Hang in there!
Love and bonding are things that you expect to come immediately when you have a baby (and even when you discover you're pregnant). This is especially true if you've chosen a conscious, attachment parenting approach for your child. You expect that breastfeeding, babywearing, cosleeping, elimination communication, etc. will bring a strong bond with your baby. But sometimes that doesn't happen.
Sometimes you grow into love with your baby, and that's important to know.
We think of pregnancy as a magical time where a mother-to-be sits around and dreamily smiles over her growing baby. Reality is often far different. Many babies are not planned. That can be really hard on a woman, especially if you typically like to plan and organize your life very carefully.
Our modern world focuses strongly on children being a choice and that women should have the ability to plan out their childbearing. It doesn't take into account biological urges and moments of passion that often produce cute, yet exhausting, results 🙂 Many of us get our babies that way!
I experienced this with Honor – I had a definite time frame in mind that I wanted to conceive in… and Honor's conception ended up happening about 9 months earlier than my careful plan! I felt shocked when I found out I was pregnant. I didn't even suspect it… Scott said he thought I was! It wasn't that I didn't want another baby, it was just that I wanted that baby a few months down the road.
I truly think that babies are a blessing and I felt horribly guilty for my feelings during pregnany. The fact that I had bad morning sickness and a lot of pain didn't make things any easier.
What to Do
I shared extensively on how I handled my prenatal depression/lack of bonding in my series Walking Through Shadows. Please be sure to check that out if you're struggling, too.
The biggest takeaway is to take care of yourself. If you're really struggling with morning sickness, fatigue, or pain, you need to take care of yourself. Give yourself permission to do what it takes to eat (for me the key was to eat slowly, with small bites, and eat some things we don't normally have but were easy for me, such as peanut butter and chicken nuggets!). You will feel better.
I also found that making room for some movement/exercise, even though very slowly at first, made a huge difference in my sense of well-being.
Even though making these changes didn't really make me feel more bonded with my baby, I did feel better myself. I was able to give more attention to my home and family. I know that I was taking good care of myself and thus growing a healthy baby. Though I felt bad for not feeling super-excited about the coming baby, I trusted that the love and bond would come. I focused on making sure my baby was healthy.
I was fortunate to have an excellent home birth with Honor. I felt that gushing, overwhelming love for her the instant she was in my arms. But that is not always the case. Many women have a challenging birth experience and that love and bond doesn't come right away. Sometimes it doesn't come even after a straightforward birth experience.
After my third child, Brennan, was born, I felt sort of detached. I kept wishing somebody would just take him away. I was exhausted. I'd had a good labor and a wonderful water birth, but I was really, really exhausted and just wanted to sleep now that the labor was done! I was also really hot.
My midwife picked up on the detachment immediately and asked me what was wrong. She and her apprentices quickly made the decision to swaddle Brennan (we had been skin to skin) and get the room much cooler. They snuggled him next to me, turned up the air conditioning, and kept an eye on us while we slept. The sleep really helped and when I woke those feelings of love for and attachment to Brennan came strongly (and he was my easiest, sweetest baby, too!)
Sometimes the bonding doesn't even come in the early days – or in the early weeks, even. Moms share that they look at their baby and know intellectually that the baby is their baby. But they don't feel love or attachment. Maybe the baby was in the NICU after birth, or even just whisked away for one too many “routine” minutes… these things can leave a mother feeling detached and confused. She has an infant, but she doesn't feel strongly.
Going Through the Motions = Love
First, it's important to remember that you're showing love to your baby even when you don't feel like it. When you care for your baby's basics needs, that's showing love.
Think of it this way: Love is a Verb. It is something you do – even if it takes awhile to feel.
I find myself feeling pretty frustrated with Honor when she's been cranky all day. It's hard to feel love when I'm exhausted, “touched out,” and really just need a break. But I keep on bouncing her, talking to her, offering to potty her, and offering to nurse her. I swaddle her, rock her, and nurse her for the 50,000th time. I know that even if I'm not feeling any “warm fuzzy” feelings, she still knows I'm there caring for her. That's love.
So keep taking care of your baby – you are showing him love just by doing that. You're also teaching him that you will be there to meet his needs, even on the crummy days 🙂
You May Need to Process Your Birth
Don't feel bad if you haven't forgotten your birth. You may still be hurting, both physically and emotionally. It can feel a little hard to bond with a baby that just caused a lot of pain – even if you realize that it wasn't your baby that truly caused it. Our minds tend to work in emotional ways, not logical ones.
Care for yourself so that you heal. And work through your birth experience. Write it out, or talk about it if you find that helps. It's totally normal to struggle after a hard birth experience.
You may find you need to process things even if you had a good birth. I had fantastic births with Cassidy, Asher, and Brennan. But there was a point during each of their births that my midwife had to do a check to figure out why the baby wasn't coming down. After each one I felt some sadness, like I needed help (no matter how slight or gentle) to birth my baby. It wasn't something terrible, but it had an impact on my confidence.
You could have something small like that to work through – or you could have had a traumatic birth experience. It's OK to heal and work through that. Some find that talking to their babies about this helps. Your little one didn't want a hard birth experience, either. A great video to watch is **What Babies Want** – there is a section devoted to healing birth trauma for both mom and baby.
Dark Thoughts Are Scary, But Normal
It can be terrifying and guilt-inducing to have dark thoughts about your baby (or yourself). You may wish you could just give your baby away, or that you could put your baby down and leave – forever. Maybe you find yourself wishing for a just a few minutes to yourself to read a book, or even take a shower.
These feelings are all normal.
It's OK to have them, as disturbing as it is, but you don't have to just sit there with them. Take some action to help make things better.
Honor spent a Sunday a few weeks ago screaming. She was inconsolable, and nothing we were doing was working. I wanted to give her away! We had to go to my mother-in-law's house so that Scott could help her with setting up a new computer. So we went, screaming Honor and all. My mother-in-law was not completely tired, overwhelmed, and frazzled. So she took Honor. Honor still cried. But I took fifteen minutes or so to putter around on my netbook and just ignored Honor. When I took her back I felt refreshed! In fact, Honor calmed down shortly after that and we both took a nap in the bedroom.
She was still upset, but I had had just a few minutes where I wasn't the one worrying about making her happy (and my mother-in-law was happy to hold her, crying or not). It let me stop getting more upset and when I took Honor back I was a much more relaxed mama. I think Honor could feel it, too.
If you have a high maintenance baby, don't be afraid to take a break. If there's nobody else to take your baby, try putting her in a baby swing or another safe place in another room. Take a shower or even go to the bathroom alone and breathe for a few minutes.
What do you do if the feelings are overwhelming and you're afraid for yourself and your baby? This is the time to get help. Call your doctor or midwife and ask for help right away. They can connect you with a support group, other professionals, and possibly supplements or even a medication that can provide temporary relief while you work things out.
Give it Time
Bonding will come. It sometimes takes time, but it can and will happen for you. You love your baby – that's why you're worried you're not bonding! Even if you feel detached now, you can increase your confidence by caring for your baby in ways that you feel are best. Open your eyes and see how your take care of your little one (and try not to sweat it when you don't do as well as you think you should. I hope my stories have helped you see that all moms have bad days and make mistakes!) Parenting is hard work, and it's OK to acknowledge that.
Reach out for help. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor or midwife for help or a referral if you're truly worried. And remember that support groups are a great place to meet other moms who are facing the same challenges you are. Local hospitals and churches frequently have new mother groups – and be sure to look for your community's La Leche League group. That has been a huge source of support for me as a very new mother and continues to be to this day 🙂
Take the time to get the rest you need (sleep when your baby sleeps) and keep yourself well-nourished. Get out and take a walk with your baby every day. These simple things will help keep you physically healthy, and give you the energy to care for your baby. Things will settle in and gradually love will grow from the actions you take for your baby into something you feel when you think of your baby.