Good Latch

This weekend I was reminded of the importance of a good latch. In 2009, we took a birthing class with a dozen other first-time parents, facilitated by Ellen Chuse, who has educated literally every nervous parent in Brooklyn. One of the classes was dedicated to breastfeeding and Ellen showed us a campy old Australian instructional video about how to get a good latch—the connection between baby and mother.

Ellen might have considered separating boys and girls for this lesson, since it was really only practical advice for half of the room and the boys were clearly not mature enough to handle breastfeeding advice from down under. (“The best Australian latch film I’ve seen,” joked one future father.)

I did learn something: the latch is not just a physical bond, it’s an emotional one. It helps the baby connect emotionally and feel secure and safe. It’s one of the first emotional ties the baby makes with another person.

• • • •

Friday evening, I walked in the door a little earlier than usual. My entrance surprised Maggie, who was sitting in the rocking chair in our bedroom holding Wilder with a disbelieving grin. She had her phone out and was awkwardly pointing it at him with her one free hand.

“I was just about to text you,” she started. “Look what he can do!” I took a second to guess what in the world he could possibly do all of a sudden. There weren’t many options. We already did the tongue-sticking-out thing with him and at three weeks old he wasn’t about to do something dexterous.

I took two steps into the room and immediately saw what the fuss was all about. Wilder was eating from a bottle. I exclaimed in delight and Maggie motioned for me to switch spots with her. I slid into her spot and cradled Wild-man in my left arm. He didn’t skip a beat; he looked up at me with his blue-black eyes with that little pinprick of light in them and… latch. Instant connection. I was feeding him.

Bottle-feeding Wilder

To understand why this matters, I have to reveal something about Charlotte’s first years. It is this: Charlotte didn’t do bottles. Until solid foods, she only breastfed, which meant that Maggie ran herself absolutely ragged because I was unable to help with feeding Charlotte. Charlotte was super stubborn about her routines. No matter how hungry she was, she would hold out for Maggie for food. As a result, I think the first time I actually fed her myself was when we went to get hot dogs during one of Maggie’s holiday craft fairs a couple years back. I’m exaggerating but not too much.

Lots of early parenting experiences depend on being able to feed a newborn. For instance, if you can feed a newborn, that means you can put the newborn to sleep since they just pass out after they’re full. As a result, I remember feeling left out during those first months while Maggie did it all. I was supporting cast.

Wilder ate greedily—or, more likely, normally, but how would I know? Maggie and I were thrilled to get the chance to do it differently this time.

• • • •

Father's Day morning in bed

Sunday was Father’s Day. We took a chance and went to the 1 o’clock showing of Inside Out, all four of us. We chose a theater we’d never been to before, perhaps thinking if things went south in the theater with Wilder we would at least never see those parents again. We ended up in Battery Park City, Manhattan’s sterile, corporate rejoinder to anyone who over-romanticizes the city’s history.

As we entered the theater (behind Goldman Sachs, up four escalators), my mind went back to 2009 again. I hadn’t been to a movie since then: Star Trek, the reboot, at that lousy theater in Park Slope that is missing seats and will soon become luxury condos. Thanks to the loudness of the movie, Charlotte, womb bound, provided us with one of our first memories of her, kicking Maggie throughout.

Back in the BPC in 2015, we settled in with our two medium sodas and medium popcorn and soaked up the air conditioning. Wilder fell asleep as the movie started.

And now for another revelation, this one about me. It is this: I cry during animated movies. I will leave it to therapists to decode that, but it’s a fact that I can’t make it through Linus’s speech, or even the opening scene of Brave, without weeping.

If you’ve seen Inside Out, you’ll remember that about midway in, Riley, the main character, falls asleep full of worries. Joy, one of her inner emotions, orchestrates that night’s dream. She queues up a memory of the 11-year-old as a child, ice skating on her family’s pond in Minnesota. Joy watches this dream and, moved by the pure happiness of the memory, skates in synchronicity with the dream. I am welling up now just thinking about it. In the theater, I nearly choked out loud, I was so caught off guard. I remembered how as a kid, you could always retreat to safety inside a fond memory.

Charlotte sat on my lap during the last five minutes of the movie. Maggie and I stifled the audible emotions and, when it was over, Charlotte turned around and saw us both wipe tears.

“Why are you crying?” The question made us cry harder. I refused to let her get down off my lap. Wilder was still asleep on Maggie. We sat there and watched the credits quietly for a few minutes, a salty mess, parents latched to kids.

8 Responses to Good Latch

  1. Georgia says:

    Your tiny letters are to me the way animated films are to you. Thank you always for some beautiful happy tears.

    • Matt says:

      Hah, I don’t do commercials yet, but mom did, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s lurking in my dna somewhere.

  2. Ginny says:

    Oh my – Mandy and little Amelia have gone through and are still going through this and Andre has felt somewhat like you Matt. “Memers” wanted mommy and nobody else. Things have eased up a bit and life is so full of surprises and funny funny happenings. I am so happy that you have two beautiful children in your lives. I love Amelia “to the moon and back”!! Grandchildren are an indescribable joy!

  3. Heidi says:

    Tender moments and times of loss or reunion get me in commercials or movies. My teen lass teases me for it, yet we cry together at the end of A League of Their Own. I tell her that I have more life experience to draw on and more personal stories that get bubbled up to remember.

  4. Jen Steckly says:

    I let summer get away from me this year due to softball early summer and a medical issue with a dear family member the last half of summer. So I am going to have to play catch up! I’m really glad I accidentally landed on this one first.

    As someone who was not able to breastfeed her own daughter (complications from a c-section <– which I believe was a result of the induction), the first part certainly hit home. I don't know that everyone recognizes the connection you can have feeding your child, even if it is with a bottle. I love that you found and appreciate that connection Matt.

    And Inside Out…we did a family night out – all 13 of us (my parents, siblings, nieces, nephew) – which included this movie and dinner. I sobbed. It caught me completely off guard as well, like no other movie has. My 14-year-old (!) daughter asked me why I was crying, and there was no way for me to explain why the memories had me so choked up, or why I almost had to leave the theater as Bing Bong faded away. It was about my own childhood memories, and about the memories my daughter has made. The good and the bad. I told her when she will just have to rewatch it when she becomes a parent (and again later when that child is ready to start her freshman year of high school), and she will understand.

    It was brilliant, really. Just like your post. Thank you for sharing, Matt. I really do look forward to reading these each year now (even if it got put off until fall this year!).

    • Matt says:

      Thanks Jen. Glad you enjoy them! Read them in whatever season works for you :)

      Re: Inside Out, the best part of that movie might be that weeks later we still have a way of talking about emotion with Charlotte. We can talk about who’s in charge in her head and she gets it. A really nice side effect of an already fantastic movie.

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