Poll: When you were growing up and you didn’t feel good, which parent did you run to? Which parent did you want most to cuddle you? I would wager than the vast majority of people would say: Mom.
As a mom, this tickles me.
As a wife, this troubles me.
When I imagine how my husband must feel when my son reaches desperately to transfer from him to me, I feel heartbreak. Even worse—Hubbaland has told me it makes him feel bad. And there’s nothing I can do about it.
One of the beautiful things about childhood is complete abandon to one’s feelings. The Munch feels no shame in moving from one toy to another, one activity to another, one person to another. He does what he feels, and his desires change from moment to moment. At some point, he will realize other people have feelings. And he will pause, think, consider. But now—he just feels and acts without guilt or obligation.
My older sister once commented, as she watched Munch snuggled against my chest, “The mother-child bond. I don’t know how it happens, but it does.” And it’s true. Our mothers are of paramount importance to our lives, our whole lives. If they were kind, loving, and supportive, you grow up feeling secure in the notion that at least one person in this world will always have your back.
If they were distant, cold, and harsh, you grow up (I imagine) feeling a small hole in your being—like you know something was supposed to go there, but you were denied it and the emptiness will always be with you. We mothers—we hold tremendous power over these tiny beings grown in our bellies, and it saddens me that so many mothers are such broken people that they intentionally or inadvertently damage such vulnerable things as their children.
I worried about “the bond” before Munch was born. What would I feel? Would I feel anything? What if I felt nothing? Even after experiencing the bond, it’s nearly impossible to describe.
Munch was only 2 days, old when I realized full-on that the bond had already clasped me like a vise, irrevocably and eternally, around this fragile and perfect person I’d only just met. I was in the hospital still, and Munch was in the little clear-sided bassinet, swaddled and sleeping, under his pink and blue knit cap. I felt a gushing well-spring of love in my chest, my whole self, and it brought with it a certain amount of panic to me, who fears loss above all else, who keeps many people at arm’s length, that I loved this child with a fierceness that was unparalleled by anything in my life. If anything happened to him, I knew on this second day of motherhood, I would be broken in ways that it’s best not to imagine, ways that would make the years stretch on in an endless, joyless beat, and I wouldn’t ever quite know color again.
What caused the bond? Was it hormones, evolved over the millennia to just the right mix to ensure that we new lionesses didn’t abandon our cubs? Or was it something more miraculous, something that we women are blessed to feel, after our trials of labor? “Here now, this is yours to treasure.”
And, as demonstrated by Munch’s desperate calls for me when I leave a room even now, the bond stretches both ways. In the early days, newborns, with their mushed-up E.T. faces and mewling cries, rely purely on instinct to get by. The bond they feel for their mothers is an instinct. Research shows newborns can recognize their mothers by scent. After spending 10 months literally attached to one another, mothers and babies are primed for a relationship. Mothers scoop up their babies with the sense of, ah, here you are, this bundle that has kicked me and laid against my bladder for so many months. Welcome home.
The bond is a gift, and I cherish it, even as it still terrifies me with its power.
Where does this leave our husbands? Hubbaland was as present as a man possibly could be throughout my pregnancy and delivery. He was at every single doctors visit, even when we started going twice a week, and even though it took 30 minutes to drive there from his office and 30 minutes back and the doctor was always running behind so 2 hours was gone. When I told someone early on that Hubs went to my appointments with me, she said, Give it a few weeks, that’ll stop. With my wonderful Hubbaland, it never did.
Someone else said, Can’t you go to the doctor by yourself? This person couldn’t understand that I wasn’t going to the doctor for me alone. I was going for me and the baby inside me, a baby that belonged equally to Hubs, despite the fact that he didn’t have an umbilical physically connecting them.
And Hubs watched every moment of the delivery, the gory details of which I’ve never asked him about. He was my eyes as I pushed a mere three times (after about 30 hours of labor) to bring this child into the world. The wonder in his voice as he watched was deep and true.
For him, I imagine being handed Munch was more of a formal introduction. I’ve heard a lot about you, and I’ve been eager to meet you. I look forward to getting to know you better.
The second evening in the hospital, right around when I felt the rush of love-panic, we sent all of our family members out of our hospital room and I lay in the bed and Hubs held Munch in the chair at the bedside, rocking him and cuddling him to sleep. It was a quiet, remember-for-always moment, with this 20.25-inch bundle laying along his strong forearm.
Munch loves his daddy. He recognizes Hubs in pictures, and he has yet to pick anyone else out. He thrills as Hubs throws him into the air and hurls him sideways over our bed, never letting him go, but letting Munch feel like he has. He curls against him in the night.
And there will come a time when Munch will bat away my cuddling hands and run headlong for daddy to play with him in the backyard, for daddy to take him out with man-friends to do man-things. He will have questions about growing up that only a man can answer, only a father, just as I as a girl had things I could only talk to my mother about.
This is how it should be. Because the bond will always be there between Munch and me. I will always love him fiercely and primally, and he will always need the comfort of his mother’s unique brand of love. Somewhere deep inside him, he will remember these early years, subconsciously—and really, that’s preferred. He will internalize the bond between us, and it will strengthen him, this knowledge that someone loves him wholly and purely and no-matter-whatly, just as the bond has made me stronger for having felt it, but also weaker because this is a thing that could cripple me if severed.