About two months ago, when my baby girl was placed in my arms for the first time, I felt nothing. Maybe it was the lack of sleep (I had to be induced, a process that had started 26 hours before she actually arrived) or the whirlwind of activity that surrounded the moment. But either way, when I didn’t swoon at first sight of her, I felt like a disgusting person. What mother doesn’t feel instant love for her child? I suspected my depression might be the source of this heartbreak, but I felt robbed.
In the days and weeks that followed, the connection I had hoped to feel didn’t materialize. I spent a lot of time feeling miserable. I had so much shame because every other new mom always seems to be absolutely in awe of her baby from the very first moment. But as I forced myself to share what I was experiencing, I realized maybe I wasn’t as alone in these feelings as I thought. I don’t think my depression robbed me of this special moment after all ― it was the narrative surrounding motherhood that gave me these expectations in the first place.
Mothers-to-be are led to believe this idea that giving birth, while painful, is a magical experience — that holding your baby in your arms for the first time produces feelings of indescribable love and that there will be an immediate bond with this new life. For some people, that very well may be true, but it’s certainly not the case for everyone. And because the only narrative you ever hear is one of pure joy, it’s devastating when your reality doesn’t match that experience. It leaves you feeling broken and worthless if you don’t swoon the second you meet your baby.
Mothers-to-be are led to believe ... that holding your baby in your arms for the first time produces feelings of indescribable love and that there will be an immediate bond with this new life.
Prior to delivery, my husband and I took so many classes ― infant care, childbirth, CPR and breastfeeding ― to prepare for the baby, and though I know it’s impossible to be completely ready, the void was unexpected. As I struggled to find that connection with my daughter, I felt awful. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I was a mom, and yet I was already feeling like a failure at it. I could take care of the baby, feeding her and changing her diaper when necessary, but it came to feel like I was just babysitting someone else’s child. I could look down at her and think she was cute, but it didn’t feel like she was mine.
While I appreciated the thoughtfulness and company when family and friends came to visit in the first few weeks, those visits were exhausting. I felt like I had to play the part of adoring new mother, searching for the right words to convince everyone — and myself — that I was happy. Thankfully, I felt comfortable confiding in health care professionals and my husband and mom, and they provided much-needed reassurance. But whenever anyone else asked how I was doing, I felt compelled to lie. I even struggled to post about my baby on social media, feeling that I would either perpetuate a false narrative or be criticized for being honest.
I feel really fortunate to have had the support I did. My mom stayed with us in the days after the baby was born to help us adjust and my in-laws were willing to drop everything to come hold the baby — even in the middle of the night — when she was screaming and sleep had become a long-forgotten memory. Our families were so clearly enamored with her, spending every moment they could with us, and I longed to feel that same love for her.
I even struggled to post about my baby on social media, feeling that I would either perpetuate a false narrative or be criticized for being honest.
I spent so much time feeling sorry for myself and it ultimately stole that special time I should have had with my baby. I’m grateful for all of the warnings I had about postpartum depression and how it may result in a struggle to bond with my baby. With those words of caution and knowing my history of mental illness, I knew that my general hopelessness, constant crying and struggle to connect meant I could have postpartum depression. But even still, I had a hard time admitting things weren’t perfect and the only way I found the courage to call my doctor was my husband begging me, placing our daughter in my arms and reminding me that it was no longer about just me. Thankfully once I did, I was listened to and comforted.
About 20% of new parents struggle to bond with their baby just after birth, and I wish someone had told me it’s OK if it takes a while to build that bond as you get to know each other. If I had known that, things would have been more bearable, especially in those first few days of overwhelming guilt. Looking back on it now, I wish I had spoken up sooner to my doctors and nurses instead of silently worrying that I was flawed and broken. Maybe if I had, I could have spared myself some of the heartache.
I’d always dreamt of the moment when I’d hold my own baby for the first time. It hurt when the experience was lacking in every way. And it absolutely broke my heart that I couldn’t go back and ever relive that moment with my daughter. I will never get a second chance at that first time holding her and it kills me that it wasn’t what I had envisioned and everyone boasts about.
We need to prepare new moms for the reality of giving birth, beyond just the physical. We need to share different perspectives on the range of emotions they may encounter during those early days so they don’t feel as alone as I did.
No one wants to admit that they didn’t feel a bond with their baby right away, so no one prepares you for the possibility that you may go through this experience. We need to prepare new moms for the reality of giving birth, beyond just the physical. We need to share different perspectives on the range of emotions they may encounter during those early days so they don’t feel as alone as I did. By being open and honest about our own experiences, mothers can help others realize there isn’t something wrong with them if they go through this. I’m here to tell you that it’s OK if your heart isn’t overwhelmed with love in that hospital room. It will come.
For me, it was the day my baby turned 1 month old. As I sat there, singing “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack to her, she stared up at me and I gazed down at her. I thought of all my hopes and dreams for this little baby in my arms and suddenly, it all came flooding over me. I knew exactly the love that every woman talks about. I cried. I cried because I was happy. I cried because I was sad that I had spent so much time fretting that moment would never come. I don’t want anyone else to ever have to hurt the way I did in the weeks it took to get to that moment.
So here it is: It’s OK if it takes time for you to love your baby. You’re doing a great job no matter where you are on your journey to get there. Just keep taking care of your baby ― and yourself ― and it will come. Maybe it will be in pieces over time or all at once, but you will love this baby with everything you have in you, and when that happens, it will be the greatest feeling of your life.
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