Confession: I didn’t bond with my baby right away. I haven’t really talked about it much; I had so much shame and guilt because of it. It has been over 10 years and now I know that I am not alone; there are other moms that haven’t always felt that instant bond. Maybe it’s because of a traumatic birth, postpartum depression, other mental health issues, or fear and shock. Maybe you didn’t plan to be a mother or your birth story didn’t go the way you thought it would.
Whatever the reason, it’s OK if you didn’t feel that instant bond with your baby. And it doesn’t make you a bad mom.
I honestly didn’t even feel like I had a baby for the first few weeks. I mean, they are complete strangers we have never actually met before, right? Did they spend time in your womb? Maybe, although there is more than one road to motherhood, and it doesn’t always include a traditional pregnancy. I had all my babies biologically and with my own womb although I am terrible at having babies and I probably should have let someone else do it for me.
My youngest did spend time in my womb, but not the traditional nine months, and not nearly enough time. She was born at 24 weeks. I still wonder if I would have had a more “normal” bonding experience with her if she had been born under “normal” circumstances. But she wasn’t. My body failed us both. I was so sick I didn’t even get to meet her until day five, and that was after begging and pleading with every doctor that came to my room. She was in the NICU across the street, so it was more than just a quick elevator ride to get to her. I could not wait to meet her, and when I finally did, it did not go well. She was so sick and so tiny. I couldn’t really touch or see her well. Her name was wrong on her crib and the date was wrong or so I thought. Turns out, I thought she had been born on a different day than she was. I had it wrong and I wanted to leave. I felt so much shame and guilt. I didn’t tell anyone. I think my husband kind of knew, but we didn’t talk about it.
My baby had a long stay in the NICU and it got to the point that I started making excuses not to go. Then, once we’d get there, I wanted to leave immediately. Not every time, but some of the time. I would go and pump and cry. Luckily, they had a room dedicated to pumping or nursing, so I could go in there and lock the door. I would get so freaked out as soon as we got there. Sometimes, I wanted to see my baby so badly, it hurt. But then as soon as I got there, I wanted to flee. I am sure it had a lot to do with the trauma of the NICU and the raw emotions over her early and very unexpected and traumatic birth. I also had another child at home so I was constantly torn between the two.
I think part of the problem was that I was not there for her birth.
I was asleep when she was born and when I woke up, I knew I wasn’t pregnant anymore even though the surgery I was supposed to be having was not to deliver my baby. I think it also had to do with the fact that she was my rainbow baby, and after experiencing the loss of our twin boys shortly after birth, I was so terrified to go through that again. I was afraid to love her. I was afraid to get to know her for fear of losing her. But I also had a deep desire to protect her and make sure she got the best care possible. I researched how to improve her lung health and insisted they start her on Vitamin A right away. I asked for a breast pump as soon as I woke up because I wanted her to have the best start possible. Pumping breast milk became my full-time job and I was good at it.
Eventually, I just made myself go through the motions.
Some days, I didn’t have to pretend; I felt like I was her mom and close to her. And then other days it was like I had no feelings. I was so scared. I kept asking myself: “Is this what everyone was scared of when they said they didn’t know how they were going to love two the same?” After a few weeks, I finally got to hold her, which was equally terrifying and perfectly perfect. Finally holding her helped a lot. But even then, sometimes they would give her to me and I had the fight or flight reflex kick in and it was so hard to sit there.
A lot of my memories from those first few weeks are very mixed up and vague. I know some of it is because of the trauma and time, but also because I was fighting within myself most days. Fighting to be the mother she needed and deserved. Fighting to remember how badly I ached to have a baby, and how much I prayed for a baby, and to snap out of it and be thankful. It was as if I saw her and didn’t believe she was my baby. I didn’t recognize her; I didn’t know her. And every time my husband said, “She looks just like the boys,” I’d get so angry and had to keep myself from lashing out. Finally, after about four weeks, those feelings faded and I finally felt like she was my baby. I can’t say any one thing that changed, but rather it was just the passing of time and the healthier she got, the more I allowed myself to soften towards her.
There are probably not many people more fiercely protective of their kids than I am. I can now see how it was something I had to go through. It doesn’t mean that I wasn’t the right mom or that I messed up (or any other lie that I told myself during those first few weeks). It just means I am human. I am not perfect. She is not perfect, but she is fantastic. She challenges me more as a mother than my other daughter ever did, but it is growing me into who I am supposed to be. I am so thankful for the spunky, challenging kid that she is because I know she had to be stubborn to survive her first few months.