While talking to some college students recently, I recalled the challenges I had in bonding with my youngest daughter when she was a newborn. I can smile about it now as she snuggles into me, a bit under the weather, and falls asleep on my lap as I sit in my computer chair trying to type one-handed. Some days I feel so attached to her that my body aches as I wait to see her smile, and call me “mama” at preschool pick up time. It amazes me that I once felt so detached from her. I felt so separate and fearful of failing her as a mom.
I forgot the crying (mine), the sleepless nights (hers), and the frustration (both of ours). I forgot the feeling of complete failure. I forgot thinking that I was not meant to be her mom. I forgot the dark wish that her “putative father” would appear and claim her. I forgot the night I sobbed into my husband’s arms in the darkened kitchen, and felt so filled with shame. I forgot my husband admitted that he felt the same way. I forgot that we were both so afraid we had made a mistake. I forgot that one terrible night in my life because thankfully, it got better.
My husband is a doer, not a planner, however, I remember him taking action right then and there, creating a bonding plan, a “to-do list” to make this little bundle ours. I remember my feelings that the plan wouldn’t work, that I was just doomed to fail this child; however, I went along with it anyway. I felt that failing at trying to bond with her, was better than just plain old giving up. I couldn’t live with not trying any more than I could live without bonding with this child.
Well, I did it, actually we did it! I followed the plan, I went through the motions. I slowly started to trust my daughter, to follow her, and to listen to her needs. I gave up trying to parent her as I had, and began parenting her as an individual, with specific needs. I continued to do all the baby bonding tricks I had done so naturally with my oldest daughter; wearing her in my sling, co-sleeping, bottle feeding in a breastfeeding position, as I gazed into her eyes. I ignored the pediatrician, and everyone else, and just did what worked for us. I let her sleep on her belly (shhh, don’t tell) and she slept better, and so did I. We began enjoying our daytimes together, as we were both well-rested. The more I listened to, and observed my youngest, the more we formed a bond.
I am thankful for our initial challenges with each other, I am glad my youngest tested me, and I am grateful that I passed. I am moved to tears some days when she is snuggled into the nook of my neck and sucking her invisible pacifier. I am blessed when she clings to me the way newborns swaddled in their blankets do, defying gravity just to breathe you in and feel your heart beating. Four years later and my youngest is the heavy of a newborn on my chest, so small, but so sturdy in her need and want of me. My youngest holds my heart tight, and I hold hers even tighter.
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