It’s a cultural belief that a mother will fall in love with her baby immediately when she sees that new little person.
It sure didn’t happen for me with my first baby.
Now, looking back through the lens of all the education and research and studying and work with new moms that I’ve done since that first baby made her appearance (thank you Phoebe, I’m sorry I thought of you as my little froggie), I know that I am not alone.
There are examples I can think of, right off the top of my head.
- A mother was looking forward to having a girl, and when her first baby was a boy she was totally blown out of the water. She didn’t even want to hold him. Or do anything for him. For a couple of days.
- The mother was in terrible pain as she gave birth, and needed what we call “extensive repairs” – lots of stitches. She was so shell-shocked by the whole experience – the baby needed help breathing and a quick check by the pediatrician too. Once the baby was okay the mom said she wasn’t ready to hold the baby yet – for hours. (BTW – did you know that “shell-shocked” is the old term for PTSD?)
- A family had a child with lots of physical and developmental problems. When her next baby was born, she told the doctor to give the baby to the dad. She pushed out the placenta, got washed up a bit by the nurse, then brushed her hair and put on her makeup. Meanwhile the dad was telling her, “It’s okay, this is not last time…this baby is just fine.” Finally she asked Dad for the baby, then turned to me and said, “I just need to get my wits about me before I meet her for the first time.”
All of these women became really wonderful moms – I know, I saw them later interacting with those kids! But we need to realize that sometimes it takes a while for your real baby to merge with your dream baby….to process our birth experiences….sometimes to grieve our birth experiences….And sometimes a little sleep and a little TLC!
Marshall Klaus, a respected neonatologist and observer of moms and newborns, suggests that as many as 30% of moms do not immediately fall in love with their babies. Moms who experienced difficult births or babies who had a surprise come with them (needing a resuscitation, a baby with a birth defect, a baby whose heart rate did funky things during the birth) have a harder time.
Reva Rubin was a nurse researcher and theorist, back before nurses did much researching and theorizing! (Well actually, Florence Nightingale was a theorist – her big theory was, “keep the environment clean and bright and everyone will get better faster.” Works for me. )
In 1961, she published an article in Nursing Outlook that articulated what she saw in the hospital with new moms, in that early postpartum period. She described three phases of new motherhood:
- Taking-in: Rubin suggested this period would last 2-3 days. The mom would be preoccupied with her own needs, would need to “take-in” the fact that she was no longer pregnant, and would need to talk through her birth experience. (Note that we send most moms home from The Birthing Center before Rubin’s Taking-in period is over.)
- Taking-hold: As mom’s needs are met, she assumes responsibility for her newborn. This is the time when a mom is able to learn about baby care. (When I walk into a room and say, “let me cue up the DVD for you” I just laugh on my way out. The mom is gazing at the baby and I know she could care less about The Happiest Baby on the Block!)
- Letting-go: Rubin suggests that once moms get to around five weeks, they let go of their old, non-mother self, and “let themselves go” when it comes to loving this new baby. I suppose a new mother with a seventh baby would let go of her image of herself as mom of six and take on Mom of Seven!
What were those early days and weeks like for you? Did you fall immediately in love with your baby? Did it take a while? I’d love to hear your stories….