We've all heard about the magical time after labor and delivery where we, as mothers, are expected to (and hope to) bond with our brand new baby. It sounds easy enough, right? We wait nine months to meet this little human so it shouldn't be an issue to connect. So what about when it is? There's actually a lot of things that kept me from bonding with my baby right away, but what I didn't realize at the time — what I wish someone had told me then — was that it would be OK. No, seriously.
Despite the months of excited prepping, daydreaming, and visualizing, the very moment I held my newborn daughter there was a strange lack of feeling I wasn't expecting: a void. Of course I was happy to be done with the pushing and grateful she was healthy, but when doctors laid her on my bare chest, I looked at her as if we'd never met before. I suppose, in a way, that's true. Sure, she sprouted from a little seedling inside of me, but everything I thought the moment would feel like was lost on me. Instead of having an innate instinct she was my baby, there was a disconnect. It could've been any baby lying there, staring up at me, and it wouldn't have made a difference.
In the days and weeks to follow, I took comfort in telling myself the bond would happen because, well, why wouldn't it? What could be so wrong with me that some part subconsciously denied my own offspring? It made me think of a cat I had, who had delivered eight babies but left two of them to fend for themselves. Had I not intervened, they'd have died. Of course my feelings weren't similar , because I cared for my baby. I did all the things a new mother does, even when my postpartum depression (PPD) soured into something too heavy to handle without professional help. Honestly, I lived this way for many months because I felt so guilty, so horrible of a mother, I was afraid to speak up about it fear of judgement. I mean, this was my fault, wasn't it?
Looking back, I now see all the roadblocks in our way that kept things from flowing the way they should have. Now that my daughter is 10, I assure you, our relationship is just fine. Not having an instant bond isn't predicative of how close you and your baby can be. It just takes some digging to figure out what's holding you back. From one mother to another, here are some of those things, in hopes that someone out there going through similar emotions can know it will be OK even if it doesn't feel like it in the moment. Do you hear me? It will be OK.
Being In The Hospital
When I was first admitted for my induction (due to health reasons), it was all so exciting. Just knowing the pregnancy could end already was cause for celebration. Then, the hospital and all its noisy continual stream of interruptions to check the fetal monitor become tedious, and even more so once the baby is born. By the time I'd delivered, I just wanted to go home and settle into a normal routine. Being in the hospital setting was a distraction that definitely kept me from bonding with my baby, because I wasn't free to be "mom" without a nurse lingering nearby.
Too Many Visitors
I get it. Everyone wants to see the new baby. She looks like all other babies, mind you, but she's mine so friends and family want to come give their well-wishes. It's all great until I'm ready to see no one. When someone's knocking on the door every minute, or asking to hold the baby, how can I bond?
Attempting (And Being Unable To) Breastfeeding
I had breastfeeding woes from the start. Already an anxious woman I knew I wanted to give it a solid try, but feared I wouldn't be able to do it. Some mothers struggle but find their way. For me, the moment I had to give it my first solid try in front of nurses, I failed. It was too much stress when my baby wouldn't latch, then when my milk didn't come in, then when I continued trying to feed a hungry baby that I didn't seem compatible with. Once we reluctantly switched to a bottle, our relationship strengthened.
As I said, my postpartum was a lot worse than I realized and I hid it for a long time because I felt so guilty about my feelings of detachment. What I learned through getting the help I needed was that postpartum created the divide between my baby and I. It was hormonal and absolutely not my fault. Treatment like therapy and medication helped bring me to a rational state so that I could see my baby for what she was. Mine.
She Didn't Look The Way I expected
It sounds silly, but I imagined my firstborn would come into the world looking more like me than her father. Being a Puerto Rican woman with olive skin and dark hair, how could his genes trump mine? Well, they did and it threw me off. Because she didn't look a thing like me, she felt that much more like a stranger. I know how irrational that sounds, but it's one case where looks mattered. Had she come out resembling me as a baby, I might've felt more attached right away. I guess we'll never know.
Labor and delivery are exhausting to a degree I'd never imagined. Actually, I thought I knew what tired was until I had the baby. The hours after, when nurses brought her in for me to try to breastfeed and "bond," all I wanted to do was sleep. It wasn't personal. How can I care about another if I'm not caring for myself first?
The Pressure To Bond
Going into this motherhood thing, there was way too much pressure to do everything "right." To breastfeed, only feed my baby organic and homemade foods, go to mommy groups, etc. It's great if you choose to do those things, but it's also OK if you don't. When all I heard was "the most important thing is bonding with your baby," I felt like I was set to fail before I gave birth.
Listen, let's all give ourselves a break and trust that we're doing the best we can. Even if there's no immediate bond, it will happen. There's already so much we're trying to live up to so, for now, how about you acknowledge you just brought a human into the world? That's kind of a big deal.