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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Bonding with Newborns Across the Ocean -- Guest Post

Today, Rhyannon Morrigan from Welcoming a Heartbeat talks about bonding with your baby. Many of us want that first touch, hug, carry to magical. But what if your children are not being born near you? What do you do?


I can’t tell you how many pages were in the birth plan for my first child. To give you an idea, it had a table of contents and subheadings.

A huge percentage of the things in that plan were related to my fears about bonding. While I knew logically that the hospital wasn’t TRYING to sabotage the critical bond with my newborn, I was convinced that medical professionals were completely oblivious to the utterly catastrophic implications of interfering with me “naturally” bonding to my newborn. I was positive that if my son did not get an intervention free birth, skin to skin contact and exclusive breastfeeding that our ability to bond would be irrevocably damaged.

While I knew that being a parent would be a huge adjustment for my husband and myself, I confidently explained to people that by insuring that there were no impediments to bonding we’d make the transition to parenting and being a family with relative ease.

When post partum depression crashed into me with the force of a mach truck, I found myself worrying constantly about whether or not Z and I were bonded “enough” or if perhaps merely being in the hospital had interfered with the hormones necessary for the kind of blissful mothering I’d spent nine months reading about. This fear was a large factor in my subsequent decision to have a home birth. Unfortunately, home birth didn't protect me from postpartum depression, something that made me feel even more like a failure. What if there was something fundamentally wrong with me that made it impossible to feel the immediate rush of euphoria all my mommy friends assured me was guaranteed if you did things right.

The idea that instantaneous bond as the foundation of a healthy relationship with my children pervaded my understanding of parenting for almost twenty years. During that time, as my children grew, and my experience with them unfolded, I began to question those assumptions.

For something deemed so critical to human development, there isn’t an objective way to measure bonding. We know that children who have experienced extremes of neglect and abuse showed characteristic psychosocial problems- but extrapolating from those severe traumatic situations doesn't make a lot of sense to me. We don’t have a scale which says “You’ve are now bonded xyz. Way to go! You’ve unlocked the gold bonding achievement!"

The best part about spacing your kids out over a period of almost thirty years is that you get to see how parenting fads come and go. The more years that I had under my belt, the more I began to question my own thinking about mothering. I watched one friend bond with her adopted daughter… a child she didn’t meet until she was seven years old. I watched my own children and those of my friends and family grow from infants to children to teenagers and noticed that in the same way that you couldn’t tell who in the kindergarten class potty trained first, you also couldn't tell who had skin to skin contact with their moms in the first five minutes of life and who met their mom the next day.

One of my dearest friends did not meet her children until they were ten days old. She did not hold them until they were almost two weeks old…Her love for her children is no better or worse than the love I have for my children, two of whom were born at home and held against me until well after their umbilical cords stopped pulsing and were cut.

Theo and Cally are an ocean away from me. My body hasn’t changed one iota since the day I was informed that “we” were pregnant. Unlike their brothers and sister, when I first meet them, it’s not going to be after spending months feeling little jabs and kicks.

Despite the fact that I’m not carrying them in my belly, they are in my heart every moment of every day. They are my first thought as I roll out of bed and check my email before I make my first cup of coffee.

I didn’t fall in love with Drew immediately. We fell in love with a continent between us. It was emails and texts and messages and phone calls which stretched from minutes to hours. After eight years, I love him more than I did in that first infatuation stage, because we’ve spent thousands of moments learning about one another.

So when people ask me if I’m worried about “bonding” with the twins, I have to laugh. By the standards I had twenty years ago, I should be terrified. I will be lucky if I’m in the same hemisphere as they are when they are born. I’m quite sure that if I attempted kangaroo care in the nursery the nurses would very quickly explain to me that I am a mammal and that my babies speak hindi and have no need for me to pretend that I’m a marsupial. Our goal is that they meet Daddy before they turn six weeks old.

So this time as I await the births of my children, I’m not afraid about bonding with them immediately. I love my children already and we will have a lifetime to “bond” with one another. We’ll bond over midnight feedings and stories and moments of shared joy and tears.


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