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Bonding with books

I’ve never considered myself the maternal type. I even surprised myself when one day I said to my husband, “Let’s have a munchkin.” “From Dunkin Donuts?” he asked. But no, I was thinking about babies. Several of my close friends were expecting, and all the tiny socks and onesies that assigned cheeky personalities to a three-week-old (“I Still Live with My Parents”) seemed so cool. I wanted to join the club.

quiet loud Unfortunately, when my daughter was born, I was not only completely unprepared for the lifestyle change a baby puts in motion, I also discovered I was suffering from postpartum depression. I was deeply unhappy, resentful, and panicked that I would never have time for myself again.

We had several meltdowns, my daughter and I. Eventually, we figured out how to eat and how to change a diaper without using half a box of wipes. But I started to wonder: Is this all there is? A circuitous routine of feed me, burp me, change me, put me to sleep? What bothered me most was a panicked feeling that I hadn’t bonded with my baby. My daughter was very sick when she was born, so moments after my c-section she was carried off to the NICU at another hospital. For a woman who feels as if she’s lacking the maternal gene, separation is pretty unhelpful.

When I finally brought her home eleven days after her birth, I sat in the rocking chair, numb. A voice in my head screamed, “Why don’t you love your baby?” as my daughter wailed in the background.

We always think of providing comfort to new babies, but I needed to be soothed, too. I turned to something that has been a constant in my life — reading. With my magical Kindle, I could hold my daughter and turn pages with one finger. And I began to read aloud. Like many parents, I know it’s important to read to your child early; as a writer and children’s lit fanatic, this was one thing I was looking forward to. I needed mental stimulation, and my daughter just needed to hear my voice. So I read all kinds of books out loud to her, from Leslie Patricelli’s Yummy Yucky to Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize–winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

yummyNow that I had a good book to look forward to, instead of longing to put my daughter in her bouncy seat, I felt more comfortable holding her. I didn’t resent her pulling me away from the things I enjoyed because I’d found something we could enjoy together. It was still hard, and there were lots of tears and therapy, but there were moments of light.

My daughter is five years old now. Reading is important to both of us and it’s something we do together all the time — before school, at restaurants, and at bedtime. And we still read all sorts of books, from The Snowy Day to our new favorite, Sir Pancake and Lady French Toast. I look forward to sharing books my own parents read to me like Treasure Island and Charlotte’s Web. Maybe once upon a time my own mom felt like I did. Maybe reading was balm for her when I turned her world upside down. Maybe for all you new moms out there, it can be a balm for you, too.

Laura A. Woollett About Laura A. Woollett

Laura A. Woollett is the author of the middle-grade book Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and The Greatest Show On Earth (Chicago Review Press, 2015). Laura has a master’s degree in children’s literature from Simmons College and is a full-time writer and editor.



  1. Jen Mason Stott says:

    This mirrors my experience so beautifully. Being a new mom was utterly foreign but reading aloud -anything- was familiar and passed the time, even when my voice shook from the ever-present lump in my throat. It helped me feel useful and/or squeeze in my grownup reading, too (babies don’t understand swear words). Thank you for sharing your story, in an unexpected publication. Lovely.

  2. Thank you, Jen. I’m glad the piece resonated with you.

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