While many parents try their best to prepare for the arrival of a new baby, sometimes no amount of planning can live up to the surprising realities of welcoming a child to the world.
After giving birth to her rainbow baby last year, Sydney mother Nicki says her postpartum experience has been far from what she expected.
Bravely sharing her story on the Mum’s Grapevine Spring 2022 Babies Facebook group, Nicki wants others to know it’s okay to take time to bond with your baby.
“Our daughter was born 8/9/22 in an absolute whirlwind of a delivery – from waters breaking to holding her was under 90 minutes, obstetrician missed it, no time for an epidural – only just enough time for one of the midwives to realise the gas was on the lowest setting – whacked it up quickly then caught her, ended up with a grade 2 tear. She came after multiple miscarriages and is very much wanted and hoped for.
“The birth wasn’t traumatic, she was born on the small side at 2.546kg at 40+1 but perfectly healthy,” Nicki says.
‘She was an alien to me’
“I honestly thought and expected that she would be plonked on me and I would feel the overwhelming relief/love/attachment/some kind of wave of emotion… the reality is I felt absolutely nothing. She was an alien to me, she didn’t look the way I pictured in my head, everyone commented that she looked like me but she doesn’t look the way I picture myself and to me, she looks more like baby pics of her daddy.
“We did skin-to-skin for about an hour before I had a go at trying to breastfeed her, which was successful. She was kicking goals left right and center and still is. She feeds, poops, and sleeps like a trooper, she is adorable now and not alienesque anymore… but even now I still don’t feel attached to her and don’t feel any kind of bond, and don’t feel any kind of feeling of love – overwhelming or otherwise.”
After sharing her feelings with her partner, Nicki was relieved to discover that he also felt the same way.
“We both like her, we think she is cute and stuff, we don’t feel like she is an inconvenience or anything negative about her – and obviously would do anything for her – but neither of us feels that sense of love or attachment to her. We are still getting to know each other and that’s ok. I have mentioned the way we feel to a couple of close friends – and they were the same! They have bonded with their kids now but for some people it takes time, and that’s normal and it’s alright!”
Dozens of mums thanked Nicki for speaking out on the “taboo topic”, with several others sharing their own postpartum stories.
‘When he was born, I turned away’
Courtney says she had a very similar experience with the birth of her first child, Elliott, in 2020.
“I didn’t feel connected to my pregnancy from the moment I found out he was a boy. I had only ever dreamed of being a girl mama and that’s all I wanted. I cried every single day of my pregnancy after I found out.
“When he was born, I turned away and I told everyone in the room I birthed an alien. I refused to breastfeed because I didn’t want him near me in that way. I cried every single day I was in hospital and my doctor could sense I wasn’t okay and insisted I stay four nights in the end, even though I wanted my own bed.
“I even sent my boy to the nurses’ station every single night in hospital because I didn’t want to be alone with him. The day after we got home I left him at home with my partner and I went out for around five hours. I didn’t even care then!!”
Despite the rocky start to their mother-and-son relationship, Courtney says she is “now OBSESSED with him”.
“It came after quite a few weeks, but I think back now and can’t believe how I treated him and how I ever went through a phase of not wanting him/not loving him.”
Then in 2022, Courtney discovered she was pregnant again – with another boy.
“I was a little disheartened at the thought of not getting my girl (this will be our last baby) but my boy was so excited that he’s going to be a big brother… and that’s what truly got me through the initial disappointment.
“The second birth was a much better experience mentally, even though we had a second boy and I so desperately wanted a girl, I knew that I loved being a boy mum and that it was going to be okay. I still dream every day of one day being a girl mum, but I am also totally okay with being a boy mum now.”
“I think it’s a totally natural feeling for many mums who don’t get girls!”
‘It is very common’
While it’s not often talked about, these feelings are completely normal, says Carla Anderson, a clinical perinatal psychologist.
“It is very common for mums (and dads and partners) to not feel like they have an instant connection. We often hear from parents that they expected that they would feel a lovely instant rush of love and bond because that’s what we often see on social media etc. The reality is that our relationship with our baby is the same as any other relationship in life, it can take time for it to develop and grow, and this is different for everyone.”
Sadly, many parents who don’t feel an instant connection with their baby also experience feelings of guilt and shame, says Carla.
“This is why it’s so important for us to talk about this – so other parents know that this is common.”
And for any mums who do find themselves struggling to connect with their newborn, Carla says to try not to put pressure on yourself.
“Focus on those little moments that you feel a connection with your baby such as watching for facial expressions and little sounds, and activities such as reading, bath-time, and cuddles.”
‘I missed my belly baby’
For Claire Sharma, developing a bond with her two children took both time and patience.
“When my daughter was born and taken to the NICU, I didn’t feel like she was the same baby that had been inside me and I missed my belly baby.
“It was a confusing time. On the one hand, I kept looking at photos of her and thought she was so amazing and I was really grief-stricken that she was alone and worried she would be scared and lonely. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel like she was the same baby who had been in my tummy. When I was pregnant I felt very, very bonded and close to her and then when she was born I felt like I missed that baby and that she was another different baby.”
While Claire struggled to bond with her baby girl during the newborn phase, within a couple of months her feelings of love strengthened and they became inseparably close.
“I sometimes wonder if, during my pregnancy with my daughter, I built her up in my head so much that when she was born it wasn’t as I expected. Or maybe it was just the separation, I’m not sure.”
Even though Claire loved being pregnant with her first, her second pregnancy in 2022 was a completely opposite experience.
“When I was pregnant with my son, I never felt as deeply bonded to him. When I was first pregnant I had some serious health issues and was convinced he wouldn’t survive them. Plus, I had trouble with the idea of feeling connected to a boy baby, and lastly, I was just so busy I didn’t have time to really think about it!
“But when he was born I felt very connected. That connection didn’t stay stable though. There were times I felt like I was just going through the motions looking after him, and other times I felt so close to him. I think that’s fairly normal for it to fluctuate.
All this is normal and we need to talk about it more!”
Claire has now settled into life as a family of four and is urging other mums who may be struggling to reach out for support from a friend or health professional.
If you experiencing feelings of sadness please know there are plenty of support services available to you and your partner including …
- ForWhen – 1300 224 636
- Pregnancy, Birth & Baby – 1800 882 436
- PANDA – 1300 726 306
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
- Feeling sad or angry when breastfeeding? It could be D-MER
- What postnatal depression really feels like
- The hidden truths about postnatal depression
About to (or just had) a baby?
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