Bonding with Baby: Is it Normal for it to Take Time?
Growing up, we read stories of how our mamas will always love us no matter what. We hopefully are told that often from our parents, and we hear over and over again how a parent’s love is unlike anything else--that they would die, no questions asked, for their children. We see birth stories of mothers sobbing at the sight of their bloody purple newborn and posts of moms stating they fulfilled the role of motherhood as soon as they saw the double line on their pregnancy test. So, it’s absolutely normal to feel like absolute crap when you feel little to no connection during pregnancy or with your newborn.
I do not mean to be flippant or insensitive to the connection mothers have with their babies from conception. In fact, I am trying to be sensitive and bring light to the fact that not every mother instantly feels this way– and it is normal. The guilt I was riddled with during my first pregnancy and newborn phase was awful because I had never heard about anyone struggling to bond with their babies.
Struggling to Bond During Pregnancy
Let me give you a few anecdotal examples:
I was terribly sick during my pregnancy. A woman I worked with had given another sick pregnant woman a baby sock and said to squeeze it every time she felt nauseous and it would make her think of why it was all worth it instead of her queasiness. Seriously the sweetest thing ever. Like how cute? I thought maybe if I had a baby sock, that would help me as well. So I got a baby sock. When thinking about it, I had zero emotional attachment to the sock or the babe growing in my tummy. Yes, I wanted my baby and was happy to be pregnant, but little baby socks didn’t get me excited. I still felt annoyingly sick and tired. “What was wrong with me?”
My cousin asked me how I was feeling, and when I replied I felt terrible, she said, “I know those first few months before you can feel your baby move it’s like ‘why am I even going through this?’ Then you feel your baby kick and everything changes.” I thought, "Sweet, I just need to feel my baby move and I’ll gain this emotional link to them, start singing to them, call them a cute little pet name, and feel better." I felt my baby move, and although it was super cool, it also felt a lot like gas. “Am I going to be the worst mother ever?”
I know I may sound like an emotionally numb person to some of you, but I assure you I’m not. My friends and family will attest that I am one of the most highly emotional people they know. That’s another reason why I took this detachment from my babies so hard. Hopefully, this can help some of you you can feel a kinship and that you are not alone. That you aren’t a bad future mother, mother, or person.
Will I Bond with My Baby Once I See Her?
So, I chalked it up to the fact that I can't see my baby and that is why I don’t have this emotional connection and absurd amount of love for them yet. I knew when my baby was laid on my chest I would feel an instant bond with her. But that just wasn’t the case. My mom was crying, my husband (who never even wells up with tears) was welling up with tears, and I was like, "Yay, how do I even hold her? What do I say to her? Like, hello there?!"
With all that said, the time in the hospital with her was some of the best days of my life. They were filled with joy and love. I had never changed a diaper until then. I was learning how to hold a baby correctly and breastfeed at the same time. I just had never really been around babies before. So, although I didn’t feel an instant bond, I was hopeful that I was developing one. I was getting excited to be a mom. It finally felt real.
Maybe Bringing the Baby Home Will Form the Bond
When we got home I was overwhelmed. Totally zoned out. Going through the motions. I was in a constant state of worry that I wasn’t doing a good job and that I still didn’t feel the deeply-rooted spark of love for my baby yet. My dad even talked about feeling his heart immediately grow and love in a way he didn’t know was possible with both my brother and I. What was wrong with me?
My husband and I watched the documentary called Babies on Netflix those first few weeks, and it talked about how a mother's amygdala opens when she has a baby, which allows her to wake up and be alerted to when her baby needs her. If there is a single dad, his amygdala will open, and if a gay couple has a baby, one of their amygdalas will open.
I almost never wake up when my babies cry. I am sound asleep and my husband wakes up at the slightest twitching sound for them. Great. I am not even emotionally equipped for my evolutionary biology to kick in.
It wasn’t until I had to go back to the hospital because I was hemorrhaging two weeks later that I felt an overwhelming feeling of love and connection for my new baby girl. I finally was stabilized and they were moving me to a room to stay overnight. My sweet family suggested they take my baby home with them so I could rest, and I instantly started bawling. The thought of being away from her felt debilitating. I needed to be with her. She was mine and I loved her.
Realizing I truly felt this way made me cry even more because I thought, “I'm normal!! I don’t have to feel guilty anymore!”
Will I EVER Bond with My Baby?
Even after my experience in the hospital, I still felt like I didn’t have the “normal” motherly bond to my baby. I felt emotionally numb to her at times, and recognizing that made me feel awful about myself. We are told that we bond with our babies immediately, but my bonding happened slowly over time until now when we are best friends and I cried when she wanted her dad to put her to bed instead of me the other night.
I will say with my second baby, I felt like the bonding came easier. I think it was because I didn’t feel completely debilitated with the new responsibility of caring for a full human being. I had been figuring out how to work through the crushing responsibility for some time, and my life wasn’t completely turned on end with the birth of my second baby because it already had been.
I kind of already knew what was coming and how to fake it until I made it. I also knew that it takes me a little longer to bond, and that was okay. It would happen in its own time. I was more patient with myself.
To be honest though, I still thought I was a little weird, but was okay with my weirdness until my boss emailed us and said, “Hey, we were talking in the office about how it is hard for some people to bond with their babies…” Wait, that’s a thing? It’s hard for people to bond with their babies? I’m not alone? Why aren’t people talking about this more? I want to research and write about this!
So, to answer my own questions:
Wait, Struggling to Bond With Your Own Baby Is a Thing?
Yeah, it totally is. According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynocologists (ACOG), bonding usually happens over the first year of your baby's life. They even say, “If you don’t feel these strong feelings of closeness in the first days or weeks after birth, that’s normal.”. Normal. I repeat. A medical doctor just said you are normal.
Why is it Hard for People to Bond with Their Babies?
There are many factors that can affect the bonding you feel with your baby, but baby blues, postpartum depression (PPD), and a lack of self care and support can all contribute. Before you can start to bond with your child, you need to heal. If you are struggling with these things talk with your healthcare provider– especially if you have signs of PPD.
Signs of PPD:
- Strong feelings of sadness or despair
- Feeling anxious or worried for no clear reason
- Feeling scared or panicky
- Crying a lot
- A loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Feeling so unhappy that you can’t sleep, eat well, or do daily tasks
- Thinking about hurting yourself or your baby
I’m Not Alone?
Apparently, I am not alone. Web MD reports that in the hours after their baby’s birth, about 20% of new moms and dads feel no real emotional connection with their newborn. It can take weeks or even months to feel a real bond, so don’t feel guilty. *Wait, like why didn’t I do this research before? I feel my past self healing.*
Why Aren’t People Talking About This More?
I don’t know about you, but talking about not feeling a connection to my newborn feels a bit sacrilegious, so maybe that’s why? I mean even for the Birth Story blog post I wrote for The Baby Cubby was all very step-by-step. "I was sooo in love..." No one wants to own up to not loving their baby right away.
Now that I have talked about it, though, it feels very therapeutic. Please share your experiences with this and let others (that may even be close to you and need someone to talk to) know that they are not alone.
It took time, but I LOVE being a mama. I love my girls more than anything, and I mean it. The love I have for them is unlike anything I have ever experienced, and those feelings will happen for you too. Just be patient. Remember that your experience will never be exactly like someone else's. Just as you should allow your body and mind to gradually adjust to being a new parent, allow your feelings to take their time to adjust as well. The bond will come, even if it is gradual!
For more info on being a new parent and knowing that you are not alone in all of this go to babycubby.com.