Enough time has passed that I can share something about which I felt a metric ton of shame — I struggled to bond with Sam after he was born.
And nothing epitomized my struggle more than that goddamned chair.
Like Sam, the chair arrived in our lives last summer after a ton of turmoil. But unlike our little bundle of joy, bringing the chair into our home was not a mutual decision. You see, MJ wanted a comfortable rocking chair to go in the nursery. Nothing crazy, just a rocker made of soft yet durable material next to the crib for those late and sleepless nights. I, on the other hand, thought the room was too small, a chair unnecessary, and spending extra money we didn’t have on a chair we didn’t need was a bad idea.
So naturally we bought the chair.
Then Sam was born. Don’t get me wrong, I loved him. Of course I loved him. It’s just that, well — I loved the idea of him a little more than the 9 pounds of screaming flesh that actually appeared in my arms and my life. After all, Sam came after years of failed pregnancies, heartbreak, an inability to conceive, and finally IVF. We went through hell and back to get him, and in that time I think the mission of getting pregnant, staying pregnant, and completing our family blinded me to the actual realities of living with a newborn.
In short, I freaked out when presented with the day-to-day responsibility of dealing with a baby. The result was feeling resentment toward my child combined with a shame spiral for being so ungrateful.
I could hide it on social media with bright, shiny, happy pictures of a new baby, but when the selfies subsided I was left facing the harsh reality that I was harboring feelings of resentment, apprehension, and confusion regarding Sam. I felt so, SO guilty for it. After all, I bonded with Will instantly. The second I saw him I was entranced in the way that only a first-time parent can be. Everything was new and a novelty, so even when he cried it was somehow cute and endearing.
But when Sam cried it drove me mad. When he had colic, I didn’t know how to deal. When he robbed me of sleep and forced me to get up in the middle of the night, I seethed. And when I had to grudgingly take care of him in the wee hours, it was always while sitting in the friggin chair.
As soon as I sat down to rock him, my internal timer would start. It was like I was sitting on thumbtacks, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Rocking back and forth and back and forth and back and forth — over and over for what seemed like hours but was only minutes — as Sam wailed away. Why was he so upset? Why was I so upset? Why was I so bad at dealing with him? Why didn’t I feel the same instantaneous and overpowering bond with Sam that I did with Will?
One night I got so frustrated I yelled at him to shut his mouth, and MJ had to come in and take him from me while I was sitting there. Every time I looked at that godforsaken chair I saw my biggest failure.
Usually when I need to work something out I come here and vomit my feelings on the page until either I feel better or you guys have given me the advice I need to improve. But that wasn’t an option for me at the time, because I didn’t have it in me to admit what was wrong. I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. And I knew there was only one way to fix it.
One night, when Sam woke up crying, I just resigned myself to the fact that he was going to be up and I was not going to sleep. And that that was OK, because that’s what babies do. So instead of seeing how quickly I could get in and out of there, I did the opposite — I viewed the chair in a different light.
Four miscarriages. That’s what it took to complete our family. Four positive pregnancy tests, four times we told elated family members and friends only to issue a retraction, capped off by a round of soul-sucking IVF. All of that emotional anguish and battling dwindling odds pays off, and suddenly I’m upset?? Hell no.
I’m not sure how I failed to realize it, but that chair isn’t a punishment or a penalty box. After all the shit we endured to have Sam, that chair is the prize. The reward. It is a privilege to sit in that chair because it means we are one of the lucky ones.
So I started holding Sam just to hold him. I held him without regard to how long I’d be there — in fact, time really ceased to exist. I sat in that chair, in the darkness, and held my youngest son to my chest while I sang to him. I relaxed with him, and in turn he responded favorably to me.
I reclined in the chair and put my feet up. Sam turned his head and nuzzled his face into my chest, while his tiny fingers found my thumb and gripped it tight. His little body rising and falling with my breathing helped put everything into focus. And the two of us drifted off to sleep.
Now MJ is jealous that only Dad can get Sam back to bed without giving him a bottle at night. And each time that happens, it’s in the chair. The chair I never wanted, where I learned how to be thankful for what I have and to love my second child.
The only downside is having to admit to my wife I was wrong about the damn chair.