When Bonding Doesn’t Happen Immediately

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I’d like to share my story of how I had a difficult time bonding with my second child. I know this topic isn’t talked about much, and seems like something mothers wouldn’t really want to admit for fear that people would think they are an awful mother. I did not want to share my name, not because I am ashamed, but because I would not want my daughter to see this story as a 13-year-old Googling my name and think, “OMG! What’s wrong with me? My mother had a hard time bonding with me?” Once she reaches a more mature age and starts a family of her own, I can share with her our story, so that if she develops postpartum depression, anxiety or baby bonding issues, she won’t feel alone. ~ Anonymous

I feel like I should start off by saying my son is and always has been a momma’s boy 100 percent. He and I always had a special bond right off the bat. I was a little nervous about having baby #2 because I didn’t know how he was going to take it. Needless to say, he didn’t handle it well. He was so upset when we brought the baby home from the hospital that he refused to hug me, wouldn’t speak to me and had no problem voicing his dismay, telling me “Why don’t you both go back to the hospital? I don’t want either of you here.”

I had a difficult time with this, and it was very hard for me to sit on the couch day-after-day trying to get my newborn to breastfeed, while my son was screaming at my legs for my attention. I ended up with a strong case of the “baby blues” and I cried a lot. I felt overwhelmed and helpless. Suddenly I wondered if I could handle being a mother to two kids. How could I possibly divide my time between the two of them?

I felt rushed to get everything done between feeding baby, playing with my toddler, cleaning, etc. My husband often told me to sit down and relax. Although I was tired, I kept going, and at times I remember feeling that I wanted my pre-baby life back. I started to feel very saddened by the thoughts I was having. I felt horrible that I could actually feel this way. I remember admitting to my sister that I actually felt resentment towards my daughter for taking up so much of my time, that I didn’t have any time to spend with my son. I asked her if she had felt the same way when her second child was born, but she didn’t. I started to wonder what was wrong with me. I remember sitting and watching my daughter as she slept and telling myself I should care about her more.

I felt myself doing the mommy things: breastfeeding, getting up all hours of the night, changing diapers, etc., because that was part of my description of being a mom. But the emotions weren’t there. Why couldn’t I feel more love for her? As time went on I thought surely I’d bond with her soon, surely I’d fall in love with her soon. Days passed and I found myself trying really hard to make myself believe things were okay. I told myself, “Yeah, I love her!” But deep down I knew something just wasn’t right.

When it came time for me to return to work I thought, “This will be it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” My return to work was actually quite the opposite. I remember after dropping my daughter off my first day going back to work, I got in my car and thought, “Why am I not emotional?” During my whole drive, I thought I should be crying after leaving my baby for the first time…shouldn’t I??

As I went through my first day back at work, I was greeted by many people welcoming me back and saying “Awwww, I bet you miss your daughter like crazy.” I’d reply with, “Yeah, I sure do!” That was a lie. I felt awful. I kept wondering why I didn’t miss her. I knew something was wrong.

I began looking for articles about poor bonding and postpartum depression. At that point, I didn’t feel depressed anymore, but I was still having a hard time bonding with her. I felt very sad and ashamed of how I felt. I spoke with my husband about it a few times, and we always said it would just get better.

I started to lie to myself, kind of how someone would pretend to be happy in a relationship even if they weren’t anymore. I talked to my daughter and played with her, and held her a lot to make myself feel like things were getting better. However, I still felt that something was not right. I cared about her, but the emotional connection still wasn’t there.

When my daughter was almost five months old, I remember bringing this discussion up with my husband yet again. This time I felt that I was going to fix it. I HAD to fix it. We talked about how I had very little mother-daughter ALONE time and discussed ways for us to spend more time together one-on-one.

First, I decided I would no longer take my phone with me when I lay her down for naps and bedtime. This time would be spent with just her and me with no interruptions or distractions.

Secondly, I was not going to look at the clock. I was not going to think about the dirty dishes or the long to-do list I always had running in the back of my mind. I had decided that this was going to be “our time.” I had gotten so used to breastfeeding, while checking emails and Facebook, and as soon as she was done eating I laid her down in her crib, and I was off to get things done.

I started that next day. I left my phone and all my worries at the door. I fed her and when she was done I put her on my shoulder and we cuddled as I rocked with her. I did that same thing at bedtime that night and the next day and the next day. I started to notice that when I would cuddle with her, she would coo and babble at me. I would also hold her so we could look at each other and smile and just enjoy some time alone. I realized she must have felt all those times I “cuddled” with her before that I was distracted. My mind was somewhere else, and I believe she felt that.

My husband started taking our son out more to do things, so that my daughter and I could be alone more often. I spent more and more time talking to her and cuddling with her and, gosh, did she love it. I felt like she was becoming so much more interested in me…and of course she would; I was giving her my undivided attention! And finally it was happening…we were bonding!

Suddenly, I felt myself wanting to rush home from work to peek in on her to see her sleeping in her crib. I found myself wishing morning would come quickly, so I could see her smiling face in the morning. I started missing her, while I was at work. I wanted to hug her! I wanted to kiss her! Finally it happened; I had fallen in love with my daughter.

I still wonder why it took so long for us to bond. Why was my heart so cold? Was this some form of postpartum depression? Was I just too engrossed with my hectic life to slow down and realize the gift I had sitting right in front of me? Whatever it was, I won’t let that define me as a mother. I can’t let it beat me down. I can only move forward from here, despite the way I felt in the beginning months I am a damn good mother. My kids are my world!

Earlier this evening I had just finished breastfeeding my daughter, and then I rocked with her. Most nights I rock her for a while and talk to her, but she rarely falls asleep in my arms. Tonight she fell asleep in my arms. I gently lifted her up on my shoulder and snuggled her head against mine. I could hear the sweet sound of her sleeping, her little hands resting around my neck…and I cried. Tears streamed down my face as I hugged her and felt an absolutely overpowering love for her. Right then and there, it hit me like a Mack truck, and I didn’t want to let her go. I didn’t want to lay her down in her crib. I wanted to hold her all night long. I’m not sure how long I sat there and hugged her, and listened to her sleep, but it felt like a long time. And it felt great. I wondered how in the world did I not feel this way before? How could I not have felt this overwhelming love for such a sweet little girl, my daughter? Looking back I can’t imagine how I ever, ever felt that way. But she’s got me now. I’m head over heels in love!

So if I could get anything good out of this experience, it would be to help another mother who may be having the same bonding issues that I did. If you have had problems bonding with your baby, I would suggest talking with your doctor. I didn’t talk with my doctor because I just kept telling myself over and over that things would get better.

I would also suggest that you try and lessen your other responsibilities. Lighten your load. Ask for help! I think I was trying to take on too much at once. My husband always offered to help out, but I always jumped in and did it before he had a chance. Now that I have focused more on spending quality time with my baby, my house is a mess and my to-do list isn’t getting much smaller. But my heart is full. Isn’t that what’s important?

Also, if you have older children who are very attached to you or who still demand a lot of your time, have your spouse or another family member take them out of the house to do fun things with them. They will be having fun, and it will give you more one-on-one time with baby. I still spend time with my son. He is still a momma’s boy. However, he is spending more time with other people, too, which is good and healthy for both of us.

And one last suggestion: put the phone DOWN. Better yet, leave it in another room with the door closed! That’s one thing I wish I had done from the start. It’s easy to make a routine of breastfeeding and surfing the Net when the baby is a newborn and you’re sitting for an hour or more doing just that. It can get boring breastfeeding for hours and hours and hours. But once breastfeeding comes easier and quicker for both of you, use that time to bond and not be distracted by other things.

I would like to finish my story by saying that although it’s not talked about much, you are not alone. Some mothers report experiencing a deep, unconditional love and intense bond the minute they hold their baby. I’m happy for them. But it doesn’t always happen that way. In fact, many mothers struggle with poor bonding issues and it’s very real. I pulled a excerpt from an article called “What No One Tells You About Bonding with Baby” that I read on mothering.com, and it said:

Myth: Normal women bond right away with their babies.

Reality: It often takes time to feel really connected to a new baby. If you’re caring for your child—holding him, feeding him, cuddling with him—even if you don’t feel deeply connected, you’re doing what you need to do. The bonding will come, in its own time.

“Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t immediately swoon over the screaming, wet miracle that just gave you stretch marks and a prolapsed bladder,” says my friend Holly, a mother of four from Frederick, Maryland, who found bonding with her children to take longer than she expected. “Just put in the time—the bonding will come.”

At one time I felt scared, sad and hopeless. What if I never bond with my baby? But just as the quote above says, “Put in the time. Bonding will come.” And it will. My daughter and I are proof of that. She’s my sunshine. She brightens my day and I’m proud to say I love her.

So, tell us; what was your bonding experience like? Can you relate to this mother? Did it take time and effort? What helped you through the process? Are you still working through it?

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