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. This section is exactly how I felt when my daughter was born: “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.”

    I’ve never been able to express that, and I’ve always felt so horrible about it. I still fel bad, even though I see that it’s normal.
    Thanks for sharing this post! It was much needed on my end.

  2. I hear ya. I had a similar experience with my first. It wasn’t until she became interactive and started smiling around 4 weeks old that I really started to feel like we had a relationship. Which kind of makes sense since relationships are reciprocal and she couldn’t reciprocate any affection until she could smile.

    With my second I found myself wondering when he was going to have a personality. I knew the potential, having his older sister, but felt impatient waiting for hit to develop.

  3. I’m so glad to hear that I’m not alone in these sort of feelings. People keep asking me if I am enjoying being a mum and I think ‘Enjoy? What’s to enjoy?’. That said, my daighter is now nearing 3 months and I can start to enjoy her little smiles, even though they are liberally spaced out between feeds and crying fits because she’s tired. My baby also had tongue-tie and it makes feeding a painful chore – it’s hard to bond when you’re in blinding pain!

  4. Yes this is very common and normal and I also wish more people would talk about it. But unfortunately there`s a cultural ‘sanctity’ to motherhood – that we have to beam sunshine and dance for joy – but the reality is anything but.

    My son was a micro preemie – he spent the first 4 months just struggling to survive in a glass bowl. It took weeks before we could even pick him up. When I finally brought him home, leaving behind the safety of 24/7 monitoring, nurses and their know-how, I was terrified. I also didn`t really love my son. In fact I resented the months of 24/7 hell we went through, dreading every ring of the phone (bad news again from the hospital etc). We had been told he would most probably be severely handicapped and would probably never walk.

    After a preemie parent meeting I secretly admitted to the organizer that some days I even wished they hadn`t managed to save him, all those times he flatlined. How awful is that. She told me ALL parents of sick babies have those dark thoughts and it`s normal. I suspected as much but I was sooo relieved to hear it.

    It took me a good 6 months of him at home to develop the loving relationship. Now at 2.5 he`s the center of my universe- we love him SO much it`s surreal. (oh and he`s perfectly healthy and alert HA)

  5. Support groups are HUGE. Whenever anyone asks me what the best thing I’ve done has been regarding parenting, I say joining my new moms group. It has been INVALUABLE. Not only does it force you out of the house (for me it was at 3 weeks post-partum and completely necessary for my sanity), it is a safe place to say that things aren’t how you expected they would be without feeling guilty. I went. I cried. I found out I wasn’t alone. It was fantastic. And I have a built in support group (and play group) as my daughter grows up. Amazing.

  6. My husband and I always say that babies are just not done cooking. I mean a baby giraffe is born and stands up and starts walking around and eating immediatly. But our silly kids have such oversized brains that would completely tear ourselves apart if they stayed in there any longer. So instead we end up with these half baked newborns. No wonder we aren’t in love with them yet, they are still cookie dough. Also I like to think of the aristotle belief that the baby is ensouled when it first laughs. I don’t mean to get too metaphysical here, I just like the idea because reinforces the idea that newborns, just aren’t quite there yet, and you will love them when they become more full people.

    • yep the love has been GROWING ever since walking came. At 18 months he is AMAZING! we fricking pushed cars back and forth to each other today. just wait till they want to be tickled, haha, serrious newborns are nothing to the cuteness of toddlers. strap that newborn to your chest and get a book and some coffee its gonna be a while.

  7. My son had colic from 2-8 weeks. He still is a needy and sensitive baby, although he smiles and laughs a lot now at almost 4 months. I also had challenges breadtfeeding that made every feeding a crying nightmare. When our son was 6 weeks old, I tried to explain to my husband that if I had known how hard it was going to be, I never would have had a baby. My husband took it the wrong way and it made me feel even worse for not having fallen in love with our son. THANK YOU for writing this! Not everyone’s newborn parenting experience is the dreamy (although it is sleepy!).

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