Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Delayed Bonding with a Premature Baby

Today Lady Bug is nine days old. Four of those nine days I was unable to visit her due to being too sick or weak to get to her, even in a wheelchair. For those remaining five days I only saw her for half an hour on two of those days, and an hour on the last two days. I did get to hold her and attempt to start breastfeeding in the recovery room for a few hours, but after that her condition started to get worse and they had to take her to the NICU and I was so sick I didn't see her again until two days later. These circumstances made it very difficult to bond with my baby.

With my first, and only full term baby, I had no problem forming an immediate attachment/bonding. I had wanted to be a mother for a long time and I'd gone almost two weeks overdue. I was totally ready and he was MINE from the moment I saw him (though I was shocked by the blond hair and blue eyes given that both my husband and I have very dark hair and I have hazel eyes.) I was so ready for that moment, longed for it for so long; it was effortless.

With my second, born at 32 weeks, things were not so easy. For starters, I got to see him for one minute when they took him out (emergency c-section) and then he was in the NICU
(Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit) and I was too sick to get out of bed and into a wheelchair to see him for over 36 hours. I had to content myself with at poorly lit picture (no flashes allowed.) It was awful. Everyone else got to see him but me. I had to depend on other people's descriptions of him. What little they could see of him, because he was covered with sensor wires, IV tubes, c-pap machine, and a blindfold over his face so that his under-developed eyes wouldn't be damaged by the lights. We had no clue what our baby really looked like for over a week! At that age their skin is too sensitive to touch; it causes pain for them, so we couldn't even hold or touch him for a week. When we did finally get to see what he looked like, he was not really all that cute. (Please don't judge me for that comment.) He looked like a wrinkled old man, or a monkey.

On top of all that; once I was released from the hospital we were an hour's drive away. According to the NICU rules we were only allowed to hold him for one hour during feeding time, which happened every three hours. So if you missed it, you had to wait. We had to time everything around those feedings. And we had our older son whom we could not neglect. He wasn't allowed in the NICU; thankfully his grandparents were able to watch him while we made our daily visits. Thankfully Principal Daddy was able to get short term something or other that paid for 6 weeks off so that we could make those daily trips (Early Bird was in the NICU for seven weeks.)

But bonding did not happen instantly with Early Bird. And I felt so horribly guilty about that. That doesn't mean that I didn't love him, didn't hope and pray for him every day. It does mean that I didn't feel connected to him; didn't feel like he was MINE. I don't remember when that moment finally happened. I think it was something gradual that snuck up on me without me realizing it was happening. Not having that instant, emotional attachment made me feel so guilty. I felt like a horrible mother; what was wrong with me that I wasn't bonding with my baby? Did this mean I wouldn't be able to love him the way I love my firstborn?

Of course, it turned out I love him just as much. It took some time, but I bonded to him. I don't think I realized it until he was older and (again, please don't judge me) cuter/more normal baby looking.

When they took Lady Bug out and took her over to the place where they cleaned her up, got the fluids out of her lungs and all that, I was able to turn my head and watch from the operating table. There was a curtain near my head that kept me from seeing the "birthing" process; I've never seen the kids actually come out of me. As I looked over at her my drugged brain latched on to the thought over and over was "she doesn't feel like MINE." There was such a disconnect. And then I didn't get to see her for two days. I was still having high blood pressure even though I'd given birth, so my doctor kept me on magnesium sulfate (which is the WORST STUFF EVER) so I was foggy brained, unable to focus my eyes or my thoughts in addition to the headache, hot flashes, and vomiting. When I finally was able to visit her it was for short times only, and I was so weak I could do no more than hold her on a pillow or watch while my husband fed her. (Thankfully at this NICU they let us hold her anytime we wanted, feeding time or not, and she was 36 weeks, so we were able to touch her right away.) When I made it home we were only 30 minutes away from the hospital, though Principal Daddy has had to work. His parents drove up to stay with us this week so I could have the help, so I can see her every day I've been up to making the trip (I wasn't the first two days home,) though I still have to be pushed in a wheelchair through the hospital because I'm too weak to walk that far.

So for eight days I felt disconnected and unbonded. Even though I had had a preemie before, I felt helpless; like there was no way I was going to be able to care for this tiny creature. But today I got to see her, hold her, and for the first time (for me) feed her. And I finally felt like I could do this. I could take care of her. That she is MINE. And I was so relieved and grateful.

I wrote this for the mothers out there that are going through the same thing. Who are having difficulty bonding with their babies and feeling that same, horrible load of guilt. You are not a bad mother; are not the only mother who has had this difficulty. It will come in time. The healthier you can get yourself, and the more you can do with and for your baby, the better. Give yourself a break from the guilt, if you can. This isn't something you can control or force, therefore guilt is unfounded (though sometimes emotionally unavoidable, I know.) I hope this helps.
This was started on the ninth day but not finished or posted then, so dates will be a bit off.

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