Forget what you’ve been told or read online. Experiencing love differently doesn’t make you a bad mom.
It had been a long, uncomfortable pregnancy, having debilitating nausea for the first seven months and excruciating pelvic pain for the last two. I had long given up on the possibility of a ‘pregnancy glow,’ but took solace in the fact that the suffering was temporary. Everyone promised that when I first held that baby, I would know it was all worth it. “Nothing can prepare you for the overwhelming love you experience when you see your child for the first time,” my parents, mother friends, and the internet gushed, “There’s nothing like it.”
Everyone promised that when I first held that baby, I would know it was all worth it.
After twenty-eight hours of active labor and two agonizing hours of pushing, I was more than ready. Even with an epidural, there was so much pain that I didn’t think I would make it; only my husband’s excitement and drill sergeant doctor’s commands drove me forward. “This is the last push, let’s get this baby out!” she barked for what seemed like the thousandth time. But this time it was. As the nurse handed her to me, I mentally prepared myself. This was it - the moment that everyone told me would change my life forever, the moment that I had been waiting for. I pulled her to my chest, looked into my daughter’s sweet face and felt... indifference.
I thought something was wrong with me. After hearing countless glowing anecdotes, I had come to anticipate, and even expect, the life-changing moment of indescribable love washing over me when seeing my baby for the first time. But here, holding this little girl that I carried for nine months, I felt disconnected. While I felt immediately the heavy responsibility for this person’s life weighing on my shoulders, it didn’t feel anything like “love.”
Like myself, mothers-to-be often look forward to experiencing the moment they’ve heard about from countless others – where their hearts feel fuller than ever before, or a void in their lives has been filled. However, nobody seems to talk about missing this experience. What do you do if that overwhelming love doesn’t ‘just happen’?
How can you begin to develop a bond with your child when you don’t feel an immediate connection? How do you fall in love with your baby? While the answers to these questions are never easy because every mother and child are unique, over time I’ve learned that there are some steps you can take to help grow that love organically.
Having a baby in itself is already a life-changing experience, and the last thing you need is to put added pressure on yourself. Remember that any healthy relationship takes work. Chances are you didn’t fall in love with your husband in a day, so don’t worry if you need time to fall in love with your baby! Take your time and don’t try to rush your feelings; what matters is that you’re willing to put forth the effort.
Take your time and don’t try to rush your feelings; what matters is that you’re willing to put forth the effort.
Get to know your baby
Your baby is his or her own person – just like you and everybody else you know. How do you truly fall in love with someone? By getting to know them. Yes, caring for a newborn is exhausting, but discovering little things that are unique to him or her can help you start to learn just who your baby is. Look out for things such as likes and dislikes, quirky habits, and patterns in facial expressions. Maybe he hates being swaddled, makes a certain face when he’s done eating, and likes to sleep with his hands by his face.
Infants get a bad rep for being expressionless blobs who only eat, sleep, and poop, but with a little extra attention, you may be surprised to find some early hints into their personality. As you begin to learn who your baby is, it will be easier to build your relationship and your love to grow.
In order to get to know someone, it is necessary to spend quality time with them. This also goes for your baby. While yes, newborns can be rather boring, it is still important to set aside time to turn off Netflix, put away your phone, and be fully present with your baby. Put your face near hers, make silly faces, talk, and even read to her when she is awake. Cuddle her, study her face, and meditate to her breathing when she is sleeping.
She may not appear to respond at first, but engaging her in even the simplest of activities promotes healthy development and bonding with you. Not only will this allow you to notice more of her quirks we talked about, but it will also allow you to practice the habit of giving her valuable undivided attention for years to come.
She may not appear to respond at first, but engaging her in even the simplest of activities promotes healthy development and bonding with you.
Understand that love reveals itself in many forms
It may seem difficult to build a relationship with your baby if you feel that the effort is one-sided – after all, YOU are the one growing sleep deprived as you lose yourself to an endless cycle of feedings and diaper changes. However, while newborns are not capable of showing you love in the way we typically expect, your baby has already formed a significant attachment to you which began months ago in the womb!
He or she prefers your voice over anyone else’s, as well as your face and unique smell. Understand that you are already your baby’s favorite person – she feels the safest and most comfortable with you.
Understand that you are already your baby’s favorite person – she feels the safest and most comfortable with you.
Remember that you can show love in many different ways, including performing acts of service and spending quality time. Even if you don’t feel all the warm and fuzzies often promised to new mothers, you are still demonstrating tremendous love by offering the ultimate act of service – by sacrificing your time and energy to help this person grow.
Know when to ask for help
Babies, especially newborns, are extremely high-maintenance and sometimes you will feel overwhelmed. Know your limits so that you can pass the baby to your hubby, a family member, or a close friend when you need to decompress. After all, you can better provide for someone else when you are able to love and take care of yourself first. Catch up on sleep, meditate, or get a mani-pedi. You might even find yourself missing your baby!
A special note on postpartum depression – mothers’ feelings and relationships with their babies might vary, but if you are experiencing extreme or lingering sadness, anxiety, or dark thoughts towards yourself or your baby, it is necessary to seek professional help.
Please call your doctor or one of the following hotlines if you’re experiencing any of these symptoms so that you can get the support you need.
- National Postpartum Depression Hotline: 1-800-PPD-MOMS
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
It's okay to forget what we’ve been taught to believe is “normal” in order to work at growing a loving bond with your new child. While some mothers instantly fall in love with their babies, for others such as myself, it may require more of an evolution or journey, where that special parental connection develops over time. Any healthy relationship takes work, and a mother-baby bond doesn't have to be any different.