(This article was originally posted on MariaShriver.com on August 27, 2012)
When my first baby was born, I was supposed to experience a new beginning, attached to the wonder, magic and love of our new child. We would bond and continue to strengthen our bond for the rest of our lives.
However, that was not what happened, and astoundingly I didn’t realize that until 40 years later.
For the past three years I have worked with two partners to create a book and music set called, Safe In The Arms Of Love: Deepening The Essential Bond With Your Baby.
We wrote about the importance of bonding and attachment between parents and newborns and included a musical CD of original music that uses the soothing style of lullabies to communicate an experience of peace, calm and innocence.
The songs and the instrumental music, written by myself, and Emmy award-winner Gary Malkin, are scientifically designed to calm babies. They also help mothers, fathers and caregivers to relax and enjoy spending time with their child.
My partners and I decided to add a “My Story” part to our book about when our children were born. I began the story of my daughter’s birth, looking through the lens of bonding, when I suddenly felt a wave of grief.
Shame and regret overwhelmed me as I realized that she and I had never bonded. It was even more painful to recognize that we were still not bonded now.
Suddenly so much about our struggles made sense, but how could I have been that ignorant for so long? I felt nausea and sadness as I began to grieve this loss for us both.
I was twenty years old and she was seven weeks early. It was a terrible delivery. We had sped into NYC from two hours away once it became clear that my labor was not easing off. When I arrived at the hospital 7 and ½ centimeters dilated I was rushed upstairs.
I remember feeling excited and frightened because I hadn’t had my first childbirth class and I didn’t know what to do. The Pitocin drip dramatically changed my contractions from feeling like an embracing, strong, giant pressure into sharp, very piercing, stabbing pain.
The doctor told me he was putting me out and then the next thing I remember was being groggy, feeling stinging from my stitches and having a vague sense that something was wrong.
My daughter was 4 lbs 10 oz and so tiny she could fit in one hand. The pediatrician said, “Go home, rest, and build your strength. When she comes home you’ll be holding her all the time.”
I listened to him and visited her for a short time every day. It was hard to relate to her while she was isolated in her incubator, covered with tubes. The nurse kindly suggested I stroke the skin on her hand or her cheek with my finger.
My doctor and the nurse discouraged me from pumping though I had wanted to breast feed. I spent a lot of my time in a daze.
When she came home three and a half weeks later, she was allergic to formula and had great difficulty holding the soy formula down. She needed surgery on her eyes and had café au lait spots on her mid body, indicating Neurofibromatosis.
We were overwhelmed and focused on handling her physical needs. Sometimes my daughter pushed so hard it was like she was throwing herself out of my arms. It took a long time before we settled down.
My son was born two years later. He was three weeks early and also small, but it was a natural childbirth and I was able to nurse him right away. I experienced a state of euphoric joy and awe after his birth and was able to respond to the magic and wonder of this new soul in my arms. We were able to bond right away.
When I realized that I hadn’t known I had missed bonding with my daughter, I was shocked. I loved my daughter, but I knew I had always been more critical of her.
I had assumed we had personality differences and that what we were experiencing was normal - but in hindsight I realize that the sense of unconditional acceptance I had with her brother, a bonded child, was not there with her.
I sadly wondered if she had ever felt truly safe with me? Sometimes I experience waves of grief that come out of nowhere.
It is hard to not know what to do. When I asked her permission to publish her story in the book I had hoped we would begin to bridge a new kind of conversation. She was fine with publishing it, and she liked the music, but so far my hopes for greater intimacy have not happened.
Our terrible loss of connection was preventable. Had I been supported in those first weeks to learn about bonding and had I been encouraged to pump, which would have flooded my system with Oxytocin, to sing to her, to understand the power of touch...it is just heartbreaking.
Even now many doctors and hospitals don’t prioritize teaching about bonding. That is why we included the five essential ways to bond in our book so that new parents will know what to do.
We have heard wonderful stories from participants in our clinical trial and from people who have used the book and music.
One mother whose baby was in the incubator for a long time used the music on her way to the hospital so that she would show up unafraid, calm and present. She created a splitter and she and her baby listened together. It is deeply gratifying to know that we have helped her.
I don’t know what will happen between my daughter and myself. My hope of course is that we grow closer. I keep my heart open, but I don’t push.
Have any of you bonded with one child and not the other? When did you become aware and what did you do? How has it turned out for you? I look forward to hearing from you.