Mel needed to use the restroom, so she handed me Aspen, our one-month-old baby. She'd just got finished feeding the baby. She was swaddled in a green blanket, her eyes were closed. And as I held her, she looked content, and soft, her little mouth in an O shape.
Then she opened her eyes, saw that I was holding her, and started crying. I bounced her. I tried to burp her. I swung her in my arms. Changed her bum. Nothing. She was pissed. It was always like this with Aspen. Whenever I hold her, she cries.
At first I assumed it was because I didn’t have boobs. Well… I take that back. I do have man boobs. I wouldn’t say that I’m fat, but I wouldn’t say that I’m fit either. I’m sure that a training bra would do, but that’s beside the point. I suppose what I should say is that I don’t have plumbing. I don’t have milk. They say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I’ve never really subscribed to that idiom, but I wondered if it could be said that the way to a baby’s heart is through breast milk.
I think part of the problem was that this was the first time Mel had ever stuck it out with breastfeeding one of our children. Aspen was our third child. Mel tried to breastfeed Tristan, our first, but had to go back to work after a short six-week maternity leave. So we ended up using formula. With Norah, our second child, Mel breastfed for about two months, but then a tumor was found in Mel’s jaw, and the medication she had to take ruined her milk. Once again, we were back to the bottle.
I know that many parents have strong feelings about breastfeeding and how it compares to bottle-feeding. But that is not what I’m trying to argue here. However, what I will say is that bottle-feeding helped me to feel closer to our children early on. They cried, and I felt like I could do something for them. I have to assume that giving a baby a bottle doesn’t come close to the bond created by breastfeeding. But for me, this is the closet I can get.
During the first few weeks of Aspen’s life I felt useless. Now that we are more than a month in, I am starting to assume that Aspen flat out hates me. Every time I’m left alone with her, she cries the whole time, regardless of what I do.
Mel was still in the bathroom, and Aspen was still crying, when Tristan (my seven-year-old) said, “Dad. Let me hold her.”
Tristan sat down on the living room sofa. He stuck out his elbows and made a cradle with his arms. I set Aspen in Tristan’s lap, and she stopped crying immediately. The same thing happened when I handed the baby to strangers at church.
It was total garbage.
Tristan looked up at me with a shit-eating grin, the same smile he gives me when he proves me wrong, or thinks that he’s gotten away with something and said, “She likes me more than you.”
What the hell? I thought.
“No, way,” I said. “How could she like you more than me? I’m the cool one. You don’t even change your underwear. You smell like a fart.”
Tristan started giggling at my comment. Then he said, “Aspen likes the smell of my farts.”
“No one likes the smell of your farts, Tristan,” I said.
“I like the smell of my farts,” Tristan said.
This conversation was going nowhere.
Aspen looked so calm and content in Tristan’s arms. I suddenly had a false sense of confidence. I knew that if I picked her up, she would stay calm. I also felt the need to prove Tristan wrong.
I took the baby from Tristan, and she cried again. Tristan smiled at me, and I said, “This proves nothing.”
I gave her back to Tristan, and she stopped.
By then Mel was back in the room. She bent down and picked up Aspen. The baby cooed.
I got really frustrated. I started having crazy thoughts. I wondered how long this would last. How long would Aspen hate me? Was she my Damien Thorn? Was she the evil child that would, at age twelve, cut my brake cable moments before I left for work? Was she inherently evil?
I was her father. She was supposed to love me… right?
Later that night, after the kids were in bed, Mel handed me Aspen. She started crying, and I said, “I think she hates me.”
I told Mel what had been happening, and she rolled her eyes. “She doesn’t hate you. She’s just a baby.”
“Then how do you explain the way she stops crying whenever I hand her off?”
She skirted the question. This is usually Mel’s way of handling one of my irrational fears.
“Would you mind giving her some vitamin D drops? They’re on the microwave,” Mel asked.
I went into the kitchen, filled the dropper with vitamins, and put a few drops in Aspen’s open, crying,mouth.
She licked her lips, and then she cooed. I gave her some more, and she did the same. Instantly, my heart melted. She looked so sweet and wonderful. I flashed back to when I’d given Tristan or Norah a bottle, and how connected I felt to them. I felt, for the first time, like I was actually doing something for the baby. Our happy moment didn’t last long, but it was long enough to make me feel a little better about the kid.
Aspen still cries when I hold her. I don’t know how much longer that will last. But for now, we at least have vitamin time. I give them to her whenever I can. And for just a few moments a day, she is calm, and quiet, and I get to feel like she loves me.
Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, and a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His essays on parenting and marriage have been featured in New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
Photo by Lucinda Higley