I had a rough pregnancy. It’s hard to admit to some of the feelings I had while I was pregnant the first time. Not everyone feels ready to be pregnant. Not everyone is excited. I was one of those. Sometimes, we feel like it’s shameful to have those feelings, but I think it’s important to get this out into the open and talk honestly about the full range of emotions that are possible and NORMAL during pregnancy and when getting to know our babies.
Before I got pregnant, I had no interest in babies. I admit that I would get annoyed if I had to sit near a baby or child in a restaurant or on an airplane. After being married for eight years, my husband had baby fever, but I most definitely did not. Even so, I had to start thinking about having a baby. I finally gave in, because I was approaching 30 and “not getting any younger”. We agreed when we got married that a family would be in our future, and I don’t like to go back on my word. So, I got pregnant. That’s not very romantic or exciting. It was an obligation and a rational decision. Then it happened quickly, and I was shocked.
I was also extremely sick for the first few months. I couldn’t eat or even drink water without vomiting. I felt like I had contracted a tropical disease or parasite. I wasn’t happy about that. I also had to eventually stop going to my favorite yoga class because my instructor told me not to come back to her classes once I was six months pregnant. She didn’t know how to handle a big belly safely, so I had to resort to prenatal yoga. I was not happy about that either. I didn’t think I needed it, and I didn’t want to be around a bunch of pregnant people! My fears were realized in that first class when I sat next to a woman just 12 WEEKS ALONG who shared that she already felt the spark of spirit and personality in her baby and felt so connected. I did not feel connected with my 30 week old fetus. I felt no spark of personality. What did this mean? Was there something terribly wrong with me?
I worried that I might end up not liking my baby. I thought I might be a terrible mother. I was not bonding with my baby at all. My biggest fear leading up to the moment I met my baby was that I would just be annoyed with my child all the time, like I was around other people’s kids. Then I went into labor at 38 weeks. That was two weeks early! I wasn’t ready! I was still hoping to feel some connection with my baby, but it hadn’t happened yet and there was no going back.
I worked hard during labor. It was powerful and intense and amazing, and then she was there. My daughter was in my arms. AND I LOVED HER SO MUCH! It was immediate. I loved her, I wanted everything for her, and I immediately knew that I was even capable of killing for her. Whoa. That was a lot of intense bonding happening all at once. I was relieved, but also a little overwhelmed by some of these very new feelings. There was something very primal and instinctual about it. She’s 15 now, and we are still very close. I’ve loved all of her ages and stages.
With my second child, it was different. I had very mixed feelings. That time, I knew I would love him, but I also loved my daughter so intensely that I worried I couldn’t love him as much. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to give my first born the kind of loving attention I always had, because this new baby would interfere. These worries probably kept me from feeling much of a bond with my son during pregnancy. But then he was in my arms and I loved him. I knew I would do anything for him too. The immediate bond wasn’t as intense. It was more of a slow burn, probably because I still wanted to give so much of my love and attention to my first baby at the same time. We bonded differently, but we bonded.
When You Develop a Bond
Some people will feel a bond as soon as they find out they are pregnant, and others will need more time to feel it. If you didn’t feel it during pregnancy, and then you don’t get the immediate rush of connection at birth, the most important thing is to keep your baby close.
- Allow your baby to stay on your body as much as possible, skin-to-skin.
- Allow your baby to breastfeed as much as possible.
Both of these practices can lead to the production of oxytocin. Your body makes oxytocin automatically in response to skin-to-skin contact and nipple stimulation. Oxytocin is a hormone made in the pituitary gland that is responsible for bonding. When we see a cute puppy (or baby), we feel an oxytocin rush. I like to call it the “warm fuzzies”. When we hold hands with our partners, or kiss, or have sex, we release oxytocin. It gives us the positive feelings that we start to associate with that person or puppy or baby, and we want to stay with them and take care of them. We bond.
It’s so important to remember that there is no perfect normal. Everyone’s bonding experience with their children is different, and all can be normal, even when it takes a little longer or happens more gradually.
There are times when things go a little haywire though. Sometimes, that bond can take months to solidify. Difficult, high intervention, or traumatic births can interfere. Breastfeeding problems can sometimes get in the way. Postpartum depression or other mood disorders can definitely interfere.
When left untreated, one of the most distressing symptoms of postpartum depression is the inability to bond with your baby. If you are still not feeling any connection with your baby after a couple of weeks, it’s a very good idea to see a doctor and consider medications, therapy, or both. It’s very likely that you won’t be scheduled to see your OB until six weeks postpartum, but that’s a long time to wait. Please consider getting help sooner than that. I’ve never met anyone who regretted getting help for postpartum depression. Most of the time people say that they wish they had done it sooner.
I’m happy to report that I now love all babies. I am the weird lady asking to hold your baby (well, at least before COVID) at a party, or making funny faces at them on the airplane. I love kids of all ages. They make me laugh and smile, and I especially love it when they choose their own outfits and have dirty faces and messy hair and ask TONS of questions. I don’t get annoyed by babies or children at all anymore.
I am also happy to say that I ended up LOVING prenatal yoga and recommend it to all pregnant people. I didn’t bond with my baby during pregnancy, but I did end up bonding with many of the women in my classes. I keep in touch with some of them even today. Our kids grew up together. We learned how to be parents together. That was definitely a big perk that came from switching yoga classes.
Don’t worry if you don’t feel a strong bond with your baby while you’re pregnant. For many people, they can only picture the baby as a fantasy baby from TV or movies. It doesn’t feel like “yours” yet, or even very real. They might seem like mythical creatures in there. We don’t know what they’ll look like or act like. Or they might feel more like a physical condition. It might be really hard to imagine them as anything but a miserable parasite. It can be hard to recognize pregnancy as the growth of a person. It’s very easy to forget that there is a little person in there having their own kind of experience. For a lot of people, pregnancy is a long list of physical complaints and a lot of weirdness. Give yourself some grace. Try not to worry or have stress about the fact that you can’t see past that or feel a bond with your baby. Taking care of your body is a great way to take care of your baby.
Help Creating a Bond
If you really want to try some things to create a bond during pregnancy, there may be a few things that can help. Even if you don’t feel excited to do these things at first or you feel really silly doing it, it might start to shift things for you.
- Sing a special song to your baby. They can hear you starting at about 16 weeks of pregnancy. I like to recommend choosing one special song that is child appropriate, since someday your baby will be able to understand the words. Sing the song every day. It might become part of your bedtime routine later on, and it can be really soothing for babies right after birth. Your voice, and the melody of their song will be the ONLY familiar things in the room right after they are born. Your voices are best. Headphones might be too loud, and that’s not what they’ll be hearing right after birth. It’s amazing to see a baby calm down and turn to look at their parents when they hear their voices right after being born.
- Talk to your baby. You might like to get into the habit of telling your baby about your day. You might like to tell them what your daily pregnancy tracker said about them. “You are now about the size of a tomato. You have fingers and toes. You have eyelashes now. I can feel you moving.” You might read a book out loud. It doesn’t have to be a children’s book! They can’t understand yet.
- Meditation can be a great way to tune in and focus. Think about what your baby might really look like or might be doing in there. Feel your baby move, and imagine what that looks like or feels like to your baby. Your baby can hear your heartbeat. You could also focus on feeling or hearing your heartbeat. Then you’re doing that together.
- Journaling can be helpful. You might write letters to your baby as journal entries. Write down what you’re doing and feeling related to your pregnancy or preparations you’re making for your baby’s arrival.
- Having pictures taken of your pregnant self is a great way to see it from a different perspective. Maternity photo shoots usually produce amazing pictures. Seeing yourself in pictures as the beautiful pregnant life-carrier that you are might give you a big boost and a new appreciation for the baby sharing this journey with you.
However it happens, the bond you will eventually have with your children is probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, and it is definitely something to look forward to. Just remember to be gentle with yourself if it doesn’t happen exactly as you imagined or hoped. Keeping yourself stress-free is another way to encourage that oxytocin to flow!