|Enjoying a restaurant spoon--a baby's best friend.|
Henrietta is hungry.
I realized this after about a week of much more fussiness than usual, and waking up about 4,000 times a night.
But let me back up to why this was not immediately clear.
When I got pregnant, it felt like I was required to choose a mothering identity: would I have a natural birth, or a medicated one? And the identity spread out from there: cloth or disposable diapers? Breastfeeding or formula? Babywearing or the opposite of babywearing (whatever that is)? You get the idea. These felt like big decisions, decisions that didn't have to do with the decision themselves so much as who I was. I can say, six months in, that I've ended up rejecting the false opposites here and doing a little of both in almost every case, which is all well and good, unless you're me, and you long for nothing more than to pick one side of the spectrum and endorse it and love it and become it entirely, to enthusiastically give your identity to whatever you're attempting. This, sadly, as much as I long for it, never works for me. Perhaps that's a good thing, but it makes me slow to catch on, and causes a lot of needless guilt.
In the case of feeding Henrietta, here's how it played out: back when we started her on solids, it didn't go well. This was when she was around five months old, and she showed signs of being ready, so I dutifully cooked and mashed and thinned and tried to feed her with a spoon, and the whole affair was miserable--for her and for me. She didn't want it, didn't want anything she tried--banana, sweet potato, avocado--and she eventually pursed her lips together as soon as I set her in her high chair. Because I'm me, I tried to force it: I stressed and sat her down and fought her for several minutes exactly three times a day. I'd had a lot of anxiety about feeding her in the first place, and I thought if I just kept trying, if I just got it right, it would be okay. I knew all the advice about not forcing, so I didn't try for long, but looking back, it's so clear she just wasn't ready. After three days, I gave up, feeling defeated, but sure it was right to wait.
About a week later, we were heading to California to visit my family, and I was trying to finish packing and get her out the door by myself. I had bought some baby crackers and I handed her one to keep her occupied, and she was confused at first, but then thrilled. She gummed that puppy into oblivion, and was so happy doing it. A few days later, on a beach in California, my mother offered her an apple core, and she loved it. I mean, she really loved it. And we concluded that part of the issue was that she wanted to do it herself, wanted to feed herself, which wasn't surprising considering the rest of her personality.
When we got home, based on a friend's recommendation, I bought this book on Baby-Led Weaning--which should really be called Baby-Led Solids--an approach that advocates skipping purees altogether, and makes a pretty compelling case for it. (If this sounds insane slash dangerous, the website has good information that may put your mind at ease?) This method was much more joyful. I'd make my lunch or breakfast, then set out slices of cucumber or pepper or apple or fingers of toast, and we'd eat together. She had a lot of fun trying things, and it was beautiful to watch her select each item and eat it enthusiastically, holding it up in the air triumphantly before shoving it into her mouth, stopping occasionally to look up at me and grin. She tried a lot of stuff this way, and I was feeling good about it, and then last week happened.
Last week was rough. I prayed to know how to help her. (Motherhood has turned me into a more earnest pray-er than I've been in years.) And one morning late in the week, I woke up worrying about her, and I had this clear God-thought: She's hungry.
It took me a few days to process this, but it began to make sense. It might be one thing if we were offering her food at every meal, but we honestly don't sit down all together and have baby-friendly stuff at every meal, so she was missing some of them. A lot of our meals are on the run, and some days she'd only have milk. And as hard as she worked on eating what we set out for her, she only has two little teeth, so I don't think she was getting all that much. They say this isn't a big deal, since babies her age aren't relying on the nutrition from solids yet. But I'll tell you what: I think she was relying on that nutrition, and she wasn't getting enough of it.
Today she cried for most of the day, which is not at all like her. I tried to nurse her; we tried to get her to nap; we took her on a walk and set out new toys to entertain her, and still she cried. When I put out dinner for her, she dug in with gusto, and though she got quite a bit, she still seemed hungry, so I pulled out the box of baby cereal I had never opened, mixed a little with formula, and fed her some. She ate it. She ate a lot of it. She seemed grateful, and still took her night-time bottle, and ended up falling asleep while her dad fed her. I have not seen her that peaceful in days. Maybe we'll still have a rough night, but I'm thinking it's going to be better.
I mean, here's the thing, baby-led solids is great. We'll keep doing it. We'll keep offering her food we're eating, confident she can handle it, and I assume she'll continue to be amused and into it. That is an awesome aspect of this approach: I'm now confident she can handle a range of foods, and (with a few exceptions) happy to give her whatever she's interested in trying. But the point is, I don't have to choose! What a revelation! I can give her some purees. I can give her solids. The point is to feed my baby. The point is to do what works for us, and--I suppose not surprisingly--that's a combination of approaches.
I think it speaks so clearly to this longing I have, this longing for some kind of specific identity, some orthodoxy I can attach to. If I were going to do baby-led solids, I wanted to do baby-led solids, you know? I thought I had to make it a part of my mothering identity. I perhaps ignored signs that she wasn't getting enough because of that longing to be able to say this is Who We Are, not just how we feed our baby sometimes. I've felt guilty about this, even though Sam has tried to tell me it's okay, that we know what's wrong now, that we fixed it as soon as we realized it, that we're not bad people or parents.
I've done this with other aspects of mothering: I thought I had to be a Baby-Wearing Mom, but I've realized neither of us like it for long, and I am still too physically weak (from months of bed rest) to carry her for long, so we do it now when it's needful or convenient and stop when it isn't. I breastfed exclusively until it became clear (at around two months) that she was fussing all day because she was starving (a theme?), and I became a mom who supplemented with one bottle of formula before bed, and I hereby testify that our entire little family became happier after that change. I'm sure there are more examples, especially outside the realm of motherhood ...
This evening, whispering over a sleeping Henrietta, we talked about it again, and I told Sam about this idea, that my desire to have a clear mothering (and general) identity makes me slow to figure things out.
And he said, "I'll tell you what your identity is: You're Deja."
"Yeah, but I never know what that means."
"Well, I can tell you one thing. It has nothing to do with how you feed her," he said.
I think he's right, though motherhood is so all-consuming that it doesn't feel that way. Is it just me, or does our culture's attitude about it only pretend to account for individual mothers with individual babies?
All of this is good for me. It's another thing that motherhood is teaching me. It's teaching me that though I'm this strange hybrid creature--one who longs fiercely for orthodoxy but ultimately complicates it (hello, marriage to someone outside my faith, among other evidence), that this is okay. That maybe I can long less fiercely for a unified identity. That full bellies and happy babies are more important than a unified identity. That complicated identities are perhaps just fine. They're maybe even lovely.
|Springtime Baby Picnic|