I want to eat my baby. I want to press him to my chest until he is a part of me, which of course he already is. This is love — seeking union with the beloved. With my wife, it is most manifestly accomplished through sex; with Finian, through engulfing his pudgy cheek in my mouth and squishing him to me. Also, by gazing at him, drinking him in with my eyes, attempting to quench a thirst that as yet has proved unquenchable. I imagine many fathers feel these emotions, but the experience of them is no less intense for being common He is a wonder to me, my first-born son.
He is my rival as well. In Evelyn Waugh's short story, "Work Suspended," the narrator falls in love with a pregnant woman, despite the fact that "her grace [is] daily more encumbered," and she is "deprived of sex, as women are, by its own fulfillment." In contrast to this is the love affair of Piet and pregnant Foxy in John Updike's Couples, wherein Piet declares, "I love the way your belly is so hard and pushes at me." Before I married, I agreed with Waugh — sex with a pregnant woman seemed somehow of another order, almost weird. But when Deirdre got pregnant, three months into our marriage, I started tending toward Updike.
Waugh or Updike, I have found that pregnancy does far less to de-eroticize things than birth. In marriage, Deirdre and I gave ourselves to one another, and so we could each refer to the other's body as ours. Now, Deirdre's body is no longer mine alone. This became clear as the pregnancy progressed and her belly enlarged to allow for its occupant; it became still clearer as I watched Finian emerge from her, making nonerotic use of what had been an erotic region. And he has taken her breasts, often feeding with greedy sucking gasps, as if this might be his last meal, as if the breasts might never I return to him. In fact, his authority over them is absolute.
I don't mind sharing, though. Finian is the fruit of our love, and it makes me happy to see him eat, gradually progressing toward the great fatness that breast-feeding yields. He is lean now, a quality that allows for distinct features and a "little man" look, but ah, for Fin to be a chunker. I will take pride in his jowly cheeks, his Michelin Tire Man thighs. I equate fatness with happiness and health, at least in infancy.
While he strives to gain weight, he has the consolation of being beautiful. When people begin to ooh and aah, I find myself saying, "Yeah, he's pretty good-looking. We're pleased." As if it mattered how he looked. But it's hard to have a casual conversation about love and joy, so I stick to the surface, and it's enough. Just seeing him cheers up people of both sexes, though women like to spend more time on him. One older woman marveled, "He's so little, it's hard to believe he's real. I wish you lived near me."
This feminine delight in littleness seems almost universal, an affection I believe God instilled for the preservation of the species. Sometimes it spills over onto kittens and tiny salt and pepper shakers, but I think babies are the proper object. Deirdre and her friends melt over little hats and shoes and smile at Fin's little hands and feet. (Though they are little, they are proportionately large, with long digits — a pianist? Oh, the foolish dreams of fathers....)
After praising his beauty, I go on to mention that he often sleeps through the night and that he travels well — he sleeps through most of our outings (Masses, dinners, parties, a Champagne tasting, and even The Lost World), and if he does get fussy, the breast usually calms him. I say usually; silencing the wail is a job I share in, though breastless. Testosterone has granted me the Hum, a sustained low "Awwwwwww," during which I hold Finian to my chest. The combination of the sound and the vibration are a near-surefire sedative. If the Hum fails, I try the Burp Hold, getting one hand across most of his belly and chest and patting his back. If that doesn't work, I walk him, bounce him, and generally try to distract him. Our last resort is the car ride, the strongest narcotic in our arsenal.
Besides dealing with the wail and carrying the boy (we have a baby sling that makes this easy), my biggest duty is helping with the changing. Parenthood necessitates a new ease with matters scatological — farts and full diapers becomes sources of comfort, since farts being relief to baby and full diapers mean all is well intestinally. We sing songs encouraging him to "Poop it out!" Like any infant, Fin enjoys naked time, and like any infant boy, he launches at will. Both of us have been, to use Deirdre's mother's term, "christened." And if the experts are right, we owe his first smiles to gas.
In the evenings, he and I watch basketball — I want him to see Jordan play — while Deirdre makes dinner. During the meal, Deirdre often ends up holding him, and I cut her food and sometimes feed her. Our conversation suffers, but he is her first concern, before herself and before me. This is as it should be. At night, he sleeps between us, for security and for ease of night feeding. These are changes, and there and will be others, more drastic and difficult. But the most perceptible difference is that we have someone new to love.