Baby Boy A

Baby Boy A

Before our son, Graham, was born, I started daydreaming about his culinary education. His first course always seemed obvious: My firstborn would be a boob man from the start. Yes, I’d teach it myself, with equipment provided and fuel replenished by nature. Only it never occurred to me in all the hours spent obsessing over what foods he might prefer later, or whether he’d be unreasonably picky, that there might be a glitch—like being born unable to eat.

When Graham showed up almost two months early, we knew we were fortunate because he had good lungs and a willingness to fight the e. coli infection that sent me into labor. And (be still my beating heart) he apparently inherited my rock-solid digestive system. There was just one minor detail: he’d skipped the part of fetal development in which we learn to suck and swallow. So instead of waiting until toddlerhood, when kids typically begin refusing any food whose assembly they don’t personally witness, Graham decided we needed to fret over what he did or didn’t ingest from day one. For seven weeks, we watched our child learn to do what most kids are born doing.

Graham spent the first week of his life in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), then the next two weeks at a similar but slightly less scary ward called the Infant Special Care Unit (ISCU), both at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital. If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting these places twice daily for weeks on end, you’ll find a close approximation, minus the cow sounds, at your nearest feed lot. Here, in I’d say half the cases, small but otherwise healthy children are nourished through a tube, their every nutritional need calculated and analyzed, prioritized, and criticized. There are charts and protocols and many, many syringes. Lactation consultants—nipple nazis, we called them—float from cribside to cribside, encouraging new moms to pump breast milk for their babies, touting it as nature’s perfect food. New mothers hide behind curtains, hooked up like modest, half-clothed heifers, but most of the babies end up on formula, because it’s often the most effective way to get calories in—and in the ISCU, calories count for everything. In other words, the ISCU is where babies become veal.

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