It was Sunday morning and I stood at the door to the church nursery, trying to peel my toddler off my leg so that I could make a quick escape.
This particular morning from nearly 20 years ago sticks in my mind for one reason: I was also dropping off another child, the same age as mine, who was staying with my family for a week. My child - who had been in this same nursery several times before and who was familiar with the staff and who always ended up having fun playing with the other children - my child clung to me, reluctant to leave and join the other kids. But the other toddler - who had never been to our church before and who knew no one there - he marched right into the room without looking back.
I felt terrible. Why couldn't my kid make the hand-off as easy as this other little boy? I began apologizing to the nursery staff.
One of the nursery workers, a pediatric nurse by profession, interrupted my embarrassed apology. "Your child is only showing proper emotional attachment, and that's a good thing. He knows who his momma is, and he doesn't want to leave you. Buddy, on the other hand, is so used to being cared for by so many different people that he goes with equal ease to any adult." She turned from Buddy and helped peel my son off my leg, continuing to comfort me over his loud protests. "Don't ever apologize because your kids know who their mother is."
Oh. I'd never thought of it that way.
That incidence comes to mind because, in the past week, I've seen pictures on Facebook of several different little babies (3-4 months old) holding their own bottles and feeding themselves. Pictures with captions like, "So proud of my baby! Drank the whole bottle all by himself!"
Now, while I can definitely understand a young mother's elation at finally being able to feed and quiet a fussy baby without having to tie up the mom's time and hands for 20 minutes, I found those pictures disquieting. Why? Because I remember when my babies were little, and we'd be at family gatherings, and I'd be sitting in the front living room nursing a baby while all around me on the floor - propped up in bouncy seats or on pillows - other little babies were sucking away at bottles with no one holding them. The first child I fed with a bottle was Number 4, and by then I had learned that, yes, no matter how busy I was and how much I didn't want to be interrupted, it was indeed possible to stop what I was doing long enough to sit down, hold the baby, and feed him a bottle. Not one of my babies ever drank a bottle on their own. They DID learn to drink out of sippy cups without assistance - but by then, they were also sitting in a highchair at the table, gathered with the rest of the family.
I think it is interesting that God has hard-wired humans so that the natural means of feeding a baby involves physical closeness, eye contact, and, almost always, verbal communication as the mother soothes and bonds with her baby through the "conversation" of coos and lullabies. (As opposed, say, to cows or kangaroos, where nursing does not involve eye contact or conversation.) If a baby is bottle fed instead of breast fed, I think the feeding experience should pattern as closely as possible that of nursing. No, it is not something to celebrate when a tiny baby can lie in a playpen alone and drink his fill without the warm touch and soft voice of his mother. That is just very, very sad.
It's almost like God knew we would be busy, that we would want just a few more minutes to finish folding the laundry or cooking dinner. He tied the milk jugs to us with skin, so that we couldn't detach them and leave them with the baby in the crib. He put them in just the right place so that our babies would see our faces and hear our voices.
We are so quick to think of bottles and boobs as all about food. Our design seems to indicate that God thinks the milk source is more about nurturing, about knowing who we are, about knowing whose we are.
5 days ago