Two years ago I wrote this:
Feeding Amira is hard. Very hard. Like, so insanely pull-my-hair-out hard.
Amira loves food, and she can eat a lot.
But, she won’t sit in one place and eat. She will sit down for 2 minutes and you think it’s fine and then she’s up and wandering around and playing with things and climbing on the sofa and hanging upside down and I’m like, “HOLY HELL JUST SIT AND EAT.” But she’s like a puppy, always sniffing out the next thing. She just doesn’t have the attention span to sit down and eat.
And I can’t have her not eating. I just can’t. So I get up and follow her around, bowl and spoon in hand, and give her bites as she goes about her business. I try to cajole and convince and threaten and bribe her to get back to her seat, but she’s not having any of it. It’s so hard to take her to restaurants, because she won’t just sit at the table. She never has. Being still isn’t part of who she is. If she’s awake, she’s on the move.
I consider this a huge parenting failure on my part. I was never strict with her about how she eats. From the minute she first got in a high chair, I never enforced that she stay in it to eat. I never said, “If you don’t sit, you don’t eat.” I never het let her feel hungry so she would learn that she had to sit down to eat meal. I mean, I know she wouldn’t have starved. Eventually, she would have gotten hungry and she would have sat down at ate a meal.
But I just couldn’t do it to her. And the truth is, I never really thought about why.
Until last night.
Stu and I were hanging out in the kitchen, talking about how poor Amira’s sitting and eating habits are. I admitted to Stu that I should have been stricter with her, and Stu said that it wasn’t too late. He suggested we get strict with her about how she eats. She’s only two and a half. There’s a lot of time for her to learn, and learn quickly. No more chasing her around with the food. If she doesn’t sit at the table, she doesn’t eat.
And I replied, “I don’t want her to feel hungry.”
“It’s fine for her to feel hungry.”
“No, it’s not. I don’t want her to feel hungry?”
“Why not? She’s allowed to feel hungry.”
I could already feel the emotions building up inside of me, though I couldn’t quite pinpoint where they were coming from.
“NO, I DON’T WANT HER TO FEEL HUNGRY.”
“I don’t understand why not.”
And then the thing I didn’t even know was there came out.
“Because the doctor didn’t look at you when she was three months old and tell you she was hungry!”
Before I said it, I never really thought about what it was that made me so obsessed with her eating, beyond the fact that I’m her mom and, well, isn’t that my job? But as the words fell out of my mouth, the fear and shame I felt about what had happened two years before came back to me. And all of a sudden, I understood why I was so militant about making sure she eats, and about what she eats.
The guilt that consumed me when I found out that I was no longer making enough breast milk to feed Amira never went away. The desperation I felt as I tried to do everything I could to feed her naturally never went away. And the remorse I felt when I finally had to give her baby formula to keep her fed, has never gone away. I didn’t think about it often, but clearly, it was lingering in there somewhere, playing a part in my parenting decisions for over two years.
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Now here we are, almost two years after that night in the kitchen. I won’t chase Amira around to eat anymore, but I will let her get up and walk around, and come back for “bite stops.” I do still feed her from my own hand more often than not. I still pamper her with the foods I know she will eat, instead of insisting that she eat what her father and I are eating, or not eat at all. I still ask her all the time if she’s hungry, because some part of me still feels like it’s something I need to fix. And yes, I do still feel guilty and desperate and remorseful over what happened those first few months of her life. It doesn’t consume me. But it’s there. I don’t know if that will ever be gone.