By Tiffany Shull Peterson
In broad terms, we’ve all heard that when you become a mother, you are filled with overwhelming, undeniable joy at the arrival of your new baby. To hear it described, it would seem as though a glowing blanket of pure adoration is draped over you and your small family as you float on waves of love from hospital to home. This is not to say – or even imply – that these newborn days are not hard, but that those difficult first days are punctuated with the effervescence of indescribable love.
This vision of new motherhood is dangerous. For many new moms, it can create an unattainable expectation. If new mothers do not experience instant love at first sight, they can feel cheated or “less than” other mothers.
Personally, I had relatively low expectations. My goal was simple: get myself and my daughter through the birthing process safely. Which mostly happened. What did not happen, however, was the sudden appearance of anything other than a brand new human and a c-section incision. There was no beautiful moment in which endorphins exploded around me, filling me with those “this is my reason for being” sentiments. It simply didn’t happen.
A quick Google search on the “newborn stage” brings up pages and pages of articles and forums by moms declaring just how much they did not enjoy those early months. And for good reason – approximately 70-80% of new moms experience varying levels of depression (or the ‘baby blues’) after birth, and up to 20% of them will be diagnosed with more severe and lasting postpartum depression.
And I’m going to go so far as to say, it’s normal. At no other time in a woman’s life is she expected to simply love, understand, and adore another human within moments of introduction except for after giving birth. A process that is often filled with complexity, trauma, and frustrations during which a woman’s role in life changes substantially. There is no level of preparation for that transition and though she may be left reeling, mourning, and recovering – she is filled with expectation for this light-filled moment that may never come.
I am here to tell moms of all stages: you did not do anything wrong if you weren’t overwhelmed with love at first sight. Maybe it took a few weeks, or months, to feel that deep connection with your tiny stranger. Considering you just met, I don’t think that’s too strange, and given all you’ve been through, please take that guilt off of your shoulders. It takes time to get to know anyone, even our children, and you will get to know them again and again as you both grow.
I also encourage you to talk about those very real feelings, or lack thereof, during the first few months. There is nothing wrong with an alternate picture of seeing your child for the first time and not hearing the angels sing. And maybe never hearing it. For me, I don’t know that there was ever a miraculous moment. In those early days, I worked very hard to connect with and get to know my daughter. Gradually, I have arrived at a place I may tentatively describe as filled with immeasurable love. But it was work and I’m proud to have earned it, for myself and for her.
Reaching out to other moms and hearing their stories opened my eyes to the realities of early motherhood. I found support and friendship in local groups, like Indy’s theCityMoms, and have since been able to validate other new moms now that my daughter is a toddler. Postpartum depression can be isolating, but you are never alone. I encourage you to speak to your doctor, your partner, your friends, or reach out to a hotline because what you are experiencing has nothing to do with your ability as a mother and does not have to last forever.