One of the many surprises I’ve encountered upon having my second child has been how different my experience of bonding with her has been, compared to my experience with my son. I feel like I know my daughter so well after only three short months, despite the reality that she is growing and developing at lightning speed, a little different every day. I put this down more to my general comfort as a mom and my better knowledge about how to take care of a baby this time ’round than to anything particularly unique about my daughter, as lovely as she is. Becoming a first-time parent was such a shock that it took me a long time to relax enough to really get to know my son.
Becoming a new parent is one of the fastest, most dramatic transitions most of us go through in our lives. One minute, you are alone, and the very next, there is an entirely new, helpless person who needs you to be on top of it and have it together. It’s a cliché, but it’s a true one, and modern life in America being what it is, a lot of us are going through this alone but for our partners. We don’t have our mothers or sisters or the friends we grew up with around to help. We just have to do it, and figure it all out as we go.
Before my son was born, I had held a grand total of one newborn before in my adult life. I had a decent amount of real world experience with toddlers and preschoolers, and being an academic, I’d done my research on how to care for a baby, but it was all theoretical. The moment the midwife and my partner first plopped my son on my chest after he was born was exhilarating, but also terrifying. What if I broke him? What if he didn’t like me? What if I didn’t like him?
All of this makes being a new mom super scary, and for me, fear got in the way of feeling close to my baby. I was committed to doing well by him, and I kept him fed and clean and close to me because I knew I was supposed to, but I was scared of him. We had trouble nursing for his first month, and I had a lot of anxiety about his growth and health, compounded by the crazy hormonal swings of the postpartum period. I was convinced I was going to fall down the stairs while holding him. I couldn’t sleep because what if the room was too cold, or too hot? What if he stopped breathing?
I overanalyzed everything after he was born. We did lots of skin-to-skin contact because there’s good research that skin-to-skin promotes bonding, better weight gain, and general better health for babies, but outside of these designated times, I had a genuine fear of cuddling or kissing him too often. I’m an introvert myself and I wanted to respect his baby autonomy, which to me meant giving him some space. All of this got in the way of getting to know my baby comfortably, and of bonding with him on our own terms. There was such a learning curve: I had a new role as a mother, a new body, new schedules and routines.
I genuinely think I was (and am) a good mom despite all this. I think this fear is a really common experience among new parents, and maybe one that needs to be talked about more out in the open. I am so happy to say that becoming a second-time parent has been a lot less terrifying than it was the first time. I have confidence in myself and in my babies. know that my daughter is going to like me, and I’m going to like her. This bonding experience has been infinitely more joyful than the last, now that I’ve been able to relax into my role and just be here with my kids.