11.26.2012

i didn't bond with my baby right away

I had a beautiful homebirth, one might even say perfect, and immediately bonded with my baby. I would stare at this tiny creature, sometimes for hours (forget sleeping when they sleep), in awe and absolute wonder that this person was inside me. The mother instinct was strong, the love fierce from the beginning, and I finally understood that I could never love another person more than my own children.

At least, that's how it was with my first child.

My second birth was nice, too... fast, but everything went splendidly, as far as the health of the baby, not suffering through hours of labor, and not coming across kinks in the process. It was incredibly painful and I don't want to do it again any time soon, but all was well. It was a morning birth, so the rest of the day was spent with my tiny babe by my side, while one friend did the dishes and then took River to her home to spend the night, and another friend brought me lunch, stayed and held Austen so I could sleep, and cleaned up around the house.

But there was a significant difference between this newborn babe, and my first newborn babe. I was unprepared for my second, emotionally, financially; even though we'd talked about having a second child, I didn't expect to get pregnant so soon. I had had an uncomfortable pregnancy with months of all-day sickness and vomiting, and depression during my pregnancy that led to even more viscous postpartum depression. River was a full-fledged toddler; sweet and well-behaved, but rambunctious and wild and mischievous, and demanded all my attention. I couldn't just stare at my newborn... someone might get hurt (or something colored on) when my attention was diverted. And I could no longer just deal with the day/night confusion, because now I had a toddler added to the mix, and then we would all be grumpy and exhausted and emotional every morning.

I thought that once my baby was born, I would have cold feelings toward River. I feared that he would annoy me, like nails on a chalkboard, that my mama bear instinct would kick in and I would want to protect my baby and just get away from the loud, rough toddler. I'd heard of this happening to many women when they give birth to a second baby when their first was a toddler, and I didn't want River to feel neglected or less loved.

Surprisingly, I did not have these feelings toward River, but toward my tiny, helpless, newborn Austen. I can still remember on my third night with two children, spending two hours trying to get a very upset River to stay in his own bed, going back and forth between our rooms, while Austen cried and cried the entire time, too angry to nurse, too tired to sleep. I had joined in on the crying. Finally, I handed her to John and said, "TAKE HER. I don't want her anymore. I don't want another baby! Everything was fine until she came! I can't deal with this!" Then I went to River's room and held him while I cried even more, feeling guilty for the words I had just spoken, guilty for making my son cry for two hours. I felt that Austen was an interruption to this mother-son relationship we had, that she was taking me away from River and I could not be a good mother to either of them.

The first week was rough, until Austen's day and nights were straightened out and we found a good rhythm. I loved my daughter, I would do anything for her, but I felt displaced. My mother-love for her was strong, but there seemed to be a layer missing. The absolutely-adoring, drippy-gooey, floating-on-clouds love that I had had for River as a newborn was lacking. And I felt awful because of it. The babymoon period never came. I had to make myself stare at her tiny features to appreciate them. I had to make myself talk about how much I loved her. As we were packing and preparing to move halfway across the country, I was terribly distracted. I could not answer her every cry. Too often, I had to let her cry while I tended to something else.

I was not in a good place emotionally when we arrived in Olympia. Seeing my family love on my children and hearing my mom tell me I was a good mother was what I needed. Being honest about my feelings was what I needed. While River was a very content baby who never got upset and definitely never, ever cried for more than five minutes (because I was always there to pick him up or nurse when he needed), Austen was a pretty content baby who would scream bloody murder at the drop of a hat. If something made her upset, she would go from zero to sixty in a few seconds. And she went all in, too. River simply cried as a baby; Austen screamed until she was blue in the face, until she was choking and gasping and sputtering. It was scary. (It was also harmless, but since River was not like this at all as a baby, I'd never experienced the emotions of dealing with a child like this. I thought that if it were at all possible, all the cortisol in her little body might kill her. You know, crazy new-mom thoughts.) And sometimes there was nothing I could do to comfort her. Not even nursing made her happy. I can't tell you the number of times I looked at her and yelled, I DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU WANT! Insert more mommy-guilt.

By the time Austen was about four months old, I felt absolutely in love with her. I was still dealing with remnants of postpartum depression, and I can see that as the depression was leaving, my emotional love for Austen flourishing. I confessed to my mom (because it definitely felt like a confession) that I had not bonded with Austen as quickly as I had with River. I cried as I told her I felt I had damaged my daughter by not being able to tend to her like I had River, that I felt she did not receive as much love as River, and I was worried that she did not feel loved.

Photo by my wonderful friends David & Irene Castillo. Exposetheheart.com

So, what does postpartum depression look like? Sometimes, you can't tell. My own mom didn't know I was having such a hard time, because I didn't talk about it. A lot of guilt can come from not bonding with a new baby. Many women in the natural birthing community will say that a lack of bonding comes from having a c-section or an epidural, because the medicines blocks the attachment hormones that occur at the release of birth, but I don't believe it has that strong of an effect. Saying things like that will only bring harm, by making some new mothers, who are already fragile and emotional, feel even more guilt. I had a healthy, happy homebirth, and I still struggled with bonding with my daughter. The truth is, mothers love their babies, but sometimes they don't feel an immediate bond, or they may even feel anger or stress toward a situation and confuse that as feeling anger or stress toward their new baby. Sometimes attachment and an emotional love happen immediately, and sometimes it comes with time. Not feeling a bond with your brand new baby does not mean you are a bad mother, and it doesn't mean you don't love your baby. Postpartum depression, not feeling an immediate bond, anger toward a new baby who won't stop crying -- if these things are talked about more often and become less taboo, I think we will all discover we are not as alone as we thought we were.

2 comments:

  1. I came over here because Motherwise on facebook posted a picture from one of you homebirths? This post you wrote is kind of amazing. I could have written it word for word about the birth (fast homebirth as well) of my second son while my first was still a toddler. I don't know if I'd call it PPD, but certainly had a failure to bond. My second was also very high needs and had terrible silent reflux and just cried and cried. And his birth was so fast I felt like I wasn't ready. I had that total euphoria after my first and nothing after my second. Now my kids are 5 and 3 years old and I couldn't be more madly in love with both of them. Anyway, it was good to read your post. I'm expecting my 3rd right now and I can't help be scared of a lack of bond again! I'm hoping the fact that my others are older will give me more time to focus on this baby and bond the way I did with my first.

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    1. I think the ages of the children have a lot to do with it. I totally understand your fears... yet there is comfort in knowing they are older now, and will probably be in love with the new baby, and your five year old may be very helpful!

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