Things Mothers Don’t Talk About — But Should

One thing I never really heard anyone talk about before I had either of my kids was a less than ideal “bonding” experience with the baby. My relationship with Ben was rock solid from day one. I adored him. He was beautiful and perfect in every way. We felt connected and to this day feel deeply connected. While we have our issues (screaming, him; yelling, me; hitting, him; crying, me), he knows without a doubt that his mommy loves him and has loved him every single day of his life.

I wish I could say the same for Katie. I love my daughter. I think she’s the sweetest, funniest little girl to ever set foot on the planet. She’s definitely one of the toughest, but that deep, elemental connection that I’ve felt with Ben since day one is not as present with Katie. That’s not to say that it’s not there or that we’re not connected, but I’ve had to work really hard to make that connection with her that just came with Ben.

I know that a large part of the issue was the fact that she and I were separated within a few hours of her birth and I didn’t see her again for almost 72 hours. The first 24 hours I was fighting for my life and on a ventilator, and then they needed to get me strong enough so that I could hold her, which I did — in the ICU. But I felt disconnected from the process. I was so consumed with trying to get myself better, I couldn’t think too much about this tiny little life that had just joined the planet. It was honestly a relief to me that she could stay in the nursery and get care, because there was no way that we could have done it with all the bells, whistles and wires attached to me. I was on an extensive array of scary drugs, so breastfeeding was out.

I made it out of the ICU, into a step-down unit, and then onto the maternity floor. At that point, I think everyone expected me to go nuts wanting to see the baby. I wasn’t as interested as I guess I should have been. I don’t know. I was in a total fog. I don’t really remember much except P suggesting that if I didn’t show an interest in her soon, they wouldn’t let her leave with us. The poor lactation consultant walked in after that and I sobbed all over her for a good twenty minutes. Thank God she recognized full-fledged panic. She convinced me that no one was going to keep Katie from us, that everyone understood what a horribly scary thing I’d just been through, that I was a warrior because I was out of the ICU and back with my baby — I lived. No one was expecting me to be completely together and it was okay.

Still, I wasn’t attached. I let other people take care of her. I was the still ill person that P dragged along to appointments for Katie even though I couldn’t process the information that we were being given. I felt like P had another child and I was along for the ride. She didn’t scream when she saw me or in any way show that she realized that mommy was having a hard time with connecting to her.

The fog started to clear right around the time Katie was six months old. I loved her, but I didn’t have the deep feelings that I had for Ben. And then the other shoe dropped — Katie had trigonocephaly. It’s like I’d been waiting for that shoe all along. I was waiting before I connected with her because I was so sure she was going to be taken from me. I was just so sure. And I shut down again for a little while.

But it was the rounds of doctors and exams and pushing insurance companies to do right for her that started to connect me to this child in a way I hadn’t been before. Handing her to a nurse for her surgery was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Getting home after her delivery was cake compared to handing her to someone not being 100% sure that I’d see her again or that she’d be the same baby after her surgery.

Those of you who follow me regularly know that she isn’t the same baby, and maybe that’s what finally sealed the bond. See, I’m not the same person I was the day before Katie was born either. I’ve had to build a new life, a new reality and I think we’re now both in a place where mommy and little girl connect. It may never be quite like the connection I have with Ben, but I’d say that it is just as deep and just as meaningful because we had to work so much harder for it.

3 thoughts on “Things Mothers Don’t Talk About — But Should

  1. There are so many things we don’t talk about – some due to the risk of being judged and berated (when we were trying to open a dialog), some because we fear our kids might not understand.

    After M was born, I was fierce and protective, but it took 6 weeks to really feel that burning bond. And then of course, after C came home…he and I were to start bonding ASAP…and he was an angry, scared stranger…

    K was easy, but when the doctors started talking about taking him to the NICU, oh…oh…

    It only gives me an inkling of how you felt…but I can say that once I had this bonding thing down, I am SO GRATEFUL that it didn’t have to be interrupted

  2. This was a wonderful post. I think what causes the majority of postpartum depression is the crap we won’t talk about.

    We imagine caring for baby to be like in the picture books, or 50s TV shows & while sometimes it is, it is often NOT AT ALL LIKE THAT.

    And that’s not our fault, it’s what happens sometimes when very different living beings meet.

    I have bonded very differently with my son & daughter. I think it is because my daughter was independent from the moment she could see past my breast. She’s very capable on her own & I try to be okay with that. There’s a lot of me in that quality of her. But my son likes to be close. He’s got tons of empathy & loves to be with people.

    Our children are very different beings. We will interact with them very differently.

    But I often see that 1 parent bonds very closely to 1 child, while the other parent bonds very closely to the other. In my child psych & development classes, we talked about parents generally get along more poorly (ugh, words at 2am) with the child that is most like them.

    Things often have a way of working their way out in the end. Sometimes it’s just a long, winding path we have to take.

    Thanks for this post, Beth.

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