Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Who makes bath time so much fun?

A month or two before my wife’s due date, we attended a breastfeeding class. During the class we spent several videos demonstrating good latches, correct holds, other assorted nursing techniques. Rarely, have I been in a room with a bunch of strangers looking at breasts without the smell of vanilla and stale cigarettes in the air.

Much of the class focused on how beneficial breastfeeding was. Research has shown that children who were breastfed for at least 6 months are smarter, have fewer ear infections, are less likely to be obese, love their mother more, never take illicit drugs, always drive the speed limit, and never get picked last at recess. Other than the obvious health benefits, nursing also gives mother and child a chance to bond. They have skin-to-skin contact. They have hours of one-on-one time each day without anyone or anything else competing for attention.

Towards the end of the class the instructor cheerfully said: “Now guys, I know the question you have all been waiting to ask…”

(What if the baby accidentally latches on to me? How did you convince us to spend $100 to spend three hours watching videos of women breastfeeding? Can we make cheese from breast milk? I have nipples, can you milk me?)

“…how can YOU bond with your baby if the mother is the only one feeding.”

Okay, that is a good one too. Actually, it was an important question that I had thought about asking. It seems to me that the simple act of nursing is a powerful bonding mechanism between mother and child. Bottles, for all their wonderful convenience and simplicity, are cold, lifeless. When nursing, the baby is held tightly against the bare chest. They feel the mother’s warmth, they smell their skin, they learn their unique taste and texture. How in the world can a father replicate that kind of experience?

“Bathing,” said the instructor. “Fathers should bath their child. It is a great way to bond.”

Okay. Great. I can do that, I thought. I was now the DB. Designated Bather. I started to look up correct newborn bathing techniques. I bought all the right hooded towels and soft washcloths. I was read to be the DB.

But there was one thing wrong. The instructor was apparently playing a mean joke on all the fathers. The first time I gave my daughter a bath she pooped in the water twice, she screamed through the entire experience, I banged my knee against the bathtub, and our bathroom ended up looked like a typhoon hit it. Also, I don’t think she ended up much cleaner than when she started. This was NOT the same peaceful, loving, bonding experience that my wife was having 12 times a day.

But I persisted. The next time she only pooped in the water once. And then next time she pooped on the floor as my wife was carrying her to the bathtub. We were making progress. My daughter hated being bathed. I imagined that, instead of this being a father daughter bonding experience, this was turning into something that would scar her for life. I imagined her at 35 years old telling her therapist that about her irrational fear of water and uncontrollable hatred of her father. The only way we could get her to stop screaming while she was in the water was if she was sucking on my wife’s pinkie finger. She wasn’t even bonding with my pinkie.

Sometimes I would brave the screams and bath her alone, sans wife pinkie. Did not always turn out well. But I think I have finally broken her. She hasn’t pooped in her bath for weeks, maybe months. We no longer need to have a finger in her mouth to prevent her from crying. I gave my daughter a bath yesterday after she peed on her face (long story) and she actually STOPPED crying once she got in the water, and stayed quiet through the entire bath. At one point, she shot me a smile. I smiled back. Was she enjoying this? Maybe she was starting to trust that I wasn’t going to let her fall into the water. Maybe she was getting used to the feel of my hands and the washcloth. I think that maybe we have finally formed a little bond of the bathtub.

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