Paternal Bond Could Come Slowly for Some Dads

When Henry, who preferred that his real name not be used, became a father two years ago, he was confronted with a feeling in the hospital for which he was completely unprepared -- indifference.

"In the hospital, I just wasn't connecting," he said. "I could have taken it or left it... It wasn't for eight or nine months before I connected."

It was a feeling that Henry, who lives in Boston, would experience again with the birth of his second child.

"[My wife's] family, from the first day, was lavishing hugs and kisses on the new baby," he recalled. "I just wasn't feeling it.

"After I had my first child and didn't have these feelings, I was like, 'What's going on? Am I a sociopath?'"

For Henry, as with many new fathers, the feeling of indifference eventually passed. By the time his second child was born, he said, he "was head over heels with the first kid" and "almost felt disloyal to baby number one for connecting with baby number two."

Today, he said, he loves his children deeply and has developed a strong emotional attachment to both.

While few fathers may be willing to admit to having an initial emotional disconnect with regard to their newborn children, psychological experts say such feelings are far from uncommon.

Indeed, in a new book titled "Home Game, An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood," author Michael Lewis explored the same spectrum of feelings when it came to the birth of his first daughter, Quinn.

"A month after Quinn was born, I would have felt only an obligatory sadness if she had been run over by a truck," Lewis wrote. "Six months or so later, I'd have thrown myself in front of the truck to save her from harm.

"What happened? What transformed me from a monster into a father? I do not know."

Paternal Detachment More Normal Than Realized

Jerrold Shapiro, professor of counseling psychology at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif., and author of "The Measure of a Man: Becoming the Man You Wish Your Father Had Been," said that it is not uncommon for fathers to experience a delay in bonding with their children shortly after they are born.

"When infants first arrive ... it is very important for the mother to bond with the baby," he said. "But for the first period of life, and perhaps longer, basically the father is an outsider. The primary bond is between the mother and the infant; the father is there to protect that bond."

And Leslie Seppinni, a marriage family therapist and clinical psychologist practicing in Beverly Hills, Calif., said it is not just the father who can experience this detached feeling.

"It's really normal, and it's normal for the mother as well, which many people don't know," she said. "It's not automatic that you're going to bond with your child. Usually it does take a little while.

"This is like a foreign object that comes into your world; you are not prepared for it, and it takes over your time."

So if it's so common, why don't more people talk about it? Shapiro and Seppinni agreed that the considerable stigma that surrounds the issue often quells discussion among new parents -- even if they are thinking and feeling the same thing.

"People don't want to talk about how difficult it is when you first have a baby because you don't want to feel like an unloving person," she said. "It's taboo to admit, when you're bonding with your child, that it's taking a little time."

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