This post is a continuation of a post I wrote back in January: ‘A Rush of Love: Maternal Bonding in Difficult Times.’ I discussed the difficulties that birth trauma and postnatal depression can cause with bonding, and did cause for us, and how we overcame those difficulties. I also referred to the requirements for bonding as laid out by the theory of attachment parenting and how bonding is entirely possible without adhering to them. The post was intended to bring hope to those struggling with these issues. Now I would like to discuss the difficulties that can arise after bonding, when the mother-child relationship has previously been damaged by birth trauma and postnatal depression. Bonding is a part of recovery but it does not fix postnatal depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. In fact, it brings its own problems, but that does not make it less essential or less wonderful.
My son is 13 months old now and we are as thick as thieves. And the thing is: now I know. Now I know what we missed in those early months. Those months are irretrievable. We can’t do them again. I see photos of my son as a newborn and I don’t recognise him. He was so beautiful and I don’t know how I didn’t see it at the time. He is still beautiful. It makes what remains of babyhood – or toddlerhood – even more precious. I am always snapping photos of him but I cannot preserve the way his hair smells after a bath or the way he leans into me. I cannot keep him small.
I am his safety. The privilege of that takes my breath away. When he is distressed and I hold him in my arms, his whole body relaxes. When he is tired or ill or upset, no one else will do. There is a saying that having a child is like having your heart walking around outside your body, and it’s true. Sometimes I struggle to negotiate where he ends and I begin. I feel what he feels. I consider myself an empathetic person, but motherhood takes it to a whole new level.
I cannot help but weep for what it must have been like for him, both the birth itself and afterwards. How must it have felt to be wedged there inside me and slammed into my pelvis over and over as I pushed and pushed for hours on end. How those forceps gripped his little face and pulled him to no avail. The hurried caesarean, and his first moments: away from my smell and my warmth, medical staff in latex gloves and I don’t know what tests. He should have been snuggled on my chest. I should have been the one to feed him and dress him in his little hand-knits when we were done cuddling. It wasn’t as it should have been and he must have suffered.
I must have been aware on some level because, two days after his birth, I announced that I had read that skin-to-skin was a good thing and we were going to do skin-to-skin now. My husband closed the hospital curtains and I stripped our son to his nappy, and I held my baby on my chest. I felt nothing at all. I hope he didn’t pick up on that. I hope it helped him. In the following weeks, I hope he didn’t know that I was not really present as I went through the motions of caring for him. I will always feel the loss of those weeks but I hope that my physical presence was enough. I hope that my smiles sufficed and he didn’t see the deadness in my eyes.
The important thing, though, is now. Ultimately, the past is gone and we must make the best of the present. Even when my mental health is bad, on the days when I feel like hell, I do cherish every day.
You can read more about Laura’s experience by visiting her blog: http://www.keepingiteclectic.co.uk