We’ve all seen the photo – you have, haven’t you? – of the parent holding their new baby in their arms, breathless with joy, tears in their eyes. We’ve heard the story – surely you know the one – of the moment when their newborn child was placed on their skin and all they could feel was an overwhelming sense of love. That’s how birth goes, right? That all-consuming, overwhelming, indescribable sense of immediate joy, love, and connection.
But what if that’s not how it goes?
My daughter’s birth did not go how I expected. She wasn’t in the “optimal” position, even after completing exercises. I felt each surge so intensely in my back – and it was not fun. My childhood/past traumas came out during the later stages of her birth and I was completely blindsided. I had my husband and incredible midwife to support me but I was lost. I felt out of control. It felt like I was floating in darkness, fear, and pain, and I couldn’t figure out how to get out. There’s a lot about my daughter’s birth that I don’t remember. I’ve since learned that trauma survivors can dissociate during childbirth, which is likely what happened to me.
By the time she was born, I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and totally DONE with the whole experience.
When she was born, I felt relief that she was here and I didn’t have to go through anything else. I felt wonder at what I had just done, and that it didn’t actually kill me, even though I was sure that it would.
She had some minor complications, so I felt worry and concern for her. But when I think back on those first few moments, what I remember feeling most is this: guilt and shame.
“What is wrong with me?!” I wondered. “Why do I feel like this?”
We both had to transfer to the hospital (from a birth center) and spend a few days there. On our second night there, at one of the middle of the night feedings, I finally broke down in sobs as I confessed my guilt and shame to my husband. “Why don’t I love my baby?” I cried. “I was supposed to love her as soon as she came out. But I didn’t. I’m a horrible mother.” We talked it through and I was finally able to release some of that guilt, shame, and fear that I had been feeling since she was born.
I was relieved that my husband didn’t think I was terrible. He thought I was sleep deprived, exhausted, and had been through a traumatic, intense experience. He didn’t blame me or look down on me. But still – I didn’t feel the way that I had been made to believe that I SHOULD feel. By the next day, I was already able to feel more attached and connected to her, and by the time we went home on day five I was feeling those joyful, loving feelings. For me, it took a few days and some time to process what had happened. It wasn’t immediate – and that is okay.
It’s okay if you don’t feel that immediate rush of love towards your baby.
There are so many ways you may feel after giving birth – and they are ALL okay. There is not one way that you should feel. Birth can be overwhelming and intense, and it can be easy for all of the feelings to get muddled together. It’s okay to not even know how you feel. You can still love and connect with your baby! There is nothing wrong with you.
I hope that reading this can help you prepare for birth, feel understood and respected if you experienced something similar, or help you support someone you know during or after their birth. I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below or contact me here.
(If you feel that you struggle to have a connection with your baby or child and it’s affecting your life or relationship, please discuss it with your doctor or midwife. They are there to support you.)