It’s Okay If You Don’t Bond With Your Baby Right Away

Image courtesy of Shelby Jo-Lynne Photography

When my baby was placed on my chest, I didn’t feel an overwhelming rush of love. I mean, every mom (or so it feels) talks about it, right? You’re supposed to feel some sort of head-to-toe tingling of love and joy and wonder. You’re supposed to feel instantly connected with your tiny little human, in some sort of inseparable emotional bond only felt between parent and child. But I didn’t.

I felt instinctively protective over my daughter; I changed diapers, attempted to feed her (more on early breastfeeding another time), rocked her and shushed her until my cheeks were sore. But mostly, I was stressed, overwhelmed and scared. I didn’t recognize her. I mean, it was my first time ever meeting her, but she looked (and felt) like a stranger to me. Those precious first moments were shrouded by guilt and confusion. What was I doing wrong?

Breastfeeding only heightened my anxiety. Although natural, it didn’t come naturally to us—she couldn’t latch or suck properly. I cried many tears those first two weeks, and they weren’t shed out of joy. I was in survival mode. She screamed inconsolably for hours every night. I internalized it as an inability to comfort her, pushing us further apart emotionally. I didn’t know then that she had colic and reflux, I just thought I was a bad mom.

Between the brief periods of sleep or silence, I would pep talk myself. Okay, just make it through this next wake period. Hold her. Feed her. Change her. It’s not that hard. But it was hard, and without my mom and husband there for the first two weeks, I probably would have imploded, although I tried my best to put on a front for them both. I can’t tell you what my relationship with my daughter looked like on the outside, but my mom frequently told me how proud she was and that I was a great mom. It was encouraging at the time, but I didn’t believe it. In my mind, a truly great mom would have already bonded with her baby.

I did all the “right” things: skin to skin, nursing, talking, singing, rocking, babywearing, you name it. I wanted so badly to feel that connection.

Then, one day, it happened. She was around four weeks old. We made brief eye contact. I felt it. You are mine and I am yours. It wasn’t an extraordinary moment; there were no fireworks, no tingles, no tears. But sometimes ordinary little moments are what stick with you, and that split-second of her big blue eyes gazing in my direction has been unquestionably etched in my memory and my heart.

There are many seasons of motherhood, and this newborn season has been tough for us. I often think these perceived abnormal emotions divide us as mothers. We’re afraid to talk about the trenches of motherhood. American mommy culture often feels like a competition rather than a community. Unsolicited advice and strongly held opinions of what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” can make new moms feel isolated and unsure, especially in those vulnerable first weeks of physical and emotional healing. This is particularly true regarding mom-baby bonding, despite research showing as many as 20% of parents don’t feel an immediate bond with their child. Delayed bonding can be influenced by traumatic birth experiences, prior pregnancy/child loss or postpartum anxiety and depression, but some new moms simply need time to adjust and get to know their babies.

So here’s to you, mama. You’re probably reading this at 2 a.m. in the throes of early momhood, thinking there’s something wrong with you. I’m going to tell you what I wish someone had told me: there’s not. This is normal. Your moment will come. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but that ordinary moment is headed your way. | xo

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