A lot of moms say they felt an instant connection to their baby -- some fell head over heels in love the moment they discovered they were pregnant. As the months go by, they talk about wanting to meet their little one and you can't detect even a hint of trepidation in their voices. When they give birth, they instinctively know how to hold a baby that weighs less than a house cat. Their hands cradle little necks that don't accidentally snap back. Their babies take to their breasts like they're long-lost buddies. They don't stay up for 36 hours after taking baby home, terrified they've bitten off more than they can chew.
They call it a maternal bond. Instant love. They make you feel like it's expected. It will just happen. It will happen to you, too.
But that's not exactly how motherhood began for me.
I was the youngest in my immediate and extended family and didn't change a diaper until I was 31 and gave birth to my daughter. Growing up in NYC, a place where people wait and wait and wait to have children, I also didn't have many friends with kids and never really held a baby until I was in my 20s. I didn't have many women to confide in about motherhood and I felt most women I did speak with sugarcoated the experience.
Their reports about being a new mom were more or less all a variation on the same theme: Once you hold your baby, you'll experience a love unlike anything you've ever felt in your life.
So here's what I expected: I'd give birth, doctor would place baby in my arms, she would snuggle into the crook of my arm, look at me with something in her eyes that told me she knew I was her mommy, and we would room together that night like good friends.
Right. Here's what happened instead: This amazing, apple-cheeked, naked little thing emerged from the womb with her healthy little bird mouth seeking milk and comfort. I had to ask the nurse how to hold her because I kept causing her head to collapse. At night, when the nurse wheeled my baby into the room so I could breastfeed her and have her near, all I could see was a chirping, gaping bird mouth that gobbled up 75 percent of her face. I nursed her for hours. And hours. At one point, after my breasts were raw from nursing for TWO hours, I called the nurse in to ask her why my baby was still crying. By this point, I was also nearly in tears.
"That baby is still hungry," she said.
"But it's been two hours! When do I stop?"
She actually laughed at me. "When you're a mom, you just keep going!"
I didn't feel love. I didn't feel a bond. The only thing I felt was that I had a baby whose needs I could not meet, who could not be sated, no matter how I tried. I was in awe with her. I wanted desperately to nourish her and be the mom she needed. But it wasn't love -- yet. It was an all-consuming fear that didn't abate for weeks.
But when that fog finally lifted -- and it happened over time, there was no one moment I could point back to and say "that was the day!" -- I realized love was always there. What hadn't been there was a storybook fantasy. A bond can take time to develop, or it can happen in an instant. But as long as it happens and becomes stronger with each passing day, what difference does it make if it isn't automatic?
If you're worried after you give birth that you aren't experiencing what you've been told you're supposed to feel, try focusing on the fear or sadness or whatever it is you are feeling. There's probably a great deal of love buried in it and your love is just as good as the other popular versions you've heard about.
Did you feel an instant connection with your baby when he or she was born?
Image Via Jen and Jim Shunk/Flickr