mother and newborn baby

When Love Takes Its Time

It’s Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week this week (29 April – 5 May). It’s been thirteen and a half years since I first became a mother, and seven years since I first shared my story of how I struggled to bond with my baby when my eldest son was born. I originally shared my story as a guest post over on the Selfish Mother blog, where you can still find it, but I’m always a wee bit worried that it may disappear some day if that website gets changed or closed down. So, since it’s such an important story to tell, I’ve decided to share it here too on my own blog.

mother and newborn baby

When Love Takes Its Time

I love both my sons very much. With all my heart. They were both planned and very much longed for. But nonetheless, my elder son and I had a bit of a rocky start. And it had nothing to do with the sleep deprivation or the fact he suffered from colic – though those things certainly didn’t help – as it all started the minute he was born.

As I mentioned, the pregnancy was planned. I was excited about becoming a mum. A little nervous, perhaps. I am not a naïve person. I knew it wouldn’t all be plain sailing. Being a mum is a hard job, but I felt ready. And then my son arrived, after a two hour labour. And I felt…nothing. Well, not nothing. I felt exhausted. And sore. But that rush of love at first sight that I had been expecting, when I held him for the first time, that didn’t wash over me. My husband’s heart was visibly brimming over, but I felt a kind of numbness and apathy. This wasn’t what I was supposed to feel like. The expectation society places on mums-to-be, is that you will hold your much longed for baby in your arms at last, and everything will be perfect. But quite often it’s not. I was disappointed in myself, after looking forward to this moment so much. I felt as though I’d failed as a mother.

The feelings of apathy hung around for months like an unwanted guest. Feelings of despair, which I couldn’t explain. I continued to struggle to bond with my baby, and cried myself to sleep every single night for the first few months. The colic didn’t help. He cried for hours every day, and hardly slept. We tried every trick in the book – colic drops, swaddling, not swaddling, white noise, massages, carrying him this way and that way. Nothing helped. I remember saying to my husband “I think I love him, but I’m not sure I like him.” One afternoon in the early days, just after nursing my son, my husband sent me out to get some fresh air and take some time to myself. I wandered around for a while then sat on a park bench feeling miserable. I started crying, not because I missed my baby, but because I didn’t want to go back. Of course, I did.

It’s hard not to feel like a bad mother in moments like that. I’m not ashamed for it, but I didn’t talk about it much. Only my closest family and a few friends knew how I really felt. I did speak to my health visitor about it, and mentioned that I had also suffered from anxiety and panic attacks during university. She had me fill in a self-completion questionnaire, and said I’d be fine. After being brushed aside like that, I didn’t feel confident to mention it again. I didn’t feel like I could tell other people, in case they judged me. I’d already seen how shocked one of my colleagues reacted when I had mentioned I didn’t actually enjoy being pregnant. How much more shocked would she be if I admitted I didn’t enjoy being a mum.

A new mother is a happy mother. That’s how society wants it. “Well, at least you’ve got a healthy baby!” “This is the most precious time of your life, enjoy every moment!” Which new mum hasn’t had to contend with comments like that. You have to be happy – happy that you have a healthy baby, happy that the baby is finally here. After all, this is what you have waited months for. You are allowed to feel tired. Possibly a little overwhelmed. But don’t you dare not feel happy! But being happy 24/7 is unrealistic and exhausting.

Apparently, research suggests that as many as 1 in 5 women who give birth in the UK and the US each year will be affected by a maternal mental health disorder. And yet, it’s not something that is talked about much unless it’s a celebrity mother hitting the news headlines. I’m sharing my story because we need to stop treating this as a taboo subject.

It took me almost six months until I was able to truly enjoy my baby. Until I was truthfully able to say “Yes, I am happy being a mum.” Until I was able to love him unconditionally. And until I was able to acknowledge, that taking my time to reach that point did not make me a bad mother. That not everybody falls in love with their baby instantly, but that that’s okay.

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