I remember the first time Gaby gave Biet a bottle. She was just a few months old and we had been trying for ages to get her to drink from one. I was pumping away each day, hoping that somehow the breast milk would end up in the tummy of my teeny tiny daughter. But all day and all night, all this baby girl of mine wanted to do was to nurse nurse nurse, and she wouldn't let a synthetic nipple touch her pretty mouth. So every morning I gave my pumped milk to another new Mama, whose brand new baby boy was having latch issues. And Gaby watched as I fed our daughter meal after meal from my bosom, amazed and delighted at our strong nursing relationship, but also feeling a little sad about his powerlessness at fulfilling such a basic need of hers. When she cried for milk, he could do nothing to console her, and it was hard on him.
Each week Gaby would come home with yet another bottle or fancy nipple to try, hoping that one of them might work. Every time he had to run to the store for a swaddle or diaper cover or baby accessory, he would come home with a new bottle and nipple set, guaranteed by the salesperson to work for fussy babies. But they didn't work, not the glass bottles which I had dreamt of using exclusively, nor the plastic ones, nor the natural rubber nipples. Not the wide mouth bottles nor the easy-flow ones nor the tilted ones. Nothing. She only wanted the real thing. I was scheduled to return to work soon, and we were getting desperate.
I told Gaby to stop buying bottles. We had dozens spilling out of our cupboards. Nothing worked. I was sure that Biet was simply too small; I hoped that she would take a bottle when she was ready, but that day never seemed to come. We stopped trying for a while. And then Gaby, who's never one to give up on anything, came home with this. And, to my astonishment, she drank the milk down. She rested on her Papa, a wee little thing nestled into his forearm, and sucked away her warm milk until her eyes were closed and she was deep in slumber. And oh Gaby's face. He looked like he might cry and kiss her to death at the same time. He was so proud, so accomplished, so selfless. He told me that the feeling of being able, finally, to nourish his daughter, to quench her hunger, to give her peace and satisfaction, was like nothing he had ever felt. He was in heaven.
Over the months, Gaby mastered his Papa duties one by one, each accomplishment bringing more fatherly pride than the last. Swaddling, Dr. Karp's 5 S's, cloth diapering, co-showering, baby-wearing, food preparation, mealtime with solids, outfit-coordinating, playground etiquette, and singing her to sleep. Biet came to prefer many of her Papa's ways over her Mama's, and now she really truly needs him- a lot of him. And I think the feeling is mutual.
When I peeked in Biet's room the other day and saw Gaby, sitting still in the big Victorian armchair with Biet's sleeping face plopped on his shoulder, I noticed that same expression on his face from the very first time he ever fed her. He glanced over at me through the glass of the french doors and smiled a smile of compassion, serenity, victory, and love, all rolled into one. His shoulder belongs to Biet now. To her it is the softest pillow in the world. And I'm sure that no matter how many layers Gaby has on, that shoulder will never be quite warm enough without a certain little girl's head dreaming away on it.
** the winner of the Gardner & the Gang giveaway is Rebecca O. Congratulations Rebecca! **