When many of us think about bonding with a baby, the image that is evoked is that of holding your baby just after birth, falling immediately in love as they gaze up at you. Or perhaps, you see a quiet babymooning moment, snuggled up with your little one, an innate feeling of togetherness within.
These images come not only from your own desires and expectations, but also from those around you- your family and inner circle, the wider community, and the media.
The media is especially insidious and effective in instilling images into your psyche as it is a highly visual and emotive medium.
These messages are part of the cultural paradigm that you have been provided (and that we as individuals shape) surrounding birth and parenting. However, creating a bond with a baby may not happen immediately and automatically.
The creation of a bond between mother and child is to a large extent the result of what Dr. Sarah J. Buckley, GP and mother of four, calls the “exquisite hormonal orchestration” of natural birth1. A number of hormones required in the bonding process peak around the time of giving birth, providing the perfect environment for “falling in love” with your little one.
For many women, the hormonal process of birth is interfered with through medical interventions- medically indicated or not- and so, can be disappointed and self blaming when they do not feel bonded with their newborn baby.
However, the ability to bond with a child at birth is not simply an intangible quality that may or may not be present in a new mother, but at least in some capacity, a hormonal process that can and does get derailed sometimes.
Maternal-baby bonding is not an event, but a process. The hormonal patterns of natural birth are the ideal start; however it is only the start. Hormones involved in the ‘birth high’ are secreted throughout mothering, especially if the mother breastfeeds.
In exploring our feelings and attitudes about baby bonding, it can be useful to draw parallels with the romantic love we may share with a partner. Sometimes it is the slow burning love affair that is the deepest, the richest and the most enduring. A slow burning bond with our baby can also lead to a depth of connection that can only be found with time and loving attention and intention.
This is not to trivialise the grief a woman may feel if she does not have an “instant bond” with her child. It is, instead, a suggestion that the start does not determine the end- the journey to a bond is long, and just like birth, will bring us many challenges, take us down many unexpected paths, and in the end, can provide us with a sense of fulfilment like no other.
Buckley, Dr. Sarah J. Giving Birth: The Endocrinology of Ecstasy available online at www.sarahjbuckley.com.