Monday, March 21, 2011

Me and my girl

Attachment theory has it that if we have a natural birth, if we bring our baby to our breast within minutes, if we lie skin to skin with our newborn, then the magic happens.

For me it did not.

Parenting wisdom say that we will love all of our children completely, though perhaps differently.

But I did not.

In fact, if I were to be totally honest, which I will, we have only bonded in the past couple of months - nearly three years after her birth.

Despite being the only one of my three children to be completely "planned" and "consciously conceived", one cannot, as I have discovered, plan on love.

Chicken and egg, this dance of detachment, of missing the mark, of not quite bonding... round and round we have gone, trying to find a way to fit together, to find each other.

I was ecstatic to be pregnant. And then three weeks in I felt taken over by an alien force, I felt numb and not "me" during my pregnancy. I fully enjoyed (as much as one does and can) my first and last pregnancies and births. Not so my second.

And we nearly lost her. For a few moments at her birth she was blue, unbreathing and being resuscitated on the bath mat. For her first year I watched for signs of brain damage due to oxygen deprivation in that first minute or so of her life with us. Thank God there were none. She is bright as a button, precociously so.

With my first and last I clutched them to me in their first precious moments. With her I watched her go from blue to pink before my placenta emerged and with it the beginning of four days of agonising afterpains far worse than any labour contractions I had experienced. It was the midwife who held her and kissed her and marvelled at her beautiful fingers. I was in pain, I could not focus on a baby.

We carried on. Going through the baby motions of breastfeeding, co sleeping, nappy changing. I loved her, sure, but not the same way as my others. There was still a distance, a numbness. When she was 10 days old I went to playgroup quite calmly with my older son, leaving her at home to be cared for by my husband. This was an impossibility with my first  and last.

She was not an affectionate baby either. At 3 months she was jumping up and down on our laps, pulling away from kisses and cuddles, which were offered aplenty.

She took her first steps at 8 1/2 months. By 11 months she was scaling a 5 foot high slide unaided at a party. Jumping on a trampoline with 7 year olds. Trying to copy her brother jumping off the back of the sofa. She knew no fear. Her physical confidence was as alien to the rest of our over-cautious family as her easy-to-tan sallow skin was to our whiteness and freckles.

Where her brother had just one full blown tantrum in his second year, she entered the "terrible twos" at 18 months and they continued for 18 months, often multiple times a day. She has the force of a tropical storm, the will of a donkey, she is incredible. I have a deep respect for her sheer force of will, it is a wonder to behold, but a deep challenge to mother!

So whilst I found it easy to tell my eldest child incessantly how much I loved him, with my second I would tell her, so that she didn't feel left out, but I didn't feel it, deep down, it felt forced and awkward. I discussed it with my husband. He understood, he felt this too. We felt bad, guilty, horrible, we wanted it to be different, but it was as it was. We kept on acting "as if", treating her with fairness and love, but not feeling it.

And then it crept up on me, a few weeks back, I realised that it had arrived. Not with a thunder bolt, but it was there: the tenderness, the affection, compassion, deep, deep love and respect that I feel for her brother and sister, it was there for her too. I could hold her in my heart and celebrate her in her wholeness, rather than feel numb and disconnected.

As her tantrums have subsided, other aspects of her emerge more and more. And oh how truly wonderful she is. And beautiful! Besides her strength, physicality and tempestuous unpredictability, there lies a tenderness, a deep consideration of others, a responsibility and organisation beyond her years, a wild creativity, brilliant sense of humour, deep passion and a vulnerability which take my breath away. When she holds my hand, or snuggles me close, or kisses me with passion bordering on violence, I feel that soul connection for the first time. Oh how wonderful. I love her, I truly do. It has been a long time coming, but finally we have clicked. Me and my girl.


  1. I admire your ability to write beautifully and honestly about such an unimaginable situation. I actually can imagine it. I have only one daughter and never went through what you did with yours, but I always feared I would. Weird, huh?
    I suspect that because you and your husband have been so conscious and in tune with your journey with her, you helped her to make her way as well. I'm so happy you've ended up where you are with your girl.
    Is it my imagination, or does she really look like you?

  2. She is almost a mirror image of me at that age - physically, facially, except she has the most beautiful dimples! Only this weekend we were looking through a photo album of me as a baby and little girl and she loved to see how similar we were. She loves to dance, just as I did, and draw and craft, and I was a world class times. But she is also very different, viscerally so, made of "different stuff" which I felt physically when pregnant with her, it was such an extraordinary feeling. And still, though of course one shouldn't compare, she is "different", in that my eldest and youngest have a deep affinity with each other, a very similar temperament, and are wildly affectionate to each other (and we as parents feel on a similar emotional plane to them). With her we find it harder much to empathise from the inside, we don't "know" how she ticks as instinctively, we are working on observation, not inner knowing, as one does when speaking a foreign language rather than ones mother tongue.

  3. Wow that's beautiful Lucy. I feel all tearful xx

  4. Beautifully written - an honest insight into family dynamics and the changing and at times confronting nature of parental love.

  5. What do you think happened in order for you to feel the shift towards attachment with your daughter? Anything you can put words to or point to for others who might be struggling with similar relationship dynamics?

  6. I feel really teary eyed reading this!!!

    I felt the same thing when my second son was born. There wasn't the same instant recognition, that moment of "i know you, even though you are a stranger". He really was a stranger. But we bonded over time, even though we are very different. My first born was instantly somehow a known entity to me, there was no question of our soul connection straight away. But boy 2 was always strong and bolshy and ox-like, and when he gets grumpy he gets really intense and volcanic!!! Emotions I am not good with, so this threw up some uncomfortable feelings and memories for me...

    Boy number 3 was an instant known entity again, I just recognised him straight away and he was happy and settled as a babe. And was not a massively tricky toddler.

    Boy number 4 is like boy number 2! He has quite a similar personality, but proving to be more of a challenge, and it is taking every fiber of me to stay patient every day whilst he has tantrums thoughout the day over seemingly nothing! All the other toddlers we know seem so calm and wise and sage-like compared to him. But he is also the only two year old I know with three older brothers - who are stonger, more able, and can express themselves verbally so much better than he can. Which must be SO difficult for him. He can only botch sentences together with words that don't always say exactly what he wants. He can't do all these other things they can, and they are so absorbed in their(to him) grown up games that they can do that he can only half-do. Like building lego, and making stuff. And it is all soooooo unfair, all the time! There are days when I feel like I must be getting everything wrong. At child number four, I am buying books on toddler psychology, potty training and so on, even though I have three other children who have come through all of these things just fine!!!! And I worked as a nursery nurse for a few years, trained in Montessori educational theory, write articles on education/child rearing...How crazy is that? I sometimes think I am a fraud, that I write advice and wisdom to others yet feel clueless sometimes when faced with a toddler on the floor, kicking and lashing out for the fifth time since breakfast, because he couldn't have a different yoghurt after he already left an uneaten half a pot on the table?

    It just goes to show that mothering is not linear, that our skills for one child can become redundant when faced with a very different child, and that our job is not so straightforward as we might think. Each new child is an individual little person in their own right with their own ideas and needs and agendas. We cannot parent all our children exactly the same because they are not all the same. We relearn to parent with each child and they all teach and challenge us and our beliefs as we go. And thank goodness really because if it really was how all the books tell you, how boring would that be???

    Thank you soooo much for being so honest. I want to give you a big hug and just say thank you.

    MF :-) X

  7. Thanks Lou,Amy and MF for your kind words. Hey MF we need to meet up someday :) Thank you for sharing YOUR family experiences so honestly, I know that will be a huge comfort and help to a lot of readers (me inc.)

    Anonymous - what changed? Ummm, certainly getting really honest and discussing it together with my husband so we could really consciously work on our side of it and in only contributing positively with our relationship with her and do this as a team. Approaching 3 and so the toddler hormones dying down has helped no end! Her getting more language also has contributed, and she in herself has become more affectionate and a little less physically reckless. Last year was a big year too - new baby and moving house, so that has all calmed down.

  8. Thanks for pointing me towards your post. It makes you wonder about the confident claims of AP, doesn't it. Parenting is a very complex emotional task and I guess the best we can do is strive to provide a safe, respectful and loving space for our littlies to grow in. What comes out of that will, by necessity with each child, be unique. This is a lovely post with an important story that is seldom told.

  9. I adore your honesty. We had/have this with our first - such a similar situation. It makes it so very difficult to be true "attachment" parents but I also have a huge fear that if we don't try our utmost to do so it will scar him for life as he's ultra sensitive. My own parents believed firmly in bringing us up to be "independent" i.e. 'detachment' parenting... and it has left its mark on me though I hate to admit it. I strive to avoid that for him but it's not as easy as Sears et al make out!

    Every day we struggle with him though it's getting easier as he learns more, and he can be such a beautiful little boy that it melts us. Thank you so much for sharing. If only more mums were not scared to admit the difficulties they face every day, however taboo those difficulties may seem...


  10. Thank you for your honesty Earthly, I'm glad mine has helped you too.

  11. Thank you so very much for sharing. It's wonderful to know I'm not alone. I've had this similar situation with my daughter (the only child we have right now). When she was born I though I would feel this instant connection to her, that "love at first sight" but I didn't and it floored me that I didn't feel it. When she woke up the first time after I laid her down for us to sleep (while still at the hospital), I felt great annoyance, not the joy of being able to hold and care for my newborn (and the guilt for that feeling was overwhelming). As the days wore on, I took care of her, lavished my attention upon her, but felt no real joy or contentment that I see a friend of mine imparting upon her 2 month old at this present time. I'm truthfully a little jelous. - What didn't help was that she was a horrible sleeper and, in my severely sleep deprived and depressed state, I, dare I admit the unthinkable, I even resented her a little. I never wanted to hurt her, I just wanted to feel like I had bonded with her, that I could care for her with great affection instead of going though the motions. - After she began to finally sleep through the night and I got a little more rested, it began to get easier. The distantlove that one has for a family memeber, even though one does not like that family member, began to grow into true love and affection, the kind that comes with time, with taking care of and caring for an individule. As she has grown more independant and communicative, I see her exploring the world around her and my heart swells with love, all consuming irrational love. I began to look forward to being with her. I no longer feel annoyed or resentful of the things she does (which was always rediculous because nothing she did was ever her fault). I've always loved my child, but I've grown to like her as well. I no longer look upon taking care of her as a "duty" but rather as part of loving and lavishing true affection upon her. She'll be 2 next month. -- Just like you, I realized one day that I really did love her. -



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...