quite as much as filling an entire stockpot with feathery strips of onion. Give yourself 40 minutes, if you’re a slow chopper.) Then I’d plop myself on the couch and doze, waking up to stir or leaf through a New Yorker.
I chopped. I stirred. I fell asleep with onions caramelizing, two rooms away, which I never would have done a few months ago. They never burned, or even came close. I got to cook and take the most horrible-tasting medicine: rest.
Friday night, I had the sense not to double down. We went out to dinner, at a lovely casual French place on Capitol Hill that doesn’t take reservations and has a terrible waiting area. I called, announced I was six months pregnant, and asked what the wait was like. They saved us a table.
We did have a busy weekend. But each day, I slept, undisturbed, and each day, my body thanked me for it.
When we finally took the soup out, it seemed to say the same thing: Thank you for letting me rest. I needed that. It tasted greener than typical French onion soup, with all those leeks, but it had the same gooey meltability, the same chewiness on top, the same deep warmth. This breed of soup calms the heart.
Afterward, we picked crusty cheese bits off the outer edges of our bowls, and made fun of each other, and I had the energy to play games and stay up past 9 p.m. (but not much).
It’s going to be bittersweet, this last trimester, I can tell. But me? I’ll do my best to prove this pregnancy normal. I won’t be cooking every night. We’ll probably invite people over for dinner a lot less frequently. I won’t be here on Hogwash quite as often, because halvsies for me means halvsies for you, too.
But Jim will cook. (I love it when Jim cooks. It’s the next best thing to holding the spoon myself.) He’ll reheat soups, and we’ll eat them at the kitchen counter, right off my favorite pot holders, like we did last night. I’ll make lists of how to help myself, instead of lists of more things to do. We’ll get even more excited about baby coming, together.
And with a little luck and a lot more rest, that will still mean May.
You can use all boxed beef stock, of course, but if you can find good homemade veal and beef stocks, the soup’s broth will take on a deeper flavor and more velvety texture. When I feel like splurging, I buy good stock at Seattle farmers’ markets or at Picnic.
To make it a full meal, all this soup needs is a simple green salad.
TIME: 5 hours, start to finish
MAKES: 6 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
6 large yellow onions (about 6 pounds), peeled
2 large shallots
4 small leeks (about 1/2 pound), halved, cleaned, and cut into thin half moons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 cups dry red wine
4 cups beef stock or broth
4 cups veal stock (or more beef broth)
6 slices good, crusty bread, toasted and broken into pieces
1/2 pound Gruyere cheese, grated
Heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the oil, then start slicing the onions, first in half with the grain, and then into 1/4” slices with the grain, adding to the pot as you go. Slice the shallots the same way, and add them, too, along with the leeks. When all the onions have been added, season them with salt and pepper, stir to blend, and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so while the onions begin to cook down.
Add the garlic, and reduce the heat to your stove’s lowest temperature. Cook the onions and shallots for another 3 to 4 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so, or until the onions are a deep golden brown. (Timing will depend on your stove and the vessel you’re using. The important thing is the color, though, so don’t rush it. If the onions begin to burn or stick to the bottom a bit before they’re done, add a little water to the pan or adjust the heat, as necessary. You’ll need to stir more frequently toward the end.)
When the onions are good and brown, add the wine and broth, bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes to an hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let cool to room temperature and refrigerate overnight, if possible.
Before serving, preheat the broiler. Fill ovenproof bowls with (reheated) soup and top with the toast pieces. Divide the cheese into six parts and pile on top of the toasts. Place the bowls on a baking sheet, and broil about 3” from the heating unit for just a minute or two, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve hot (and be careful with those bowls).