From the very first day, his appetite, his hunger appalled her.
He seemed to be just mouth, gaping, rooting mouth, pulling on her nipples, hurting her, hurting her breasts, keeping her stuck in one place, trying to placate his endless need for food, for comfort.
The moment she left the hospital, left behind all those well intentioned, nicely spoken midwives, she ditched any notion of breast feeding. Her breasts belonged to her,not this scrunched up, bright red stranger.
She liked bottle feeding, it was clean, neat, modern. Anybody could be handed the baby and the made up bottle and as the milk drained away from her breasts, she felt her body return to her, smell only of her and not baby and milk and a sweaty warmth, which, although she didn’t tell anyone, turned her very stomach.
The baby was still greedy, still focused on the bottle, the rubber nipple, his breath coming fast as he felt the formula slip down his throat. He didn’t seem to notice her, intent only on filling his hunger.
She was torn, if she allowed him to eat to fullness, he would sleep, not bother her, not get on her wick,but sometimes, only sometimes, she would pull the nipple from his mouth, watch him search blindly for it and as he got older, stretch out a hand,a whole arm to try and grab it back.
It made her feel powerful, important
” I decide how much you eat, baby” she crooned at him, putting the bottle away, still half full and turning up the TV to drown out his cries of outrage and impotence.
Time passed, the baby got bigger, although not perhaps as big as the health visitor expected. She called more often, the girl showed her the tins of formula on the kitchen window sill, the perfectly sterilized row of bottles,
“He doesn’t want to feed” she said ” Look”
and it was true that the baby had adopted a wary approach to the bottles, a sip, a pause, face scrunched up, tiny hands making into tiny fists, waiting.
The health visitor didn’t notice, she suggested weaning, offered a list of simple to prepare first foods.
It made a mess, the baby grabbed at the spoon, covered his face, his bib, his clothes in pale colored goop.
It made a mess in the kitchen, black work surfaces became smeared, sticky.
The girl discovered tiny tin of baby food, tidy, easy to store, easy to control how much he ate. She stored them in a neat pyramid, next to the discarded bottles.
She liked to keep the pyramid complete, tried to make each complete meal last as long as possible. She preferred the ones that made the least mess, left the stains easiest to get out of clothes, particularly her clothes.
The baby tried to feed himself, still so hungry, so greedy. She slapped his hand back, hard and took that meal away, unopened.
The baby didn’t cry much so more, annoyed her less.
Sometimes, when she warmed up a little dish in the microwave, he would forget himself, mouth opening and closing, hands reaching out, but mostly he just lay quietly,waiting for whatever she would give him and she was pleased with his self control.
” Not so greedy now” She would say and sometimes, if he has been particularly good, particularly quiet, she would touch the top of his head with one jeweled,enameled finger nail.