Thursday, March 11, 2010

Motherly Love - It's not always instant

Pregnancy was very surreal to me for the first number of months. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that there was a little person growing inside me. That the little feet that kicked my tummy would one day be the same little feet I'd play "This Little Piggy" with.

I won’t talk here about how my birth experience and how it was completely not what I wanted. I won’t complain about the fact that I had an unnecessary cesarean section. I had my son in my arms after about an hour and he was healthy and I was quickly recovering from the surgery. My husband and I had a boy named picked out before I even got pregnant with our son. Jeremiah. I was so excited that I told the nurses in the O.R. about Jeremiah, the ones in the recovery room, and the ones that brought me up to the hospital bed where I would first officially get to hold my son. My husband came in the room carrying that little bundle, placed him in my arms and said, “Honey, I’m sorry…… Um…... He really doesn’t look like a Jeremiah!”

And so began my journey with this little stranger. He was the cutest baby I had ever seen. A lot of the nurses would poke their head in the room just to get a look at him. He even got the “Cutest Baby on the Ward” award (that constituted of a smiley face beside our room number on the whiteboard which signaled nurses to come meet us). I loved him right from the start. He immediately took over residence in my heart. Caleb was my angel and I would do anything to keep him from harm. I was totally in love with my little man.
Not quite. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t love him. He was my child after all. I knew even while I was in labour that I would love being a mom and would want many more children (my husband told me that we should probably wait a while though, smart man). I just didn’t have that “maternal bond” that people always talk about. I looked at him and saw this adorable little baby and wondered why I didn’t love him as much as I thought I should. Truth be told, there were times I thought of him kind of like a pet. You feed a pet, you make sure it gets exercise, you snuggle with it and you have a love for it. The nurse poked his heel for blood tests and then commented about how great it was that I was so calm with my bleeding and crying child next to me. After I got home, people always commented on how calm of a mother I was. “You’re not like most first time moms who come running as soon as their baby cries.” Little did they know what I was feeling inside.

I longed to have that passionate, undying love that a mother feels for her child. I wanted to cry when he cried (I tried actually, it didn’t work) and feel pain when he felt pain. I wanted that closeness and connection with my son. I wanted to feel that infamous “motherly love;” to have that much talked about “bond.” But I just didn’t. I thought something was wrong. I blamed it on the c-section. I have read about the fact that certain hormones are released during a vaginal birth that promote bonding. They weren’t released for me. A friend told me that it was okay to “mourn” for the type of birth that I had but then I had to move on. She had an unplanned cesarean too. I felt so guilty that I didn’t love my son the way that I thought a mother should.

On the outside, I was a very good mother. I fed my son when he was hungry, changed him when he needed it, snuggled with him around the clock, sang to him when he was awake, and stared at him while he was sleeping (unless I fell asleep too). A lot of moms stare at their child because they just can’t get over how amazing their little miracle is. I stared at mine for two reasons: he was so adorable I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and I was looking for some sort of special connection with him.

I had an epiphany after about a month: I had never loved as a mother before so it would make sense that I didn’t know how. It was really that simple. It sounds silly but it all came together for me at that moment. I had a sense of relief. I talked to people about this and discovered that I wasn’t alone with these emotions. It confirmed to me that bonding is not just hormonal (although I’m sure hormones help). Bonding is something that is learned and needs nurturing. So being a typical Canadian who has access to the internet, I searched for tips on how to bond with my baby. The biggest thing that I discovered was to follow my gut. Or my “mother’s intuition;” the intuition that I thought was missing from me.

I also read a paragraph in The Baby Book about how the first 3 months of being a mother are about getting to know your baby. Yesterday during Coffee Break (a Women's Bible study I attend weekly)we talked about a passage in Philipians. In Philippians 1:9 it says "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge." Paul is talking in particular about the Philippians learning more about God and through doing so, they will draw closer to Him. One of the moms there made a really good point. She mentioned that this works the same way with children. The more you get to know them, the more you love them. I am so glad that, instead of spending the first months of Caleb's life trying to fit him into MY life by trying to make him follow MY routine and My ideas about how parenting should be, I spent time getting to know him.

I also believe that this knowledge of my son gives me much more confidence in myself as a mother. As Caleb gets older and goes through all those wonderful toddler stages, I can always go back to asking myself, "why does he do this and how would be the best way to deal with it?" I think that a lot of times it's easier just to ask the "how to deal with it" part of that question and forget to figure our children out. I may go "against the grain" with a few of the parenting choices that Adam and I have made, but I know what's best for Caleb because I know Caleb best. It doesn't (usually) bother me when people give me all sorts of "advice" because I can feel confidence in the fact that they just don't know Caleb as well as I do. They are probably giving advice that has worked for themselves or someone they know. With a different child and a different parent-child relationship. I'm not saying that I don't take advice from people who hae been there and done that. I am, however, saying that I'm not bothered by the "helpful" hints to get Caleb to sleep through the night, or sleep in the crib, or wean, or a number of other things. I know that I'm doing what's best for my son and that's the part that matters to him.

Anyway, the jist of this post is that a great bond is something that you need to work on. And keep working on it. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you knew your teenager the same way that you knew your infant/toddler?

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