The Practice of Bonding
by Celia Straus
Bonding with our babies begins long before they are born. The formation of our unborn child goes hand in hand with the formation of the most intimate human relationship possible. Begun at conception, this bonding process continues throughout our lifetime, yet for these first few months it is unfamiliar territory. Although brief, this phase of the mother/child relationship brings with it a complex range of emotions - from overwhelming love and joyful anticipation to fear, frustration, and resentment. For each time we encounter the experience of two individual selves living as one, it is unique - and profoundly spiritual.
Five months into a risky pregnancy with my second child, I was advised to go to bed and stay there. By putting my life on "pause," I discovered that the emotional bonds between our inner selves and this new fledgling self are as real as the physical ones required for its development and growth. Without ever voicing a word, I carried on continuous one way conversations with my daughter, encouraging her to grow and thrive. We were partners, I'd say, teammates working on a birthing project together. My inner voice whispered to hers throughout our days and nights. Although I can never be sure intellectually that Emily heard these inner monologues, in my heart I believe that she did. We were soul mates in the most literal sense.
Yet by making the bonding process my personal project, I put myself through needless worry. When I didn't feel her move, I became afraid. When I resented having to stay in bed, I was overcome with guilt. When I thought about how much I wanted her, I was awed by the overwhelming intensity of my feelings. It took months of enforced solitude to learn how to surrender into myself, allowing the Divine to grow and shape my daughter. Eventually I relaxed and stopped trying to force the emotions I was conditioned to believe would improve the bonding process and in subtle ways promote her healthy birth. And only then, when I avoided thinking about feeling happiness, contentment, anticipation or maternal, did I feel a true connection between the two of us. Only when I released all attempts to control, judge or program my emotions, did I begin to trust the strength of a bond which was as ephemeral as a gentle breeze.
If we can stop second guessing ourselves or forcing our feelings to take the shape of whatever we have been conditioned to believe is "right," the bonding process will simply happen. Like all the expectant mothers, we wait with trepidation and fear because of the newness of it all. We wait, filled with awe over our capacity to create and love our creation without ever having seen it yet. We wait, certain that the closer we come to birthing, the greater our performance anxiety will become, and the worse we will perform. Who hasn't been caught off guard by the mood swings and contradictory emotional responses to pregnancy? In a single day we can be overwhelmed by feelings of completeness as if we were one with ourselves, our unborn child and the universe. An hour later we are experiencing feelings of resentment that our lives will never be the same or feelings of frustration that our distorted bodies are no longer our own. After that we feel guilty because we felt anything negative or worse, are currently feeling nothing at all.
We can, however, experience our pregnancy in another way, by adding a spiritual dimension. We can wait believing that motherhood offers us one of the most profound opportunities we shall ever have to expand our human identity and experience the sacred in life. We may even discover that the bonding process involves unconditional love that transcends whatever phase of life mother and child may be experiencing, from pregnancy on. We may learn that we need not hold ourselves personally responsible for being a good expectant mother or for successfully mothering our newborn. With open hearts, we can trust that the essential goodness and reliability of the Divine in life will care for our child better than we ever could.
If we approach our impending motherhood with spirituality, we are giving both ourselves and our unborn child a great gift. We are building a strong yet flexible structure for a successful mother/child relationship which, sure as sunrise, will continue to change and evolve just as it is doing now. We are creating bonds that will withstand the inevitable contradictions of motherhood: the positive and negative feelings about our child, the closeness of connection and pain of separation, the self confidence we achieve as we improve our ability to mother and the sense of despair when we fail. As our child grows older, we can better meet the challenges of separation as well. Separation is seldom easy, beginning, as those of us know who have given birth, at birth. From that miraculous moment on, we will connect and separate, connect and separate for the rest of our lives. Our faith in bonds crafted of the spiritual and Divine in life gives us balance and perspective so that separation becomes as acceptable as any other component of our relationship.
Once, when I was working on a project about Shamans, I was, at the same time, recovering from the emotional trauma of a miscarriage. In the midst of an interview with a very wise, very old Native American woman, I found myself pouring out my story between sobs. She patted my arm and told me not to worry since that little soul desired only a brief existence here on earth. Another child soul would soon choose me, and this time she would insist that we, together, experience her birth. And, soon after, we did. So let us be quietly aware of the creation process within us, and accept all we feel about our baby's living presence without judgment. Let us take these precious few months to better learn how to love our self and our baby's self unconditionally and with spirit.
Copyright 2002, Celia Straus