Updated: Jan 30, 2020
I had expectations to lay eyes on my firstborn and feel an immediate, magical feeling of unconditional love wash over me. I had heard that I would never experience anything else quite like seeing my baby for the first time. That there was no other feeling in the world like it. That this undying love was stronger than anything I would ever know and that it would happen almost immediately upon locking eyes with my own flesh and blood.
While perhaps some women are lucky enough to have this euphoric, magical moment, I unfortunately was not. In fact, the first thoughts that crossed my mind immediately following the eviction of my first included some profanities and alarming thoughts questioning why his head looked so misshapen and why he was so blue. I was in a foggy state of mind from getting barely any sleep for over 24 hours and fighting the drowsiness of Benadryl since the epidural had triggered an uncomfortable state of itchiness (which to be clear, as I found out with my second, is certainly better than full blown contractions). I felt almost in an unreal, dream state when my first arrived and when we first locked eyes as he screamed, I screamed internally as well questioning who was this person?
They cleaned my perfect baby boy off and laid him on my chest. I kept waiting for that feeling. That feeling I was supposed to have.
I had decided to give breastfeeding a go, and he latched naturally. Still waited.
Visitors came to the hospital. I saw family take my precious babe and witnessed their immediate love for him. I still waited.
It’s not that I didn’t care for my baby. I knew upon his arrival that I would die for him. I truly felt that way. I would do anything to keep him safe. I would be shattered if anything bad were to befall him. But yet…I didn’t feel real love towards him. He felt like a stranger I knew I had to protect.
We went home and I was overwhelmed with my new role as Mom. Breastfeeding was a nightmare (more on that in another post), I brought home a nasty cold from the hospital and spent a week terrified my newborn would get it, and I said good bye to my husband as he had six more weeks to complete of a deployment overseas. I discovered my bladder was nonfunctional, I envisioned every bad scenario that could occur and dwelled on it (which I later learned was related to postpartum anxiety), and in the midst of the stress, I became increasingly more concerned about why I didn’t feel how I thought I should.
After all, we were the luckiest people on earth. We got pregnant the month after we got married. I had a healthy pregnancy, and relatively uncomplicated delivery (my bladder being a small casualty in the process compared to what some go through), and most importantly, we had a healthy, beautiful baby boy. Why didn’t I feel euphorically blessed?
I decided to consult with Google. I googled postpartum depression. I certainly felt issues bonding with my baby - check, but I didn’t feel like I matched some of the other signs. I was still showering everyday. I wasn’t having thoughts of harming myself or my child. I didn’t want to abandon my child. I didn’t feel any anger towards my child. No, postpartum depression isn't me I thought.
Three weeks in, I was sitting opposite of my mother on the couch one night. My baby had just finished nursing and was sleeping. I stared at his sweet, innocent face and searched my heart for the undying, unconditional feeling of love. It wasn’t there. I burst into tears. My mom asked what was wrong and I sobbed uncontrollably that I didn’t feel like I loved my baby. In that moment I needed comfort and understanding, but instead I saw horror sweep across her face. She got up and took the baby from my arms. I started crying harder. I felt the need to clarify I would never do anything to hurt him, but he felt like a stranger. I shared that I hadn’t had that immediate connection with him, and that as the days and weeks had gone on, I was increasingly more upset by that. Her look of horror had faded, and she attempted to give me what she thought I needed. She assured me that this could be very normal and suggested I needed to work to get more sleep.
I did begin getting more sleep following my breakdown. I also began to come out of the sadness of the baby blues, but struggled still in the grips of postpartum anxiety. (I later learned that some of that anxiety can be linked to postpartum depression, but many will tell you it's often two separate things and will share more on my experience of that in another post.) I struggled when I felt like my husband bonded with him faster upon his return from deployment than I did. I waited for my moment in those early months to feel that magical wave of love collide into my broken mom heart.
It didn’t happen, but here is what did.
As the months went on, my baby became less of a stranger and more of MY baby. His personality began to show, and I watched in awe as he developed more and more into this amazing little human. I can’t put a finger on when it happened, and honestly, maybe this moment occurred much later than I still feel comfortable with, but at some point, I looked at him and realized I felt such an enormous amount of love and devotion to this little being that I can’t put words around it. It had been there growing all along, and I’ve felt that way since.