I’m going to brave it and say; I didn’t immediately bond with my baby. I was curious about her; I wanted to inspect her translucent sharp nails, her full head of jet-black silken hair, and how exactly she made those snorty noises. But, was I overwhelmed by gushing love? No. I felt wonder, surprise, relief and exhaustion. And yet, I tried very hard to look like I was ‘bonding’ with her, because I felt a huge invisible pressure to be a good mother.
Bonding is multi-sensory experience that allows us to develop a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of our child. The release of oxytocin - the hormone that among other things makes you seek closer attachment - into your bloodstream during labour and birth aids this. This motivates us at a primal level to make sure our child is given the warmth, food, and care that he needs. Nonetheless there is often such high expectation around bonding, as if it can only happen in one prescribed way. No wonder new mothers can feel confused and pressurized.
Bonding may have felt fantasy like as you felt your bump grow, saw the ultrasound scans and fell in love with your growing child. Yet the idea of someone and the experience of her can be different and jarring. Once your child is born, bonding may take a more physical form because of the very practical tasks of feeding, bathing, and getting the baby to sleep, so there can seem to be very little time to reflect on how you feel for your child. This can make you wonder if you have the ‘magical maternal bond’ that you’ve read about. All of this practical interaction however, is exactly what will help you bond.
Like any relationship, bonding with your baby may not be straightforward. Unlike previous templates of bonding, with babies the element of reciprocity is missing for months. They can’t interact and signal the verbal and non-verbal cues that we’ve come to expect from the people we are close to and this can feel depleting.
One way to bond with your baby, as in all healthy relationships, is to develop rituals - something that belongs to just the two of you. It might be the bath and bed ritual or your walk, when you cuddle or smile at him. You’ll come to learn what suits you best.
Sometimes feelings of attachment do not appear for a long time and it is reported this is the case for one in five mothers. If you consistently feel numb or indifferent, it’s important to speak to your midwife to seek support about how you feel. The most important thing is that you remain safe. Motherhood is a complex emotional and psychological journey and it is different for every woman.
The bonds you will have with your child are a life long work. Some may be for specific phases, and will grow and break, like nursing. Others may weather a lifetime, like reading or sports. Remind yourself that it is a process, rather than one final singular moment.