We didn’t know what we were doing when we brought Annie home from the hospital the next day. We knew that she needed to be held, fed and changed, of course, but had no idea how to interpret her cries and how to calm her down when we had exhausted all of the options. We could have used some hands on guidance, but there was none nearby. Judy’s Mom lived four hours away and worked, and my Mom lived ten hours away. The main problem was feeding her. We followed the advice of the La Leche League: we didn’t give her any formula or water from a bottle to encourage her to nurse. But Annie was an unenthusiastic breast feeder, and Judy’s milk didn’t come in right away.
I tried to jolly Annie into a better mood during one of her crying jags: I jingled my keys, made faces at her and babbled as I held her in my lap. Her response was to screw her eyes tight shut and wail. She had no idea who I was and what the hell I was trying to do, but was very sure that she wanted the commotion to stop. Unfortunately her father was a bit thick and had no clue that he was over stimulating a newborn.
Judy checked her diaper after several hours had passed, and it was dry. She grew worried and called our pediatrician, who told her that we obviously needed to give her a bottle. We had Pedialyte on hand, some samples given to us by the hospital, and I gave Annie her first bottle. She sucked it dry in a couple of minutes. As I held her and watched the fluid level go down and down and down, I felt a strong surge of emotion. It was enormously gratifying to give her what she needed. At the very same time I felt very strongly that she was mine to protect, and that I would attack anyone who tried to hurt her. These reactions seemed automatic as if they were hard wired in my brain.
Homicidal urges, no matter how well intentioned, aren’t usually associated with bonding with a baby. When parenting books illustrate that moment they usually show a mother holding a baby in her arms with a sweet smile on her face while the infant looks up in adoration. My version of the experience would require a picture of Rambo firing a machine gun with a crazed look on his face with the baby held in a papoose across his chest by bandoliers filled with ammo. The baby would be wearing a camo onesy and giving her father the thumbs up. The bottle she held in the other hand would be shaped like a grenade.
I was a practicing Quaker at the time who believed that nonviolence was the best policy when dealing with a conflict. I deeply admired Gandhi. After the bottle was empty and I held Annie on my shoulder to burp her, I realized that I was no longer in complete harmony with the Quaker peace testimony. A switch had flipped on in my crocodile brain as soon as Annie latched onto the rubber nipple and took her first long pull. I was willing to kill.