Love Is Simply Complicated

Understanding the science behind the bond between a mother and her child.

I Told the Moon
Curious

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In my early days of postpartum, I never understood why I couldn’t match the instant connection other mothers had with their child. A baby became a mother’s sun, moon, and stars. Their relationship seemed untouched by the struggles of real life due to the strength of the bond they held. I could not match this instant intensity of love others described having for their children. And for that I felt — ashamed.

What have I done wrong that clearly everyone else got right? Did I miss cupid’s arrow to fall in love-at-first-sight?

I told the moon: Love is Simply Complicated
Photo by Marie Elizabeth Photography

Years later, while watching bad reality TV, I realized there is an over-produced formula to simulate the feelings of creating an instant emotional connection.

Well, not so much ‘realized’ because it’s quite an obvious scientific process.

  1. Pick any pair to place on an adrenaline-pumping, death-defying date. This provides the opportunity for the couple to create an instant connection by finding a sense of stability in each other.
  2. When they lock eyes, both dare-devils suddenly release of increase of oxytocin — a bonding hormone over this seemingly unique shared experience.
  3. After successfully finishing the dangerous-seeming event, both partners experience a pleasurable burst of dopamine — a reward hormone. A wave of euphoria overcomes them as their minds and bodies come back down from the high of their adrenaline rush

This intense experience imitates the sensation of love (and technically sex and drug addiction). It can trick anyone into a false sense of attachment. This is great for over-productionized reality TV when trying to simulate real love on a shortened timeline, but not necessarily for building a long-lasting relationship.

Understanding the science behind love-at-first-sight kind of kills the romance of it all. But it does help me connect the dots to why an instant connection is formed between a mother and her child. When you think about it, childbirth is one terrifying first date. Which makes it the ultimate bonding experience.

To simply meet each other for the first time, mother and her child must endure one of the most adrenaline-pumping, death-defying experiences of their lives. Then when you finally have the chance lock eyes with your ‘partner’, both of you are overcome with a calm sense of relief and instant bond is formed and reinforced by the naturally released oxytocin and dopamine.

Oh, but you’re not done there…. The first few weeks postpartum the two of you (mom and baby) are going to be living on a constant high of adrenaline rushes. In this heightened survival mode, you are barely able to eat, sleep, or think. The world beyond the moment you’re in right now — simply cannot not exist. The two of you have created your own survival island because what you’re experiencing feels — in the moment — unique to the two of you. This adrenaline/dopamine feedback-loop created only strengthens the tight bond between these newly formed drug-addicts. Or a much kinder way to put it would be, motherly love.

But this adrenaline-high will eventually run out. The intensity of those first days (first weeks — first months — first years) become your new normal. You might be able to prolong this chemical mother bonding experience with breastfeeding (another natural producer of oxytocin and dopamine). But overall, the chemically produced bond you two share won’t last a lifetime. Thus, proving that no mother will live forever in a constant state of awe-struck love for their child.

So then the question becomes:

In between all those hormone-induced connections, have you built a foundation of a relationship to last a lifetime? When nature’s reward system is stripped away created to maintain survival of our young, do you still really truly love your child for who they are as a person?

This crossroads draws upon more parallels of dating:

Will your relationship survive the leap of graduating from the magical ‘honeymoon phase’ to a real life? When the adrenaline rush of your crush starts to fade, will you mistake the loss of excitement for the loss of love?

And with that parallel, I realize I was completely wrong in my original assumption. Real love is messy and unscripted. It will never as rosy as over-productionized television shows or curated social media accounts lead you to believe.

Love is simply complicated.

Love ebbs and flows. While the intensity of that first stages of love that can make a good story, it is really the consistency that matters. Its heart-warming to hear the stories of a mother’s fierce love for her children. But the intensity of this initial connection created cannot be maintained by both parties. And that’s okay.

The important thing about love is that it’s always there. Dependable. Reliable. Consistent. This kind of love creates the foundation of your child’s home. Their safe haven in the world to return to when they are feeling vulnerable. A place where they will always be encouraged to learn and grow.

Emphasizing the importance of consistency over intensity is something I can manage. It’s okay if I’m not star-struck. As long as I’m always there. I can release the shame I felt, because rosy love story or not, I still love my kids.

Tell me in the comments about your journey to love. It could be with your child, your lover, even a best friend. How did you form that first bond? How did you sustain it? How did you overcome your slumps?

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I Told the Moon
Curious
Writer for

Even if no one listened. Even if no one heard me at all. At least I’ll have told the moon. — itoldthemoon.com