(un)Instant Bonding

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I attended a baby shower right before we moved to Seattle. It was for a girl I’d met through photography, and her shower was comprised mainly of her friends from church. I didn’t know a single person there, but I did manage to set myself up with a nice little group to spend the day with. A few of them were moms and one of them started talking about that moment when your baby is firstborn. She said something, that day, that made a huge impact in my first moments of motherhood. She told us that there was no immediate bond with her first child, that the baby placed on her chest had felt like a stranger she had to warm up to. This little person gets placed into your life with their own soul and their own personality, and it takes time to get to know them.

Without those words, the first few days of Sofie’s life would have been harder than they already were. In the moments after her birth, after she was whisked away by the NICU team to have her airways cleared, after I heard her first cry, after they placed her on my chest, I was surprised to find out that I didn’t immediately feel like I knew her. This was Sofie. This was my little baby girl who kicked through ballets and classical music, who was a night owl like her mamma, who wouldn’t kick until 10 pm and then slept until 10 am. But I looked at her face, and I couldn’t connect.

She cried and screamed so loudly that it felt like she didn’t like me very much. The doctor kept telling me things that I couldn’t hear or focus on. All I could do was stare down at this screaming, red, puffy, bruised baby girl who looked exactly like me, and say “you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Don’t worry. I’m here” but also worry that we would never bond.

I studied every inch of her every time I held her. I studied her extra long, dark eyelashes. I studied her eyes that were only ambiguously grey for a short time before turning a rich, chocolate brown. I let my fingers linger over her poochy, rosebud lips while she slept, and touched every inch of her buttery soft skin. And I remembered the words of that new friend at the baby shower. Those words kept me sane. Those words kept popping into my head.

If I had believed that our bond would be instantaneous, I would have constantly questioned my own humanity. I would have sat there wondering why I couldn’t bond with my own baby, why I didn’t fill up with a resounding knowing of who she was. I loved her, I completely loved her, but I didn’t know her.

The knowledge that other mothers had felt this unknowing gave me comfort. I can’t say that this knowledge made Sofie’s entrance into this world perfect or peaceful by any means. We had our struggles, and the process of getting to know each other was just the beginning of a year of constant adjusting. But this knowledge did alleviate one expectation I may not have been able to overcome.

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