Friday, April 30, 2010

Failure to Bond

A Mother in Israel had a recent blog entry asking what we thought about the following news item:

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The author of this blog felt that the language of the piece was a little strong, characterizing the mother's behavior as "pathological" when the same would not have been said about a runaway husband. What did we, the readers think, she wanted to know.

The truth is, we know very little about why this mom left her husband and child and I don't want to damn her without having the facts at hand. The mother doesn't want to issue a statement or explain her actions. The father says he doesn't blame her. The viewer has very little information on which to base an opinion.

We are left to read between the lines or try to translate the facial cues of the major actors in this piece. The father, well, to be kind, he seems kind of dim-witted and vacant. He seems drugged or perhaps has a mental handicap of some kind. The mother has an odd smile lurking at the corners of her mouth. Is this psychosis or just a knee-jerk response: a nervous smile that has nothing to do with mirth?

So, not having any firm information, I had to admit that unlike the other women who added comments to that blog, I agreed with the experts who felt that there was something quite wrong with the mental status of this mother. It's not that I feel that a mother can be held to a different standard of behavior than a man. I am adamant that any parent who walks out on a spouse and child without warning is wrong and sick. But there is something deeper going on when the parent is the biological mother of the child who is abandoned.

All parents have an age preference regarding children. Some parents only begin to derive pleasure from their children once they smile, others enjoy their children most once they learn the knack of speech. I like newborns best; whereas my husband finds newborns kind of, well, creepy. Dov does an awesome imitation of a newborn pummeling and scratching at his own face because he lacks basic neurological control of his own limbs.

Dov is a wonderful father, connected and involved, but is just a touch squeamish when it comes to newborns. I decided that maybe some of this had to do with the natural disadvantage that a father has in bonding with a newborn infant.

After a baby is born, it is usual for the infant to be placed on the mother's stomach. There may be some skin-to-skin contact between mother and child. At any rate, there is no doubt that what happens between a mother and a baby just after birth is a kind of magic. Studies have been done that prove a baby will, on its own, inch up from the mother's stomach to her heart and breasts where there exists the sources of love and nutrition.

During this time the mother experiences a great rush of feeling as she connects with the baby she has harbored over the past nine months deep inside her body.A connection is forged between mother and child which lasts a lifetime.

A father is forced to look on at a bit of a remove from these mystic goings on. He doesn't get to partake of an experience in which he is the first and foremost human to enter the life of the child. He is excluded from the mother/child cocoon in which no one else may ever enter. The significance of the father comes into play at a much later date.

When I was pregnant with my fourth child, I decided that when it came time for the midwife to hand me my son, I would direct her instead to hand him to Dov. I wanted him to have that taste of enchantment, that singular experience of delicious insularity that can exist between two beings, and so it was.

Yehoshua was born just after we ushered in the Sabbath eve. I motioned to the midwife that she should place the baby in my husband's arms. I watched them gaze deep into each others' eyes and lo and behold, this infant, just a few seconds old, smiled at my husband. Smiled!

Dov looked at me open-mouthed--had he really seen the baby smile?? I nodded: I'd seen that smile, too. It was real. Dov said that Shua was filled with the joy of the Sabbath and that this was the reason for this beautiful gift, that first smile, in the first moments of our child's life.

I was so happy to give my husband this gift of being the first, of getting that bit of bonding in FIRST.

I can't swear that being the first to hold Shua meant that the two of them have an eternal bond that is unbreakable. I don't know whether Shua's bond to Dov is greater than my own. I don't want to make any false claims.

But I do know that my bond to my children is unbreakable and I would include Shua in this, since after all, I nursed him for two years. I could never walk away never to return--not from Shua and not from any of my children.

I can only conclude that the mother in this news item failed to bond to her child. There must have been some kind of psychological stumbling block, perhaps postpartum depression, perhaps something else, that got in the way of the magic.

1 comment:

  1. I love them most when they are in utero and I know exactly where they are all the time. All laughter aside, when I was a working mom with four children under the age of seven, many of my friends and neighbors were aghast that I could abandon my children, even for 9 hours a day. I felt I needed that time to provide for my family. How many fathers go off for even longer every day and no one looks askance. My "abandonment" of my children did nothing to lessen the bond. Some mothers, however, don't ever bond. Sad in the world's eyes, but it does happen.