This post is about bonding. Because, I have to make the confession that I did not bond with my baby straight away, for a number of weeks even. It makes me sad now to realise this, but also incredibly grateful to have finally found the feeling.
Bonding was something that I had read about in books, most of which reassured pregnant women to not worry, to not pressure themselves, or feel stressed about bonding with their baby. At least, I think that’s what they say, I skimmed those bits because they weren’t relevant to me. I wasn’t worried about bonding. I knew, and know, I have a huge capacity to love. Sometimes that capacity has been too big and too keen and I’ve ended up getting hurt. Over-loving was my problem, not the other way round.
When Olive arrived it was such a whirlwind; Emergency c-section under general anaesthetic, I woke up and asked:
“where is my baby?”
“in intensive care”
“is she ok?”
“I don’t know”
I then proceeded to be quite poorly myself and didn’t really gain proper consciousness until about 7 hours later. I didn’t meet my baby for 11 hours, and when I did I wasn’t allowed to hold her, in fact I couldn’t really touch her or even see her properly as I was stuck in my hospital bed that had been wheeled down to ICU and didn’t fit next to my daughter’s beeping machines. I didn’t really feel much apart from confused and like I didn’t want to be in this very surreal situation.
One of the paediatric doctors asked me if I was worried about bonding with her – “no”, I said, and then I explained, in words I can’t recall, that nobody had told us whether she had a chance of surviving. She did, our little Olive was doing well. We were given little knitted squares that I kept in my top and swapped with the one in Olive’s each time I saw her. I thought this was mainly for her benefit as it did little for me, but did help me feel like I was in someway doing something that helped my baby at a time when she needed lots of help that I couldn’t provide. After a few days, we were allowed to hold her, we could help change her nappies and I started expressing milk to be fed to her via a nasal tube. But really, we had to leave her in the (very) capable hands of the staff in ICU.
Writing this it seems completely clear to me that not bonding with my baby would be a rational response to the situation. My defence mechanisms would have been sky high and screaming ‘don’t fall in love with this little squidge, you might lose her, and that would hurt a lot more if you loved her’. I also missed out on nurturing, holding, feeding my baby in the very first few days and weeks of her life. But, at the time I didn’t realise I hadn’t bonded with her. I cared for my baby, I felt responsible for her, I understood that she needed us to spend time with her.
I was actually quite proud of myself and a little bit smug about how I managed to be this ‘cool’ and ‘relaxed’ mum, especially given all that we had been through. I was how the pregnant version of me had thought that I would be. I didn’t mind anybody else holding my baby, I didn’t mind anybody else feeding my baby, I didn’t even mind leaving my baby to go out for dinner with my husband. I thought that meant that I was a pretty cool mum. But really, that’s because in those first few weeks, I had to be ok with other people being the ‘primary carers’ for Olive. I didn’t have any choice. What I didn’t realise was what was about to hit me, and that it would be the most wonderful feeling in the world.
When it came it hit me like a train. We had been home a few weeks, George had gone back to work, and I had been filling my days with various classes, generally rushing around and keeping busy. I certainly wasn’t allowing myself any time to process anything that had happened. This day was a particularly busy day and I was trying to rush out of the door, but Olive just wasn’t letting up. She was crying and crying and I was trying to get her in the car seat and she was crying and I needed to remember her milk and she was crying and time was ticking and I was going to be late and she was still crying and… a switch flicked.
And I broke down.
And everything overwhelmed me.
This huge devastating sadness about what had happened to her, to me, to us all swamped me. And by feeling that, I somehow allowed myself to open my guarded heart to my daughter. I let the love I had been denying us come rushing in. I spent the whole day cuddling my baby, I wanted to make up for every moment we had missed together.
My love for Olive grows each day, but it was after that day that I really began to feel different. Suddenly, I was her protector, her defender, her ally. I was the one that knew what she needed, because I felt it. We sensed each other, she and I were one. I felt transformed. I understood that my job on this earth above anything else is to protect and nuture this tiny soul. I was so proud of this instinct that had finally come over me. I’d become a mother! I remember texting my sister and my sister-in-law to tell them – I finally feel like a mother. I now understand what you were talking about. I thought that you were all crazy! …and it turns out you are! and I am too! and it’s the best feeling in the world. My behaviour changed and I felt like I had to explain to people, sorry I’m not ok with that anymore; I’ve bonded with her. I’ve bonded with her. I’ve bonded with my baby.
Now, I’m not claiming that I now have a magical power and know exactly what is wrong with my daughter all the time and can instantly cure all her cries – I am still pretty clueless, and I certainly get things wrong. But, a lot of the time, this bond does make me feel magical. I love that when she cries in the night, sometimes I can simply hold her and she stops crying and falls back to sleep within minutes. I love that just being near me can make her relax. I feel like my superpower is this amazing connection with my daughter. Ok, that might sound like a pretty lame superpower, but to me it means the whole world.
I no longer want to be this “relaxed” mother that my naive pregnant self aspired to. I am so very proud to be what I previously defined as crazy. I am completely relishing these (sometimes) irrational feelings because I am so grateful that they came. I didn’t realise they were missing, and I’m so glad they are here. My baby girl makes me feel like superwoman.