I want to talk about something that I’ve felt embarrassed, ashamed and worried about in the past. When I was pregnant, I didn’t really feel a connection to my bump. Because of my years of infertility and how unexpected it was – although it was a wanted pregnancy – it was filled with worry and fear for the future. I didn’t even tell anyone except my husband until after the full 20 week anatomy scan, because we knew there was a higher risk that something would be wrong and I couldn’t bear the thought of having to tell people that I’d failed, again.
Everyone told me – including my midwife – that when he was born that would change. I kept being told that this tiny bundle would be placed on me, look up at me and there would be instant love. Nothing is stronger than a mother’s love, they told me.
But after pre-eclampsyia, a failed induction and an emergency c-section they whisked him away. My husband went with them and for what I’m told was only 5 minutes – but felt like forever, I lay there alone whilst they worked on stitching me back up. It took too long to hear him cry and the only thing I felt when my husband placed him next to my chest was relief. I was relieved that he was alive and well, I was relieved that it was over, I was relieved that I hadn’t completely failed in this basic task of creating human life. I was relieved I wouldn’t have to tell my friends and family bad news and I was relieved that my husband was holding him and not me because I’d never held a baby in my life!
As I recovered in the weeks to follow, I felt protective. This was a tiny little human being and we had created him. I was determined to do my best for him and I felt very fierce… but I still didn’t feel love. Most of the time I felt confused and worried. Some of the time I was terrified.
It made me feel like I was lacking something as a mother. I didn’t have that instant connection and he wasn’t the center of my world. I looked into his eyes and I didn’t see myself reflected in them. When he hooked his tiny tiny little fingers around mine, it was the cutest thing in the world and I snapped a photo, but I still felt that connection I’d been told I’d feel was missing. I didn’t say anything to my health visitor, my midwife, my husband or my own mother because I didn’t want to say those words “I don’t know if I love my son.”
I know now that it’s normal but at the time the fear that something was wrong with me added into the mix of emotion. Having talked to women online – on anonymous forums where we feel we can share the things we’re ashamed of, I found that lots of people don’t really feel this connection immediately. I wonder deep down how many people say they do but are struggling just as much as I was to come to terms with it. How many people fear they’re going to be judged as a mother if they admit it? Postpartum is a very emotional time and it can be difficult to sort one emotion from another, and if you’re struggling to process an unexpected birth experience, dealing with fear or anxiety, sleepless and overwhelmed then that instant-love connection can take a far backseat. This is still hard for me to write about and to publicly admit, but I hope people talking about it can bring it out more into the open.
When he was 6 months old we were together on the sofa and he was quite sleepy, sitting with his back to me. He was starting to sit up unsupported but he was leaning back into me anyway, and his hands were holding onto mine. His hair – incredibly blonde and fine, curled right at the back of his neck. I was looking at his pale, chubby neck and wispy hair with it’s single tiny curl, and I just had this urge to reach down and kiss him. I’m not a touchy person to be honest, not even with my husband. I don’t show my love with physical affection very often, but it just felt completely natural to me to kiss the back of his neck and when I did, I just felt a wave of complete love and adoration that I’ve never felt for anything else.
That’s all it was, a quiet moment on the sofa that made me realize “Oh, this person is mine, and he will always be mine.”
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That is the connection I was waiting for and the connection that I’d been led to believe I’d feel when I gazed into his eyes at birth. Some people feel it at birth when they first look at their children, but other people find it in little moments in the months or years to come. For some it builds gradually and for others it may come in a single realization. It’s all normal and it can’t be forced. There is no right or wrong. We love them and we want what’s best for them – but humans are so incredibly complex and we’re all individuals who experience things differently, so setting women up for these expectations before birth must naturally lead to disappointment and confusion for some.
I hope if you’re pregnant, reading this can give you some peace of mind. I hope that if you have children, you’re thinking back now to the first connection you had with your children and nodding along, giving motherhood a high-five.