Thursday, November 15, 2012

Getting to Know You: The Slow Process of Bonding With My Baby

A friend who knew I'd worried about my maternal ambivalence toward H. in utero asked me whether I still felt that way now that he's here. Actually, that's the audience-friendly way of putting it. When I wrote the post linked in the previous sentence and admitted a potentially disturbing lack of pre-birth bonding, I put it all out there stating that I didn't even love my percolating baby.
I just don't feel anything. Not dislike or resentment that would make my admission even more terrible to read, just a blank spot in my head or in my heart where I imagine that love for my developing baby ought to be blossoming.
Heavy stuff, right?

But it was maybe still heavier than that when you consider that even with the negative MaterniT21 test results, the private one-sided discussions I had with the stranger in my belly sounded less like "Can't wait to meet you!" and more like "Do you have Down syndrome? Do you, do you, do you?" In fact, at the birth one of the first questions I asked our midwife was whether H. showed any signs of having an extra chromosome. I spent the whole latter half of my pregnancy wondering whether a relatively new non-diagnostic test was really as accurate as they say - and if not, what that would mean for the rest of our lives - which didn't leave a lot of time for imagining all the new joys a little boy would add to our family.

Then H., on his own timetable just like his big sister, was born, and the midwife confirmed what the MaterniT21 test already had, so I began the process of getting to know my relatively huge six pound baby boy. And yes, it's a process. No, I don't feel guilty about that. After all, H. and I got off to a pretty rocky start, relationship-wise!

When P. was born, after an uncertain hour or two where I rambled on at her as she slept under a warming lamp in the NICU, I felt a profound, deep, and sincere connection with her. I once described it as knowing I'd try to take down a T-rex if it would save her life. There was my heart, swaddled tight in rough white, pink, and blue hospital blankets, and I couldn't even remember anyone having taken it out of my chest.

But with H., it was different. He emerged, trouble-free from the get-go with brilliant Apgars, strong lungs, and a mature sucking reflex that led him to latch right on, and I held him and stared at him and nursed him and thought something like "This is an attractive, healthy baby I've got here. Good." Would I have taken down a marauding T-rex in that moment? Well, yes, probably, but I'd have been driven by biological imperative rather than deep feelings of love. Nature knows what she is doing in that regard. Do I love H.? I think I do, though I still can't say I feel the all-encompassing, gut-tightening love I felt just hours after P. was born, and that's okay, too. 

Maybe it was my mom who once said to me that bonding is not something that necessarily happens in utero or the first time you look into a baby's eyes. True bonding is a result of the process of caring for your baby. It's what happens when he poops on your hand just before peeing all over himself and you laugh instead of cringing. It's what happens when you spend hours parked on the couch nursing and listening to the sweet sound of his tiny gulps. It's what happens when you notice his face filling out and his legs filling out and you think to yourself "I did that, and someday when he's an ungrateful teenager I'll look at his raggedy teen stubble and see the chubby cheeks that were once underneath." That's bonding.

I like you just fine, Little Man. And I love you a little more every day.

baby bonding

9 comments:

  1. Aw Mama, that was beautiful and I'm glad these words are out there. The very hardest thing for me was this moment. When my daughter was born I had nothing but time to imagine the future and notice every movement and milestone. By the time her brother came along he felt like a stranger. I was upset with myself for looking at his sweet easy face and thinking, "I don't know you." I remember wandering around my house and crying at night because I thought I was a big broken monster and there was absolutely no one no one no no not ever I could tell. A lot of it was hormonal. Some of it was because there really were other big changes on the horizon. And some if it was just that my love for my daughter had already had two years to bloom. Then one day he was napping and my daughter sneaked over and bit him right on the leg. A really hard one, like she probably hurt her own jaw in the process. My son screamed. And then he was silent, red and building to an even bigger scream. Seeing him in pain flooded my entire body with a fierce motherly storm of swooping and kissing and protecting. I was freaked out for him and shocked that she would even do anything like that. All of that intense feeling was a relief. It meant I did have it in me. It meant I could love two at the same time. In different ways and for different reasons. I have a great relationship with my son, it really kicked in right after the leg bite. But I wasn't prepared for that month or two where I felt like I wasn't doing it right. I thought it would be instant, auto-pilot. If I had been aware of other mamas who had that same feeling and were willing to be honest about it I would have felt so much better. So, thank you for telling it.

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    1. You're welcome - and thanks for sharing some of your story here! You really hit the nail on the head wrt time and the first kid just having been here longer for more lovin'. Right now, I'm rushing around dropping off P. and picking her up, doing freelance work, getting P. fed, chores, etc. When P. was born, it was all staring at her with googly eyes. With H., right now, it's like he's along for her ride just because she's the bigger personality for the moment.

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  2. He He understands Mama, that you are doing your best, keep doing your best and everything will fall into place.

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    1. Thanks you for your lovely and reassuring words! I definitely feel that when he's staring up at me - after all, he's getting to know me, too!

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  3. love is love whatever form it takes. btw, you are rocking the postpartum sexy mama look!

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    1. Thanks :) Right now my love is taking the form of doing, which is fine by me. Love is a verb :)

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    1. Weird, sure, but from what I've read, totally normal!

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  5. I understand. When they put my daughter on my chest I felt... nothing. Of course, I eventually ended up being diagnosed with a severe case of PPD, so I always correlated the two. Either way, I know how you feel.

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