Baby Love

10.27.08 Baby's 24th Week


Bonds that Bind

I just put Leo down for a nap. By which I mean I bounced Leo to sleep in my arms, transferred him to his crib while holding my breath, then dared to make a pot of chai, terrified that he'll wake up the moment I sit down to drink it. If any of you more seasoned moms out there has any nap advice, I'm all ears.

It's cold in the house and Leo's wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt that frames his little round face. As I watched his blue eyes gradually close, the afternoon light filtered through the overcast sky and into the nursery window, highlighting every blue-gray color in the room. The baby's eyelids were an incredible purple-blue color as they closed over his eyes, the lashes forming sweet little smiles. I love my son more and more, and I'm awed that such a beautiful person has entered my life.

Before Leo was born, I remember reading about how mothers bond with their babies in that ideal moment just after birth when the baby is placed skin-to-skin on the mother's chest, perhaps even before the umbilical cord is cut (provided it's long enough!). The baby opens her eyes for the first time, and the mother looks down into that new face and falls in love. It happened that way for my mom, or so she recalls.

Not for me. The doctor insisted that it was necessary to cut the cord before placing the baby on my chest. When I looked down at Leo for the first time I saw a swollen, miserable little alien. "Where did this come from?" I wondered. Aaron and I were exhausted, traumatized and proud all at once, but emotionally we were still a two-person family. That night in the hospital, alone with the swaddled newborn in a bassinet by the bed, I felt amazed that the pregnancy had actually resulted in a baby, and stunned that the medical experts in the building thought it was a good idea to leave him with me.

Newborn Leo was the weirdest, most unfathomable houseguest we'd ever brought home. The love I feel now for my little napping son is totally different. I know this person, I can see traces of who he is in those early photos, and I can (dimly) recall how he got from there to here. I cared for, worried about and protected him fiercely, and I know I loved him, but that love, for someone so small and new, is a distant memory.

As Leo grows, Aaron and I gradually expand our relationship. In the mornings when Leo starts to stir I take him into bed and feed him. Then we all snooze for another hour. I wake up to see Aaron's face across from me, his blue eyes looking down into his son's, Leo's smile reflected in his father's.

Of course, when the afternoon nap lasts 10 minutes and Leo and I are expelled from the house and forced to walk endless laps in the park by the sheer force of his over-tired grouchiness, the intensity of my frustration nearly rivals the strength of my love. In my experience, bonding is not about love-at-first-sight. Yes, it's a process of getting close, but it's also one of pulling, even fighting it a little. They don't call it a bond for nothing.