*SPOILER ALERT: This post contains references to the plot of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s not like there are any major twists but, you know, just in case you care.*
Recently I watched the movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting. It’s one of those films that follows multiple story lines of vaguely connected characters, all of whom in this case are ‘expecting’ in one way or another. It has a cast made up loads of actors you recognise but can’t name (except J-Lo and Cammy D, obvs). It’s not exactly ground-breaking but I quite enjoyed it and the writers were thoughtful enough to include a couple who are adopting and someone who has a miscarriage. However, I found the end a bit hard to take.
The film takes a comedic look at the stresses of pregnancy and getting ready for your first child. It mentions incontinence, wind, bloating and the sudden panic of realising you are actually going to be a parent. The climax of the film is obviously the arrival of the babies and we are left with a little montage of happy parents cooing contentedly over their offspring. Because, you know, the worst is over now, right? One woman, who had a rough pregnancy with none of the ‘glow’ she was promised, has a c-section and is then pictured sitting up in bed after it, cradling her child. She the says something along the lines of “I’ve found my glow, he’s my glow!” Feel free to vomit.
I’m being a bit harsh in this particular film, but Hollywood has a lot of answer for. It’s just like rom coms, which end when the couple finally gets together or, maybe, gets married. Happily ever after will now ensue, we are led to believe. But of course that’s not what relationships are like. They can expose your flaws and vulnerabilities, there can be many ups and down and sometimes they just feel like hard work. You know, a bit like having a baby.
After I had my son I’d hear people saying stuff like “as soon as you hold that baby in your arms it’s all worth it” and feel a pang if (you guessed it) guilt. I didn’t feel like it was ‘all worth it’, not at first. Don’t get me wrong, I was glad my baby was finally here and I wouldn’t have changed that, but this didn’t erase the trauma I felt from the birth and difficult recovery. I had expected an over-flowing, all-consuming love to come bursting forth. But it didn’t. I knew I loved my son but it took me a while to really feel it.
To tell you the truth I don’t really remember the moment my son was first put into my arms. I hadn’t slept for 32 hours and was jacked-up on diamorphine (that be some good stuff). Also, because I had an assisted delivery in theatre he was taken through some scary double doors as soon as he was born to be checked by a paediatrician. I remember hearing him cry from the next room and breathing huge sigh of relief. He was ok. I also remember being wheeled from recovery to the ward with him cuddled on my chest. I definitely had a feeling of pride and contentment, but I didn’t really feel like I met him until much later.
I know so many mums who felt the same. They didn’t get that instant love that they had expected. I’m sure many more felt like that but we’re afraid to say. That is how a mother should feel, isn’t it?
I should say here that I am not talking about feeling no bond at all with your child. I certainly felt affection and a duty of care from the beginning. Some women are unfortunate enough to not even have that. That may have negative feelings towards their baby, referring to them as ‘it’ etc. If this sounds familiar to you then please don’t be ashamed; there is so much love and support out there for all of us. Tell someone, or go to my ‘help for you’ page.
So, while I was content to be a mother and had some lovely moments, I wouldn’t have described myself as happy in those first weeks and months. In fact, the predominant feeling I had was one of overwhelming anxiety. Should I feed him now or wait? Is it bad to co-sleep? Why won’t he lie on his back? There a thousand tiny decisions to make every day and I found myself buried under them. Reflecting now I can see that the worry was blocking the love.
But I have good news for you, dear reader, the love came. Around the 3 month mark you baby’s personality emerges suddenly from beneath the squishy floods of newborn flesh. They might begin to laugh and, if you’re lucky, sleep a little better. Suddenly I was loved up. I went from intellectually knowing I cared for my boy to being totally besotted with him. He is, in my humble opinion, the best person on the planet. #justsaying
A lot of what got me out of the anxiety cycles was simply recognising my lack of confidence and then noticing that I could actually look after my baby fine. The tiny decision were just that; tiny! I didn’t get there on my own, not even slightly. I had to be admitted to a mother and baby hospital ward where they exercised a bit of tough love in encouraging me to take on all of the baby care I could manage. I found I could mange quite a lot really; once I stopped telling myself I couldn’t manage at all.
So if you felt or are feeling a lack of love with a capital L please know you are not alone. It doesn’t make you a second-rate mum. In fact getting up every two hours to feed and wipe the bum of someone you’re not even yet truly, madly, deeply in love with yet is actually pretty darn impressive if you ask me.
In conclusion, give yourself a break. That is all.