After 9 months of what felt like being pregnant forever and a physically traumatic 36-hour labor, you would have thought I would have been overjoyed to finally meet my new son. But when they finally put him on my chest? I actually thought he looked like an alien, and all I wanted to do was eat a cheeseburger and sleep for 3 days straight. I didn’t want him on me, so I quickly handed him to my husband. I was so exhausted and disappointed by the whole experience that I wanted everyone to go away and leave me alone.
I delivered my son at 8pm, at 8am the next morning, we were discharged from the hospital because Mom and baby were doing “fine.” But I didn’t want to leave – ever. I didn’t want to go home with this foreign object that I had no idea how to care for. What if I thought he was ugly? Did that make me a horrible mother? What if I decided that I made a mistake and I didn’t want him anymore? I didn’t feel anything I thought I was supposed to feel after bringing a life into the world: I didn’t feel connected to him at all. And even after I brought him home, that feeling stayed with me for a while.
I write this post both as a PPD survivor and as a clinician aware that the above was all part of the process -- and par for the course -- when it comes to Postpartum Anxiety and Depression disorders.
Read on for a breakdown of the most common questions you may find yourself asking about loving and bonding with your baby, even when (and especially when) it feels impossible.
Is it common to not feel connected to your baby?
There is a misconception that every woman who has a baby immediately feels an overwhelming sense of joy and unconditional love for their newborn baby - and it’s simply NOT TRUE. In fact, it’s very common for new mothers not to feel an immediate bond with their babies. It takes time for that special connection to develop. You and your baby need to get to know each other in order for those strong feelings of attachment to grow.
Am I hurting my baby in some way if I don’t bond with him or her right away?
At The Motherhood Center, we frequently tell moms who are not feeling an immediate bond with their baby to act like they do. You may not feel a connection with your baby, but (thankfully) when babies are very young, they can’t discern a lack of true emotional engagement from the real thing. As long as you’re caring for your child – holding him or her, feeding him, making eye contact, cuddling with him – you’re doing what you need to do for your baby. And, as it turns out, acting the part may actually help trigger real feelings in you.
Am I a bad mother if I don’t bond with my baby right away?
If you're worried enough to think there's a problem, that's evidence right there that you're a good mother. The sheer fact that you feel concerned about your connection with your baby suggests that you care for him or her.
What if it’s been many weeks or months and I have not yet bonded with my baby?
A very common symptom of Postpartum Depression and Anxiety is an inability to bond with the baby. If it’s been many weeks or months and you still don’t feel a connection, it may be time to seek treatment for PPD. Bonding helps the baby develop what is called a secure attachment: aka, sense of being loved and secure, and faith in the fact their needs will be met. It gives them a psychological framework from which they learn how to interact with their world. Many studies show that children who are securely attached have an improved chance to grow up with better self-esteem and self-reliance.
Here’s the thing: Motherhood is a tough learning process for every mom. And with Postpartum Depression, it just feels like you’re messing up (or not showing up) at every turn. So don’t forget to give yourself the same love and patience that you wish for your new baby. Again, just being concerned is a sign that there’s love growing inside you for your new child -- and that you’re well on the path to finding your own way through motherhood.
Paige Bellenbaum, LMSW is the Program Director at The Motherhood Center. After experiencing severe postpartum and depression after the birth of her son, once she got better she made it her plight to ensure that women would not have to suffer as she had. In 2016, she joined forces with The Motherhood Center founders, Dr. Catherine Birndorf and Billy Ingram, and together, with an excellent team of reproductive Psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and specialists, treatment for mild to severe PPD symptoms is available for pregnant and new moms that are suffering. And the good news is, with treatment - everyone feels better.
If you think you might be suffering from postpartum depression and/or anxiety, and it’s impacting your ability to bond with your baby – there is help. Call The Motherhood Center today at 212-335-0034. With treatment – everyone feels better.