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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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!)
  3. 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….

One thought on “How a Mother Learns to Love”

  1. I fell head over heels in love with my first son. Labor wasn’t what I expected or planned for (let’s face it…first time around we have so many expectations!) but the moment he was born and Raine placed him on my chest I started nursing him and it was all over from there. I loved that baby more than I had ever loved before. It was perfect.

    Then I became pregnant with my second son. I wanted a girl. Mistake number one. I was fairly upset for a while…until I got sick. I was losing weight (starting weight at the beginning of pregnancy was 100 lbs and ended at 107) I was in constant intestinal pain, I was having 13-15 bowel movements a day, I was peeing brown, I was pooping white, I was more depressed than ever. And while I do love my couch…at that time my couch was my only friend. I had friends, sure. My husband was there for me, of course. But nothing was alive in my world but me and my couch. I hated this terrible parasite growing inside me. I despised it. I wanted to name it Vladimir after Dracula. I proclaimed to my husband that I wouldnt nurse “it” and I didn’t care if it died in labor. It was a possibility. It was. I had Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy. I was sick and nothing could cure me save getting this….thing..out of me. Well, long story short I went into preterm labor and naturally birthed him up at DHMC. He was mostly healthy and needing to be monitored over at the INCU. I pushed him out, they took him away, they let me hold him or 3 minutes, no nursing, no skin on skin, just two puffy faces staring blankly at eachother. Strangers. They whisked him away and I told DH to go with him. We were responsible for it after all. And then I slept. Finally a few hours later, I let the nurses clean up my body and wheel me to my son who was tubed, bottle fed, and roasting under a heat lamp. I didnt feel like he was mine. I was happy to have him out of me. I “loved” him….I didnt love him. For five days in the INCU I struggled with what was once so natural. We brought him home and I went back to work two months later. Just another mouth to feed.

    Then I quit my job, for lots of reasons. I stayed at home with my 14 month old who I didnt know, and had given up on nursing. And now in the past four month I can finally say I love my son. I love that little boy more than I thought I ever could. This gift in the form of being broke and not being able to go get my nails done has been the best blessing Felix and I could ever have had. We have bonded. We have our own language. He trusts me.

    Now with number three on the way, its scary. I dont know what will happen and I dont know what medical condition we will all be in when s/he gets here….but I know you can find love. You can 🙂

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