Me and my girl
Attachment theory has it that if we have a natural birth, if we bring our baby to our breast within minutes, if we lie skin to skin with our newborn, then the magic happens.
For me it did not.
Parenting wisdom say that we will love all of our children completely, though perhaps differently.
But I did not.
In fact, if I were to be totally honest, which I will, we have only bonded in the past couple of months – nearly three years after her birth.
Despite being the only one of my three children to be completely “planned” and “consciously conceived”, one cannot, as I have discovered, plan on love.
Chicken and egg, this dance of detachment, of missing the mark, of not quite bonding… round and round we have gone, trying to find a way to fit together, to find each other.
I was ecstatic to be pregnant. And then three weeks in I felt taken over by an alien force, I felt numb and not “me” during my pregnancy. I fully enjoyed (as much as one does and can) my first and last pregnancies and births. Not so my second.
And we nearly lost her. For a few moments at her birth she was blue, unbreathing and being resuscitated on the bath mat. For her first year I watched for signs of brain damage due to oxygen deprivation in that first minute or so of her life with us. Thank God there were none. She is bright as a button, precociously so.
With my first and last I clutched them to me in their first precious moments. With her I watched her go from blue to pink before my placenta emerged and with it the beginning of four days of agonising afterpains far worse than any labour contractions I had experienced. It was the midwife who held her and kissed her and marvelled at her beautiful fingers. I was in pain, I could not focus on a baby.
We carried on. Going through the baby motions of breastfeeding, co sleeping, nappy changing. I loved her, sure, but not the same way as my others. There was still a distance, a numbness. When she was 10 days old I went to playgroup quite calmly with my older son, leaving her at home to be cared for by my husband. This was an impossibility with my first and last.
She was not an affectionate baby either. At 3 months she was jumping up and down on our laps, pulling away from kisses and cuddles, which were offered aplenty.
She took her first steps at 8 1/2 months. By 11 months she was scaling a 5 foot high slide unaided at a party. Jumping on a trampoline with 7 year olds. Trying to copy her brother jumping off the back of the sofa. She knew no fear. Her physical confidence was as alien to the rest of our over-cautious family as her easy-to-tan sallow skin was to our whiteness and freckles.
Where her brother had just one full blown tantrum in his second year, she entered the “terrible twos” at 18 months and they continued for 18 months, often multiple times a day. She has the force of a tropical storm, the will of a donkey, she is incredible. I have a deep respect for her sheer force of will, it is a wonder to behold, but a deep challenge to mother!
So whilst I found it easy to tell my eldest child incessantly how much I loved him, with my second I would tell her, so that she didn’t feel left out, but I didn’t feel it, deep down, it felt forced and awkward. I discussed it with my husband. He understood, he felt this too. We felt bad, guilty, horrible, we wanted it to be different, but it was as it was. We kept on acting “as if”, treating her with fairness and love, but not feeling it.
And then it crept up on me, a few weeks back, I realised that it had arrived. Not with a thunder bolt, but it was there: the tenderness, the affection, compassion, deep, deep love and respect that I feel for her brother and sister, it was there for her too. I could hold her in my heart and celebrate her in her wholeness, rather than feel numb and disconnected.
As her tantrums have subsided, other aspects of her emerge more and more. And oh how truly wonderful she is. And beautiful! Besides her strength, physicality and tempestuous unpredictability, there lies a tenderness, a deep consideration of others, a responsibility and organisation beyond her years, a wild creativity, brilliant sense of humour, deep passion and a vulnerability which take my breath away. When she holds my hand, or snuggles me close, or kisses me with passion bordering on violence, I feel that soul connection for the first time. Oh how wonderful. I love her, I truly do. It has been a long time coming, but finally we have clicked. Me and my girl.