Postpartum Bonding Isn't Always Instantaneous

by Sarah Strehler
Postpartum Bonding
Sarah Strehler / iStock

When I was pregnant, I was addicted to romanticizing about labor, delivery, postpartum bonding, and motherhood. I envisioned a calm, natural birth experience, dozing on the couch with my sleepy newborn, and the big moment of meeting my baby for the first time.

Listening to the experiences of second-time moms in my prenatal yoga class and birth story podcasts planted this idea firmly in my brain that meeting my baby would be the most special, love-filled experience that I would ever have. I dreamed of this moment of postpartum bonding every night until I had planned out every detail of how it would all unravel on the big day — leaving myself no wiggle room for things to happen other than the way I had replayed it over and over in my mind.

Well, as most people know, life often doesn’t turn out the way we plan. I ended up in a scene similar to the one in 500 Days of Summer, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character experiences major disappointment as his expectations versus reality play out on a split-screen. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the joy of motherhood as I had expected, my reality was something along the lines of “We made a mistake. I can’t do this. I need help.” And the guilt was intense. How was it possible that this perfect little baby had been in the world for less than 60 seconds, and I was already wracked with fear that I couldn’t look after her?

As she grew into a colicky, needy, and anxious baby, my feelings of fear and resentment continued to build. I took very good care of her during this time and continued to breastfeed, hold her, and keep her safe, but the big, all-encompassing love that I expected to feel as a mother — that I was supposed to feel as a mother — just didn’t happen.

Then one night, I snuggled up to her in bed to help her drift off to sleep, and as she lay beside me staring into my eyes and touching my face gently with her hand, it happened. After seven months of mothering, I fell in love with my baby. And this time, it exceeded my expectations.

It’s difficult to admit these feelings to a public audience. I’m sure there are many people who will read this and think that I’m a terrible person and a terrible mother who doesn’t deserve my baby because I don’t appreciate the gift I was given. But I think it’s important to share my story because I believe that I’m not alone.

This Hollywood-esque romanticized version of what motherhood entails can make so many women feel isolated and guilty when their own reality doesn’t meet their expectations. So I tell my story to help other women understand that they are not monsters, or bad mothers, or even bad people if they don’t love their baby right away. After seven months of working hard to adjust to motherhood, my hormones and emotions settled enough to let my love for my baby fill my heart. It was a long, lonely, and guilt-ridden journey, but I think my daughter and I have come out stronger on the other side of it all.

This post originally appeared on Her View From Home.