The Bunk About Bonding
All Moms Bumble
In the crucial first two weeks after I gave birth to my son Patrick, our pediatrician told us the baby was not "thriving." First, Patrick had to be re-hospitalized for treatment for jaundice and spent hours under therapeutic lights that kept me from holding or nursing him. My milk was slow to come in and then I never seemed to produce enough. Patrick's doctor urged Duke and me to supplement my breast milk with formula.
On the contrary, lactation specialists I consulted were adamant that a bottle could bring on "nipple confusion," in which the baby begins to prefer bottle-fed formula over the breast. They recommended I pump milk between each feeding, which meant that every two hours, after letting Patrick nurse for forty minutes on each side, I let a grinding mechanism manipulate my breasts for a half hour and got a whopping ten minutes off before starting the feeding routine all over again.
Eventually, I sent all boob-obsessed parties to their corners and devoted myself to what I called "bovine therapy" constant and unremitting feeding of the little skeleton boy, who could seemingly suck the life out of me. I did so, lying down in bed, where I could sleep and Patrick could gnaw and suck at will.
My milk production did increase, and a few weeks later we added a bottle of formula in the afternoons when I was particularly depleted. Patrick grew one chin after another, we both survived, and are now as tight as thieves.
All of us hit potholes in our bonding journey. Yet, unlike any other endeavor we undertake in our lives, we believe that from the start we have to be perfect at parenting. We expect to be naturally endowed with knowledge and ability, or to augment our skill with help from a plethora of child-care manuals. No learning curve is permitted.
We can't afford a learning curve, you see, because the latest research maintains the most critical period of brain cell firing occurs in the first three years of life. To ensure optimal health and intellect, we have to hold a baby so many hours, respond to her cries within so many seconds, and talk to her whenever she's awake preferably in several languages. We resist pacifiers for this reason, and bottles in bed for another. Dad can't be too entrenched in work that he fails to provide the appropriate proportion of male modeling. Mom can't work at all, lest she doom her child to daycare, patterns of aggressive behavior, and substandard intellectual stimulation. In this context, it's a wonder any of us escape the pressure with our panda esteem in tact.
Sometimes it simply takes settling into your own skin again to allow bonding to occur. A year and a half after Patrick was born, Duke and I escaped to Palm Springs for our first weekend away from our little dictator. At an outdoor café, I kept remarking how incredible the sun felt and how delicious the food tasted. Even my otherwise dormant sexuality was revived over this break.
So it was that in a shower at an inn an hour's distance from my baby and home, I bonded with my firstborn. You see, for hours by the pool that day, I'd consumed Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue about a mother and her little boy's escape from an abusive spouse. At its devastating conclusion, when the main character loses her son to his terrible father, I started to cry. But it wasn't until I was under the shower nozzle that the wailing began and that I realized the truth: I had never been more vulnerable, never more susceptible to devastation, than in this moment, when I realized how completely I loved and was devoted to Patrick. The notion of losing him, jarred loose in me by Quindlen's book and a relaxing weekend, showed me how attached I really was.
From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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