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THE TIMES THAT BOND Through a Mother's Eyes: The Wonder of Zoe


Three years ago on Mother's Day, I was just an amateur with great expectations. Until then, most of my maternal instincts were focused on choosing a stroller, picking out wallpaper to hang in the nursery, finding the best baby foods and thinking green about diapers.

But mostly, like so many expectant, first-time mothers, I thought a lot about bonding, about holding my baby for the first time, about comforting with caresses what my body had harbored inside for so long. I dreamed and daydreamed about the moment our eyes would meet, our skin would touch.

Bonding, I thought, would be love at first sight.

How little I knew.

For me, the hours of labor stretched into a seeming eternity, aendless cacophony of my grunts and groans and the counterpoint of monitor blips and beeps. No way was baby dearest going to come into this world on her own.

Twenty-one hours after I shuffled into the hospital emergency room, I was on my way to a C-section delivery with a doctor I had met for the first time that day. We bonded quickly.

Moments before being wheeled into the delivery room, I, like a marathon runner nearing the end of her 26-mile trek, was giddy and dizzy with anticipation -- and fatigue. After 40 weeks of waiting, it would be only minutes before I would see and hold the child from within.

PTC With my arms strapped down, and my husband begowned and masked and by my side, my doctor began, delicately, to cut into me. Soon she was holding up our newborn daughter. We named her Zoe Nicole -- "life victorious." My husband cradled her in his arms and lowered her face to mine so I could see her. A nurse snapped our first family portrait.

Then, in reaction to the contractions, anesthetics and surgery, I started to shiver and my teeth started to chatter. Forget about bonding, I thought, as my body and jaw were wracked and wrenched. My thought now was just to survive.

I woke up hours later, body bloated and mind fogged. But one thing was clear. There was a baby to see, a baby to hold. There was bonding to do. The nurse brought her into my room, and for the first time -- nine hours after delivery -- I held my baby in my arms.

So tiny, so soft, so fragile, so beautiful, so blissfully unaware. A day earlier she was cozily inside me; now she was cradled in my arms. I kissed her, touched her, rubbed her feet and marveled at her feel. Her eyes, not yet seeing, and my eyes, not yet knowing, met, looking for clues, for connection, for commitment.

It was love at first sight.

This, I thought, is bonding.

How little I knew.

Our first moments together as mother and baby stretched inthours, then days, sleepless nights, harried weeks, joyful months. Pains subsided, routines were broken and set, responsibilities mounted and identities were redefined. A family of two was now three, and work took on new and greater meaning.

Deadlines now were about feedings and cleanings and bottles and naps.

Responsibility now was about saving money for college and baby proofing a home and caring more about the life I had made than the living I had made.

Scheduling now was about spending time with baby, finding time for husband, making time for work, saving time for fun and using any time left over for sleep.

Stress now was about having too much to do in too few hours and not enough faith that it was all being done right.

And growing up now was not only about a baby's first smile, coo, crawl and step, but also about a parent coming to understand that having it all means giving some of it up.

These, I would learn, are the times that bond.

The authors of "What to Expect the First Year" write that "bonding at birth is an idea whose time has come -- and, by now, should be gone."

"There's no solid evidence," they write, "that a mother-infant attachment has to be firmly established [or even begun] on the first day of life. And there are some who suggest that it doesn't actually take place until somewhere in the second half of the baby's first year. . . . The kind of love that lasts a lifetime usually requires time, nurturing, and plenty of patience to develop and deepen."

By nature, I am not a patient person. I left college believing I would have it all, that I would have a career and children and, if necessary, someone to help me care for them. I had boundless energy for clear-cut goals. I wanted it all yesterday.

And then my baby came to me.

By then I was old enough to realize I was good at what I did for a living and that I would be doing it for a long, long time. That the baby I held would be a baby only for so long, and that no matter what I did, I could not hold these days in check until I reached some pinnacle in my career. And so I worked -- around feedings, changes, play and naps -- out of my home office and made a primary career out of "mother-infant attachment."

For me, it came from witnessing over time my baby's every milestone: the first time she smiled, held up her head, recognized a face, rolled over, sat up, showed a mood, laughed aloud, found her fingers, touched her nose, touched her toes, grasped a toy, stacked a block, cut a tooth, held a spoon, stood in her crib, crawled an inch, formed a word, took a step, opened a book, turned a page, hummed a note, babbled a tune.

The night my daughter turned a year old, I walked into her room, looked down at her in her crib, rubbed her face and cried. We had come so far, so fast, together. We were connected and committed. Our love at first sight was only a tiny bud of the love that had blossomed over time, through trials and tribulations, fears and cheers.

That night, I put pen to paper.

"It's about 11:45 p.m., one year and 21 minutes since you took your first breath outside mommy's belly," I wrote to my daughter on the back of her first birthday card. "I have never felt closer to you. They talk of bonding after birth. It's nothing like bonding after one year of sharing tears, joys, pain and wonderful growth and life together.

"I was just in your room, sweetheart, running my fingers through your baby-fine hair, and I rubbed your feet, fingered your big toes. I remembered what it was like rubbing your feet the first time I could. I felt the same way tonight -- in awe, marveling at the wonder of Zoe, the wonder of life. I am your mommy, honey, I will be for life. I'm your pal, your buddy, your best friend, your biggest fan."

This, I thought as I left the room, is bonding.

How much I had learned.

LINDA CHION-KENNEY is a Columbia free-lance writer.

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