On human bonding


When we learned Erin would need a C-section to give birth to our daughter, I experienced several emotions, many tied to our original plans for natural childbirth: fear, disappointment, sadness but also a large measure of relief. Erin had been in active labor for approximately 20 hours prior not to mention the few days of contractions before that. As we were told I would accompany Abigail into the nursery while Erin was stitched up and moved into recovery, I experienced another emotion:

Selfish elation.

The way I saw it, Erin spent the last nine months in a tight bond with Abigail – though admittedly I’d been there too as we talked to her, read her stories and played music for her in utero. And since we’d be breastfeeding after she was born Erin had more built-in bonding time coming in a way I’d be hard-pressed to match. So this was my chance to play catch-up on some of that.

None of this is rational thought. But from what I understand of it this early in the process, raising kids usually means you pass the exit for Rationality more often than not as you take the off-ramp to Emotional Reaction before turning around and heading back to Rationality, wondering how you always miss that exit time and again.

In tangential defense of my baby-hoggery, I spent Erin’s entire pregnancy trying to ensure she and Abigail are both happy and comfortable (I know: “You’re supposed to, jerk.” Still.) both in general and with each other. In fact, while we were still in the operating room – with Erin still in mid-surgery – I was already taking cell phone pictures of Abigail to show Erin (“That’s our little girl! You did it!”) even before the nurses brought her over so she could look in Abigail’s eyes herself. The last thing in the world I wanted was to get in the way of their bonding. I know about postpartum blues.

But in the hospital nursery? Knowing it would be just Abigail and I before Erin and the rest of the world got involved? I was practically rubbing my hands together with glee.

I’m not proud of the self-centeredness I felt and knew those minutes would be little more than crying, staring, peeing and thrashing around. (Abigail would probably be doing that, too.) Her little eyes wouldn’t register my face and while her ears might think my voice might sound a little like the one reading her Winnie-The-Pooh a few months back, it’s not as if she’d be lying there in the nursery giving me baby high-fives now that we’d finally met.

Still, I wanted those moments and took full advantage. I sang to her, told her how Erin and I met, described where we lived, mentioned she already had a dog at home and explained she had many adventures awaiting her in the world. I reached my index finger out to her and she grabbed it. It was the most relaxed time I’ve had with my daughter since her birth and it was awesome. Mostly because I was the one receiving all the benefits. Meanwhile, she was probably thinking “Christ, it’s cold out here. And can we do something about these lights?”

Like I said, selfish.

The days since then have been wonderful, but hard. Bonding with her hasn’t been as easy either. Don’t get me wrong: there are many, many joyful moments even when it’s all unmoving silence. But keeping Abigail safe, happy and comfortable is challenging. Taking care of our daughter is like a puzzle for which we have all the pieces but no picture on the box as a guide. Do we feed her now? Or change her? Or soothe her? Or all three? And just breastfeed or breast and bottle? And I’m holding her but damnit she’s still crying so…ah ha!…if I put my left hand on her butt and right hand on her head and keep walking around the room at exactly this pace she’ll be quiet…so long as I keep moving and holding her like this. I’m like a shark parent.

And then there’s Erin who once again has lapped me in the strength and determination department what with recovering from major abdominal surgery, not getting any sleep and providing nutrition to our child among her other minor tasks. The bond she has with Abigail that I knew would develop so quickly – she was able to successfully breastfeed her before she was even out of recovery – is a double-edged sword. Yes, it means I can spend an hour trying and failing to soothe our daughter only to have Erin swoop in, hold her close for 30 seconds and watch as Abigail quiets down immediately and sighs. It also means Erin has many physical and emotional reminders of her responsibility to our daughter than I just don’t have. How she isn’t frequently overwhelmed by it all, I don’t know.

I’ve never been particularly patient and the things I like doing are often the things over which I exercise a high degree of skill. Right now, Abigail’s sleeping, gaining weight, filling her diaper and still alive. All good measures of skill. But my soothing percentage has been below average and that’s annoying. (Not to mention sleep-depriving.)

The relaxed moments I spent with Abigail in the hospital have been tough to recreate but we’re getting closer. In the try-anything-once effort that is the hallmark of new parents, today I strapped on Erin’s purple Sleepy Wrap, which looks like this and has been a surefire way to calm Abigail. I had my shirt off because skin-to-skin is supposed to be effective, too. Once I had the thing on I was glad I hadn’t ordered one for myself. I looked like I was either stretching out someone’s super-fun blouse or marching in a pirates-only gay pride parade. Of course a few minutes after Abigail snuggled into the wrap she was fast asleep.

There’s no doubt in my mind she and I will soon be thick as thieves.

2 comments for “On human bonding

  1. diane
    March 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    love your humor. I know fondly the “what the HELL DIO WE DO?!?!” moments. I recommend the book “the happiest baby on the block” good stuff.
    PS wanting to bond with your daughter seems like one of the less selfish things in the world. Believe me i deal with people every day who would rather be doing just about anything but spending one on one time with their baby. Enjoy it, it's a fast ride.

  2. Leslie Webber
    March 11, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    This is one of the sweetest things I've ever read. What lucky girls Erin and Abigail are!

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