Making the connection
Understanding possible causes of PNA still leaves an important question unanswered: Are temporarily ambivalent parents permanently damaging their children? There's a dearth of studies on the issue. One, by Family Health International, a nonprofit organization committed to improving the health of women and children worldwide, found that Brazilian infants whose mothers had expressed doubts during pregnancy about having a child scored lower on aptitude tests at age 1 than their immediately loved peers.Still, most child-development experts believe that babies with initially wishy-washy parents will be just fine, provided that their parents act in a loving and responsible way -- even if they don't much feel like it. "Feelings of love will come when you repeatedly act in a loving way toward your child," insists Tucson, Arizona, psychologist Kevin Leman, Ph.D. "If you're rocking the baby, cuddling her, reading to her, and talking to her while you feed her, it doesn't make a difference how you feel. Just do it."
Thompson advises parents simply to allow themselves time to become acquainted with their offspring: "The bottom line is that parents who go through the shock of having a newborn shouldn't worry if they take some time to get used to it."
Patience eventually paid off for the Gittelmans. "When Nathan was around 3 months, Marisa started getting less clingy and I could pay more attention to him," says Kathy. "She wasn't always in my face or in his, and I could make eye contact with him. He was starting to sit up and roll over. That's when I fell in love with him." David warmly remembers that his relationship with his son changed soon after the boy began to talk in full sentences at 18 months. "I used to grab Nathan and wrestle with him and say, 'Who's my big boy?' Well, the day Nathan looked up at me and laughed and said in a little voice, 'Meeee!' -- that was the best day. I love him more than I ever thought I would, which is great -- and a relief."
David Wallis is the editor of Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print. He also contributes to The New York Times and The Washington Post.