May 5, 2011

Has Intensive Care Interfered with Bonding?

Category: Pregnancy and Birth
Posted By: Jill
picture of mother and babyMy first child (3.5yrs, girl) was in intensive care for the first 3 weeks of her life. My my second child is now 10 months (boy) and i have noticed he is a lot more needy than my daughter. I'm concerned my daughter has not bonded with me properly - how will i know? Could the initial intensive care have interfered with our bond?


Oh, how I would love to tell you that it is all in your imagination and it won't have interfered at all. When your newborn is ill enough to be in intensive care it must be the most overwhelmingly frightening event and when it is finally over it seems so unfair that you would then have to start thinking that there might still be emotional affects when the physical ones have been resolved. I want to tell you I'm sure she was too young for it to make any difference, that she just has a different personality from your son. But the fact is that a separation and isolation at that age, as the very first experience of life is likely to have some impact. And, I'm afraid that often it is the denial of these painful facts that does the damage, because it means we cannot help a child with something if it is too painful to us to admit that there might be something that needs addressing. It does not have to be a dramatic impact, and it does not have to be an enduringly negative one, but, from a child psychotherapists point of view there is likely to be some impact in exactly the area you have picked up on in the first half of your question. Your daughter, by necessity was in isolation for the first three weeks of her life. This meant that she was forced to look to her own resources first as a means of comfort and it may well be that this remains as a way of dealing with situations at times of stress.

Now about bonding, I am not sure that this in necessarily affected, she can still have a perfectly well bonded relationship with you, know that in times of danger you are the person to seek, feel love and loved and look to you for help and support. If she did none of these things there would be a more serious issue but you have described something much milder, that she isn't 'needy' in the same way as your son. The other end of the spectrum from not being able to bear the pain of admitting there is a problem is blowing the problem out of proportion due to misplaced guilt and anxiety.

It sounds as if you child has a tendency to fall back on her own resources at times. This has a positive side too, she can be more independent and resilient at times when this is necessary. The thing you can help her with is to make sure she knows that people, particularly her parents, are trustworthy, that she can allow herself to rely on others and not be let down. If, after taking the guilt and anxiety out of the picture, you still felt that she was strongly affected by these experiences you could consider getting some short term art therapy for her to be able to try and make sense of some of her early experiences.

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