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!