paternal bonding, sibling bonding, adoptive bonding, and so on. Bonding talk is all the rage! And yet, I believe most mothers and their babies just get on with bonding without too much conscious thought.
Bonding is an inbuilt part of the biological and psychological processes of reproduction that a mother and her child have always had. It must be so, or else the species would not have evolved as such. Most parents have been happily bonding with their children for eons without all this need for analysis or instruction. It is only recently, and only in “developed” societies, that bonding has been undergoing such examination.
More and more these days bonding industry experts and baby book authors tell us that parents are concerned about how they are bonding with their children. More and more parents are looking outside of themselves for solutions to the so-called “skills of bonding”.
So, what could have caused this (apparent) loss in spontaneous, instinctive bonding? Is this bonding crisis even real? What is this bonding thing? Why should it even need to be analysed, discussed and taught? I believe it has all come about due to a combination of the following factors.
(i) The movement of pregnancy into the medical arena, such that a more externalised, empirical relationship with the baby has developed. Much of pregnancy has become “managed” by outsiders, thereby reducing the primacy of the relationship between a woman and her baby.
(ii) The removal of childbirth from out of the home, such that a woman must now leave her nest to do her birthing. The medicalisation and hospitalisation of childbirth removes so much of the focus away from a woman having the mind to communicate deeply with her baby and her natural instincts during labour.
(iii) The (fortunately, now discredited) hospital protocols of separating mothers from their babies during the neo-natal period. Although well-meaning at the time, the side effects of such policies have now been seen to deprive both mother and child of the necessary closeness to develop bonding during the early days and nights.
(iv) The tendency of many women to work throughout their pregnancy – i.e. to spend a large amount of time focussing on things other than their immediate maternal needs.
(v) The trendy belief that “fathers should / must know how to bond too”. A man’s closeness to his progeny is obviously far less important than the bonding of mother and child. Bonding for a mother
is primarily biological. Depending on personality and circumstances, that innate chemical bonding may well be further enhanced by a mother’s own psychological aptitude to link with her babies. Men, however, do not bond from their biology – but from their heart and head. This is all very well and good, but it is a relationship which varyingly depends more on cultural, circumstantial and personality factors. It is not something that a man should expect he “should have” (like a mother’s inbuilt urges), nor be “taught to develop” (as some badge of his male sensitivity).
But beyond these reasons for this so-called breakdown in bonding, the proposed solutions by the dominant health professionals show a continuing lack of understanding of the mother-child relationship. Instead of working to remove the causes of poor bonding (i.e. lessening the medicalisation and hospitalisation of the reproductive process), the remedy has simply been formulated to fit further into the hospital model in the form of post-natal bonding instruction in the wards, psychiatric / psychologic therapeutic consultations and the reading of books and practising of skills designed by “experts in the field”. Once again, women are being conned into believing that others know better than they do themselves.
What most people tend to understand as bonding, is some sort of process that a mother (and nowadays a father) needs to initiate shortly after birth – a list of do’s and don’ts, a mystical relationship which needs to be cemented in just the right way, at just the right time, by just the right means – or else serious damage will be done to the child for life. In my opinion, anyone who believes that bonding is something which needs to be done soon after childbirth has already missed the bus or, more accurately, been travelling on it for some time with their eyes closed and a hat pulled down over their head!
The link between mother and child is both biological and metaphysical. Of this there is no doubt. This is the central thesis of this whole book and is one which I consider to be the major motherhood issue ignored within our culture today. On this basis, in my view, bonding does not need to be wilfully developed – it just needs to be realised as already existing. It does not need to be “done” – it just needs to be lived. It does not need to be learned – it just needs to be awakened. If it is there – it will be discovered. All any woman needs to do to perfect bonding with her baby is to explore herself from day one, right back when she first intuits that spark of