The Bunk About Bonding
Stop the Madness!
Before you start tallying your missteps and inadequacies in early motherhood, take some advice from my learned friends and me. Nearly all of us have had moments when we doubted we were cut out for parenthood. We feel an abiding love for our kids. We see before us babies that thrive and grow, smile and walk. Yet, that isn't enough. We still harangue ourselves for not being the mothers we feel our natural instincts are supposed to produce.
To stop the flogging, and settle our nervous hearts, we're learning to repeat out loud the following truths.
Fall in Love at Your Own Pace and Tempo
My 50-year-old friend Lisa, an author in Chicago, recalls holding her baby son, Luke, for the first time: "I simply could not believe it. There are no words for it. I was viscerally in love. His skin, his smell he was perfection."
To this day, Lisa is smitten, now staring at seven-year-old Luke on the subway. "He's so beautiful to me, I am so proud of him. It's a joy to look at him and see this blend of us his father and me. My worry is that I care too much. I've never had to pump myself up to do more for him. It's always been all-out."
Love at first sight, in courtships and with babies, is our romantic ideal. We expect to coo the way Lisa did, with all-out reverence. And indeed, more than half of the women I interviewed reported bonding "immediately."
Yet, there are other wonderful, quirky ways that moms and dads develop connections with their babies, none of them reflective of parenting gone wrong.
Julia from Cincinnati bonded differently with each of her two children. "The second I saw my son, my first thought was 'I was meant to be this child's mommy. This is what I was put on earth to do.'" With her second child, a daughter, Julia says, "I didn't really bond until she and I went to my ten-year college reunion. She was nine months old! I think it was the first time I didn't feel guilty paying more attention to her than to my son. And I know it was the first time I began to appreciate her unique qualities."
Gayle, a thirty-eight-year-old mom who lives in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, says that childbirth, seventeen hours long, was one of the worst experiences of her life. "It was physically traumatic, scary, and overwhelming." She threw up frequently, got the shakes, and "had no sense of the outside world" for hours on end.
After Bethany was born, Gayle just wanted to be mothered, and to "lick the wounds of delivery." People did not "see the injury I was experiencing, or comfort me." Friends who visited kept saying to her, "You must be so happy!" "I kept thinking to myself, 'Why would I be?!'"
The first night, Gayle sent Bethany to the hospital's newborn nursery something she now regrets. "I was too afraid," she says. With the reality of being a mother setting in, Gayle explains, "I was trying to delay the onset of my new job."
Within a few weeks though, when the baby gained weight and Gayle felt as though her parts were working again, she "relaxed and let the bonding happen." Then, Gayle abandoned plans to use part-time daycare because she couldn't imagine leaving Bethany. "I love being with her. The few times I have gone out alone, I drive away and feel that something's missing."
In other nations and cultures, moms get help so that they can bond well and get their postpartum needs met. In Malaysian villages for example, Mom and baby do not rejoin the community for forty days. During this reprieve, mothers receive hot baths infused with fragrant leaves. They are massaged from head to toe with herbs, with special attention paid to rubbing the abdomen to shrink the uterus.
"Where's my herbal massage?" you may be asking. Well, as much as bonding is endorsed in this country, American moms contend with rushed hospitalizations, and nursing ratios that often cannot accommodate breaks for mom to sleep or take time off from baby care. We face the additional healing required by an unusually high C-section rate, and don't automatically receive home visits from a doula or baby nurse as mothers in European nations do.
From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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