While it may seem bizarre to ask about food choices during times of high stress, I have a theory about comfort that I was posing in my book in order to help non-infertiles understand how to make the best choices concerning help. Everyone wants to help. But it all goes back to Free To Be You And Me...some kind of help is the kind of help / that helping is all about / and some kind of help is the kind of help / we all can do without.
Delivering a giant pot of Angolese peanut stew when I'm stressed out isn't helpful.
I know--that sounded bitchy.
I should just be grateful.
But pretending that I was going to eat the spicy peanut stew took up a lot of energy. First, it sat in the refrigerator for days. Then we dumped it in the trash (which necessitated immediately removing said trash from house because--for the love of G-d--I could smell the peanut stew from upstairs). Then I felt guilty while I washed out the pot. In the end, I was still hungry. Spending ten minutes undoing the help did not bring me any closer to actually eating or feeling less stressed.
I know--I am such a bitch.
So I was writing this chapter on helping after a loss (which has information that can be applied to helping during a cycle or after an adoption or during bedrest--any situation where help would be appreciated) and I came to the topic of food. Grocery shopping or picking up dry cleaning is pretty straightforward. But food is such a personal thing. I have to be honest, I really hate it when people deliver food they've made and think that they're helping unless they know me intimately and are delivering something they know I will eat (thank you, Mommy, for all the farfel). I have received way too many lasagnas (I don't eat them). Way too many strange salads. Listen, I'll admit this here since we've already established that I'm a big bitch--I'm a picky vegetarian who keeps a kosher house. It's hard to cook for me.
And I know there are plenty of people who are not as picky as I am and will eat whatever is placed in front of them (like...oh...let's say...my husband). They're just grateful that they don't have to cook. Any maybe this is my deep ungratefulness shining through, but I believe that while most people are willing to eat just anything when they're not seeking comfort but are mildly stressed (for instance, after a new baby is born and you're just grateful to have a meal taken care of so you don't have to cook), we have very specific food needs after a loss or during a time of great anxiety (the day before your beta on your first IVF cycle).
Carbs. They're not good for you, per se, but they're easy to eat. Chocolate or something equally indulgent which you wouldn't necessarily eat during a normal time period. Food from a restaurant that reminds you of another time period--one that is happier and more hopeful than your current state. Eating that pho from Nam Viet reminds me of before we started trying to conceive, when we were just a childless couple living near the city and going out with our friends on a Saturday. I appreciate it when Josh brings it home for me when I'm feeling like shit in a way that I can't quite appreciate Angolese peanut stew.
You know what it's like--it's like when you're abroad and you duck into McDonalds. Maybe you don't eat McDonalds at home, but now that you're a little homesick, you're willing to trade taste and healthiness for something familiar. My pho is pretty tasty on an average day, but it becomes an anchor when I'm free-floating in sadness. It's something familiar. I know exactly what to expect. Sometimes, amidst chaos, I just need food that is predictable. It is--not to harp on it--not the time for Angolese peanut stew.
There is also my Martha side that believes that making homemade food says something. It says I give a crap about you to spend hours of my time preparing something I believe you'll love to eat. But this is where I'm torn: which is more important--giving them something homemade that says "I love you" even if it's something that they might not eat (though you don't know this while you're making it--of course you believe that they'll love it or why would you make it?) or getting them something from a restaurant that you know they will love? Would you rather have someone show up to your house with a dish that is semi-inedible considering your mental state but homemade (in another time and place, I may have eaten the damn peanut stew) or would you rather have someone call you and say, "I'm having dinner delivered to your house tonight. Can you please tell me the restaurant and your order?" Or even have them call and say, "I know you really liked the pasta I made during that dinner party a few weeks ago--can I bring over a pot of it?"
The list really fell into two camps: the people who had specific meals in mind--mostly carbs--from specific restaurants or recipes and those who named a dish or a food, but gave no specific instructions. It was spaghetti and meatballs, but it wasn't a particular recipe. It was chocolate, but not a specific brand.
I think when people want to help, it's important to make them feel like they will be successful. That there are questions to ask that can lead them to a black and white answer of which path they should take. It's all presenting the idea that there is comfort achievability.
What is comfort achievability? It's convincing an outsider that they actually have a chance of hitting the nail on the head and providing comfort if they start thinking like the person they're trying to help rather than like themselves. Just like some non-infertiles can catch onto the idea of telling me about their pregnancies via email in order to give me some emotional processing time, I think someone who truly wants to help needs to (1) be told how to help and (2) with a dearth of concrete directions, understand how to think like the stirrup queen and ask the right questions. If not, they're going to start saying "why bother?"
So that's my last question: would you rather have someone make you a homemade meal and try (and possibly fail--meat trifle anyone?) to personalize the help or would you rather they send over a meal from a favourite restaurant so you know what to expect (or using a specific recipe that you've approved)? And consider this question in multiple scenarios: after a loss, during an agonizing wait, when you're on bedrest, when you just adopted a child. I guess what I'm asking is which means more when giving help: the message of love behind the help or getting it right?
And don't say what you think should be the answer (because even bitchy me has a heart and wants to answer "the message" even though I personally don't believe that), tell me what you really really want. I know there are people out there who are better than me who will say "the message is more important"--but explain why. I really want to know.
Weigh in with your "I'd rather..."