as the first step to ensuring our children develop the capacity for emotional, physical, intellectual, spiritual, and moral courage
has naturally got me thinking not only about my own experiences bonding with my babies, but also about other caregiver-infant pairs I know. Take my dear friend Beth, for example, mother of four, marathon runner, and trained social worker. She says, “Bonding with each of my children was vastly different.” “Really?” I ask.
“With my first child,” Beth explains, “I was so young, so immature. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had an emergency C-section, little time to bond during the first few hours’ post-op, little support upon our homecoming, and she was colicky during a summer heat wave! It was hard. I still have regrets.”
She continues, “My second child was way easier. I had a successful vaginal birth. My baby was so round and wonderfully calm and easy. It was a cinch.”
And then Will was born. Dear, sweet Will. Tears rim Beth’s eyes, as she recalls—with difficulty—the moments of his birth. “As soon as he was born, he was whisked away and treated like an emergency. I had no idea what was going on. Neonatologists, geneticists, and all manner of specialists swarmed around him, plugging wires into him that blocked my access and ability to bond. Needless to say, I knew it was serious, but I hadn’t even laid eyes on him yet. And, when I sat in a wheelchair outside the nursery window later, I didn’t want to love him. I couldn’t. We were told he would never know us, never likely respond, and not live longer than a few years.”
Will was born with a rare genetic condition called CdLS, Cornelia DeLonge Syndrome, named for the geneticist who first identified this devastating syndrome. You can learn more about CdLS here
Beth and her husband disregarded the experts’ predictions and recommendations, took Will home and started calling around for help—anyone and everyone who was willing to offer advice, help, medical support. I point out that the most common attribute shared amongst resilient people is their ability to create and reach out to community and get the necessary social support during tough times. She is reminded of what most social workers and agency personnel told her when she called: “You are the first person we know to be calling so early, and so often, in this process with your child.” She wants me to know, “It was so scary and overwhelming bringing him home. But somehow our love got us though.”
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but Beth does note that with her fourth child, she never let her leave her arms. “It was a joke amongst the maternity ward nurses, ‘Are you going to let us see the baby at least once before you leave this hospital?’”
Beth’s life changed dramatically the day Will was born. Today, she works tirelessly to raise money and awareness for the CdLS foundation and became a marathon runner for the explicit purpose of raising funds for the CdLS foundation, thus having the endurance to be the loving mama she is with all her children. You can find out more about how to sponsor this important fundraising effort here.
As Beth and I walk our dogs and sip our Starbucks lattes, I ask her how she thinks she managed to bond with Will. “You know, it wasn’t until I could hold him in my arms. As soon as he was finally placed in my arms, I looked down and said ‘Okay buddy, you win. I love you’. I couldn’t help loving him.” It is all a bit of a blur for Beth, even today. Will is, remarkably, twenty years old now! Beth knows they bonded because hers were the arms where Will relaxed and stopped crying. Though he has never uttered her name, watching them give each other some loving is beautiful to behold. She still hopes he gains comfort in her presence. It’s obvious what courage she’s gained in his. It’s obvious that she is securely attached to this boy-man who plays piano, navigates darkened rooms through a kind of echolocation due to his blindness, has endured countless operations and emergency room visits, and managed this past year to attend his school prom.
Beth and I conclude our discussion with two discoveries:
First: it wasn’t until Will was in her arms and able to bond, that she could love him. It is their family love that clearly contributes to Will’s continued survival.
Second: that in our shining moments of courage we rarely give ourselves credit…we continue to compare our insides with others’ outsides. We tend to find examples of people coping with the same pain or courage challenge, but dealing with it better. We think of the exceptions and the exceptional—the Lance Armstrongs of the world.
Why do we begrudge ourselves our most human, vulnerable moments and force ourselves to be better? Perhaps it is those very shining examples of courage that encourage us all to be better. If only we could let others inspire us with a little more compassion for ourselves, we might soon discover we are the true hero or heroine in our own story!
Beckett, C., Maughan, B., Rutter, M., Castle, J., Colvert, E., Groothues, C., Kreppner, J., & Stevens, S., O’Connor, T., Sonuga-Barke, E. (2006). Do the effects of early severe deprivation on cognition persist into early adolescence? Findings from the English and Romanian adoptees study. Child Development, 77, (3), 696 – 711.
Southwick, S. M., Vythilingam, M., & Charney, D.S. (2005). The psychobiology of depression and resilience to stress: Implications for prevention and treatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 1, 255-291. doi: 10.1146/annurev.clinpsy.1.102803.143948