I really didn’t think I could screw up any further, but I often underestimate myself.
A couple months in to the solo babydaddying gig, I thought I had my deal down pat. We had a routine which involved long walks with all sorts of complicated baby equipment. I wore two natural rubber pacifiers on my left hand, a sort of ‘baby daddy bling’, had the Bjorn baby carrier on my chest, the Ergo baby carrier around my waist, the Uppababy stroller in gear with an attached toy-strip that wrapped around the stroller roll-bar, a fully stocked diaper bag with a porta-poop mat on the lower deck of the stroller, and the special pocket filled with bottles, chilled breast milk, and supplementary canisters of formula, should the need arise.
That’s right, formula. We feed the baby formula, and we are not ashamed.
Breast milk is good stuff, no doubt. Yes it is a perfectly balanced nutrition plan for infants- just the right measures of fats, carbohydrates and protein for little hairless monkeys. There are fancy technical reasons to prefer it over formula, one huge one being that it contains the mother’s antibodies for infectious diseases, an abstraction that came vividly into focus the week we all got the stomach flu, expelling wretchedness out of all ends. This is an affliction that requires hours of gut wrenching speculation about which orifice about should be pointed toward the toilet bowl. The ‘Flush and Flip’ I’ve heard it called. We all lost weight that week.
Problem was, the baby was a little on the thin side. Not because of the flu- she did spit up pretty good, but we put her on the boob* for a good 12 hours straight, and she ended up fine- but possibly because I was so worked up over dumping so much milk that I was paying more attention to conserving it, rather than making sure she ate enough.
Now, I wasn’t starving her or anything, but the pediatrician did say she could use a few more ounces, which we, as sleep deprived parents of an infant heard as “We’re sending in Child Services because you are AWFUL FUCKING PEOPLE, how could you DO THIS TO YOUR OWN FUCKING CHILD?!?!?.” We are much better now that she is sleeping through the night, thank you.
While all the goodness of breast milk is well deserved, there is a point when you need to let it go. In fact, parenting is an enormously effective exercise in letting go of being ‘right’ although the process can be painful. Sometimes the person who really needs to be right is a petulant 13-year old who always got picked last in gym class. Of course, I could be speaking only for myself on this one.
ANYWAY, we bit the bullet and purchased formula, a move that we at the time equated with the same gravitas as dropping her off with her senile, meth-addled, wheel-chair bound insane auntie who lived in a trailer park with her PTSD veteran boyfriend Rick on our way out to Hit it Big in Vegas. Paranoia sucks.
We did our formula homework. We studied ingredient lists meticulously. We even considered making our own organic formula from the Nourishing Traditions primer.
“Where the fuck do you even get the reproductive stigma and styles of the Himalayan Crescent Flower?!?” I asked, “Is there a website or something?”
“Either grow some boobs or suck it up.”, replied the Missus, “You’re the one who’s got to cry over spilled milk.”
We settled on some organic brand with a name carefully crafted to soothe paranoid parents, “ Nature’s Whole Earth Balance” or some such bs. We studied the ingredient list meticulously.
“Coconut oil?”, I said, “Really? That seems like a weird thing to put in breast milk.”
Back to the thread. I was walking back home after the morning outing with the Bean. We had visited the library, seen our people at the coffee shop, watched the children at the playground in a very instructional way, and were now coming up the stairs to our rent controlled apartment, her just shaking off the morning nap and getting ready for a feed, me gripping the stairway hand rail like death, should a dog materialize via Star Trek beam and somehow send us toppling down the stairs. I hadn’t shaken off the Grandma incident quite yet.
“Are you hungry Boo?” I asked her, “Yes, very nice it’s time to eat!” I extolled to her in a fake French accent, because that’s how we do.
I still had her breast milk in a bottle, and I was mixing up a bit of formula to supplement her feed. The pediatrician suggested mixing the two to get her used to the flavors. We had a routine in which we gradually flipped the measure of the breast milk/formula ratio more towards the latter as the day went on.
We used a good amount of breast milk that day. Our routine tended towards many outings, walks to the park, visits to the library and various cameos up and down Clement street, the breast milk would get a bit shook up just from the vibrations of the stroller. I was prepared for this – I now understood that the little accretions of stuff on the sides of the bottle were just mom-butter and mom-butter is actually wonderful stuff for a growing child.
“She can go ahead and eat the globs” I said out loud to myself, mostly because I needed someone to talk to, and I was the only available person who spoke English. “That sort of stuff is good for her”. I had her on my lap, cross-legged on the couch, in the proper nurturing position that Mom had read about in one of the books. Things went fine for a while, until the plug occurred.
To understand the plug, we need to note that the people that make bottles are clever. I don’t know how they organize the whole deal- the mass-production of silicon nipples- but each of them has a hole small enough to mimic the milk flow of an actual breast, or so parents are assured.
Here’s the problem- the holes are small. Small enough to easily get clogged by chunks of butter, and if you are bottle-feeding your kid, you watch the little chunk slowly slip down the inner side of the nipple, plug the pore, and begin the skin-tightening panic reaction that precedes a Howling.
“Shit!” I said to my alter-ego, the one who lives in a parallel universe without an infant, “How the fuck am I going to fix this?!?”
I needed an answer really quickly. The kid was Howling, AGAIN. I decided on force.
I stuck the nipple in my mouth and sucked hard enough to dislodge the chunk of butter, dragging along a measure of her food into my mouth.
“Hmmm,” I thought “ I guess they really do put a lot of coconut in the formula, ‘cause it sure is sweet. Or maybe that’s justththtbbbtbtbt!!!“
I suddenly realized I was eating breast milk, freaked out, and spit it out, messily, spattering the baby with chunks of her food. I immediately felt bad, and then remembered how much of my life was dedicated to cleaning up all the milk she puked on me. I relaxed.
“All cleared up, kid”, I said “Want to keep eating?”
She did, and we did, until the second chunk of butter slid down the side of the nipple.
Now, whenever the Missus tries to patiently explain to me something that I feel I already know, my stock response is “You know I have a college degree, right?” It falls flat here though.
I have a degree in biology. Anyone with a degree in science- an actual technical deal, mind you, not social science or some such Freudian bullshit- will be inordinately proud that they finished said degree, because it is fucking hard and technical and complicated and they still remember both Calculus and Statistics and had a notion that if they made it through those classes, they would somehow be rich. When the money isn’t forthcoming, they hold on to some measure of intellectual superiority to replace it, insisting they are correct in all circumstances as a replacement for all the money they were promised.
I am such a person, to no end of annoyance to the Missus. Even when she is gone and I have no one to argue with, I still insist I am right to the Cat.
“I don’t think you understand”, I’ll say to him, “ But you have a brain the size of a walnut. I forgive you. “
If I were right all the time, and my expensive and difficult education did shit, I would’ve understood these very simple facts:
- If you are trying to avoid eating more breast milk by blowing into a very small nipple hole, you will end up pressurizing the container.
- If you remove said pressurized container from your mouth, it will be pressurized. Duh.
- It may not be obvious at first- what is escaping while the bottle is air, while it is upright.
- It will become obvious when you point the bottle downward, toward the baby.
Don’t have reasonable aim, either, if you can avoid it. A baby’s face is pretty small, and I do need to say my aim is almost true. I managed a steady hand. I assessed the situation quickly, locked her in my crosshairs, and sent a steady stream of nourishment directly into her right eyeball.
Dunston Baby Language- a DVD that purports to be able to help translate infant gurgling into actual language, will have me believe I should have understood that “AHHHHHHHHGGGGHHRRGH” meant “WHATTHEFUCKAREYOUDOINGDAAAAAADTHISISFUCKINGINNNAPPPPPPROPRIATE!” or some nonsence that these folks use to fleece desperate new parents. I kind of got the point. I don’t think you get to spare your child any pain- you just get to ride the same roller-coaster they do, designed and built by parents without degrees in roller-coaster-building. Anyone who tells you different is lying to you, exploiting your desperate need to hold on to a former world that once was in your control, your groping for a fountain of youth to bring you back to a time when things last made sense, when you weren’t captaining a baby barge through a fog of zero visibility.
Still, the silence- when it comes- is golden.
* And by “we” I mean the Missus. I had been gone for three straight days for a Yoga Teacher Training retreat, came back, and promptly fell out puking for 24 hours. After doing all household duties for another 2 days, she woke me up around midnight for her puke session. She kept on asking how long this hell lasted, as none of us had slept this little since the baby was born, and we weren’t even puking then. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, so I kept on saying “ Soon, really soon.” When she yacked for the last time the following afternoon, I said “Now it’s REALLY over. You’re done. It fits the timeline.” She said “Thank Fucking God, I’m SO fucking tired, I could not DO this again!”, seconds before the baby puked copiously all over her front. She started wailing and crying, sat in her chair, and slapped the kid on the boob, sobbing into her hand. I love my Missus.