New Parent and Attachment Anxiety

Can you be too close to your baby? Some say yes.

Attachment Anxiety

mother holding sleeping newborn

Looking back, I can see I felt attachment angst as soon as sperm met egg. With my baby still in utero, I spun a fantasy of our future relationship in which I was the perfect nurturer, instinctively clairvoyant and totally present. I would breastfeed on demand, wear my infant close to me in a sling, sleep share, and respond instantly to every cry. In The Baby Book, pediatrician William Sears, M.D., and his wife, Martha, a registered nurse, call this approach attachment parenting, though I didn’t think of myself as following any rules. It just made sense to me.

But once my son was born, I could see only disconnection, not the exquisite, evolving tapestry of our mutual love. When he didn’t like being worn close to my body or he fussed after nursing until put in his bouncy chair — not my lap — I thought something was surely wrong. When my son seemed equally delighted to be with his work-at-home father (no unavailable bumbler to make me the indispensable mother goddess in our house) and then adjusted to the part-time babysitter and even to breast milk by bottle, I felt increasingly concerned. When my son stopped wanting to co-sleep and nurse through the night around the one-year mark, the fear that I’d failed at being an “attached” parent solidified. That I was a psychotherapist and knew better intellectually didn’t matter. With every step, guilt and anxiety about our bond grew stronger and blinded me to the deep connection that really was there.

Did it ever occur to me that my son had an independent temperament? That by putting him in the bouncy seat I was responding to his needs? That having several strong attachments was even better than one? That more sleep made me a better mother? Vaguely — but somehow the idea of being a good mother had become synonymous with being an eternally available source of perfection and nothing less. Each moment was make or break: Do the right thing and you’ll be close; get it wrong and everything good will be lost. Slowly, a little voice in my head started saying, “How did I get here?”

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