The beauty (and mystery) of bonding (guest post)
On April 24, 2009, I realized a long-held dream when I stood by Dawn and “caught” my newborn son, Elijah. It was one of the most special moments of my life to hold my beautiful boy for the first time. I had long desired to be a father, and from the moment I met him I felt an unbreakable bond with Elijah. It was as if I had always known him, he had always known me, and we were finally together. Everything felt so natural and right. But then, knowing that Elijah had come a few weeks prematurely, I transitioned into watching my son wrapped in a bili blanket to treat his case of jaundice. I connected the tubes to hook him up to the machine that would provide him with additionally-needed oxygen. I held him close, feeding him a bottle of milk because he was struggling to nurse. In addition, I also transitioned to caring for my wife as she struggled with postpartum depression. Those first few weeks of Elijah’s life were challenging for us, and looking back on it, it could be tempting to view that time negatively. However, despite any negative aspects of that time, the challenges only served to strengthen the bond I felt with my son. The many hours I spent cradling Elijah, talking and singing to him, feeding him, and helping him as he dealt with the bili blanket and oxygen machine allowed me to build the beginnings of a relationship with my son that I now look back on and cherish.
Fast forward almost twenty months, and I realized another long-held dream when I held my newborn daughter, Abigail, in my arms. What a beautiful little girl she was, and in contrast to Elijah, she “hit the ground running.” She was strong, healthy (although she too had jaundice and needed a bili blanket for a few days), and she was a natural at nursing. After my experience of rapidly bonding with Elijah, I was excited to repeat the process and bond with my little girl. I looked forward to the times of holding her close, talking and singing to her, and getting to know her young personality. Because of this, I was then surprised when I found myself without the same feeling of rapid bonding I had felt with Elijah. I didn’t have the same desire to hold her as often as I had Elijah and since she was nursing so well, I also wasn’t as involved in feeding her. It was a strange feeling to see and hold Abigail without the immediate feelings of attachment that I had experienced with Elijah. I found myself feeling confused and a little guilty that I wasn’t bonding with Abigail very quickly.
It’s a natural thing to have expectations going into any experience. With previous experiences, ideas, beliefs, and dreams in tow, one almost never approaches a new experience with a blank slate. But expectations can also be dangerous. When held too tightly, they can prevent a person from allowing a situation to be what it is, and ultimately from appreciating the uniqueness and beauty of it. I had certain expectations when Elijah was born, and others when Abigail was born. Neither set of expectations was necessarily bad. With Elijah, I was able to quickly let go of my expectations and allow the experience to be what it was. However, what I had known with Elijah then became my expectation for my experience with Abigail, and I didn’t let it go as quickly.
Prior to having kids, friends of mine who had multiple children of their own had told me that every child is different, and that bonding with each one looks differently. They explained that one experience was not better or worse than the others, but just different amidst its own uniqueness and beauty. I realized they were right and that the sooner I could be at peace with that, the sooner I would truly appreciate and enjoy the different experience with each of my children.
I did let go of my expectations for my experience with Abigail and with time, I found myself bonding to her in new ways that I hadn’t connected with Elijah. As she grew, I cherished the ways I saw her bonding to me. It was different than it had been with Elijah, and it was a good thing. Today I have wonderful relationships with my children. As I look back, I find great joy in the unique bonding process I experienced with each of them.
About the writer: Shun-Luoi Fong is a husband, father, adventurer, and photographer who seeks to capture the stories of people through his art. You can check out his work here.