Bonding with the babies, in spite of myself

Four in the afternoon is what I like to call white-knuckling time. Right around four is when both children get really tired (that’ll happen when you wake up at 5:00 AM and refuse to take a nap — go figure) and one of two things happen. One, they either get inexplicably hyper and run/crawl back and forth from the kitchen to the living room, demanding graham crackers, or they get crying-angry. Crangry. Everything upsets them — they want peanut butter toast instead of the delicious organic dinner and probiotic-laced chocolate milk I prepared for them. Henry wants to take the knives out of the dishwasher and crawl around with them. June wants to watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood but NOT THAT EPISODE YOU DUMB BITCH, and cue the screeching, art-supply-throwing meltdown in the middle of the living room floor. From about 4:00 onward Lou and I start white-knuckling it and counting down the minutes until we can throw them in bed and enjoy some motherfucking SILENCE, REAL TALK.

I have this horrible habit of staying up long after I should have gone to bed (like ten thirty, you guys) because I love the feeling of not being hounded by two demanding little tyrants. I’m really tired every morning but oh, the freedom of eating peanut butter toast and watching Netflix for hours and hours is the only thing that keeps me going some days. So immediately after we put them down for bed, I head straight to loft with my laptop and a bag full of those honey-mustard pretzels and nobody is allowed to talk to me or ask me to do anything for the rest of the night. My husband joins me in the loft eventually and sits in his reclining chair and draws awesome comics while he watches old episodes of 30 Rock. And that is romance, y’all. That is why we’re happily married and have been best friends for seven years now. Deep conversations? Candle-lit dinners? Take that noise somewhere else. After a full day of toddler tantrums, I just want to be left alone to eat pretzels and scroll mindlessly through a bunch of hilarious gifs.

Inevitably, every single night, I end up on facebook scrolling mindlessly through pictures of my own children, because I am addicted to them like crack. I cannot get away from them. The first hour or two after they fall asleep I’m like, yes, I am going to stay right here with my netflix and pretzels and I’m not getting out of bed unless there’s a fire, and even then probably not. After a couple hours, though, I pull the earbuds out of my ears and start telling Lou about the hilarious things June said during the day. “Oh! I forgot to tell you what Henry did!” is how most of my sentences start after 8:00. By 8:30 I’m wandering in their room “just to check” on them, hovering over them like a crazy ex-girlfriend, because they are just so breathtakingly beautiful with such pillowy cheeks. You can’t not kiss them. And then maybe you kiss the baby and he wakes up and starts whimpering because he wants to nurse but that’s okay because you missed him anyway.

Ewwww! Creeper, no creeping! But yeah I’ve totally done this to my children.

Maybe it’s because I have a panic disorder but I have this weird anxiety that I’m not “bonded enough” with either of them. I don’t know how much more love it’s possible to feel for these people, but I always have this nagging fear that if I’m not constantly enjoying them, it means I haven’t bonded with them enough and they’re going to develop Reactive Attachment Disorder and turn out to be stabbers.

God knows I didn’t get to hold either one of them right after they were born. Not that I’m bitter — it was a decision borne out of choice and necessity, and with both of them I remember feeling very zen about it at the time, and even now. I have years and years of getting-to-know them ahead of me, I thought, as the nurses wrapped up June and brought her over to my husband. But then a few weeks later, in the hormonal, sweaty hell that was post-partum anxiety, I cried as I wiped off my back-sweat with a towel: What if I hadn’t bonded with her enough?! What if I didn’t really love her?!

June’s birth was relatively easy, as births go. Not even a day of labor, just a few hours of really hard labor (mitigated by the epidural, thank you Jesus), less than an hour of pushing, and she was here. Afterward, however, was when it all fell apart — already anemic, I retained my placenta and hemorrhaged everywhere. Two hours later I woke up — weak from blood loss, loopy from the drugs, exhausted from the delivery. I was still half-awake when my husband handed me the baby — swaddled and sleeping, not the screaming newborn I had pictured squirming naked on my chest post-birth. I didn’t feel a rush of love — relief, maybe, that we had survived. Contentedness, knowing that the hard part was over and I was free to enjoy my baby. But mostly I just felt like going back to sleep. I had been awake for 36 hours at that point and was on the verge of needing a blood transfusion; sue me.

Three days later, we were home and I still felt like I had been run over by a truck — shaky, aching, and overwhelmed with that new-mom exhaustion you can feel all the way down to the marrow of your bones. At one point, my mom scooped the baby out of my arms and shooed me into my room to take a nap. Wide-awake but nauseous with exhaustion, I burrowed under the covers, closed my eyes — and nothing. I waited — ten minutes, fifteen, twenty — on the verge of sleep but unable to fall all the way under. My heart started to race. Dear God, I thought, if I don’t sleep now, June will wake up and need to eat, and I won’t have another chance to nap for who knows how long. Until night-time, at least. Oh wait, she doesn’t sleep then, either. Go to sleep, dummy! Sleep NOW! Amazingly, this didn’t help me sleep. I pulled a sleep mask over my eyes. Put headphones in my ears. Waited, waited. Nothing. My heart started beating faster. I started whimpering, then full-out sobbing. I was never going to sleep again. I started dreading the baby, fearing the baby. I never wanted to see the baby again. I just wanted to sleep and sleep and sleep. Oh God, I begged, please don’t let her walk in here with the baby.

Right on cue, Mom walked in with the baby. I was crying so hard I could barely see them through my tears. And then I did see them — my baby — and my heart soared. “Hiiiiii!” I screeched, probably too loud, suddenly feeling the weirdest mixture of miserable and elated. My baby! She was here! I was still tired, terrified, and every muscle in my body ached, but now, as a consolation prize, I got to hold my precious, pink little baby girl and smell her fuzzy head as she nursed. I was the poster child for post-partum anxiety — sweating, unable to sleep, overwhelmed — and sick with love for my little baby. Yay! I thought, holding out my arms and making gimme-gimme-gimme hands at her feverishly. The baby’s here, the baby’s here!

At some point in the first few days, completely unbeknownst to me, June had gone from a mewling stranger that I tolerated nervously to a snuggly, precious little creature whom I loved — genuinely loved, conventional “bonding” be damned. We didn’t do skin-to-skin with either of them right after birth — the hemorrhage got in the way of that for June, obviously, and Henry had to be whisked off for his myelomeningocele surgery — so that fabled rush of post-birth oxytocin is something we all missed out on. But we bonded. I started loving her. I don’t know when it happened, but it did. It felt like crazy, hungry, desperate fear for her safety until I got my antidepressants straightened out, but it was love, it was attachment, whatever you want to call it, and it was there.

I still feel it at four in the morning, when Henry wakes and shrieks like a falcon until I stumble over to his crib and thrust a sippy-cup under his nose. God I’m so tired please go back to sleep oh hiiiiii sweet baby boy, look at those precious little lips! When I crawl back in bed there’s a lump taking up most of the space on my pillow, and I remember that June crawled into bed with me last night at midnight. I yuv you my snuggly girl she tells me, so I let her climb up into my bed, but just this once (yeah right.) And I think, They’re here, they’re here, my babies, they’re here.

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5 thoughts on “Bonding with the babies, in spite of myself

  1. Love this! It is amazing how on some days, I wish for the minutes to go by faster so I can get to nap time or bedtime! But like you, I check on them constantly, and look at the thousands of iPhone pictures I took of them that day.

    My first born’s delievery was not the best. I got my epidural at 4 cm but it only worked for about an hour. I felt every damn thing for the last 5 hours of my labor. It was the worst thing I’ve ever gone through! While I was pushing I pleaded with my husband and mom, gasping “I can’t do this anymore! I can’t I can’t!” And “I’m never ever fucking doing this again!!!” I did skin to skin once my son came out but all I could think was “ew get him off me” I had
    That baby goo slime on me for the next two days because I was in too much pain to take a shower.

    I remember the lactation consultant (or “boob nazi” as I called her) who scolded me for not holding my baby and getting that skin to skin contact all day long. I was so tired so I kept him in that bassinet next to the bed unless I was attempting to breast feed him. We had to sneak out of the hospital before the boob nazi came back because she wasn’t going to let us leave until she witnessed me feed him for 30 minutes straight! Talk about anxiety for a first time “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing” mom. Ugh.

    But yes the bonding came hard and fast once we were home together. With my daughter it took a little longer because all she did was scream for the first 6 weeks. Yes, I loved her, but once she actually stopped crying so I could study the natural beautiful shape of her face, I fell deeper in love.

    Great post Sarah!!! 🙂

  2. I just recently found your blog and devoured most of your archives – you are a terrific writer!
    I have an 18-month-old and read this nodding my head… “yes, this! YES! SO MUCH THIS!”

  3. I used to think that immediate skin-to-skin contact with my babies would make every minute after that a warm fuzzy dream. Both times I got skin contact and both times I struggled to bond and the newborn stage was a freaking nightmare. I’m sure it is helpful in some circumstances, but there were too many other factors working against me for it to do much good.

    A few times I have talked my husband into taking the kids and staying with his parents for the weekend so I can have “introvert time”. As cute as they are, I really need me some silence sometimes.

    • Introvert time! Hah! yes! When my husband gets off work he takes both children down in the basement immediately to watch tv and hang out so I can just relax and watch netflix without anyone climbing on me. it’s THE BEST!

  4. Our nighttime routine is fairly similar. The minute the girls go to bed, we put away all the toys in the den (I can’t relax surrounded by mess), I fix drinks, and we Netflix. Once in a while, we will sit on the patio and talk, and by God, we need to do it more often, because it’s lovely and feels like a date. But mostly, we watch shows in our comfy pants and have a drink. It’s a nice, comforting ritual.

    As to the bonding: I feel like, between my life-threating health issues and Claire’s surgery, recovery, and NICU time, I kind of delayed bonding with her until she got home. I alternate between feeling terrible about this, and trying to understand myself and what I was dealing with at the time– I was fighting for my life, SO THAT I could get out of the hospital myself and get to my baby girl, but to do so, I kind of had to detach from everything that was going on with her. And then when I finally did get her home, I was like, why don’t I feel as attached to her as I do to Etta, who hasn’t left my side all this time? I felt like a terrible mother. My husband was amazing, a rockstar really, and he just encouraged me to snuggle and hold her and assured me, once we had some time together, I would feel just as attached to her as Etta. He was right. And now, I am just madly in love with both of my girls. I always hesitate to share that part of our story, because I never want Claire to think I loved her any less. I couldn’t love either of them more. But it took a few more days, because we both went through a lot, and we just needed some extra time and snuggles to get there.

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