You always hear about the connection between a mother and her baby. The instant connection. But what about those mamas who don’t have it? Does that mean we are destined to have terrible relationships with our babies? To make selfish decisions? To not love our children?
When I was pregnant, I could not wait to meet the little life growing inside of me. I imagined the connection we would have; how I would know exactly what he/she needed, how my world would revolve around this new little person and I wouldn’t mind one bit because I would just love this baby so much and have such a strong bond that nothing else mattered. So when that wasn’t how things went down, I felt heartbroken, robbed and depressed.
You can read my birth story here, but the part that I think had the biggest impact on my bonding was what happened after she was born. Yes, I had a long-ish labor and yes I pushed for a long time, but what was/is the most upsetting is that I can’t really remember my first glimpse of my daughter. This moment that I had been praying for and imaging for a large majority of my life and poof, it’s gone. I remember being terrified something was wrong. I remember pushing as hard as I possible could so that they wouldn’t have to use the vacuum. I remember the empty feeling that filled me when they took her away from me and my husband left with her. But I can’t remember the moment they placed her on my chest. This is such a painful lack of a memory that I still well up every time I think about it. This moment was robbed from me.
I held V for maybe 2 minutes, maybe 5, I’m not really sure, before they clipped her cord and rushed her over to be examined and deep suctioned. That was all the time I got to spend with this little human who had up until now spent all her life inside of me. And that’s how we stayed for an hour. Granted an hour doesn’t seem like a long time, and I know many moms who have to spend much longer apart from their babies, but for me, it was forever. We spent as much of the rest of the day as possible skin-to-skin but we had over 15 people come see us at the hospital all within her first 8 hours of life. After laboring for 18 hours, not eating for 25, I was extremely sore, extremely tired and extremely hungry. I was also really sad and I was overcome by the need to please everyone. Even though I had asked that no one came to visit the first day, or that at least no one held her the first day, it was important to my husband and expected by our families that they could do both. So I lost my voice and I became detached. This was the start of my spiral of detachment, which I now feel was post-partum depression.
Now when I say I detached, I still cared. I have loved my daughter since the moment we found out we were expecting. But it was almost a required love. I put her first because I had to. Her needs were more important than mine because that was what was expected of me, because that’s what mothers do. But it didn’t feel like it was because I wanted to, because my bond with her was so strong I felt compelled to in a physically unstoppable way. That made me even more sad. I withdrew. Nursing was immensely difficult. I withdrew. She was not a good sleeper or napper and was a higher-needs baby. I withdrew. I met her needs but inside I was mourning.
Then something changed. I honestly can’t tell you what it was. I don’t know if it was time or hormones working themselves out or what. A little before she turned 5 months, my mama-bonding sensors flipped out. I was obsessed. I started to cry at work because I missed her (not sobbing, just teary eyed and longing to be back home). I wanted to spend all my time with her. I didn’t want to hand her over to friends or family when we had visitors or were out of the house. This was my baby and I would gladly sacrifice everything for her.
I believe every woman experiences birth differently. And that even every birth will be different. I don’t know if I will experience this same delayed-bond with any future children we are blessed with. Next time I think I will address these issues head-on instead of trying to hide them for fear of being called selfish or a bad mom.
But I think it is so important that women discuss these kinds of feelings. Everyone puts their best face out there; we’re taught through that and media how birthing and bonding and mothering are supposed to go down. But that isn’t reality and the more women feel they are failing, the more they will spiral down into detachment and post-partum depression. We need to be real, share our stories and support each others’ experiences. If you are struggling to find your footing, to bond with your baby and to feel satisfied with being a mother, know you are not alone and you are not a bad person. If your withdrawal becomes serious to the point you no longer want to care for yourself or your child, find help. Call a trusted friend or family member, talk to your doctor or midwife, reach out to mommy groups on Facebook. You are not alone and you should not feel ashamed.
Here are some articles/resources I found helpful or that particularly resonated with me.
- Four Myths About Bonding With Your Baby – Jennifer Margulis
- It Wasn’t Supposed To Feel Like This – Mama Needs Coffee
- Hope for the Future: A Blog Hop on Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety – HalfKindled
- Good Catholic Moms and Maternal Depression – Check Out That Sunset
- When You Don’t Bond With Your New Baby – The Merry Momma