Spoiler alert: It took three months for me to love my baby. Here's why it's ok if you feel the same way...
A friend of mine recently said he had read an interesting article about how a mother who held her baby for the first time felt nothing. No love, just nothing. That shocked him, but not as much as when I quipped, “no one really loves their child straightaway.” Here’s why…
Looking for love at first sight? Look away now…
When the nurse placed Lily on my chest straight after birth, I was exhausted. It was a traumatic labour, and my lack of emotions set off alarm bells in the nurse’s head. I could almost hear it, “bad mum alert! Bad mum alert!”. But realistically, when a baby is delivered, you experience a lot of emotions – many of them for the very first time. My gown was unbuttoned for the baby to be placed on me for skin-to-skin contact. I remember feeling that I was being exposed from both ends. Emotional check-in: Cold, nauseous, overwhelmed.
It didn’t help that Lily had really bad jaundice and had to be kept in the hospital while I went home. That in itself isn’t “normal”. My neighbours were excited to see the baby, yet I was arriving home alone. This was shortly followed by the steepest learning curve of all: breastfeeding. When Lily finally came home, she was three days old. It was a cycle of bathing, changes and feeding. I had two big dogs and no help, so it was a juggle for my husband and me to get everything done. Emotional check-in: Frustrated, lonely, doubtful, anxious.
The realities of motherhood – the early days
Parenthood is difficult. For mothers, you’re forever changed. For fathers, it’s more gradual. I’m sure on some level, it’s more difficult for the dads because you’re trying to get used to two new people, your baby, and the woman you’ve known for years has now evolved into… mum.
During one of her night feeds two weeks in, everything was dark and quiet; I looked at her expecting to feel that overwhelming sense of love, pride, maybe magic. Really, anything at all. Perhaps it was because I was exhausted or her eyes were closed, but I felt nothing. I put her down, and that was that. Emotional check-in: exhaustion, confusion, betrayal?
What others had to say
A co-worker of mine, who was a mother of twins, came for a visit. I told her I didn’t love Lily and hadn’t told her I loved her or kissed her. She jumped to her feet, put the baby in my arms and demanded, “say it now, Jill, you have to tell her.” I managed to get an “I love you” out. Saying it felt like being forced to say sorry to your sibling after a squabble they started. Next, she insisted I kiss her. Deep down, I knew I eventually would, and I felt it should have been something I did privately when I truly felt that moment. Emotional check-in: imposter syndrome.
Bonding with baby – fake it until you make it?
Thanksgiving rolled around, and Lily was almost one month by then. We brought her over to my in-laws. A family member excitedly asked me how I felt being a mum; I said it was alright. and the all too familiar look of “bad mum” flashed in his eyes. He gave me a small dressing down about how, firstly, it shouldn’t just feel “alright”, and I had to change my attitude. Secondly, even if I thought that things were just “alright”, it’s not something you say to people about your child. I thought he was a bit of a self-righteous jackass, to be frank, so I didn’t give what he said much thought until a couple of days later.
Does anyone out there understand?
I decided to go on Instagram and write, “I don’t love my baby, am I broken?”. The number of replies I got from notable influencer mums telling me how normal it was and how it all takes time surprised me. One of whom put it the best to me: “There’s so much to get used to. Your new body, societal pressures, managing how often you pump or breastfeed, marital roles, cooking, juggling your job. Where and how, in all of that, are you supposed to find the time to really love and connect with a lump?”. How true, I thought! It all comes with time. I think it’s important to mention that while I didn’t “love” Lily at that point, she was my child. I could already tell the difference in her cries. Depending on how she fussed, I knew if she was having belly pains or needed a feed. Although always looking alert and curious, I knew she actually wanted a nap. My motherly instincts were in overdrive; I just didn’t love her.
Google: when do mothers love their babies?
Although it didn’t affect me then, being told I could not be truthful about my experience of motherhood did eventually bug me. After reading literally all the articles found under “when do mothers love their babies?”, I learnt there were a multitude of reasons and a spectrum of other effects that played a part. First up, oxytocin. We’ve been led to believe that oxytocin, or the “love drug”, is supposed to make us fall head over heels for our baby the second we see it. It’s also the main hormone that “should” help with breastfeeding. What they fail to tell us new mums is the most obvious logical flaw. Not everyone’s oxytocin levels are the same! Some get a rush that’s enough to carry them through the first two weeks of baby blues, others only a few hours. After reading more, I found that 70-80% of women get the baby blues. Most of the time, they go away in the first two WEEKS! So, not really love at first sight at all!
Expectations vs reality
While pregnant, more often than not, life goes on as normal. This somehow tricks your mind into thinking the end goal of pregnancy is giving birth. It’s the cycle of getting fertilised, gestating the baby, and giving birth. You’re done! It only sets in later that though you’re done with the pregnancy cycle, you’re now starting on a who knows how long journey with this new life. It is incredibly overwhelming. Postpartum and peripartum depression are real. Many women are terrified to consider this option. At this point, the love for your child may be primal, but it isn’t the hallmark love that people tell you it should be. Overcoming this and getting support at this stage is crucial. You are not a bad mother. You need the tools, confidence and trust to speak about your feelings. I found that eye contact with my baby worked wonders, as well as speaking to like-minded mothers.
When did the love finally kick in for me?
She was just waking up from a nap. I was being a creepy mum, watching from the side of her crib. She looked like a little dinosaur hatching from her egg. She turned her head to the side, caught my eye and smiled as if to say, “Hey mum! It’s you! Hi!”. Her recognising me, my voice, plus being able to facially express some kind of emotion made her a real person. She was almost three months. As she grew, her personality came out more. Now, I could tell if she smiled because a toy amused her or if she smiled because she knew mum was there. Three months might be a long time to finally love a baby who grew inside you and depends on you for life, but once that love hits, it’s an obsessive love. I could be holding and looking at her, and my heart still missed her. I couldn’t stop talking about her.
Let’s talk about it
Don’t get me wrong, loving her didn’t suddenly make mothering easy. I didn’t get a jolt of more energy to deal with her not being able to sleep at night. It simply just made things have colour. There are an array of myths that go along with motherhood; I do urge all mothers to come clean and be truthful. Have open conversations about when you truly felt that love for your child. You don’t know how much you’re helping another by doing so.