In Sippy Cups, I wrote a chapter about Love At First Sight. In it, I describe my relationship with Elby as a baby. I didn’t bond with her right away and I felt so many crazy mixed emotions including guilt that I didn’t feel the way I was “supposed” to-the way I’d read and heard that it should be between mother and baby. Recently, I adapted that chapter for a play called Motherhood Unplugged and after the reading I was asked to elaborate on when I actually did fall in love with Elby. Since that conversation I’ve been thinking about this bonding thing a lot.
In the book I say that “by six months I was her bitch” but that’s not exactly true. I look back and I see that everything I was feeling was filtered through a cloud of anxiety. I hovered over her, feared whether or not I was doing everything right, perfectly, cried over breastfeeding issues, and general felt bad. Anxiety is an underrated deterrent when it comes to bonding, falling in love, relaxing or even having rational thoughts. Anxiety makes you feel that what’s going on in the moment will always be going on hour after hour, day after day, month after month – which I know now is not true. But anxiety doesn’t allow much truth to pass through.
So, with Elby being my first baby, and having nothing to go on, at six months, I think I believed I was as bonded as I was going to be. I distinctly remember Elby as a tiny baby, before 6th months sleeping on my husband’s chest looking so content – like a photograph that I should have been in but wasn’t. Somehow I was detached – too busy worrying about what I should be feeling – to busy going through all the day to day feeding, bathing, holding, rocking etc. because I knew that’s what I needed to do to care for her. And I wanted to care for her as best as I possibly could! I wanted to do everything perfectly. So perfectly that I couldn’t relax. I always suspected that I was missing out on a lot.
Vicki Iovine had a line in “Surviving the First Year of Motherhood” where she described her friend not wanting to leave the house because she was too enthralled watching her beautiful daughter’s eyelashes grow. I wanted to feel that! Why didn’t I feel that? What was wrong with me? I wondered.
When Elby was fourteen months she fell ill and had to be rushed to the ER with severe dehydration. I was awash in fear. My husband was out of town and luckily for me, my brother and sister-in-law were there for me through every minute of it. The ER visit became a night in the PICU which became two days in the hospital. Elby was fine but I ended up finally realizing through the anxiety that wouldn’t go away that I had a problem. I finally realized that I’d been feeling nonstop low level anxiety since she was born and it took her getting sick for it to reach a point that I had to get help. I went on Zoloft.
It’s almost embarrassing to tell you this because I’m worried you will think that I didn’t love my daughter before this -and I did – in a petrified, overly responsible, primal mama bear way I, loved my daughter. But I didn’t enjoy having a child. I can see that now. When the medicine kicked in the waves of bliss finally hit me. The falling madly in love, want to “eat her face”, constantly smother her with kisses, hang on her every attempt at words, marvel in everything she does, thinks, feels…that happened. And it never went away.
Now, I have these twin girls – and no amount of Zoloft can take away the magnitude of anxiety that caring for three children (two, all of a sudden, at once and one who has a chronic problem) brings with it.
Saturday I had a fairly mellow day with my family and it gave me a glimmer, a peek, at how it can be, how it will be, when the anxiety finally wanes. I know I will eventually feel madly in love with these two just as much as with Elby. Right now, the responsibility is unrelenting and I’m just being honest. I wish I was one of the mothers I read about that feels content to just sit and stare at her offspring blessing every moment on the planet with them. Me, I worry and stab my thumb nail into the soft skin of the inside of my other thumb until it bleeds. Nervous habit.
I wish more people talked about this stuff.