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The fear of not loving your baby once they're born is real.
It’s a fear bred from the idea that you might be that rare case that deviates from the age-old, global, unquestioned truth that moms – or at least good moms – instantly and instinctually love their bundles of joy once they’re born.
It’s rooted in the patriarchal view that women are born to be mothers and that complete connection and love is just what naturally happens between a mom and a baby. It’s what postpartum expert (and Lil-Lets Talk Expert Responder) Genevieve Putter calls the “myth of the Divine Motherhood”.
As Angela Saini wrote for The Guardian: “The maternal myth suffuses every human culture, from Catholicism’s Virgin Mary to Hinduism’s goddess mother. It’s considered the most natural state of womanhood, leaving the childless woman the object of pity.”
But as the mom of an 18 month old, I can tell you that it doesn’t always work that way. I didn’t immediately bond with my son, and it’s only now, 18 months later, that I am able to talk about.
I wanted and planned to have a child. But falling pregnant was a mixed bag and I didn’t enjoy my pregnancy at all. I was by no means the glowing mom I believed I would be.
I worried that the lack of connection I felt to the baby in my belly was a problem. But I kept reassuring myself that I would experience that surge of love and emotion everyone talks about once he was born.
My little one’s birth went relatively smoothly. A good thing, considering that a traumatic birth is a huge contributor to a lack of bonding and/or postpartum depression.
I remember holding my son for the first time and feeling amazed and very joyful. Yes, I did immediately feel love for him, but utterly bonded? I wouldn’t say so, no.
The four days in the hospital felt protected, cushioned, and I was coping well.
But it was leaving that safe zone and feeling the realisation that I now had an entire being, vulnerable, tiny, shrivelled, and a big, scary world out there that I needed to guide him through that sunk me into depression.
Not bonding with your baby is not necessarily linked to postpartum depression, but it can definitely worsen it.
Not only was I not bonding with him, but he scared me. I did all the things a mom should do, I rocked him and nursed him, tenderly kissed his head, held his tiny hand. But underneath I was terrified I was going to break him somehow, or run out on him because it was all way too much.
It's only now, happily bonded to my little boy and taking our journey day by day, that I realise how normal this all was.
The connection between you and your child isn’t a given. You are born as a mother at the same time your child is born.
For some, the bonding is instant, for others, it builds over time. For a very small number of mothers – usually moms who are unsupported – the bonding never happens.
What moms don’t need is a mountain of guilt laid on her for not being a “natural mother.”
We need to be able to talk about it openly, unashamedly, and matter of factly.
“I don’t feel attached to my child yet. But I raise him, protect him, nurture him, and meet all his needs. I know the bond will be built over time.”
It’s as simple as that. But we are taught that thinking this way is unnatural, unutterable.
The thing I’ve noticed about not bonding and postpartum depression is that you don’t really talk about it till after you’ve overcome it.
It’s just too painful, too shameful.
But how I wish I had. And how I wish more moms felt free to acknowledge exactly what they were feeling.
It would have removed a ton of completely unnecessary guilt from my shoulders while I was going through the delicate fourth trimester.
If you’re reading this and you feel this way, too. I see you, mama. And I’m here to tell you, it’s totally normal, and it’s okay to talk about too.
Are you a new or expecting mom? We’re opening up the conversation on the honest realities of pregnancy, birth, the fourth trimester, and motherhood. Join the Lil-Lets Talk community where you can ask questions and share experiences with peers and experts in a safe, supported space. Sign up here for free now.