When I was putting Girl Child to bed last night she asked me “Mummy, what do you love more, me or sleep?’ A perfectly reasonable question, as how much I love my bed is a running joke in our house. I explained that I loved her more, and that all mummies loved their children most. She then said “Did you love me best even when I was just born?” I was about to say yes, but stopped myself. I didn’t want to lie to her, I didn’t love my baby, not to start with anyway. I explained that while some mummies loved their babies straightaway, for other mummies, like me, it could take a while. In the way that only a child can, she took it in her stride. “That’s ok Mummy, because I know you love me now”.
While the conversation took me by surprise, I was pleased it had happened. Not loving my babies is something that I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. The fear of my children stumbling across the post when they were older has always stopped me. Having seen Girl Child accept it without question gave me the confidence to broach the subject with Boy Child. He also found it if little concern and quickly changed the subject back to Match Attax.
Despite the difficult start, I love my children more than anything now. I hope the fact they are unfazed by my confession that it took me a while to get there, is a sign that they feel secure in that love. One of the reasons I want to talk about this more openly is that I wouldn’t want them to feel as alone as I did if they ever experience not loving their baby. In fact I don’t want anyone to feel that way.
Not Loving Your Baby is the Ultimate Taboo
People often talk about postnatal depression as being taboo but I think the real taboo is admitting that you haven’t bonded with your baby. People just don’t talk about it. I think this is because, in addition to the worries that Mums with postnatal depression have about their child being taken away, mums who struggling to bond with their baby fear that will be viewed as a monster. What mother doesn’t love her child? Well, actually, quite a lot of mothers. While there is limited research on the subject, plenty of mothers I’ve spoken to have admitted that it took them time, sometimes a lot of time, to bond with their babies.
I have often wondered why I didn’t get that instant love buzz when my babies were born. Maybe to some degree it’s down to personality. I’ve never experienced love at first sight, I’ve never had a crush on a famous person. I’ve only ever felt love for people I’ve gotten to know over time. Maybe this makes me high risk for struggling to bond? I was depressed during the first half of my pregnancy, I had a difficult labour, I had very little experience of babies. Maybe these were contributing factors. I’ll never really be sure.
The months after I had Boy Child were the hardest and most unhappy of my life. I knew about postnatal depression. I knew that some Mums didn’t with their babies straight away. I just had no idea how hard those things would be to deal with until they happened to me. Looking after a baby is hard. Looking after a screaming colicky baby is even harder. When you are depressed and pretty much indifferent to the baby, it can feel like your life is over. I never hated either of them, I just didn’t really feel anything much at all for them. I didn’t want them to suffer, I fed them and changed them and held them. It just didn’t bring me any joy.
Getting Some Help
Just before my six week check I admitted to my mum how I felt. I said I hated being a mum and didn’t love my baby. She convinced me to talk to my Doctor. I told my GP I was depressed but couldn’t quite bring myself to say I didn’t love him. She prescribed me antidepressants and sent me on my way.
The antidepressants helped, but what really helped was time. Time to adjust to motherhood and time to get to know my baby. I got through the early days with the help of my Mum, who looked after Boy Child for a few hours every afternoon to give me a break and my husband, who got up to support me with night feeds even though I was breastfeeding and he couldn’t really help. They both gave Boy Child the love he needed until I was capable of giving it to him.
I couldn’t tell you the moment I fell in love with him, it was a gradual process rather than a bolt of lightening. I didn’t love him at six weeks, but I did by six months. I think I appreciate our relationship all the more because of its bumpy start. I do however desperately wish I could go back in time and hold him as a newborn, but feeling about him the way I do now. Whenever I think of his early baby days I feel a huge sense of sadness that I missed out on loving him as a baby.
Things Weren’t Quite as Hard the Second Time
Things were a bit easier with a Girl Child. While I didn’t fall in love with her straight away, I got there a lot quicker. I think that’s probably because I had already made the adjustment to parenthood that I had found so hard the first time. I made a conscious effort to get lots of pictures with me holding her as I knew that, even if I didn’t feel it then, I would end up loving her as much as I loved Boy Child and would want to remember what it was like to hold her when she was tiny.
If you’re reading this with a new baby asleep near by, thinking “oh my god, I don’t love my baby” then please be reassured, you will. Give it time and ask for help. Everything will get easier. For most new mums, the reward for the ruined body, the sleep deprivation, the being on call 24 hours a day, the cracked nipples and the lack of freedom, comes from the love they feel for their baby. If you aren’t feeling that love yet, you’re going to feel like you’ve just committed to the worst job in the world. One that you have to do 24 hours a day, for the next 16 years. That is exactly how I felt in those early months. I really, honestly wished I hadn’t had a baby. But it won’t feel like that forever. You will eventually love that baby and, while parenthood is still really bloody hard, the rewards will start to make it seem worthwhile.
Not bonding with your baby and postnatal depression often go hand in hand, if you think you might be suffering do visit The Pre and Postnatal Advice and Support Foundation for help.
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