During my first pregnancy, I was a voracious reader of all things baby-related. So I knew going into the birth experience that not everyone falls head over heels for their baby at first sight. Sometimes, the collective wisdom of the experts warned, bonding takes time.
By the time Alex finally made his appearance, after almost a week of agonizing over whether or not to induce, the induction and sixteen-hour labor that ended in a surgical suite with a child the size of a two-month-old, I was too exhausted to think about whether it was love at first sight. But in the middle of the second night, as I sat in a cramped corner nursing, my milk-drunk firstborn opened his eyes and gave me a look I’d seen many times on his father’s face, and my heart snagged. Bonding: done.
The second time around, the sucker-punch of a Trisomy 21 diagnosis set all other concerns to zero. It took every ounce of strength I had to keep it together; I was too numb to feel–until I was shocked out of it by an occurrence I have chosen not to share publicly. In the gut-deep explosion of outrage, I first touched the flame of love for my daughter.
By the time the third birth came around, I was well acquainted with the truth that love isn’t about feelings at all, no matter what the songs say. Love is a series of choices we make even and perhaps especially when we don’t feel like it. The transition from two to three was tough, and bonding took proportionally longer.
And then came #4. The unexpected contractions, the interruption of plans, the early delivery, the related concerns about whether his lungs were going to be strong enough. It was the first C-section in which I paid no attention to the action beyond the blue drape. I was focused so intently on the drama unfolding beneath the warming lights. “I think we need to put him in special care,” said the nurse.
She wrapped him in blankets and set him on my collarbone for a few brief seconds–no more than twenty, and perhaps only ten. I inhaled a scent wholly unknown and yet somehow familiar. “Michael,” I breathed, and my lips brushed his cheek. The sensation shot inward so fast, I didn’t even recognize it had happened until days later, days in which I was scolded for stroking his leg with one finger and I spent more time in contact with a breast pump than I did with my baby.
He’s six months old now, and turning circles on his belly beside me following a very long night post-immunizations. He was perfectly happy, he just didn’t feel like sleeping. We spent some quality time on the couch staring in each other’s eyes and smiling last night. I wanted to be ticked off at him, but I couldn’t help myself. Those eyes, starred with the faint gleam from the front window, did me in as they do almost every time he looks at me.
Call it personal growth, learning to live in the moment. Call it awareness that it’s likely the last time. Credit it to being a more “mature mom.” Call it what you want. The fact is, I’m a sucker for this baby, his wiggles, his belly laughs, and his eyes, oh those starry eyes–a sucker in a way I haven’t been since Alex was an infant. I adore all my children, and no doubt Michael will try my patience as a toddler and preschooler just as each of his older siblings has and does in turn. But in the meantime, I revel in a bond so strong, it wakes me up every night three minutes before he starts fussing to nurse. May God give me the grace to hold him close to my heart, and let him go when his time comes to fly.