In my nursing career I have seen a lot of labor and births, and only one thing is certain: No two experiences, even with the same mom, are alike. I have seen vaginal births with no interventions, precipitous (fast) labors, and 36-hour-long labors that still end in a C-section after being diagnosed with “failure to progress.”
I see moms who scream out with each contraction, ones that request the epidural as soon as possible, and ones where you could only tell she was in rip-roaring labor by the way she rubbed her feet on the bed.
Every labor experience is different.
And in the same light, every experience that a mom has in bonding with her newborn is different too. When I was pregnant with my second child, my son, I knew this. I knew that some moms don’t feel an instant connection with their children right away, that it is normal and completely OK to take time to feel a bond with your baby. I also knew that it always comes around in time.
But I never thought that it would be me who didn’t bond with my baby.
At six hours from start to finish, my first child’s labor was fast and uneventful. She had a good strong cry and she was put skin-to-skin by my lovely co-workers immediately after birth. I felt a connection to my daughter instantly, locking eyes while talking quietly to her, watching her starting to root around searching for the breast.
Sure, labor and pushing were not ideal, and I probably didn’t cope as well as some, but the moment that my daughter and I had after her birth was one of those beautiful, inexplicable moments that don’t leave you.
When I became pregnant with my son, it wasn’t the same. I was exhausted all the time from working long hours on my feet, then going home to look after my then-toddler. There were no breaks — no time to think of that being growing in my belly.
I worried that my heart did not have enough room for another child.
I worried that I wouldn’t bond with a son as well as with a daughter.
I worried about what sort of man he would grow up to be.
I worried about what others around me were going through.
I worried that I wouldn’t get to my hospital in time in the middle of February in Canada, living in a rural area with frequent road closures.
I worried. I worried. I worried.
My labor came hard and fast, and it was the most excruciating thing I have ever felt. Later on, my doctor said that my body didn’t have enough time to prepare for delivery. And with him being a full pound heavier than my daughter, there was a small shoulder dystocia and a whole lot of blood afterward.
I remember being in shock, tired, hungry, and almost a little mad. I knew that I shouldn’t be, that it was ridiculous, and that I should be happy that my son had finally arrived. But when he was placed on my chest, I didn’t have that instantaneous feeling of warmth bubble up to the surface.
I felt cold.
I felt overwhelmed and still not quite sure how to love another child as much as my first.
The first six months of my son’s life was the most difficult. I was burned out from trying to entertain a highly feeling, bright preschooler, trying to give her the same amount of attention she received before her brother came home, all while dealing with a newborn baby who refused to be the easy child I had expected.
The guilt was crushing. I felt like I was misreading his signs and that it was my fault that he was fussy.
I blamed myself for not connecting with him.
I blamed myself for not breastfeeding for a full year.
I felt like I was supposed to be able to handle motherhood and the whole having-more-than-one-kid thing better.
I had thought to myself, Hell, people do this all the time, AND I am a labor and delivery nurse. Aren’t I supposed to have a leg up on motherhood or something?
I knew this sort of thing happens, this inability to bond with your baby.
Secretly, I also knew I most likely had postpartum depression, but I never told a single person. I even pushed my husband away.
I didn’t want to admit, even to myself, that it had happened to me. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was supposed to be in control. I had thought I would be immune somehow, because of my evidence-based learning and my experiences laboring other moms.
I thought that it was somehow up to me, but it wasn’t.
It is very hard to admit that my experience with my son was not perfect in the beginning like it should have been.
But I am now coming to terms with the fact that our love is one that grows over time. It may not be the falling-head-over-heels, over-the-moon sort of love. Instead, it has been a slow dance, and we have both had to learn all of the intricate moves. But in the same respect, our love is also endless, infinite. There will be no stopping it, and it will ebb and flow and change as we both grow.
Now I wouldn’t change it for the world. My son is almost 1 ½, and my heart swells whenever he looks in my direction.
He calls me “Mom” and tries to give me open mouth kisses. He’ll grab a book and bring it to me to read. I know all of his ticklish spots, and we chase each other around the kitchen.
It’s these little things that other moms may take for granted that I now appreciate with a whole new understanding.
All of that pain, distance, guilt, anguish that I had felt in my son’s first year of life — I wouldn’t change it for the world because our bond is stronger for it.
I love my son with all my heart, and I always have.
It just took me a bit longer to realize it.