The birth of my daughter was very different from the birth of my son. A scheduled C-section rather than induced labor resulted in shoulder distortia and broke my son’s clavicle upon his entrance to the world. I was terrified to have a C-section, but after hearing the risks of shoulder distortia with another potentially big baby, I chose to play it safe. It was a calm morning. I was excited to finally meet my little girl, and she was born without complications. She was perfect, yet when I looked at her, I knew I loved her, but did not feel that instant bond like I had with my son.
During our five day stay in the hospital, she nursed and slept well, rarely crying. I felt like she did not need much from me. My husband was back and forth with our two year old son, and trying to juggle my needs with his needs. Most of my time spent in the hospital was alone, binging Grey’s Anatomy reruns and watching my sleeping baby. A rough pregnancy ended with a perfect baby girl, and yet I felt very little. My anxiety was high, and I agonized over what was wrong with me. How could I not feel more for her?
When we got home, she was so content. Lying in her rock-n-play, she slept peacefully and rarely cried. When she did, it was because she needed something. During this time, I was very wrapped up in how my son was adjusting to the new baby. She was so happy to sleep, that I felt guilty for ignoring her. I always catered to her needs, but I didn’t hold her as much as I did my son. I beat myself up for not feeling more, not holding her more, not loving her more and that terrified me. I felt like I was a horrible mother.
The reason we bond with our babies is to provide reassurance that they are safe and will be cared for, no matter what. It also allows the mother to feel connected to the newborn and gain confidence that she can meet the baby’s needs. The increased oxytocin release, the “feel good” hormone, during pregnancy promotes better reception of the hormone that promotes mother’s maternal instincts. But what if you don’t feel that immediate bond? Whether it’s difficult to feel that strong connection as a result of a long, difficult labor or C-section or just the pure exhaustion after many sleepless nights, it may take time to develop that connection.
There is a stress on the importance of that “golden hour” – the hour after the baby is born, when the baby is placed on the mother. If uninterrupted, it will enhance that bond, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. Studies show that 20% of all parents feel no emotional attachment after baby is born. Sometimes that bond isn’t immediate. And that’s okay. Just because it’s not immediate, it does not mean you are a bad parent or you do not love your child, it just means you need to get to know this little one; maybe even wait for their first reaction to your voice or the first smile. It will come.
I remember when I began to feel more, staring at her, when she was a bit older and smiled back at me, and thought to myself, “there it is, there’s that ‘I would do anything for you’” feeling. My body felt warm, my heart open, and I began to accept that there was a bond there, and I knew from that moment on, despite all my issues with postpartum anxiety that shielded me from feeling too much, that she would always need me, and I her.