A Dad’s Postnatal Desperation: Perspectives on Attachment & Resiliency from a Recovering Psychoanalyst
Originally posted September 23, 2013.
Dr. Good-un-ov’s Guide to Attachment
Do you ever wonder why we are all so “attached” to the idea of “attachment?” I do.
I’m still quite attached to and fascinated by the human attachment process. During the therapeutic process, it’s fascinating to see how a person’s attachment style plays out in their life, in their relationship patterns, in their love and anger patterns.
This month’s blog topic is the Dr. Good-un-ov’s Guide to Attachment.
This first article about attachment is written by Dan Bolton, practices psychotherapy in Somerville, Massachusetts. He’s a trained (and now a recovering) psychoanalyst. His contribution today is about his entry into fatherhood as the father of his baby boy, who needed immediate surgery at birth, his panic at the effects of the early separation, and the wisdom he gained as he grew into parenthood. Great work. Enjoy the read! Thanks, Dan!
It was a night like any other during that week leading up to my son’s due date. My wife and I lived in a great little area and spent a relaxing evening at the local bookstore, reading and waiting for our son to begin making his journey into the world. A couple of hours later the contractions started.
We had arduously put together our birth plan. We were intent on making sure that the birth was a natural birth, no medicine at all, no epidural… completely natural. My wife and I had studied birth trauma, and decided that having a water birth was going to be the most natural, seamless way for our son to come into the world. The worst thing that could happen, in our minds, was that there would be meconium in the amniotic fluid and that she would not be able to stay in the little pool we had brought to complete the water birth. We had NO idea that those worries would be trumped by what was to come.
Well, there was meconium in the fluid, and my wife had to come out of the pool and give birth on one of the hospital beds. It turned out to be a beautiful vaginal birth, which we were very happy with. We were disappointed we could not fulfill our full birth plan, but happy the birth had gone mostly as we had planned. The midwife told me that I needed to cut the umbilical cord. What we believed was the next essential component of our birth plan was being called into question. I tried to be assertive and state that we had wanted to wait to cut the cord as part of our birth plan. She hurried me to do it. It seemed urgent, and it was not clear why, but what was clear was that there was no wiggle room on her request, so reluctantly I cut the cord.
The midwife called me over and showed me a large opening in my son’s spine. We had not even pondered the idea of a birth defect, and I had no idea what this meant, or how much I would learn about this thing I had never heard of before called Myelodysplasia (a.k.a. Spina Bifida) in the coming years. At that point a doctor had come in the room and informed me that this would need to operated on right away and that they would have to transport my son to Children’s Hospital for the surgery. They carted him off into another room and placed him into an incubator.
After studying psychoanalysis and attachment for years I panicked. That one moment I had been focused on: having my son begin to bond immediately to minimize any birth trauma, was in jeopardy. I had taken for granted this was a certainty, that it was the other parts of the birth that had to be fought for, that was the hard part, right? All babies make it into their mothers arms after birth, or so that is what I learned from watching births on TV. I had been so intent on this bonding to happen it had never crossed my mind that anything could potentially interfere with it.
Once in the incubator doctors told me that my son also had a heart murmur. I didn’t know what this all meant, but could see that my son was crying and flailing around in the incubator. I knew all he needed was to be held by his mother. The doctors would not allow it. They said because of the opening in the spine there was risk of infection. I pleaded about attachment theory, etc. to no avail. I was bewildered. I’d been sure that referencing actual research and scientific studies would be something that they’d understand. I thought that by speaking their language surely they’d understand how important this was. No such luck. All I could think of was what a precious time that initial moment of bonding is for the child, and how horrible it was that doctors don’t seem to understand this.
It was clear that it was going to take some time, maybe about 10 or 15 minutes before they were going to get us to the ambulance. Then I thought quickly on my feet and said “It is our Religion that the most important part of a person’s life are the first moments in the mother’s arms,” and then all of a sudden all hands on deck were scurrying to get my son into his mother’s arms. I am not a religious person, but in that moment attachment was THAT important to me.
Immediately our son looked into his mother’s eyes, and then rested his head. This was the first time he had stopped crying in the past hour. I knew it would be short lived, but was ecstatic that he had this opportunity to feel comforted before a month in the ICU and 3 surgeries.
I am not sure what the medical staff thought when they asked me what religion we are that day, and I just told them they had probably never heard of it. And in fact maybe they hadn’t.
Twelve years later I am not sure how much of an influence those few minutes had on our son’s development. So much has happened since then, it’s impossible to factor in.
What I do know is that despite all of the challenges he has been resilient. All children are. Would he have adapted even if he had not had those precious few moments in his mother’s arms? Probably. I also think the fact that we did a lot of talking while he was intubated in the ICU served as a positive factor during that time for him as well.
In retrospect it was such a stressful time. The stress of the unknown was a factor, but I also added to the stress with my all or nothing perspective. Were I to go through it again I may have done something somewhat similar, but certainly would be more mindful of minimizing the anxiety and desperation I was experiencing at the time. Seeing my son now I am confident that my “Religion” is only one marble in a much larger bucket with many, many other marbles, and many other ways to add in positive ways to a child’s life.
Bio: Dan Bolton, LMHC, is a psychotherapist in private practice with a focus on self-esteem, self-actualization, and healthy relationships. Dan’s blog focuses on men’s relational health, the importance of fatherhood, self-development, and male self-esteem. Dan also blogs about break up recovery, life after divorce, and navigating the pitfalls of parenting and dating. Visit Dan at his website.