Every mom-to-be hears about “the instant bond” she’ll have with her baby from the second the pregnancy test is positive. Parents love to say things like, “It’s a love like you’ve never known,” “It’s overwhelming,” and “It was love at first sight.” I Googled “mother baby bond” and got 1,350,000 search results. Clearly this is a hot topic.
I was so excited to bond with my baby. But, sometimes things don’t go as planned, particularly when you have a preemie or other less typical situation.
Since I was four years old, I remember wanting to have a daughter when I grew up, and decades later, I couldn’t have been more excited about being pregnant with my daughter.
My first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage, and the second time I was scared of having another miscarriage. Still, the thought of being pregnant and having the baby early never entered my mind… until I developed gestational hypertension at 24 weeks. My blood pressure kept getting higher and my high-risk doctor had a goal to get me to 37 weeks. He said that could change at any time, and the first goal was to get to 28 weeks when the survivability of the baby goes up. Once we started having those conversations, having a preemie became more of a reality. Still, the NICU world was off of my radar, and I still had images of holding my new baby and bonding instantly when she was born.
I developed severe preeclampsia, and my daughter was born via emergency c-section at 27 weeks 6 days. I didn’t get to see my daughter in the delivery room, but the medical team did bring her to my room for three minutes or so before taking her to the NICU. I was on magnesium, feeling awful, and she was in a closed isolette with wires all over. I recorded that visit and have watched it a million times. In that moment, after an extremely early delivery and an untouchable baby, that traditional bond everyone speaks of definitely didn’t happen. Everything still seemed surreal. On the video, one of the nurses told me that I’d be able to do Kangaroo Care with her in few days. I couldn’t wait.
I 100% loved my daughter from day one, but from the way everyone speaks, I expected to have a physical feeling that overwhelmed me. Fear was my pervasive feeling. Desperation was another. Leaving the hospital without her was horrible, but there was nothing I could do. She had to stay in the hospital with people who could help ensure she survived. For my part, I spent about 6-8 hours/day with her and was sure to pump diligently.
In the NICU my daughter was on the 96-hour “heads up” protocol, which basically requires that babies born at less than 29 weeks remain pretty stationary, with as few disruptions as possible. A few days later, she developed a lung condition and was on a ventilator for a long time.
Every single day for weeks I asked if I could hold her, but the answer was always “not today” because she wasn’t stable enough yet. We were able to put our hands on her through the holes in her isolette, but didn’t get to hold her until she was 3.5 weeks old. That sucked. The medical team was super encouraging and wanted parents to hold/touch their baby as soon and as often as medically safe. Most of the other NICU moms were able to do Kangaroo Care everyday, and seeing them with their babies made me even more aware of the fact that my baby was “sick,” which scared me more.
In those first few weeks, more and more fear crept in, which made bonding even more difficult. Several babies around her didn’t make it. That was beyond sad and also terrifying. Thankfully, her medical team was amazing and they helped keep my husband and I sane during those scary days (special shout out to Dr. Jersey Cahill, NP Carlene Speaks and RN Jenny Fraser – our Dream Team).
No matter what phase we were in though, there was always fear, and that always got in the way of what I expected “the bond” to be. After she was off of the ventilator and improving, she moved to level two, where they focus on “feeding and growing.” She was doing well, but it was so scary to think that while we had one foot out the door, anything could happen. Some babies got sick and ended up in the NICU again. I was constantly worried that something would happen, and on some level that made me afraid to become attached.
As it got closer to her going home, there was fear about being at home without our fantastic nurses (especially Mihaela Moldovan!) and doctors. My daughter had to be on a medical monitor at home, and that was scary too! Plus, because she had a lung issue in the hospital, my husband and I needed to make sure we stayed away from all sick people. If our daughter got sick she’d likely end up right back in the hospital. If anyone sneezed in a 100-mile radius, they might as well have had the bubonic plague in my paranoid mind (that still hasn’t gone away…). More fear, and more delay of what I thought “the bond” should be.
One day I went to lunch with my friend, Khoi. I was telling him that I was worried I didn’t bond the way I should have, and that I felt sad that my husband and I missed out on all the normal things (a baby shower before the baby was born, being able to feel/see the baby move, getting to see her the second she was born, spending time holding her in the delivery room, etc.). He said, “You DO have that bond. You had that bond for years. You never feel drastic emotions when big things happen because in your head you’ve had all these things for years. In your mind, you’ve had the baby since you were four.” He was SO right!
Khoi made me feel so much better. From then on, I started realizing the ways that I DO have the bond with my daughter. I couldn’t wait to see her when I got to the hospital each day, I loved holding her and feeding her, and once she was home, I loved to snuggle with her and stare at her face. I could cry looking at her because she’s so perfect.
I don’t think there’s one specific “bond” feeling. Everyone has their own experience. Several moms I talked to said that the bond was a feeling of pride and accomplishment. Two of them separately said “I couldn’t believe I did it.”
In my case, it’s more of a “I can’t believe that happened and we got through that” feeling, and we are so proud of her. She’s a fighter and she’s the coolest person I’ve met. We can’t believe that we get to have our baby with us. She is perfect and we are so lucky. We are thankful and in awe.