By Lisa Van Meeteren
Preparing for a baby is somewhat like preparing for all out warfare. Battle plans are drawn, forces assembled, baby names are chosen. There is a lot to do to prepare for the imminent invasion of this little person coming into your life for the first time, dropping missiles, assaulting your senses with cries that resemble an air siren.
By the time the battle (giving birth) is upon you, you are exhausted but armed and ready. Or so I thought…here was my battle plan.
Diapering: I practised diapering my old cabbage patch doll. I swaddled that thing, dressed it, and fretted over how long it actually took me to put a diaper on the thing that stayed on.
Prenatal classes: I took Lamaze classes to prepare for the birth, learned that tennis balls are apparently a great tool for dealing with back pain during labour and established boundaries with my husband such as, “thou shalt never touch my face during contractions.” The films were a little graphic but not as graphic as the instructor warning us about taking care of business before hand because you will likely “go” like a farm animal during delivery. This thought horrified me more than the birth itself.
Breast feeding: I took classes to learn to feed my baby, where I learned that after two months the baby will stop pooping for a week and that this was normal. I gazed around the room at women with swollen bellies nodding and smiling, and mimicked them. I wasn’t going to be the only one in the room freaked out by this.
Equipment: I bought baby clothes first, then researched strollers, car seats, the safest crib bedding, the best breast pump, the most practical diaper bags… googling reviews, investigating prices and then hitting the stores to try them out.
There. I was ready and prepared for the battle of birth. I was terrified and excited at the same time similar to someone about to dive headfirst out of a plane.
When the big day arrived, I had back labour the whole time, and I’m sorry but the tennis ball is a crock of you-know-what. It did nothing to ease my fiery insistent back pain. I wanted to get all McEnroe and shove that tennis ball somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine if you know what I mean. I bounced on an exercise ball, lamented how much induced labour hurt and then 22 hours later I had a baby!
And then something happened; something that no class could have taught me or prepared me for. I didn’t fall in love with my baby. You know what I’m talking about, that instant adoration for your child the second it’s plopped onto your stomach all slippery and wet, that movie moment you dream about where you’re laughing and crying at the same time, forgetting the pain and exhaustion as you look at your miracle? Yeah, well…never happened.
I let her latch on right on after birth just as the breast feeding classes taught me because it was supposed to be good for bonding. But still I just felt tired, and a little sorry for this creature who looked the same way. But she was exhausted and being held and cuddled and fed, I’d just gone through battle and I was expected to perform. Perhaps if my baby emerged with a towel for her mother’s sweaty brow, a cup of tea and a warm chocolate chip cookie as a peace offering, then we would have bonded instantly. I was horrified that I didn’t feel the way I should. What was wrong with me? Then I took a step back and thought maybe this is like all relationships, you have to start out getting to know the person first. I looked down at her wrinkled face, searching for traces of myself but only saw my husband. This was good because I certainly loved him. Okay, this would work.
After we came home I worked hard for my daughter, just like all moms do for their newborns. I fed her. I burped her, I changed her. I fed her. I burped, her I changed her, again. Repeat. But she still didn’t feel like my baby. I kept waiting for the doorbell to ring and someone to say, “Okay we’ll take her now, you obviously don’t deserve her.”
I tried to convince myself it was the lack of sleep. My daughter had terrible colic and I literally spent half the night feeding her and the other half trying to get her to burp so that she wouldn’t wake screaming with a sore belly. I thought if I could sleep then I would feel more loving, because let’s face it after a few weeks without sleep, it’s tough to love anything.
I was exhausted, depressed and discouraged. So my husband and I took a vacation. Yes, you heard me right. How does one take a vacation with a four month old you ask? I booked it before she was born as part of my battle planning. I knew that I wouldn’t want to leave her after she was born but that I would need it to get me through the winter. I put my breast pump to work until I had a freezer full of breast milk, and left her in the capable hands of my mother. Not to say I didn’t feel guilty. I did. The night before we left I cried myself to sleep, saying I was a horrible mother, but I knew I needed to go. Perhaps a little sleep and being away from my baby would make me appreciate her more.
When we arrived at the beach, my worries ebbed away with the tide. I became myself again, the person I was before miscarriage, infertility, pregnancy and motherhood. A woman in a bikini sharing some much needed alone time with her husband. I felt happy again. And I felt guilty for being happy. It didn’t help that every time we saw a baby my husband would point to it and say, “Ah, look. How old do you think he/she is?” Followed by a sad look and, “I miss her.” Every baby he saw was smiling and cooing and each one I saw was screaming while it’s poor harried mother tried to walk the beach with a look on her face not unlike a titanic survivor.
“Do you miss her?” My husband asked me.
“Who?” I asked.
His eyes widened. “The baby!”
“Oh, her, no not yet…I’m good.”
Every day he asked me and every day I said the same thing. As the plane docked in Toronto all I felt was disappointment. I didn’t want to be home. When I was reunited with my colicky bundle of joy all l felt was stuck. After a blessed break where I’d had sleep, and uninterrupted conversations I didn’t feel renewed, I felt like I was being tossed back into shark infested waters. My mother returned to her home, an hour and a half away, my husband returned to his long work hours, and I was alone. I wasn’t experiencing any of the joys of motherhood. I had a healthy baby, colicky and miserable, but still healthy so why wasn’t I grateful?
Then it hit me. Babies are selfish. Yes, I said it. They take and take. They take your sleep, your breast milk, your figure, your time, your energy and your brain power. It’s hard to love someone that is always taking and never giving. In any other relationship this would be considered downright dysfunctional!
So there you have it, my confession. As much as I prepared for all the possibilities of birth not bonding with my baby right away wasn’t one of them. I am happy to say that when my daughter was five months old our relationship became a two way street and it finally happened. I was 100% truly madly in love with my baby. For me I guess love is a two way street. As soon as my daughter showed her love by smiling, cooing and saying mama, it was easy for me to give her mine.
You can’t predict when you’re going to fall in love with your baby. For some it is the moment they conceive, for others it is the first time they hold their bundle in their arms and for others, like me, it takes time. So if you’re having trouble feeling what you think you should for your baby, I’m here to say don’t worry. It will happen when it’s meant to, and it is one love that is definitely worth the wait.
Did you or someone you know have difficulty bonding with baby? How long did it take you to fall in love with your bundle? How did you overcome your bonding obstacles and develop secure attachment?
About the Author
Lisa Van Meeteren is the mother of two children, ages 5 and 9. She works as a copywriter and has just completed a novel!