Illustration by Emily Chu.
The first few weeks of my daughter’s life register in my mind like a prolonged episode of jet lag: a hazy blur of diaper changes and bleary-eyed attempts to arrange nursing pillows. I’ve retained general impressions of moving through time and space, but have few memories with clear edges.
There were strange dawns spent holding her on the futon, half-asleep, unsure of whether or not she wanted to be awake. The days were bright and hot, and seemed to bleed into each other on an endless loop.
Some of the new sensory experiences of the postpartum period were intensely delightful: the milky smell of my daughter’s mouth, the sensation of her tiny cheek pressed to my chest, the contented noises she made when calm. But many of them were intensely unpleasant. It was a physically challenging time of broken sleep; a sore, healing body; and new, unfamiliar demands of every kind.
Nursing at hours that I shudder to remember having been awake, I was parched and ravenous in a way that was familiar to me only from long-distance running. It required odd forms of nourishment—mainly in the form of snacks I could eat one-handed. There were a lot of Larabars and even more bananas. One night, at 3 a.m., my husband ordered a two-pound bag of teriyaki beef jerky for us online. Somehow, it was gone within the week. By the time we deflated and stored the yoga ball we had spent months bouncing on with aching backs while holding our daughter, I hoped to never see it again.
Some of my most vivid and joyful memories of this disorienting time are of the meals my friends generously dropped off for me. During a period of exhaustion, intense hunger and heightened hormones, the normally pleasant experience of eating a nourishing meal registered as an acute pleasure—one I haven’t forgotten years later.
My daughter was born in the summer of 2020, at the height of pandemic lockdown. By the time she arrived, our midwives were the only people outside of my family to have set foot in our apartment for months. New baby aside, it was a stressful, isolated and surreal time. We had always taken pleasure in cooking for ourselves. But even before becoming parents, things had gotten kind of strange. Like many people in the early days of the pandemic, we’d started buying enormous quantities of food in fewer trips to the shop, stockpiling dried beans and canned tomatoes—a habit I still haven’t quite managed to shake. In late pregnancy, while the rest of the world discovered sourdough, I found I had less and less energy to cook. Then, with a newborn in the house, there wasn’t a chance of anyone cracking open a cookbook.
When friends came by to drop off meals in those early postpartum days, I sometimes managed to greet them in our garden, unshowered and dishevelled in my bathrobe. We donned our masks and stood six feet apart. There were no hugs to be had, and no one held our new daughter. Instead, we lifted her up, Simba-style, for admiration. We laughed, but it was lonely and, perhaps most of all, uncanny.
After these awkward meet-and-greets, we’d stumble inside and feast on our friends’ deliveries. I can remember the tastes with an intensity that accompanies few other meals of my life. The surprising tanginess of Katie’s red lentil soup, the richness of Sarah’s creamy eggplant lasagne, the umami of Anna’s tofu stir-fry, the silky texture of Brendan’s Korean seaweed soup: These meals were the embrace we couldn’t have and left me feeling nourished, both physically and emotionally. Emina’s tomatoey lamb stew felt like a direct antidote to the pain of childbirth. The spiciness of Alex and Sarah’s enchiladas gave me a kick of energy. Sheer’s roasted veggies and grain bowls fed us for days, and she dropped off a gingery loaf cake that spoke to an almost spiritual inner need I didn’t know I had.
These thoughtful, nutritive deliveries were the greatest gifts possible for a new parent. My friends are incredible cooks, which no doubt helped, but the delight of these meals had less to do with the food itself than the generosity behind them, matched with my overwhelmed postpartum state. In the mornings when my mom heroically came by at five to hold my daughter so I could get a couple of hours of sleep, I’d often wake up to scrambled eggs with chard and a bit of melted cheese. One morning, it tasted so good that I cried.
If there is a perfect postpartum food, it is something warm, iron- and protein-rich and hearty in palate and spirit: nutrient-dense comfort food. Now, when my friends have babies, I try to bring them something that fits the bill, buoyed by the knowledge that just about any meal delivered in the spirit of help will do the trick.
This recipe, adapted from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen version, is a favourite for postpartum meals. Drop off with crusty bread and a chunk of pecorino cheese to grate on top for serving and transport in containers you don’t mind never seeing again. Check with your friends about how best to deliver—you don’t want to knock in case someone is miraculously sleeping!
Subscribe to our newsletters for our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers.