I’m a mommy now. My daughter arrived, healthy and beautiful, almost three months ago. Since then I’ve been working hard to feed her, nurture her, and just generally figure her out. I’ve studied her and our relationship with a scientist’s eye and two observations struck me as particularly odd. One of them relates to her, the other to myself.
My daughter is a strange, adorable little creature. I’m sure all babies are. As a newborn, she seemed to live in a hazy, alternate world. Her vision was poor and she seemed oblivious to the happenings around her. Motion, people, colors, noises – none of them drew her attention. She only cared about the girls. The twins. The Boobies.
I tried to imagine how she experienced hunger in those early days. It must have been a new sensation, as her needs in utero were continuously met via the umbilical cord. And this new sensation must have felt awful. Without a label for hunger and an understanding of its cause, it would probably feel distressingly similar to pain. I personally can’t tolerate the feeling of hunger, even after decades of experience with it. I snack constantly to stave off any trace of the sensation. My daughter doesn’t have the ability to eat at will or express her hunger in clear, unequivocal terms. No wonder her waking moments have been centered on meeting this one existential need.
Still, my newborn daughter didn’t simply need to eat. Nursing was her first love affair. Her first smiles were bestowed not on me, but on my breasts. And after her hunger was sated, she’d cuddle and hug them. She’d hold the nipple in her smiling mouth or run her lips repeatedly across it (a move I called ‘making out with booby’). She inevitably fell asleep embracing my breast, calm and happy as any creature can be. Before she knew a thing about people or relationships my daughter was already deeply in love.
Just as I was noticing my baby’s budding romance, I discovered an odd sensation in myself. When I looked at her and felt intense love, I had the strange urge to eat her. Not literally, of course. I just found myself feeling that holding her wasn’t enough; I wanted her to be even closer to me. I wanted to, as they say, gobble her up. People say things to that effect about babies all of the time: “I could just gobble him up,” or, “she’s cute enough to eat.” My husband’s relatives tell me that a similar saying exists in India. There, people talk of swallowing an adorable baby.
I have even experienced a milder version of this urge with my husband. When I feel it, I give him a kiss. It’s the same with my daughter. I press my face to her cheek, inhale her scent and cover her with kisses. I can’t help it; I am constantly kissing my baby. And while kissing is far from eating, they certainly resemble each other. This odd connection brought to mind the nicknames we typically use for our loved ones, names like sweetie, honey, and cutie pie. Many are suspiciously gustatory, as if we’ve been nibbling away at our spouses and children for years. And if you consider our lifetime of kisses, we virtually have been.
But why do we make this connection? Eating one’s spouse and children is certainly the strangest and most macabre scenario I can imagine. Why is some glimmer of that urge hidden within us? I look at my baby and wonder if the answer is right in front of me. People say that you never forget your first love. Maybe that’s true. Maybe our early love affair with food lays down primal associations between infatuation and ingestion. Maybe that’s why I shower my baby with kisses. Maybe that’s why I study her sweet face while she’s sleeping. I’m trying to drink it all in.
Photo credit: Uros Kotnik