My due date was quickly approaching and here I was, still getting my list of worries in order. As a first-time mama, I had no idea what to expect and there was a lot for me to consider. Should I stress out more about my labor, breastfeeding, or all the unknowns during those first weeks at home? Since I couldn’t settle on one thing, I worried about all the things, particularly one: What if I didn’t connect with my baby?
“I didn’t bond quickly with my baby,” my friend admitted during our lunch date that week.
Her comment sent my anxiety into overdrive. I quietly listened but inside I was screaming, So this is a thing?! At eight months pregnant, her revelation scared the pee right out of me. While I excused myself to go to the bathroom, I patted my belly, took a breath, and reassured the baby doing jumping jacks inside that we’d be alright—but mostly I was reassuring myself. What if I held my baby boy and he felt like a stranger? Would it change my parenting? Would it change anything?
After that lunch, my girlfriend’s statement was never far from my thoughts and it created a fear that swiftly soared to the top of my worry chart and played on heavy rotation until my contractions started. When the intense pain of back labor took over, my capacity for rational thought ended until my son was born.
“I love him so much already,” my husband said 26 hours and one emergency C-section later.
“It wasn’t a sleepy or a hungry cry — it was nightmarish and it scared me.”
Beyond exhausted, I stared at the baby sleeping on my chest — and couldn’t have agreed more. I was totally in love. I kissed my baby boy, smiled, and whispered, See, I told you we had nothing to worry about. As we cuddled, my son’s presence continued to feed my sense of relief. There was an unmistakable bond between us. I fell asleep grateful that my girlfriend’s admission hadn’t been some sort of Omen of Doom.
Apparently, my Omen of Doom just took longer to manifest.
During the first few weeks my son and I were home, I was still trying to figure out diaper changes and life changes, but it was our connection that allowed me to get a handle on the whole mom thing. We had a secret mama-and-kid code that let me learn his likes and dislikes. I was mom-to-the-rescue — helping my baby find his happy place with feedings, burps, and books.
Other than experiencing those classic new mom worries — Will I ever sleep again? Will my nipples ever return to their normal size? — I was thankful to not add bonding to my list. But, of course, that’s exactly when my Omen of Doom took the form of something sinister and scary called colic. And suddenly I had everything to worry about.
“His personality changed when the colic monster was in control and in those moments, I felt an empty distance occupy the space between us.”
Colic is a strange state where an otherwise healthy baby is fussy or cries for long periods of time. The Mayo Clinic describes the colic as crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks. One in five babies suffer from colic, the causes of which are unknown and researchers have discovered little about it except that it usually begins in the first month of life and mysteriously resolves on its own. My baby had all the symptoms. Every night, as soon as the sun set, he wailed louder than me trying to fit one leg into my pre-pregnancy jeans.
At first, I had no idea what was happening except that his cry was different. It wasn’t a sleepy or a hungry cry — it was nightmarish and it scared me. I tried all the feeding and bedtime soothing we’d been doing, but it did nothing to comfort my son. One of his first colicky nights, I walked nonstop for six hours straight trying to console him, my newly C-sectioned insides aching with every step. What was happening? I needed some advice and a second opinion.
After two days of crying fits, I made an appointment with our pediatrician, who after conducting a full exam, shared the good news: My son was healthy. Then came the bad news, “Your son has colic. The crying will last until around his 3rd month and sadly there’s no cure.” Sensing that I was the one who wanted to cry, he added, “Try to get some sleep.” Or not.
My son’s bedtime ritual now included a relaxing bath, a book, and screaming. His personality changed when the colic monster was in control and in those moments, I felt an empty distance occupy the space between us. With our connection fading in and out, I tried a long list of soothing techniques I’d either read about or that friends had mentioned like walking, rocking, bouncing on a yoga ball, swaddling, strolling, and singing show tunes, but nothing helped. My fear took over and I worried our bond was broken.
Swaying it out with my screaming son at 2:37 one morning, I felt lonelier than ever. There was nothing between us but his inconsolable shrieking. The connection I’d been using to power my parenting instincts had all but disappeared. With this magical link all wonky, I’d just been trying every parenting trick I could invent, but none felt specific to my baby. How could I parent my kid without our bond to guide me?
My list of new mom worries was growing fast. They sat heavy on my chest like that big stack of parenting books in my bedroom I should’ve read. I stopped swaying and started crying instead. My son wailed the tiniest bit louder. Wait…had my rocking been helping him? I had stopped moving because I was crying but had that actually been soothing him? Holding my little guy close, I swayed again. I saw his face relax and heard his crying soften. Wow, it has helped. Maybe our connection wasn’t as broken as I thought.
Gently rocking my little one, his cries became fewer and far between. I could feel a stillness settle inside of me. I’d found my way back to our connection. I had no idea I’d have to tune in differently to figure out his needs—his tiny signs revealing to me how to care for him. It was my son who set me back on track showing me just how close we really were: Our bond was ever-changing — not broken. Finally, I felt a little less worried about this whole parenting thing and that helped us both stop bawling in the middle of the night.
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