Love at first sight! But what if it’s not?!

We are all led to believe that unconditional love for our baby is instantaneous – something that grows as they do in utero, and is very much ‘love at sight’ when they are born. But that is not the case everyone, and coming to terms with not feeling as we feel we are supposed to as a new mum can be very hard. Busylizzy mum Rebecca wanted to share her story so that other mums in a similar position would know they weren’t alone. These are her words:

I had my first baby in October 2015 and quite honestly thought I would find being a mum pretty easy. I consider myself to be reasonably competent and capable, I have 5 younger siblings who I enjoyed helping take care of as babies and little ones and most of the population do this at one time or other, so how hard can it be, right?!

I had a very easy pregnancy and expected labour to be quite straightforward, so my first hurdle was really when my labour didn’t go as I had planned. After being fully dilated for a considerable period of time with no progress, I was told that I would need a c-section. They prepped me for the c-section with a spinal block and then managed to deliver my son with forceps and an episiotomy. I was very sad that I hadn’t had the experience of pushing my baby out, or felt that moment of elation that I had seen on One Born Every Minute. I didn’t really feel much to be honest. All the birth announcements that I had seen on Facebook from other people claimed to be “totally in love already”. It had never occurred to me that this wasn’t going to be my experience.

I had expected to recognise my baby and for him to feel like mine from the start. But to me, he could have been anyone’s. Although I initially managed to feed Aubrey with help from one of the midwives, subsequent attempts failed. I mentioned this to the nurse when I was moved onto the ward but she said that it was normal and didn’t seem concerned. However when someone checked on me in the morning and I said that I still hadn’t managed to feed him I was told off and felt terribly guilty. I continued to struggle to feed him, but the soreness from the episiotomy made getting him out of his cot in the night really painful.

I felt protective of my baby and when we ended up back in hospital on day 4 with jaundice, it was very stressful and worrying. But I still didn’t feel that overwhelming love that I desperately wanted to feel. When the health visitor visited me on day 10, she rattled through a checklist and asked if I had bonded with my baby. I, of course, said ‘yes’ as this was the ‘right’ answer – but it was in no way true! It was about 8 weeks before Aubrey really felt like my baby.

Lots of people talk about the role that breastfeeding has in establishing a bond with your baby and I know that for many people this is a big factor. However, I found it very frustrating. It hurt a lot (possibly as a result of my son’s posterior tongue tie) and he would feed so much and for so long. I remember being sat on the sofa feeding him from 5pm to 10pm every evening until he was around 3 months old and he only just managed to track the 25th centile line. I think he must have had reflux as he would projectile vomit a lot and was quite a miserable baby. The constant feeding and the reality of not being able to put him down much in the early days meant that I was feeling guilty about being home all day but failing to do things like cook dinner for myself and my husband. I think my complete naivety about how life really is with a newborn baby, coupled with the feeling that I had to love my own baby and it couldn’t be normal not to, contributed to my difficulties bonding with him.

I knew that I wanted to use a sling from early on and had a stretchy wrap that I used from when he was about a week old. I truly believe that this was the single most important thing for me in establishing my bond with my baby. One of the safety rules for babywearing is having them “close enough to kiss” and I was constantly kissing his little head. He was at his most settled and happy in the sling and I was able to go for walks and get some much needed exercise, daylight and fresh air. I joined Busylizzy as a member when he was six weeks old and I used to walk to and from all of the classes. Baby Massage, Baby Karma and Baby Music were all amazing for teaching me ways in which I could interact and communicate with my baby. I found it very difficult to know how to and I think that this was also a big factor in things improving for us.

My daughter was born in April 2021 and the experience was so different! I had a home birth and my labour only lasted about 3 hours from start to finish. Cora was born in the water and I wasn’t really even sore afterwards. She cried straight away and I was able to latch and feed her within minutes of her being born and she continued to feed really well over the hours that followed. She felt like my baby from the start. It probably helped that she looked more like me and was more easily recognisable as ‘my’ baby. It’s so strange to have had such a different experience with her and of course it is tinged with a bit of guilt that I didn’t experience it the first time around. Mum guilt really is never ending isn’t it?!

I hope that my story reassures other new mums that not necessarily feeling overwhelmed with love from day one isn’t as strange as you feel it is, and that it will not preclude you from having an amazing maternity leave and future relationship with your child.