My brother and sister-in-law recently welcomed their first baby into the world. I am so excited for them and can’t wait to hold my niece and see the people I love in their new role as parents. Part of me envies the wonder and joy of becoming a first-time parent, while the other part thinks whew, glad I don’t have to go through that again!
Naturally, a birth in the family causes people to reminisce about their own baby stories. I have two sons, but because of circumstances surrounding their births, the bonding process felt instant and natural with my first child, but came much later with the second.
I had a healthy first pregnancy and delivery, and when my older son was born, he spent the entire hospital visit in the room with us. I don’t think he spent a minute in the nursery. He took to breastfeeding immediately and seemed very content from the get-go. I wasn’t nervous during my pregnancy because I felt no reason to be. Other than the typical fatigue and weepiness a new mom faces, becoming a parent was a natural transition.
Halfway through my second pregnancy, I found out I had a rare condition that could cause me to suddenly hemorrhage and bleed to death. Needless to say, this put a damper on the normal joy of pregnancy. I was fortunate to have skilled medical care and a safe delivery, but nevertheless, my second son was born premature at 35 weeks. He didn’t yet have a sucking reflex and his blood sugar dropped easily, so he spent his first two weeks with a feeding tube in the NICU. We could only see him by showing identification and passing through locked doors, then scrubbing up as though preparing for a medical procedure. I couldn’t nurse him. And when I was discharged from the hospital, I had to go home, an hour away from where he was. I didn’t even see him until the day after he was born.
He did not have formula because I was able to pump milk for him, but even when he came home from the hospital, he was only taking milk from a bottle. It left me in the frustrating position of having to get up in the middle of the night to use a breast pump and then feed him with a bottle. I was agitated, he was agitated, and it took us a while to get in sync. To me, breastfeeding was one of the easiest ways to feel bonded to my babies, so I was relieved when, a month later, he finally got the hang of it.
I think the major bonding experience for me and my younger son did not come until last year, when he was seven years old and spent three days in the hospital for a severe asthma attack. He endured needle sticks day and night, all kinds of pulmonary testing and chest x-rays, and an entire night in the ER. It was just the two of us (and many medical personnel) for three days together in the ambulance, the ER, and a hospital room. I gained so much pride and appreciation to see how my son handled himself under duress. I will never know how he felt in the hospital as a newborn because obviously he couldn’t tell me then and he doesn’t remember it now. His more recent hospital stay felt like our better-late-than-never bonding experience because I was fully focused on nothing but him and we spent the days and nights together that we should have shared when he was first born.
In my first novel, Giving Myself Away, my main character, Adrienne, who is already a mom, faces the heartbreaking decision of whether to give up her third baby for adoption. I incorporated some of my birth story into hers, but it was fascinating for me to explore this dilemma in writing because it’s an experience I could never imagine going through myself.
At a writers’ conference this past spring, I met a woman who found herself exactly in this situation and her story was amazing. If you are willing to share, what was the moment you felt bonded to your baby? I’d love to hear it (and it might inspire a story for a future novel!).
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Photo: A moment of bonding with my little guy while he was in the NICU.