I was born to be a mother. Before I had my daughter, I longed for children of my own. I imagined the beautiful birth, when my daughter would be placed on my chest and all the pain would fade away. I thought I would know all about her, feel this magical mother-daughter bond from the second I looked into her eyes. In the first few weeks following her birth, I was embarrassed and scared to discover that the bond I had hoped for still wasn’t there. Was I a bad mother?
Before having children, most women believe that when their child is born, they will immediately feel this strong bond with their child. They will know why they’re crying and what they need because of some unknown, special connection. The sleepless nights will be tolerable because they’re nurturing their sweet baby (who will, of course, fall straight back asleep after they are fed). They will be in love, and love makes everything better, right?
In the first few weeks and even months after birth, my daughter cried. A lot. Before 3 months of age, she was either asleep or crying. I remember thinking I was supposed to know what was wrong and that I was supposed to be able to fix it. I couldn’t fix it. I didn’t know what she needed, because everything I did made her cry more. She cried before I fed her, after I fed her, with a wet diaper and with a dry diaper. I felt lost and questioned my abilities as a mom on a daily basis. How did I not know my own child? I would look into her eyes and wait for that moment when the connection was formed and my heart filled up with blissful love. But that moment never came.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved her from the second she was born, but the true connection — the genuine, hurts-your-heart-and-brings-you-to-tears kind of love — happened only with time. My daughter is 2 years old, and I’m still learning new things about her every day. She is the most compassionate and caring little girl I have ever met. She is hard-headed, determined and extremely intelligent. She is cautious and proud and happy, and has the most amazing attention span for a 2-year-old. But I still don’t know why she doesn’t sleep well. I still don’t understand all her fears, and she can’t communicate them all to me. I don’t know why she throws fits at the most inopportune times or how I can help her learn to deal with her emotions. But I’m learning every day, and I’m still strengthening that bond between us. With my eyes full of tears, I sometimes question how I could love one little human being this much. This is the feeling I thought I would have when she was born. This is the reason I became a mom. I don’t know when it happened or how it happened, but it did, and it will for you too.
Breaking the silence
Being a new mom is hard. Having a newborn is hard. We need to stop glorifying it and let other moms-to-be know it isn’t always the magic they think it will be. It’s absolutely absurd to think you’re supposed to love someone the same way from the second you meet them to what you feel a year later. Why do we breed this lie? I think we do it partially because we are embarrassed to say that mothering doesn’t always come naturally. I also think that with time, we forget how hard it was. We need to start letting new moms know that it’s OK to feel this way. It’s OK to cry because you haven’t slept in two days and don’t know what your baby wants. It’s OK to want to go grocery shopping by yourself just so you can have an hour of peace and quiet. It’s OK for your love of your baby to take time to grow into what you thought it should have been from the second you met them.
How you can help form the bond
Skin-to-skin contact is important from the moment a baby is born. Whether it be breastfeeding or simply holding your baby against your bare skin, it can help form the attachment both you and your baby feel. When you are at your wits’ end and in need of sleep or just time away, make sure you ask for help. If there is no one to help you and you are feeling overwhelmed and emotional, then put the baby in a safe place, such as their crib, and take a few minutes to breathe and calm down. Remember, the first three months of a baby’s life is hard for every mother. Let go of what you thought it would be like, and don’t be afraid to speak openly about how you’re feeling. Chances are there are other moms who feel the same way. Give the bond a chance to form by getting to know your baby. If you are feeling sad and overwhelmed on a daily basis, then you might be suffering from postpartum depression. Depression can lead to more problems in forming an attachment with your baby if it’s not properly diagnosed and treated, so speak with your health care provider if you have any concerns.
Motherhood has been the greatest experience of my life. Like most great things, it hasn’t been easy, and I don’t expect the next 20 years to be either. You have a lifetime with your child — learn about them, kiss them, squeeze them and comfort them. With time, your bond will grow stronger than anything you could ever imagine.