sour cherry conserva
In the first few weeks that we brought Avi home, I was convinced that I’ll never cook again. I was tethered to him night and day. Between feedings, pumping sessions, more feedings, a few stolen naps here and there, and severely fractured sleep, I thought that throwing a piece of meat in the slow-cooker and dumping tomatoes over it was going to be as advanced cooking as I was ever going to do. But you good people, you assured me that one day, in not so distant future, I would cook again. And I didn’t believe you. Honest to goodness I thought you were all full of shit. I even laughed to myself about it – the kind of mirthless laugh that’s full of regret. Cooking was, is, and will be the way I anchor myself to the world. It’s the way I know how to make myself feel like I belong somewhere. And not having that piece of myself made me feel unmoored.
I’ve been meaning to drop in here sooner and write about postpartum anxiety, and somehow I haven’t been able to find the right words. I still don’t think I have them, but screw proper phrasing and waiting for the right language to present itself. Here’s the gist. Around eight weeks after Avi was born, I decided that what I was feeling and going through wasn’t healthy. In addition to being severely sleep-deprived and shell-shocked from transitioning from a household of two adults and one large cat, to a households of two adults, one large cat, and a tiny screaming baby – who refused to sleep anywhere but on a human (which at nights meant me) – I was also severely anxious.
Now, I should probably say that I’ve been anxious my whole life as long as I can remember. And what I always prided myself on was that I felt like my anxiety was a tool that helped me accomplish things. I thought it was something I had learned to reign in. I felt superior (I don’t need drugs – I’m fine!) and highly (!) functional. Anxiety was my defining feature. It was enabling – not limiting.
But giving birth changed that. Suddenly, it didn’t feel like I was in control. My anxiety was greater than me – greater than my environment – and it consumed me entirely. It felt like a tidal wave had come at me and swallowed me whole.
I doubted every single decision I had made, and in particular, I doubted my decision to become a parent. I wasn’t depressed. I didn’t want to harm myself or the baby. But I wasn’t taking any pleasure in this new role. Not an ounce. It didn’t help that Avi was a fussy newborn; that I was awake with him at night for hours; that breastfeeding was challenging, painful, and anything but a given.
And so finally, around week eight, I decided to seek help. I reached out to friends about recommendations for psychiatrists; I talked to any friend who was willing to listen about what was going on inside my head. I cried to my mom and mother-in-law and spilled all my new motherhood frustrations to them. And they were nothing short of amazing – they didn’t judge and didn’t try to convince me otherwise. They just listened. My friends told me of their own struggles. People I barely knew called me and talked to me for hours about their own experiences. One of them assured me that one day, I’ll feel normal again and will struggle to remember that feeling of utter paralysis and despair. I didn’t believe her then, but Molly, you were right – thank you.
I went to see a psychiatrist – one who specialized in reproductive issues. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me because I had heard about postpartum depression but I knew I wasn’t depressed. She listened to me for an hour; I told her about my symptoms and emotions, and she diagnosed me with postpartum anxiety, which is something I had never before heard of. And when she asked if I was considering medication, the answer was yesyesyesyesyes. I needed to get better; I was so desperate. She wrote me a prescription right away – and warned me that it might take several weeks for me to feel closer to the baseline.
It took about four weeks. By then Avi started sleep longer stretches. And by week ten, we decided to sleep-train him. I was going back to work and I needed to get up in the morning and not be completely shattered. And while I know that sleep training is not for everyone, it was absolutely the right decision for us. I stand by it one hundred percent.
The most interesting discovery for me about being on meds has been that I’ve realized just how wrong I’d been my whole life about anxiety’s effect on me. I had thought that it was the tool that helped me get things done, but instead, it made me less productive because I had spent so much time managing my anxiety rather than focusing on tasks at hand. The best way I can explain this to someone who’s never experience anxiety is this: Imagine that you have a nice, large window you can look through and you see a big tree, full of green leaves, and a patch of sky in the background. Now, imagine that you decided, because it’s spring, or because it’s time, you were going to clean the glass in your window. You go back inside, post cleaning, and look at the tree. And you are speechless, astounded by how beautiful, verdant, and lush it is. How magnificent and blue the sky! Because while you saw those objects before, you couldn’t see how bright and beautiful they were. And now you do. That’s kind of how I feel right now versus before. And that lack of anxiety has not made me less motivated or driven.
I write all this because I keep thinking that it’s odd I’d never heard about postpartum anxiety before. I’m sure it’s not that rare. But I’d never read up on it, and all the postpartum talk I hear is on depression, which is also important for us to discuss and keep in mind. And I hope that maybe this might help someone (anyone) — in case they are going through it or know someone going through it. Because we need to talk about these things – they are important. Motherhood, as I’m learning, is tough enough. Great, beautiful, full of joy – but also really friggin’ tough. And the more we talk about things that are hard, the more united we all are.
But back to cooking…
I was wrong that I’ll never cook again. So, so wrong.
I’m cooking! Most nights, in fact. And we’ve even had our first official dinner guest last Sunday – a colleague from London. She requested roasted chicken, and despite it being ninety degrees outside, I ably marched into the kitchen and made roasted chicken with mustard vegetables – a recipe I learned from Marc Murphy when I was writing his book and have since adapted. We had popsicles and sorbet for dessert – neither of which I made – and it was pretty much the best Sunday supper ever.
I’ve also been trying to bring breakfast and lunch to work in an effort to save a little money, because childcare is expensive, folks! I’ll share my favorite lunch in another post, but for breakfasts, I’ve been adding a little jam on the bottom of a jar and topping it with plain whole-milk yogurt. Lately, since sour cherries are in season (if maybe only for another couple of weeks, so hurry!), I’ve been making this loose and easy sour cherry conserva, which takes about half an hour (not including pitting the cherries) and is divine with tangy yogurt. I imagine it’ll be really good spooned over vanilla ice cream, and even blended into milkshakes. In any case, here it is, and apologies for the world’s most awkward segues, and also, no proper measurements (grams), or pictures – such things are a bit challenging these days.
Sour Cherry Conserva
1 quart sour cherries, pitted
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 (2-inch) strip of lemon zest
Pinch of kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon, plus more as needed
Combine the cherries, sugar, zest, and salt with 1/4 cup water in a medium heavy bottom saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, decrease the heat low enough that the fruit and liquid are at a bare but noticeable simmer, and cook, uncovered, stirring from time to time, until the liquid is the consistency of thick syrup, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Taste and add more lemon juice if needed. Let cool to room temperature and transfer to a clean jar. The conserva will be more loose than preserves. Cover and refrigerate. Conserva will keep for about 1 month.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
so glad you are feeling more like you again! becoming a mother is no joke, and adding depression or anxiety on top just makes it feel even more like you have lost yourself forever. i have been there myself. thanks for sharing your experience with others!
Glad you are back! You wrote a very powerful and moving piece. Good Luck!
Very powerful piece indeed. I’ve never had kids (by choice), but followed the experiences of my nieces, friends, and know how hard it can be.
Very glad you decided to search for help – one of my sisters, 12 years older than me, suffered from post-partum depression back in the days when no one knew anything about it (in Brazil, 40 years ago). It was very hard, but she only realized it all many many years later. And never talked about the issue with us for a decade or so. It’s sad.
Thank you for opening up about this topic. The more others can realize they’re not alone and help is available and there’s no shame, the better. I don’t have kids at this time, but I believe in talking about mental health issues. I know it takes courage to be public about it. But I’m sure you’ ll help someone by sharing.
And the cherry conserva sounds easy and divine!
Welcome to our world. It’s not a club you’d ever want to join, but once you’re in it you realize the women who are in it too are awesome. Postpartum anxiety is in fact very common, as well as temporary and treatable with professional help. I had it myself, which is one of the reasons I founded Postpartum Progress. Anyway, thank you for sharing your story! Every story helps make a difference for the moms out there who don’t know what’s wrong with them.
YES! So glad you are back in the kitchen some. SO SO SO glad you sought help and it worked. And even more glad that you are writing about it.
This was totally my experience with Will, my now 6 year old and would’ve been my experience with my almost 3 year old but I was older and wiser and got help within the first few days, unlike with Will when I waited until my life had basically devolved into a constant, hell complete with the most insane, terrifying complete insomnia – 9 months after he arrived. Then things improved dramatically and quickly once I sought help and started taking the meds.
Post-partum anxiety needs to be more known out in the world. Crippling in a totally different way from post partum depression but not even a tenth as well-known. And I agree with you about looking out thate window and everything you said. I am going to forward to a friend who just had her first baby in NYC. Good for you!
This is such a beautiful and necessary piece.
I also felt my anxiety helped drive me forward, but after moving to Vegas and having a little meltdown, and going on anti-anxiety meds, I too see how the anxiety hurt my productivity and my sleep.
I am so grateful for the meds and feel like a new human. You describe this so perfectly here, The tree, the sky, the brightness. Yes, exactly.
I am so happy you made it through, my friend. Keep writing these honest, open pieces. People need to read what you write.
Love you. xo
So happy to hear your voice again! I’m glad you feel stronger and in control, the first few months of motherhood are so so tough. Congratulations, it just gets better and better from here.
Glad to hear that you have your life back under control. As a parent, now it will be managed chaos. :)
Curious to know what meds you are taking. I don’t have postpartum anxiety, but I have been anxious my whole life and in my forties I’m feeling like it is almost at the point where I can’t control it anymore. I’ve tried Atavan (which was awesome and made me feel like what I think normal people feel like!) but can’t take that long term, and Buspirone which didn’t do much.
Meredith – I should’ve probably just written about it, but I also think another follow-up post will follow.. but. In short, I’m on Zoloft. Atavan was also prescribed to me, but more for those acute cases where I just needed to get a grip. Atavan is akin to putting a bandaid on a problem; whereas something like an SSRI, which is what Zoloft is, is going after the issue systemically. In retrospect, I should’ve given Zoloft a go years ago, but it took me becoming a mother to realize that I needed something like that. The side-effect I had from Zoloft (something like 16% have this side-effect) is it diminished my milk supply so much that I had to switch to formula for Avi. I didn’t agonize about it, because it was more important for him that I was better than if I was adamant about nursing.
Olga wonderful post and you nailed pp anxiety although I’m terribly sorry it happened to you. I’m a psychologist and had no idea what was happening to me in 04 when I had my first. You are so smart to get help quickly. Love, hugs and peace
I have followed your Instagram and seen pictures of your gorgeous babe. It’s amazing how they grow and thrive despite what may be going on with us. Thank you for sharing your story. It’s incredibly hard to advocate for help when we’re overly anxious or depressed. Like others, my story differed from the usual script. At 9 months, after a forced early weaning, I just felt out of control. I thought I had a chemical imbalance. I asked my PCP for a complete physical, with blood work. It never dawned on me (it never dawned on HER) to think it might be related to postpartum hormonal issues. It took me nearly a year to feel more like myself. Sometimes I think I would have benefited from meds. I look forward to hearing more–on your wellness, your table, and your lovely family. Zay gezunt.
Also, a brutal possibility is having postpartum anxiety AND depression at the same time. Brutal isn’t even cutting it… But I’m glad you’re talking about your experience, because it’s true that PPA was rarely mentioned a couple of years ago (now word is getting out). At the same time, I’m sorry you had to go through this really bad experience… At least you seem all right now! Thank you for sharing! :)
Olga, what a beautiful, heartfelt and poignant post. I was so moved reading this. All the best to you, Andrew and baby Avi. xo
Olga, beautiful post and so glad every thing is getting better for you and that you got the help you were looking for – for you and for Avi. We all walk different roads in motherhood – congrats for being so open about your struggles and hopefully things keep progressing well. And thanks for the recipe for this conserva – looks lovely.
Thanks for writing, and I’m glad you were able to see the problem and find help. I spent so many weeks postpartum telling myself, this is normal, it’s hard, this is just what a newborn is… when I shouldn’t have let it go for so long. I remember seeing your instagram feed with a new baby and that certain edge to your comments that I remembered in myself, and wondering if you had PPA as well (but obviously wasn’t going to comment-diagnose a stranger via instagram posts because I’m not a jerk). And the recipe! Since buying whole milk yogurt for my toddler, there was no going back to any other option and the conserva sounds perfect.
Carly – thanks for your kind words! It was a rough time, for certain, and it’s so interesting to me how everyone could see it, but all I could see, personally, was how HARD everything was and how I was filled with this horrible anxiety that I had made the worst mistake ever. As for not being a jerk :), I’ve encountered far more kindness and generosity of spirit in all this than judgement and meanness. There was one woman who chided me, in the worst way possible, and then I blocked her on instagram, because no need to deal with mean people. It was really great to have an amazing support network – both in person and virtual – and I hope that writing on this may help at least one woman. If it helps more – even better!!
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Thanks for the update and the recipe. The conserva sounds divine. I had some strawberry pie last week and I kept hoping the next bite would be cherry pie, sigh.
Getting through a pregnancy and then the postpartum phase is a huge adventure. I’m so glad you found empathy and resources. Best wishes for the family.
Rami @ Tasteaholics
Wow really simple and looks absolutely delicious. Thank you for the recipe :) Pinned!
Susannah (Lemon and Coconut)
Thanks so much for sharing your story, it’s so important as so many are isolated and experiencing such things. I’m so glad you’re feeling better. What a lucky family you have, so many years of delicious food awaiting them! :)
Incredibly inspiring story.Thanks for having the courage and heart to share.
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Catering Den Haag
This looks like the perfect dessert! Yum! Nice pictures to