I feel like every time you see new motherhood depicted in the media, you always see an instant, beautiful, and immediate bond between mom and baby. Mom always has a beatific look on her face as she stretches out her arms to embrace a wailing infant, who calms down as soon as they touch. And it's not that I don't think that experience exists — I know it does — but I don't think that's the final word on the issue. After all, I didn't feel that instant bond with my first child. So I asked moms to share the moment they finally felt close to their babies and, as predicted, real life is more varied, nuanced, complex, and beautiful than mostly-male writers would have you believe.
As soon as my son was born I was flooded with emotion. He cried a pissed off-sounding cry and I sobbed in happiness. I loved him immediately... but I wasn't in love with him until much later. It's nothing personal, of course. I mean, I didn't know the little guy! My husband and I both talked about the fact that, when we left the hospital, we felt as though we were assigned a baby to take home. Like, if someone said at any point during my stay, "Oops! We accidentally gave you the wrong baby!" we'd have been like, "Oh wow! Good catch! Thanks!" and traded him for our "true" child. But it wasn't long after we got him home — a week, maybe less — that we felt a deep connection to him.
With our second it was sooner which, again, is nothing personal (and certainly shouldn't be taken as a sign of preference) but the bond we'd built with our son had expanded our hearts. We knew about all the chambers that were hidden from us the first time around, knew what was in store, and it was easier to project an already lived experience onto a new baby and realize how much she would be loved.
Parenthood is like any other relationship in some ways — it takes time to develop. Here's what other moms had to say about their experiences:
"For both of my babies, I felt close to them immediately. I felt like I was handed a soulmate to take care of and nurture. Like I had made this soul contract with them before we all came into this life that I would give birth to them and we would all be together and do whatever it is we are here to do. It was like, 'Oh wow! Look at you! There you are!'"
"When my son was first born it was the oddest experience. I did not feel that close bond that first minute, hour, day, or week. It has been a difficult road paved with traumatic birth, postpartum depression, and postpartum anxiety. It wasn’t until maybe three to four weeks in that I had a feeling of connectedness with my son. I feel like experiences like mine are seldom talked about. I felt like I was the only one who had this experience. So that’s why I’m sharing."
"Mine was different for all three. My first was planned but the shock of actually becoming a parent made me numb or anxious 100 percent of the time. I was in complete survival mode and didn’t find the time to stop and enjoy her until a few weeks in. I think it was her first smile, even if was from gas, that really melted my heart. I had an instant bond with my second daughter. A friend who was due the same time went through the unimaginable about a week before my daughter was born. Finally having my baby in my arms was such a relief. Coincidentally, she is my mini-me in all ways. Our third completed our family and is our only son. Meeting him was such an overwhelming ‘I feel complete’ thing. Our bond was pretty instant also."
"This is kind of a funny story. My first birth was an emergency C-section after months of planning a medication-free birth. I didn't bond with my daughter for weeks and I felt miserable and blamed it on the C-section. Doing so was backed by everything I'd read in all my [medication-free birth] literature, about how my baby wouldn't be exposed to "love hormones" and a C-section impedes bonding and all that. So I became militantly anti-C-section and even before I got pregnant again 20 months later I was hellbent on a VBAC. Well, I got my medication-free birth with my second and guess what? I didn't have an instant bond with him, either! Turns out I'm just someone who needs time to get to know my babies (though it took a little less time because I wasn't beating myself up over my failed birth plan).
The two very different experiences with basically the same outcome was incredibly healing and allowed me to make peace with my C-section in a way I hadn't before."
"When my daughter was born she was wailing and crying and then the moment they put her on my chest she stopped. That's when I realized I was someone's resting place. Someone's home. Someone's mom."
"When we got home from the hospital, because being around a million visitors and two million strangers was too overwhelming. But when I was in my own home, alone with my husband and our dog, in my own bed, eating my own food, I felt like I could be myself and really relax enough to truly bond with my little one."
"I had to be put under general anesthesia for the birth, but as soon as I came to and they handed me my baby I was in love, so technically it was within a few hours but really it was right away. I guess you could get around the technicalities by saying that it was love at first sight."
"When my son was born, I only got to see and hold him for a few seconds and then they whisked him away. I felt like part of me was missing, but at the same time it was such a surreal experience to see him out of my body. Like, 'Who the hell is this? How did you get here?' were the kinds of thoughts I was having initially. Anyway, I didn't see him for the first two days because he was taken to another hospital. When I finally did see him, he looked nothing like he did when I first met him. He was swollen and had wires all over him and was intubated and sedated. I felt less close and more horrible, horrible guilt that I couldn't protect him, and fear and sadness. I'd say the first moment I felt truly close to him was the night he was extubated. I held him in my arms, skin-to-skin, and I still don't think a more perfect moment has existed in my life than that first couple hours I got to hold him like that. I was instantly in love, the world fading into the background."
"My mother died two months before I gave birth and I was so crushed by that loss that I found it hard to feel anything... much less love anyone. It happened though. Therapy helped, I'm sure, but I still feel guilty because for the first few months I was so deep in my grief that I just wasn't there. I can barely remember any of it."
"Right away. Before they were born, really. But the minute each of them was put on my chest it was confirmation that, yes, I already knew them."