Seeking the like-minded

I’ve read that some parents who go through a stillbirth want to move immediately to restart their lives. When I was pregnant with Genevieve, we actually were talking about moving for a job opportunity. As soon as she died, we dropped talk of the move because I imagined becoming a recluse in a new city. I was only leaving the house — reluctantly — because my friends invited me out. And I liked having around a lot of people who remembered Genevieve. Still, I sometimes recognize why people would choose to move.

I took the kids to their favorite park this morning. It’s far from our house, so we typically don’t see people we know. A few minutes after we arrived, I saw a familiar mom, though I don’t know her name. Her daughter had gone to the same preschool and gymnastics place as Eleanor. I originally met her the summer that I was pregnant with Genevieve. Our girls would work on their puzzles side by side at the library each week. After I had Genevieve, she was one of the few relative strangers who talked to me about it. Now, I always feel happy to see her. She doesn’t know my name, but she knows that I have another daughter.

Later, I saw another familiar stranger. Her son went to the same preschool as Eleanor. I had also seen her at a barre exercise class a few months ago, as well as out running errands in her pint-size SUV. I had commented to Greg that it was strange she still drove that tiny SUV. She had two sons when Eleanor was in preschool, and she was due with a daughter the summer before Eleanor began kindergarten. How was she fitting three carseats in that thing? “Maybe something happened,” Greg said. I waved him off.

At the park today, she had only the two boys. I watched for a while, waiting to see a daughter toddle past. Nope. I already had Genevieve on my mind from the earlier encounter, and I wanted to approach this mom. Eleanor began preschool after I had Genevieve, so none of the parents there had known our story. What if I asked about the daughter and she had died? I should keep my mouth shut. But if her daughter had died, wouldn’t she be grateful to find another mom who understood? I expected to be able to somehow see the loss on her face, and I couldn’t.

Eleanor and Henry ran to play in the same area as her kids. I took off my sunglasses.

“It is you,” she said. “I couldn’t tell for sure with the sunglasses.”

She was with a friend, and she said they had just been complimenting my hairstyle. She asked about Henry, who had been a tiny nugget the last time she saw him. I pointed him out. At this point, the question begged to be asked.

“I hope you don’t mind my asking, but the last time I saw you, you were pregnant…” I began.

“Yes,” she said, starting to laugh. “We sold her off!” she joked. “No, she’s at home with my husband, napping. She’s 15 months and doing all sorts of adorable things.”

I smiled and got out of there as quickly as I could. I almost told her that my own daughter had died. I stopped myself. The implication would be clear. How ugly that would sound to her, my assumption that her daughter had died.

Sometimes I do feel like an ugly person for hoping to find other parents who have lost a baby. But then I also like to find parents with 6-year-old children and with boisterous toddlers, people who can understand this phase of life. I’m not wishing for babies to die. I’m merely hoping to find resonance.

Instincts, always instincts

A few weeks ago, Greg and I danced a jig when Eleanor got her report card. We found a little flyer tucked in the report card that congratulated her for her perfect attendance in the first quarter. This is huge for our family. Six months ago, the school was sending us warnings about how Eleanor had missed too much school.

The asthma medication she has been taking has improved her health so much. I’m reluctant to say it because I fear that I will jinx us. Is this what parenting is like with healthy kids?

From the age of two, Eleanor had been sick all of the time. She was perpetually coming down with a runny nose, fever, and terrible coughing. It was always symptoms of a severe cold, so nothing that a doctor could fix. We went through a lot of Tylenol and a lot of juice. When I told other parents that our child was sick all the time, they nodded knowingly. Yup, kids get sick a lot.

Eleanor was our first child, so I had no way of knowing what was normal. I pondered how other parents were managing to hold down jobs and raise three or even four kids. I sensed that other kids weren’t sick nearly as often as my own, but I didn’t live with those families. I didn’t see when they were running to the doctor.

The older Eleanor got, the more I felt that something else was going on. Other parents commented about how eventually her immune system would be stronger. Yet, she seemed to be getting sick more frequently, not less. In the span of three months last winter and spring, she had the flu, pneumonia, and strep throat. At the end of the school year, one of Eleanor’s friends received an award for perfect attendance. I wanted to cry. Eleanor had missed 18 days of school.

Finally, the doctor figured out that she had chronic asthma. All of those symptoms — the fever and runny nose and coughing — are asthma symptoms. Greg and I were reluctant to start her on another daily medication beyond her allergy regimen. Now, I am so grateful for that medication. Eleanor’s only visits to the doctor recently have been for a broken wrist. That’s such a small thing for us!

I’m always hesitant to disclose my children’s health issues, but I think it’s important for other parents to hear that their instincts are right. The spectrum of what is considered normal for health and behavior is very broad. It is hard to know, particularly with your first child, if things are okay. I wish that we had found an answer for Eleanor sooner but am so relieved to have one now.

A lot of people talk about how parenthood teaches you humility. I think more than that, I have learned empathy. I do sometimes question why our family is handed these challenges. After losing a child, we should get a free pass on everything else. Still, I know that other families have it harder than we do, and I feel solidarity with them, over and over and over again.

Cake (and other good stuff) without eggs

Henry turned two last weekend. When it was time to sing “Happy Birthday,” I debated whether to light the candles on his cupcake. I had no memory what we had done for Eleanor. Frankly, what we had done for Eleanor was irrelevant. In the past week, my son had run his strider bicycle head-on into a wall and sprayed himself in the eyes with bug spray and dislocated an elbow. Greg, ever the optimist, said the two little candles would be fine.

Henry immediately reached for that beautiful light, burning his finger. And then we launched into the singing. Henry’s lower lip quivered. I wasn’t sure whether he was crying about the burn or the singing or the cupcake sitting in front of him that we wouldn’t let him touch. No doubt toddler curses were flying through his head.


I think he forgave us when he finally got to eat the cupcake. All of this is to say that the cupcakes were good, even without eggs (Henry is allergic.). For his first birthday, I had made a chocolate-avocado cake, which had been fine but not outstanding. I have learned a lot in the past year about egg-free baking, and I thought I’d share for other bakers.

I’ve been frustrated in looking for recipes without eggs because inevitably they are on vegan baking sites. I’m not anti-vegan. Baking with natural sugars and whole grains can add a lot of flavor and texture. But sometimes I want to bake a birthday cake — a rich, decadent ode to sugar and butter.

Many standard cake, muffin, and cookie recipes turn out wonderfully with ground flax. Mix one tablespoon flax with three tablespoons water for each egg you need to replace. I’ve read that you need to let this rest for 30 minutes, but I’ve baked without the rest time and had no problems. Be sure to mix your flax really well with your other ingredients because it can taste bitter if you hit a spot that hasn’t been mixed.

Without the eggs, my goodies turn out slightly less lofty and golden. I try to choose recipes that have a little extra something in them — bananas, pumpkin, oats — that works with the more dense texture. Here are a few recipes that have worked with flax:

Sweet potato cake via Smitten Kitchen
I made this for Henry’s birthday with a cinnamon buttercream. The marshmallow frosting is obviously a no-go. Sigh.

Salted chocolate chunk cookies via Smitten Kitchen
Yeah, pretty hard to ruin these. And flax means you can eat the dough without worry.

Maple pumpkin muffins and maple-sweetened banana muffins via Cookie and Kate.
These two similar recipes are healthy, but they are also delicious. My kids ate these whole wheat muffins without complaint.

Oatmeal cookie pancakes via Joy the Baker
Breakfast can be one of the toughest meals. No scrambled eggs. No French toast. Sometimes I want to do better than a bowl of cereal.

I’m always on the hunt for new recipes, particularly cakes because so many of them call for a half-dozen eggs. Is it wrong of me to secretly hope that my favorite food bloggers give birth to children with egg allergies? I’m pretty sure that’s wrong.

If anyone has managed to make good eggless brownies, let me know. Mine were inedible. We ate them anyway because we don’t waste chocolate in this house.