With Mayim’s book about attachment parenting coming out soon, I have been reflecting on my own mother’s experience. She has kindly agreed to let me write about her ordeal and I want to thank her for allowing me to share her story. (Please note that my interpretation of the events and the conclusions I have drawn are entirely my own).
It was another time, another generation, and things were different. My mother didn’t ask the questions we ask now, as most people blindly followed doctors’ orders. The trust in the white coat was immeasurable. My mother’s recollection of my birth story has some holes in it from the fog of memory, but it is an extraordinary story nonetheless.
She miscarried before I was conceived and lost an ovary and fallopian tube in the process. An elevator door shut on her stomach and caused the miscarriage, but there was a giant cyst in her uterus that would have caused it eventually anyway. In any event, the fact she got pregnant with me is pretty miraculous considering she had half the equipment. Her pregnancy was non-eventful and like most first babies, I was a few days overdue.
The doctor stripped her membranes and it was incredibly painful. She thinks they gave her drugs to induce and remembers getting an epidural. She had an episiotomy (from what I can tell, they cut through all layers and then cut some more when I got stuck) that caused her almost unbearable discomfort. I was born healthy with a full head of hair, but my mother was too weak to hold me for long. Towards the end of her one-week hospital stay, her self-disintegrating stitches gave way prematurely and she started hemorrhaging. Two blood transfusions later, she was stable but needed to stay in the hospital for an additional week. She was still too feeble to hold me for long.
The day after she was released from the hospital, she was rushed back by ambulance in excruciating pain. The unexplained pains she experienced for the nine months of her pregnancy were finally diagnosed as she was at long last allowed to get an X-ray. She had gallstones stuck in her bile duct and was severely jaundiced. She had to wait a week in the hospital until they could remove her gall bladder. She was weak, in pain, and recovering from a major surgery. She could hold me and cuddle me, but only for brief amounts of time. She stayed in the hospital for another week after the surgery, and the nurse who was caring for me stayed on for two additional weeks after she got home.
Those were the first six weeks of my life. Incredibly, things went from bad to worse. When I was 12-weeks-old, my father went in for a routine hernia operation. He came out with a diagnosis of Stage IV cancer.
My mother has incredible guilt over these events, and I have told her repeatedly that she is not to blame. But these events put us on a path that, even though no one is at fault, I feel had irreversible consequences: I did not bond with my mother in the first few weeks of my life. There was no skin-on-skin, no breastfeeding, limited holding, and certainly no “wearing me” (was that even an option 30+ years ago in the Western Hemisphere?). For the first six weeks of my life, we had very limited interaction. And then after 12 weeks, I’m not sure how emotionally present she could have been. I can’t fathom how hard it must have been for her when my father was diagnosed with cancer. Caring for a newborn while trying to also focus on saving your husband’s life? Unimaginable.
My father died just after my fourth birthday. Those four years must have been so terribly difficult for my mother. It is a testament to her strength that she is here today: strong, loving, and enjoying being a bubbe every minute of every day.
I don’t wonder what might have been if circumstances had been different. This was our lot in life. My mother did the very best she could. She took me to baby events, children’s theater, parks, and story time at the library. And yet, for as long as I can remember, I have felt that something was missing; I am quite certain some of it stems from this period. There is a disconnect with my mother that I am sad about but also accept since there is nothing any of us can do to reverse those first few weeks of my life. The experience shaped us, but it did not define us.
When I had my first child, I breastfed him, wore him in more types of baby carriers than I care to admit, and enveloped him in my arms at every opportunity so I could inhale his very essence. I would hold him close and cuddle whenever I could. We looked deeply into each other’s eyes for hours while breastfeeding, getting to know one another so well we could communicate without sounds or words. I have no doubt we developed a deep bond from those first few weeks of his life.
My mother did not have a choice about whether she wanted to do attachment parenting, or even whether to nurse me. But most of us do enjoy that freedom, and we should not take it for granted. I’m grateful for being able to choose to practice some aspects of attachment parenting, and I am hopeful that the bond I’ve created with my son will endure and lead him to a happy life.