A gay dad opens up about his emotional and unexpected journey into parenting.
*We've partnered with Babynes to celebrate new parents' feeding journeys, and share some feeding positivity to help you feed your baby in the best way you can.
When fashion designer Solomon Eversole decided to help his friend have a baby, he figured he'd be a small part of the equation. As donor dad to a single mom friend in LA, Solomon's involvement would be minimal, especially since he'd planned to relocate to New York just after his daughter Violeta was born.
But after just two months living cross-country, Solomon made his way back to LA, where he now resides and co-parents with his daughter's mother. “Those two months away were torture, and also made for a great deal of reticence in showing up for my role as papa. The difference in a baby between 1 and 3 months is profound, and it took her a solid month to get used to having this guy around," he explains.
Now that Violeta is nearly a year old, Solomon and his baby have found their groove, partly thanks to the intimate, meditative act of feeding her a bottle. “Feeding time became integral to us developing a relationship, bonding, communicating." he says. Below, he shares his story.
What did you envision your feeding experience to be like before you had your baby?
Until the scarce few months leading up to her birth, very few if any friends in my sphere had babies, and my exposure to them in my extended family was limited to typical “Uncle" brief holds and hand them back when they want something. I think I might have imagined the whole thing playing out like “Two Men and a Baby" or “Mister Mom," with the chaos of the learning curve coupled with some sense of light comedy antics and slapstick sight gags. I had no idea it would be a thoughtful and connective mediation, a quiet moment that, as she starts to get very comfortable holding her bottle and feeding herself, I already miss in its eventual passing.
Did you plan to use breastmilk or was formula always in the plan?
We always hoped to use breast milk exclusively because it's nutritionally superior to formula in its robust effect on immunities and early development. I remember my mother telling me she regretted not giving me breast milk for a longer period than the first 6 months, but the information that was available when I was born was much different than it is today. It really boils down to nutrition and immunities for us. If we could have done all breast milk of for the entire first year we would have. Also, since I'm a man and can't produce breast milk, it still seems miraculous that the body creates this elixir that can do so much and it costs nothing. Nature is incredibly clever in its level of engineering.
The challenge of being older parents is that breast milk isn't as abundant, and in those first couple of exhausting months, who could have really known that we should have been stocking up and freezing with a passion rather than trying to log those extra hours of sleep? It's so hard on moms in those early days. As milk production slowed, we slowly started on a 50/50 split. By her 7th month, formula was the all-day norm.
As a dad, did you experience the guilt that many moms feel when they make the switch from breast milk to formula?
I really felt for Cat (Violeta's mom) as her milk production began to dwindle. At one point we went on a cleanse and rebalance to help increase her milk production, which worked for a time. But as working parents, it became harder and harder to maintain the pumping and refrigerating, pumping and freezing, pumping and pumping and pumping. If only we had known in the beginning that the abundance isn't always eternal. Cat really worked exceptionally hard to keep our little girl milk plenty for as long as possible. I know she felt guilty. I've also talked to some parents newer than myself who struggle with the bounty of breast milk production and assure them they aren't alone in the “not enough" or “constant diligence" that comes with breast milk production. It's really tough for some of us, and as a parenting partner, I feel obligated to support Cat in this.
Tell us about your feeding rituals.
In the beginning, when we started to split formula and breast milk, it was a real challenge. She doesn't like to be put down in the mornings, so I'd struggle with warming the breast milk, mix/shake/pour the formula one-handed into the “boobjuice," as we lovingly call it, tighten the nipple so it doesn't leak…oops it's leaking, so unscrew and re-tighten while she squirms with anticipation. Then we sit in a nice comfy spot, and she drinks her gogo juice and I drink my gogo juice, watching the sky grow light and warming the day in advance. Now that we're all formula, it's a nice push-button system, less juggling and more bonding.
The other routine period is on the way to bed. A bottle is one of our sleep cues, and she anticipates it, believe you me. She'll amble into feeding position the moment she sees the bottle come out of the sterilizer. A wise man told me that when he had his daughters he would match his breathing to theirs during feeding time and it became his most profound meditative moment. I employ that very technique. I listen for, feel for her arch in breathing and then i slow mine so one breath encompasses 4 or 5 of hers. She becomes the high hat to my bass drum rhythm and we do just this until she's rubbing both eyes with a fury and ready to be put in the crib. Lately I sing to her hillbilly songs my granddad and mom used to sing to me, just before she's completely done for: “You are my sunshine," “Go to sleep little baby," and that sort of thing. It took us a long time for her to be calmed by my voice, so it's reassuring that this is part of our relationship, food and song, meaningfully together.
How is feeding your baby an empowering emotional experience for a dad?
Feeding time, so I've been taught, is a unique time to connect with your child, phone away, no photos to be had, focussed on this one great task of caring. It took me months to be really comfortable in the doing, unworried about dropping her or holding her incorrectly, feeding at the wrong angle, letting her chin get too wet or not letting her explore the bottle on her own. Now we're a team. We feed like we've learned from each other is the most comfortable. Her mom and godmother have their own techniques but we've found our way. This is the time we listen most intimately to each other. Papa and daughter.
Photography by Sarina Cass of Red Anchor Photo for Well Rounded.
This post was sponsored by Babynes.