Last year we had a big surprise when we discovered we were pregnant with our fourth child. We are graduating our oldest from high school this year and it was such a shock to find out we were starting all over again. Through this experience we have learned so much; apparently this happens a lot, because people are always telling us that their mom, grandparent, or friend had a baby while they were launching another child into adulthood. Solidarity. We have also learned that when you have a fourth child you just stop caring about a lot of things and you need a lot of grace from your children’s teachers- or you bring them Starbucks often and just call it a day. I am not above buying a teachers love, affection, or most of all forgiveness.
What is really interesting is this is our first bottle fed baby since our oldest (who is now 18, like I said) so it is the first time in a long time that I have known exactly how much our baby is eating.
Our little snuggly baby spends a few evenings each week and a few hours on the weekends with her dad and we began to notice a very interesting pattern. She is REALLY good at honoring her hunger and fullness cues and she is very very insistent on having her needs met as soon as possible. This is exactly what we want in adults but it is precisely what we try to train our children to ignore.
If you have ever nursed a baby you know how precious every ounce of expressed breast milk feels to you. I joke with my husband, “I don’t know why I feel like I have to protect every drop, I literally make the stuff.” So the other night our little baby girl started fussing the fuss of a very hungry baby. My husband worked quickly, knowing if she gets too upset it becomes more difficult to feed or console her. He heats up 2 ounces from our frozen stash that feels like it is ever dwindling. She drinks exactly .25 ounces and then refuses to have another drop. She is satisfied. A quarter of an ounce. This is exactly how hungry she is and exactly how full she gets. It’s like she doesn’t even care that once you heat up frozen breastmilk it goes bad after an hour. It’s like she doesn’t even know about how scarce and precious every drop of this milk is. How hard it is to pump, the stress of figuring out timing and cleaning pump parts and forever washing and sterilizing each part. It’s like she just listens to her own hunger and fullness cues without even an ounce (pun intended) of input from the environment around her. And you know what? She shouldn’t care about those things, that’s my own junk and she is better off being oblivious to it.
And I was struck with the thought, this is the way we are born to be. This is the way we were born to eat. The world destroys us. Food scarcity. Food messages. Misguided messages about how food impacts our bodies. Diet after diet. Cultural messages about how our bodies should be. Healthism. Weight Stigma.
She gets to eat without any of this.
In that moment I was struck with the deepest urge to protect her. To shield her from this world that will send these messages to her, that will stop her from honoring her hunger. To shield her from a world where she will hear the messages my older three children hear at school and from other adults and children in their lives:
Your body is wrong.
You eat too much.
You don’t eat enough “healthy food.”
What you are eating is gross.
What you are eating is good for you.
What you are eating is bad for you.
When you are hungry just drink a cup of water.
When you are hungry it is always best to ignore it.
You can’t trust your own body.
When you are full you are shameful.
If you eat too much you are bad.
These are the messages that surround us, some are subtle and some are loud and clear. These are the messages she will receive and no matter how much I shield her they will keep her from deeply trusting her own body. They will keep her from the real wisdom her body has given her. The wisdom of a tongue that is covered in tastes buds and can appreciate the nuances of sweet, salty, and tart. The wisdom of a body that won’t allow itself to go hungry without having an inner rebellion. The wisdom of a body that can tell when it has had enough to eat and not from a judgmental shaming place, but from a place where it’s okay and expected to feel satisfied.
As an eating disorder specialist in Tyler, Texas I know the pain of losing this wisdom. I see the impact every single day. As a recovered person I know how difficult it is to find our way back. How easily it is to undo but how hard it is to build back, because of all the messaging surrounding us.
I know all of this and I allow myself to grieve deeply the things my daughter will lose before she even knew she had them, and I vow to hold back the tide as long as humanly possible. To shield her as much as I can for as long as I can and allow her to teach me that I was already whole to start with and it was the world that slowly broke me.