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A Story that Begged Me to Write it Down

This past weekend, we were seated at a Bar Mitzvah with some old friends of ours, friends of Josh’s that I inherited through our marriage.  He has known the couple since college.  The husband married us.  When I met them, their oldest child was a toddler.  She was sitting with us at our table, now a teenager, in a hip pair of boots.

We were laughing about a cake decorating class I took about 9 or 10 years ago.  Josh had asked me to get a hobby because all I did was go to work, go to the clinic, and cry.  I would lie on my side, facing the window, and just cry continuously.  He thought it would be good for me to get something to focus on that took me out of the apartment.  I decided on cake decorating because it was a skill I thought would be useful when I finally had a child; I would make amazing birthday cakes.  The classes were a fantastic distraction until we got to the unit on rolled fondant and one of my classmates announced she was pregnant, rubbing her flat belly continuously while the instructor spoke that evening, only six weeks into her pregnancy.

I went in the bathroom to do one of those soundlessly-screaming cries inside one of the stalls.  One of those numbers where you open your mouth like a lamprey and no sound comes out, but the tears are streaming down your cheeks.  Of course my classmate for the class that I was only taking to escape thinking about babies would be pregnant.  Of course.


In order to get the certificate, I had to complete dozens of cakes demonstrating the various skills we were being taught in class.  At first, people were psyched to get my cakes.  Towards the end of the coursework, it was getting harder to move the cakes.  I was making sometimes five a week.  We just didn’t have that many friends who weren’t sick of cake.  My co-workers were starting to hate cake.  Josh’s co-workers were done with cake.

I had to start sneaking people cake.  Trapping them with cake.

I made one boy this monstrosity of chocolate cake with chocolate icing.  His mother had the misfortune of bumping into me at a Chipotle right before class began one night, and I told him about my class and then had Josh deliver Monday’s cake to their house.  I invited over some friends with kids for a Sunday party of… cake!  Their own individual cakes!  Decorated in extra special ways.  One boy got a drawing of a car on top of his cake.  And this girl, our friend’s child who was sitting at the table with us at the Bar Mitzvah, had gotten a white cake with every single flower that I needed to learn for the week all combined on a single cake.  Josh looked at it before they arrived and said, “it looks like a fifteen year old girl vomited all over her Quinceañera cake.”

Imagine, if you will because I’m too lazy to go into my basement and search for the photographic evidence, a four-layer enormous white cake cover in garishly-coloured buttercream flowers; 20 different kinds, none of which go together.  With some basket-stitch icing on the side for good measure.  And olive green leaves and vines snaking around the flowers for “realism.”  And some of the side flowers slid down, leaving streaks of buttercream over the icing, pooling in colourful blobs at the base of the cake.

It really was the most hideously ugly cake of all time.

And that’s what we were laughing about at the Bar Mitzvah.  The hideously ugly cake to end all hideously ugly cakes.

Here is the rest of the story.

Our friend’s daughter had graciously called it beautiful and ate a mound of neon pink roses.  Afterwards, I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, talking with someone, and she crawled over, pretending to be a baby.  She had a new baby sibling who was hanging out in her mother’s arms.  So she crawled into my lap and said, “I’ll pretend to be your baby.”  She had a lanky preschooler’s body, but I held her, and rocked her, and sniffed the top of her blond curls, and pretended for a few minutes that she was mine.  That I had finally reached motherhood.  And then she grew bored of the stillness of being rocked by someone sitting cross-legged on the floor and crawled off to pretend to be a baby doing something else.

Those few minutes of pretend?  How else do you get the desire to stick a needle into your stomach every evening without those minutes of pretend?

So we were laughing at the Bar Mitzvah — the little preschool now this beautiful teenager and the childless woman now the mother of eight-year-old twins — about the hideous cake.  But this was the story in the back of my head while we were talking, the one that wasn’t reminisced, and when I got in the shower the next morning, it is the one that came out in the form of a brief cry for that woman who used to make five cakes a week.  Almost as if it were begging me to write it down.


1 It Is What It Is { 03.07.13 at 8:05 am }

Ah, how bittersweet, but mostly sweet in the re-telling. While, of course it is poignant, I can’t help picturing you feverishly decorating all those cakes! Cake after cake demonstrating skill upon skill. Wow!

2 Kate { 03.07.13 at 9:44 am }

So have you made all the twins birthday cakes with your mad skills? 🙂

3 Chickenpig { 03.07.13 at 9:51 am }

This is a beautiful post.

I think there is a short story in there somewhere 🙂 I think a modern fairy tale, where instead of trying to spin straw into gold, the protagonist has to decorate 100 cakes before dawn. If she does, she gets her wish of being able to have a baby (because she is infertile, natch) but if she doesn’t…she is doomed to decorate cakes in the tiny room for all eternity.

4 YeahScience! { 03.07.13 at 10:06 am }

Omg this is so hilarious, yet so sad! I can totally relate to making ridiculous attempts at distraction while going through IF treatment — one night, I decided I was going to “bring back” string art, which led to a very poorly articulated fox on a piece of corkboard that my husband would barely let into the house, let alone up on the wall. And it’s so true that we have all of these memories, both good and bad, where infertility played some kind of background role that we’ll probably just keep to ourselves forever… sigh…

5 Anne { 03.07.13 at 11:05 am }

Wow. You just made me cry.
I started volunteering at a domestic violence hotline for my infertility distraction. Holy crap, was that a mindfuck! Eventually, I had to quit because I couldn’t sleep on the nights that I volunteered and couldn’t find shelter for women in horrible, dangerous circumstances. At the time, there were only 80 beds for all of San Francisco (800,000 people). It sure did distract me, though.

6 a { 03.07.13 at 11:32 am }

Bittersweet – and it makes me think of holding my own toddler and being grateful for her at the same time I was wishing for a sibling for her…

I am, however, completely useless at decorating cakes. But they taste good, when I make them from scratch.

7 Pepper { 03.07.13 at 11:41 am }

I became obsessed with thrift store shopping. Like if I could just find like-new designer clothes and funky home furnishings for $1, that would somehow make up for not being pregnant. It’s really an odd feeling now when I take my daughter back to the same stores I used to frequent – but now I’m looking for clothes for her.

8 Peg { 03.07.13 at 11:42 am }

Lovely post. sweet and heartbreaking all at once.

When I was in eighth grade we had to take “mini-courses” in our final semester. There were all kinds of fun things like racket ball, acting, etc..My dad was worried I was going to get hit in the head with a racket, so I couldn’t take my first choice. By the time I got around to choosing, I was left with cake decorating.

One of the best things I ever took (at least from the adult perspective) as I’ve made almost every birthday cake in our family, including all the cousins. We talk all the time about cakes from previous birthdays. The kids love to look at the pictures and rank their favorite cakes. I like it’s something that I’ve done for all of them–even Emma and Molly since they were little.

At the time, though, my early teen brain hated it, but I faked it pretty well to my parents. So well, in fact, that my mom gave me one of my worst presents ever for my 14th birthday…a care bear cake pan…I hated that pan. Actually making the cake involved piping hundreds of stars…it sucked. To this day, we all tease my mom about the cake pan.

It was unearthed one year, though, when care bears made a revival and for Molly’s 6th birthday, I made her a care bear cake…this time it was fun.

Sorry for the ramble, but your post brought back some funny memories.

9 Lacie { 03.07.13 at 11:46 am }

I think we can all relate to your cake decorating madness, Mel! I’ve mentioned before that I starting working part-time at Babies R Us while navigating clomid and injectable cycles. I thought it would be a constructive use of my time as I was obsessed with all things baby. It wasn’t a distraction but more like pouring gasoline onto a fire. Ahhh, the good ‘ole days.

And the silent bathroom cry? I hate that [insert explicative] cry.

10 Ana { 03.07.13 at 12:21 pm }

Love this story. Funny how much goes unsaid, but not unfelt.

11 Mary { 03.07.13 at 12:32 pm }

Beautiful. I love that you shared this, and I believe that good thoughts can echo back and have an impact on our past selves. When I was 13, I developed a serious medical condition. My parents called all the family and asked for prayers, good thoughts, etc. I recovered and my autoimmune condition went into remission a few years later, but my parents forgot to tell everyone they could stop praying. I don’t believe those prayers/vibes and the energy that went into them were wasted. I think things like that can reach back and have an impact, however small. So maybe your cry and compassion for your former self in the present reached back somehow and touched that little girl, causing her to intuit that you needed her to be your baby. Or not. Either way, it’s an amazing story.

12 A.M.S. { 03.07.13 at 2:29 pm }

Funny how we all migrated to time-consuming, brain-filling activities during treatment. Perhaps REs should team up with continuing ed programs! I took foreign languages and web design classes. And in the time between the twins’ deaths and trying again, we both threw ourselves into ballroom dancing. You can’t dwell on heartbreak as much when you are trying to remember the steps to the tango.

13 Catwoman73 { 03.07.13 at 2:53 pm }

For me, it was yoga while ttc my dd- I’ve never been so flexible in my life! Cooking took over while ttc #2. And now that we’ve given up the fight, I’m looking for new distractions, so if anyone has any suggestions, I’m all ears! Though all the distractions in the world don’t seem to take away the pain of infertility- its always there, in the back of your mind.

14 Stinky { 03.07.13 at 3:51 pm }

I love this – the two stories woven together, and the description of the flower cake was fab! Yeah, bittersweet, and well-told.

Dammit, I could have helped with all that cake, there’s NEVER enough cake in my life, it feels

15 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.07.13 at 7:50 pm }

Beautiful. I’m right there with you, in the bathroom silently screaming, smelling the blond curls, reminiscing in the back of your mind at the Bar Mitzvah.

I would so take one of your cakes. I could probably take 2 a week off your hands, if you ever study it again and have steady access to dry ice.

16 loribeth { 03.07.13 at 7:53 pm }

I’m with Kate — have you baked cakes for the twins’ birthdays??

17 Lollipop Goldstein { 03.07.13 at 8:16 pm }

I’ve done 8 years worth of cakes for the twins AND I’ve gone around to area schools to teach sugar art to kids. Plus I’ve done a wedding cake and will hopefully get to do another next fall! See, totally helpful thing to study 🙂

18 Mali { 03.07.13 at 11:30 pm }

Mmmmmm, cake.

That was going to be my one line comment, until I got to the end of the story. Beautiful, sad. Yes, I think we’ve all been there with the pretend. I’ve done it with my twin nieces. And it’s very sad to remember that. Hugs.

19 St. E { 03.07.13 at 11:50 pm }

Well, I would have loved your cake…and cakes… and cakesssss!

I am glad your hubby made you get out of the house and do something so creative.

I have pretend-mothered too – only a few minutes, but I did it. I know what takes us to that place. And how the dream shatters.

Glad for the twins in your life.

I was laughing at how the girl crawled (copying her sibling). My neighbour has a kindergartner and toddler twins. The older kid wants to play with everything the twins play with, even though he himself gave up on his own rattles at due age. 🙂

20 Battynurse { 03.08.13 at 12:47 am }

Beautiful post, thanks for sharing.

21 Tiara { 03.08.13 at 8:50 am }

Absolutely beautiful post.

22 idioticinfertility { 03.08.13 at 3:58 pm }

Well shit. That just did me in.

I hope someday I will also be a mother reflecting back on my own sad stories.

23 Amber { 03.08.13 at 11:50 pm }

What a sweet story! I’m so glad you had this once little girl, now teenager, to help motivate you to make your own dreams come true.

24 luna { 03.12.13 at 2:21 am }

such a sweet retelling of the tale.

it brought me instantly to my own borrowed moments. baby nieces and nephews, newborns of friends. inhaling that baby scent atop their tiny heads, feeling their soft hair against my face, caressing that tender soft baby skin, feeling the weight of their little bodies against my own. for those few moments they were mine, in my heart and arms. until they weren’t.

yes I remember it well. so glad you shared this one.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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