I had to learn to love my baby

Guest post by Ellie Thouret
a new life

I hear my husband coming up the stairs with our four-day-old baby. I hide my head under the duvet and dread their entry to the room, knowing it means I’ll have to feed him. Exhausted and sore from the birth, I wish the baby would disappear for a few hours so I could have my old life back.

I didn’t feel an immediate bond with my son, Lucas. That took me by surprise, as I’ve spent years watching TV programmes and films where women give birth and fall head over heels with their newborn. Sure, I felt an immense rush of love and protection as he was born, and the feeling that I would lay down my life for him didn’t go away. But I didn’t feel very interested in him, and I didn’t feel like he was very interested in me either.

Our relationship was hindered when I struggled with breastfeeding — due in part to Lucas’s undiagnosed tongue tie. He was always hungry and I felt like a failure as I struggled to do the only thing that was supposed to come naturally: feed my baby. Every feed felt like I was fighting with Lucas and I would be left anxious and exhausted, dreading the next time.

The intense sleep deprivation that accompanies most newborns didn’t help either. Lucas would only sleep when lying on my chest or my husband’s, which meant we had to sleep in shifts. In the first week of my baby’s life, I slept no more than 90 minutes in any 24 hour stretch. By the time he was four days old, I felt shattered, constantly mourning the loss of my ‘old life’, and was questioning why my husband and I had wanted a baby so badly.

The first turning point came in admitting my feelings to my husband. I remember feeling so ashamed of how I felt that I hid my face while telling him that I didn’t feel a bond with Lucas, and I wasn’t even sure I liked him all that much. His response was astonishing: “What’s to like?” He pointed out that we were in a pretty crap situation, seriously deprived of sleep and couldn’t really derive much pleasure from our newborn because he was either crying or asleep. He reminded me that we were getting to know Lucas, and he us, and that process takes time whenever you meet someone for the first time. We’d have to get used to him, and in understanding him more, we’d learn to soothe him and things would improve (we hoped).

Things got easier again when I felt able to leave the house and attend some support groups. Talking to other new mums made me realise that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling, which in turn helped me to feel less guilty. The groups also gave me the opportunity to play with Lucas, and seeing him enjoy new surroundings gave me warm, fuzzy feelings and helped our bond to develop.

I finally felt like I was over the hump when Lucas first smiled at me at about five or six weeks old. His spontaneous beam sparked a joy and love in me that I could not have imagined possible pre-baby. Suddenly, my baby showed his appreciation for all the hardships we’d endured by rewarding my husband and I with his biggest grins. And that was it, the moment I’d been waiting for: I fell completely, hopelessly, head over heels with my little boy.

I won’t pretend it’s been plain sailing since then. Lucas is now four months old, and each day brings new trials and tribulations, and the endless guilt that only parents can understand (am I doing the right thing? Have I ruined my baby for life?). But there are also new joys: his beaming grins upon seeing us, watching him play with my husband, and seeing his curiosity when confronted with something new.

What I’ve learned about becoming a parent is that you’re always learning; you never feel like you’ve cracked it. Feeling like I didn’t have a bond with my baby was very difficult — but now I’ve got through the worst of it, I feel even more ready to face the unknown world of parenting!

Comments on I had to learn to love my baby

  1. Thanks for posting! I had a lot of similar feelings early in my son’s life – which also got better and better as he got older. I’ve always been a “kid person”, but I realized while going through that rough first year that I’m not a “baby person”. Smiles, hugs, and a little reciprocation of affection makes a huge difference (and so does sleeping through the night). Take heart – my kid is just one and a half, but the more independent he gets, the happier I feel, and the closer to my old self I am – my old self with an awesome little buddy.

    • I just had a light bulb moment: I too am a kid person, not a baby person!

      I am a junior high teacher and spend all day interacting with kids. I also babysat about 10-20 hours a week all though jr. high, high school and college but it’s been a few years.

      Now that my friends are starting to have kids I find myself really awkward around babies. More awkward than I was at 16. I was starting to worry that I was not as much of a kid person as I thought. I find babies kind of boring and many of them not even all that cute. Once kids hit 6 or so, and can understand sarcasm, I’m much more interested. I could hang out with my 10 year-old cousins all day.

      • My husband is TOTALLY a kid person. He loves our son, and was great during our son’s infancy, but every so often I’d tell him, “Wait until he’s around 3 — you’re going to really shine as a parent.” I was endlessly patient and enthralled by our son throughout his infancy, (I still am, but I was one of those parents who did immediately connect and love our son from the very beginning), but my husband definitely struggled. Now our son’s 3.5, and it’s a completely different relationship — and I think part of that is because our son can communicate and participate in so much more.

        MORAL OF THE STORY: some people are totally “kid people.” 🙂

      • I told my husband this after a few months! I said that while I was very happy to be here to watch our son go through this stage of life, I wasn’t really a “baby person”. Babies are cute, but what do you do about them?

        Fortunately, infancy is not a chronic disease, and everyone seems to grow out of it.

  2. Because of a divorce and other circumstances in my life, I was forced to put over four years between my older son and my second baby. So I was beyond ecstatic to finally be having another one, it felt like the first time all over again. And my first son had been impossibly easy as an infant, which I assumed was my own superior parenting.

    My second son was not so easy. He was probably what’s considered “normal” for a newborn but I just didn’t realize it because I hadn’t experienced it. I also had pregnancy depression that bled into postpartum depression but wasn’t fully aware of it and was surrounded by friends and family who believed that depression is a cop-out and people are in control of their emotions. So I felt completely invalidated and like a monster, especially when my partner seemed pretty horrified by my saying things like I wasnt sure if I truly loved this baby or if I just had to love him. Breastfeeding hadn’t worked out with my first son so I didn’t realize how demanding exclusively breastfeeding my second would be. I fell apart when I couldn’t even take a quick 20 minutes to dye my hair, which sounds silly and selfish but in that moment, tied up in hormones with a body ravaged by pregnancy, I just needed something for me.

    Mothers are expected to feel and behave a certain way and when they’re not, they’re met with shock and criticism. I appreciate the hell out of the ones who can admit their true feelings, warts and all. Solidarity!

    • The hair drying thing doesn’t sound silly or selfish at all. It’s really difficult to not be able to complete what feels like the simplest task because you have to give your mind and your body over to the baby…again. I felt like that all the time trying to breastfeed exclusively. No one tells you how hard it really is.

      • I’m currently living on a shower every 3 days because I simply don’t have the energy to put into getting the daily shower I swore I would have. I told myself that I would shower every day, still wear make up and NEVER have pyjama days. PAH! My husband owns his own cafe AND is studying via correspondence, which means that I just have to make do with what I get. Exclusively breast feeding is no walk in the park!

  3. YES! The author nailed it. I think there’s this “love at first sight,” myth that’s pushed on mothers, and many of us don’t necessarily experience that. I would have thrown myself in front of train to protect my babies from the word go, but the falling in love was a process, not unlike falling in love with another adult. It didn’t happen overnight for me with either of my kids, and that’s okay. I’m actually really enjoying the process with my 5 month old son, who is my second (and likely, last) baby. His coos, smiles and giggles melt my heart, and I’m having so much fun watching him blossom into a little person. Through good days and bad, the relationship feels much less one sided than it did at the beginning.

    • I think this was a really important thing for me to figure out, too. I didn’t love my baby immediately (I also was exhausted, and dreaded breastfeeding because it hurt so badly) but I had a distinct, overwhelming and unexpected desire for him to SURVIVE. As someone who spends a lot of time in my head it was very odd to have such a physical and animalistic (because that is what we are after all) reaction. As soon as I realized that it was hormones and exhaustion and all of that, I could relax and we fell in love.

  4. As one of my friends has pointed out, babies are kind of assholes. I’m still a few weeks out from delivering my own, but I imagine being frustrated beyond belief for the first few months is pretty common.

    Heck, I think my own mother admitted to me that while she loved me when I was a baby, she didn’t find me particularly interesting until I was able to form full sentences.

  5. This post is brilliant! When I first had my daughter, I had almost identical feelings. My daughter couldn’t latch. Even after a breast feeding consultant came, she was promptly asked to leave because it was 10 minutes of the nurse pinching my boob and shoving it into the baby’s mouth with really awful positioning…I ended up just crying throughout the experience. I ended up felling like I just sucked at life. I couldn’t sleep because my poor baby was hungry all the time! I was not sleeping and I will say around her 4 month mark I went crazy. My sister came over and made a schedule for me and the baby and things started to get better, BUT throughout that whole time (from birth until she was 4 months old); I hated life. I was so upset about making the decision to have a baby. I felt regret every day. WELL, shes 4 YEARS old now. And I am happy to report the little stinker is the love of my life. My husband and I are planing to start trying again in October. I will say, that I’ve always felt guilty about her first 4 months of life. I always feel like I “missed” out on the fun of her as a baby and if I could have just kept myself in check and relaxed. But other than that lament, our relationship is amazing.

  6. My daughter had a tongue-tie too and couldn’t breast feed. We really struggled, even after it was clipped. Eventually, it just became too much and she became a formula-fed baby. As much flack as I get from other moms sometimes, I don’t regret the decision at all. It was what worked best for us, and my daughter is very healthy and developing well. I’m really glad you guys were able to work through it, and I love your husband’s response to the situation. He’s absolutely right that the transition to becoming a parent is really tough and takes time. Movies and TV make birth and ‘the fourth trimester’ seem like a fairytale where we all magically fall in love and live happily ever after. But it’s not like that in real life, so we have to stop beating ourselves up when we face very common and normal struggles as new parents.

  7. Lovely, honest post. I would bet more people experience this than any worried new mom might realize, so thank you for sharing!

  8. Maybe it’s because we have no children yet, but i always wondered why parents would “instantly bond” to their infants. I get it, it’s your child…but at such a young age they don’t have a personality yet. I enjoy others people’s children once they are about 3 or so months old – a personality shows. Any younger than that and I have an instant disconnect. Unless something changes I have a feeling I will, too, have to learn to love my child. I don’t even think learn to love is the right word, more like discovering who your child is as an individual.

  9. Thanks for your positive comments everyone! It’s really reassuring to know that lots of new parents felt like us. I, too, feel guilty about Lucas’s first weeks as I know I was far from my best and I worry it will have a lasting effect on him. It’s surprising how many women admit they felt like this once you start talking about it. I hope more people will open up about the difficulties so new parents feel more reassured 🙂

    • Aw man, it might just be the pregnancy hormones making me feel extra weepy, but reading about your husband’s incredibly kind, wise and compassionate response to your admission made tears come into my eyes! Congratulations to both of you on having such a safe and loving partner-bond to do this parenting within.

  10. Right now I am holding my 9 week old in my arms as she sleeps. I am in total love but that did not happen until a few weeks ago. I too mourned my “old life” and even was jealous of friends who have!decided to be childless. I prepared so much for my birth I did not really think about after since I thought it would be like in the movies especially since I love kids. Articles like this are so important to break the myth that all mothers fall head over heels in love with their babies from birth.

  11. I can’t THIS! this enough and all it’s comments. I might cry from THIS!ness of this all. Might be the lack of sleep and post baby hormones but mostly the outpouring of love I finally realized (2 months late) I had for this tiny human who takes everything out of me just to survive.

  12. I’ll be honest: I did fall in love with my son pretty much the first second they gave him to me, but I still resented him. While he was a pretty model baby in terms of latching and snoring, he had to be held all the time. He wouldn’t sleep alone at all. He was latched on all the time.

    I would cry when I was home alone and my usual bedtime passed. I never did anything, and even when I had time, I didn’t have the energy. Having him made us pretty destitute. I loved him, but it was hard. Some days being with him was the best thing about my day; other days, I wanted to give him away.

    Parenthood is complicated and this whole myth of, “Babies are nothing but love and sunshine and unicorn farts,” doesn’t help.

  13. Thank you for this post! I had very similar feelings when my daughter was born (she is now 2). I was expecting love at first sight but when I had a very difficult labor, it did not happen for me. I struggled the most for about 4-6 weeks and then it started getting better(and now I can’t imagine life without her and love her more than anything(. This does not mean we aren’t good parents! That was so hard to accept.

  14. Thank you for sharing. With #1 I had a difficult pregnancy and when she was born she woke up every hour day and night to feed for a long time. I could have gone w/o the first year. Looking back (she’s now almost 4) I know there were joys…but I was so exhausted. Just had #2 (DS) and it has been a much better experience….I actually seem to enjoy having a baby in the house. I still have guilt over how I felt with my first pregnancy and how I felt when DD was a baby….but I enjoy most moments now so that helps 🙂

  15. I’ve got pretty much the same things to say as everyone else, but it can’t be said enough. The false images we come to believe as truth actually hurt us, and it’s so important to share real feelings like this. I feel so much guilt over the anxiety and sadness I exposed my daughter to in the first few months. Not exactly because I expected to gush with love at first sight, but because I did expect for feeding, sleeping, and socializing to be a lot more natural and easy than it was. I want every expectant mother to hear these stories and learn to prepare a support network in advance. Thank you for sharing!

  16. I may have said this here before, but sometime early in our son’s life, I read a comment from someone online saying, “You just have to keep them alive until they get interesting.” I shared that with my partner, and he took it as a mantra. We were both having a hard time, but he was having a much more difficult time. Our son is 19 months old now. At some point recently, my partner turned to me and said, “Whoa. While I wasn’t looking, he got interesting! We did it!” and we high-fived.

  17. I don’t think stories like this are shared nearly often enough. I feel sometimes like this very thing is one of the “dirty little secrets” that us moms don’t talk to each other about, for fear of feeling like a bad parent or feeling like the loser in the mommy wars. I’m finally able to be upfront with other moms about how I felt. I have two kids who I love very much, but with both of them there was a lot of time and work involved before I felt really bonded. I took very good care of them because I had to, but I didn’t really like them all that much as newborns. And now they’re school-aged and life is just getting better and better 🙂 We aren’t all “baby people” – and that’s not a bad thing nor does it make us bad moms.

    I think some of these “myths” are important to dispel, and I think that we owe it to each other to be honest with the women in our lives about our experiences. It helped me when some of my girls and I got together once or twice a month and would all just vent and let it out. I think feeling like I wasn’t alone or a freak, is what helped me take a breath and stop hating myself for thinking my kids were jerks lol.

  18. When I had my second son, 14 whole years after my first one, from the very moment I laid eyes on him after they cut him out of me, I was positive that somehow, this baby was not mine, and had been somehow switched with another one. My whole stay in the hospital, I kept expecting someone to discover the switch and give me a different baby. Don’t get me wrong; i LOVED this one! It was just the weirdest feeling. Looking back, I’m sure it was a result of 1. MAJOR amounts of drugs, and 2. How different he looked from my first son when he was born, and likely, the way he was born. My first son was small and delicate, almost female in his looks, and this new guy looked like a football player–from day one! He was HUGE, sturdy, and very, very male. No mistaking THIS one for a girl! I felt like something must have been wrong with me for the way I felt back then, so it’s good to read about other people who feel similarly. Thank you!

  19. I have to reply to this because I agree that more moms need to admit feeling this way so we don’t have to feel so horrible if it’s not a perfect movie moment of love for our baby. My son is 7 months old now and I still feel a bit of a disconnect with him. (Finally got back on depression medication, so crossing my fingers) Most of the time we hang out, I feel like I’m watching a movie…like I’m not living this life, but just watching someone live it. Sometimes I’ll get a flash of what I imagine other parents feel, where I’m overwhelmed at how amazing this little person is, but then it fades away and I’m left with staring at this child that is just sitting in my living room. Throughout the pregnancy I waited for it to get better when I got his room ready. Once the room was ready, I thought I just needed the baby to put in it. Once the baby got there, I thought maybe he just needed to not sleep so much and I’d love him more. It helps now that he’s become more interactive, and I imagine it’ll get even better when he can walk/talk. Thank you for sharing your story.

  20. Honestly? I don’t think human females are supposed to raise babies alone. (And yes, sorry to well meaning partners out there, but I am going to call the traditional American nuclear family “alone,” especially once one partner returns to work.

    Anyway, my husband and I spent the difficult newborn period calling the baby our little potato. He was small and round and couldnt do ANYTHING, but if we took care of him someday he’d grow into more than just a potato. As an added bonus there’s a cute song called “my little potato” that I would sing to him to pep myself up and provide some of the much needed emotional connection that the little guy couldn’t provide yet.

    • We’ve been calling our son our little “x pound sack of potatoes” since he was born. He’s lumpy and he doesn’t do much of anything. Since he’s started smiling more consistently lately, life has gotten a little less miserable. But he’s still my twelve pound sack of potatoes.

  21. I’ve deleted and rewritten this three times already, because I can’t seem to get across how honestly helpful posts like this are to me. I wish there was more of this out there.

    I struggled with terrible PPD when my daughter was first born. One night, I called my mother, sobbing hysterically and telling her I made a huge mistake, because I didn’t love my baby. And she, thank god, told me that she was going to let me in on a little secret that no one ever tells new mothers: you don’t love your baby at first. It’s normal. It’s so fucking normal, but so few people want to be honest about it.

    Four months on, I’m still being treated for the PPD, but I’m a lot better now. But a month or so ago, I visited a friend who had just had a baby and she broke down and told me she didn’t love her baby and felt like she had made a huge mistake. The cycle continues. At least I was able to tell her that her feelings are totally normal.

    We need more like this. Seriously.

  22. For me, it was the other way around. I was totally afraid this would happen. I am not a kid person, I might even say that in general, I slightly dislike children. During my pregnancy, I often wondered whether I had done the right thing. I was afraid I wasn’t going to like my baby. Turns out I was lucky. I immediately got convinced that my newborn is the most adorable creature in the world. These things can go either way, and mostly not the way we’d expect.

  23. I can’t claim to have felt the same way after my son was born 7 months ago – luckily I felt an immediate rush of love – but I applaud your bravery and honesty in admitting something that I imagine a lot of new parents must struggle with. I had a lot of trouble with breastfeeding in the first few weeks though, so i can utterly sympathise with you there. But I’m so, so glad you’re feeling so much more connected to your boy – I’m sure that bond will only get stronger with time.
    (Oh, and hi from another UK Offbeat Mama!)

  24. I thought that having a c-section was the cause of the trouble I had bonding with my son. I loved him, but I wasn’t “in love” with him the way I thought I should be. Knowing that many others go through this would have helped me feel less like a heartless monster.
    Actually, a cartoon (I forget which) summed it all up for me…
    The dad walks into the bedroom where mom is still in bed, with a wail running the whole length of the strip, and tells her, “There is a small, cranky stranger in the other room demanding food, shelter, and a college education.” Yep – that’s about the whole of it!

  25. I felt this way as well. My daughter looked like a little replica of my husband and for whatever reason, it was hard for me to assert any kind of “ownership” of my child. She didn’t feel like MY baby and I actually remember remarking to my husband about how I felt closer emotionall to our dog than our daughter. He responded with the fact that in reality, I had known Angie (the dachshund-Jack Russell mix) much longer than our daughter so in essence it kind of made sense.

    I too am a “kid” person. She is almost 19 months old now and I feel like I’m really hitting my stride as her mother. I know how to play house, stuffed animals, kitchen and color. Those things come easy and natural to me while comforting a screaming newborn made me want to run screaming from my house. I think the next time around it will (hopefully!) be easier because I will have a better understanding of the space-time continuum if you want to call it that. I will know how long each little stage will last and to hold onto the fact that someday that screaming newborn will be racing around the house begging to sing “Twinkle Twinkle” or the spider song.

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