My second son was born in an instant. The instant after the midwife told me on the phone that I couldn’t have a homebirth because of my precariously low platelets.
@#$! I thought. I can’t do a ride in a car. I just can’t.
And then I rose to all fours from where I’d been laying on the cool bathroom tiles, and whelped my son. Whelp is a good word because it somewhat describes the sensation, like a reverse gulp, a uterine vomit. Quick and done. Though my husband remembers more screaming. Does that sound gross?
To me, and any other person who’s endured hours of discussion with hospital professionals over her non-progressing labour, I bet it sounds like sweet goddam heaven.
This most slippery son was born quiet. Napping apparently, said the midwife. He continued to nap any time he was ignored for more than five minutes for the first year of his life. Year two has brought challenges, to be sure, but from the beginning this was a person content to fit into my life. We didn’t even have to go to hospital after the birth. So long as he was tucked into the crook in my arm, he was happy to accompany. Who wouldn’t bond with this easy friend, one who agreed with everything you say and only rarely complains about his assigned seat.
My other son came harder. And much longer. My favourite feature of the epidural was that I could stop dry heaving.
Now I wonder, does this have anything to do with the fact that our subsequent bonding was essentially of the ‘Fake it ‘til you make it’ variety. Of course, I felt responsible for him. But I couldn’t understand why my mere presence wasn’t comforting enough to make him stop crying.
Why was he so hungry all the time? Why would he nurse and nurse for hours, when all my friends’ babes were done in five minutes? Why did he later chew his broccoli or pizza for hours, preventing us from ever keeping an appointment after lunch? Why did he crawl around meowing like a cat whenever I explained we had to hurry? Why did he scream for 45 minutes if I forgot to let him flush the toilet or push the elevator button?
How could you blame me for not liking this person sometimes? For just wishing he would get over it for once?
A former colleague that I haven’t seen in years dropped round the other night. I was how much more challenging it was to work with (yes, “work” is the right word) my firstborn than my second, even six years on from our horrible hospital birth. She said one of the reasons she’d stopped after one child was because her birth was so traumatic, and she never felt any kind of bonding with her infant. Her husband took on the role of prime caregiver.
Now, from what I see, this woman has a pretty great, pretty respectful relationship with her daughter. She’s strict but she pushes her daughter to work hard for the daughter’s own goals – even if mom doesn’t understand them.
Still, daughter never shares much, says my friend. But since daughter is 17, we can’t read too much into that.
Or do I just think that’s normal because I never shared much with my mother? I’m certain my mom would agree that bonding with me was difficult. I still feel hurt when she remarks on how difficult I am to please, how demanding I am, how I have to argue and question everything.
That’s not fair, I counter. I might have been like that as a toddler, but as a woman I am trying to be assertive, confident, bold with creative endeavor.
My son is all of these positive traits too. He has high expectations. He’s easily disappointed. He formulates amazing detailed plans that require precise execution. Isn’t that wonderful?
Maybe. But it is very, very difficult to brush teeth in this spectacular fashion every single night. And it is a slow process getting into bed, when every wrinkle in the bedcovers is an essential part of a matchbox landscape, or when a mother perching on the bed for a heart-to-heart can TOTALLY RUIN a carpark made with meticulously placed wooden blocks.
So although I still feel disappointed that my mother finds it harder to like me than my siblings, I see where she’s coming from now.
A few years past those worst of times, when the baby grew wily enough to knock over the blocks, I am figuring out how to work with my older son. I’m in a great position to do it, remembering how oblivious my mother seemed to the seriousness of my childhood problems.
With my older son, I’ve had to learn to get over his telling me that I’m a bad mother. After all, I was a bad mother at first. I was impatient, with unrealistic expectations. I wanted to be the boss.
I’ve noticed that when we do something just the two of us, go swimming, take a trip to the mountains, cook dinner, he’s so much more affectionate with me for days after. This is a relief because I worried that we were going to be divided into teams forever – he and super-daddy against mean mummy and baby. We’re not. But we go through phases.
I’ve noticed that when I am calm and patient and take the time to explain why we need to do it this way, or when I let him be the boss of his own art or schedule, he has really cool ideas. He’s very smart and comes up with solutions to our problems.
He is not easy. But he is a very interesting kid. One of the most interesting people I know, honestly. Possibly more interesting than easy-going #2.
What’s better: being interesting or being happy?
What about plain old unconditional love? It would be so much easier, but then I’d miss out on the rewards from building a friendship with this very challenging and very cool person.