Two Very Different Love Stories

When you met your baby for the first time did maternal instinct kick in immediately? Or was the bond more of a slow-burner? Today we’ve got a guest post from Anna, a psychotherapist and mama of two boys who’s sharing her story about the very different bonding experiences she had after she gave birth to her two sons.

The assumption is that Mothers experience an instant flood of love for their newborn, an incomparable maternal bond. Is this always true? Or does it just add pressure and negate the fact that it’s not always about the immediacy of falling in love with your baby, but it can be something that grows in depth and breadth with time.

As a Psychotherapist with years of experience working with mothers experiencing mental health struggles, I have the knowledge and tools to help them. Then, I had my own children. After having my second baby, I battled through the lows of postnatal depression. I have found writing about my experience to be therapeutic.

I fell in love with my first baby, Oscar, immediately. As for my second, it wasn’t that simple. Here is my story.

Baby O

I caught you in my hands and swept you up through the water, hugging you into my chest. Your first cry escaped from your little, gaping, blue mouth. Your scrawny body, your folded limbs and wrinkled skin flooded with a soft pink hue as you took your first, hungry breaths. You rose and fell with the sobs that escaped my exhausted lips. I did it.

I fell into my hospital bed after cold, anaemic toast and sugary, tepid tea. Such an unappealing meal never tasted so divine. Despite being awake for two solid days, I ushered sleep away that night. All I wanted to do was to stare in pure wonderment at your sleeping face, bathed in the blue glow of my hospital room. I lay gazing, to the soundtrack of soft footsteps and distant digital beeps. I was high on a ferocious love in which my heart groaned with a sudden, stretching increase in capacity. It would swell every time my eyes met your face, or each time you came to mind. You’d not done a single thing, but you’d won me wholeheartedly.

I loved you immediately, hopelessly, vulnerably. And just when I didn’t believe I could possible love any more, I fell more in love as I discovered you.

Baby C

You entered the world in that very same pool, a mere 20 months later. Instead of winter darkness veiling the windows, summer sunshine danced in slivers through the slatted blinds. Your quiet birth gave way to chaos as people crowded the room, urgently attempting to remove a stubborn placenta. They were successful, and we carried you out, small and so new, a mere 5 hours later. Moments down the road, we arrived home to the welcome of family. We sipped champagne whilst your brother cooed over your blinking little face.

I didn’t devour a night alone with you or gaze upon your face in soft blue light. There were no lazy lie-ins. We didn’t spend your Daddy’s paternity leave recovering from long nights with box-set binges whilst you lay nestled between us on crumpled white sheets.

The first three weeks at home passed, fuelled by adrenaline, and a crash course in learning how to manage two young children. I had extra hands of support, before all help left, back to work and normal life. The usual toe curling, breastfeeding pain of the early days didn’t stop. And your frustration and pain became increasingly evident. Health Visitors, lactation consultants, midwives and GPs were kind, and well meaning, but none could explain or understand the cause or effect of your constant cries. It took months to label your distress.

I wanted so desperately to love you more, to feel compelled to nuzzle your face and neck. I felt a fierce, lioness protectiveness. You were my young. On one hand I had your chatty, affectionate brother, and on the other, a baby who did little more than scream or claw at my chest. There was little reverie, only survival. I didn’t know you, and it seemed that you didn’t like me.

Your first six months sauntered by. A mixture of troubleshooting, frantic internet searches, confusion and second-guessing.

And then, one day, the sun broke through the clouds. A rainbow of rich and potent colour threw a prism against a grey and stubborn sky.
Change, world-changing change had been just a breath away and I didn’t know it.

Suddenly, your smiles brightened your face more freely. Your back arching screams ceased. You gobbled up hungrily every morsel I put in front of you. I delighted in cooking for you, finding such joy that my efforts pleased you. You started to look at me with a look of love, as if you were finding your comfort in my presence. I started to know you, to enjoy you, to see flickers of character in your generous giggles, and the way you gazed at your brother. I began to learn that you adored your baths, that lots of kisses made you grin a big, old man, toothless grin, and you delight in being naked!

Your brother shocked me with an increased capacity for love, whereas you taught me the incredible lesson of perseverance and alerted me to a strength I never knew I possessed. My love for you has grown, as deep as it is wide. You are my labour of love. We have won each other, and found our way deep into each others hearts.

But, my darling, you were worth every single moment.

And I can’t, for love nor money, stop kissing your gorgeous little face.

The damaging assumption that we ‘should’ feel a certain way as mothers works to pile on heavy maternal guilt. Instead of speaking to others about our experiencing and coming to the realisation that there is rich variety in the spectrum of normal, we swallow and hide them out of fear of judgement. It prevents us from seeking and accepting help, and encourages us to don the mask of the ‘coper’. To be vulnerable with one another is a tough decision, and to share our inner, messier stories isn’t easy. However, I passionately believe that this is one of the main weapons in the fight against postnatal depression, anxiety and other mental health issues that us mums face. Vulnerability breaks the strongholds of assumptions and deepens relationships. And isn’t there just huge relief in hearing the ‘me too!’?

No matter the extent of the knowledge I have about motherhood and mental health, that’s not what saved me. Being honest did.

Anna is a mum of boys and a Psychotherapist specialising in mums and mental health. She recently co-created Blöm Cards and is mostly found at @mamas_scrapbook chatting away about all things mind, motherhood and home.

Image from Walter’s nursery by Binky Nixon

The loves of Lisa’s life are Rich and their kids, Lyra and Jenson. Although she does wish they would let her have a shower in peace every once in a while.

22 Comments. Leave new

This is so beautifully written – a lovely ode to your two boys. When my daughter was born two and a half years ago I was distressed not to have that instant bond with her or that rush of love I’d heard so much about. I was induced and when we packed to go to hospital I was so excited to meet my little girl but when we left hospital a week later all I felt was nothingness. Juliet was born with an infection and didn’t cry properly or breathe properly so she was taken immediately to neonatal and given antibiotics whilst I was still being cleaned up and stitched. When she came back her temperature was too low and she had to stay on a heated bed. This meant that, although I wanted to pick her up and cuddle her, I felt like I had to ask permission and that she wasn’t really mine. The next day they thought her infection had spread to her brain and off she went for a lumbar puncture which luckily came back completely clear. However, the increased infection levels meant we had five extra days of antibiotics and we’d have to stay in the Hospital.

By the time we left I was so tired from doing the first week of nights on my own that I felt like a zombie and then struggles with breastfeeding meant I really didn’t enjoy the first weeks. I too felt fiercely protective of Juliet but also so stressed and so unlike myself I thought I was going mad. Then, when she turned six weeks old and we had moved to bottle feeding, she smiled at me! And I was so bloody delighted even the thought of it still brings a tear to my eye.

I remember reading other people’s birth announcements and their description of instant love and being angry that other new mums would see that and then feel bad about it if they don’t feel the same.

I am now 21 weeks pregnant with our second and am enjoying all the confidence that comes with doing it a second time around. If the same thing happens again with our baby I will try not to panic and trust in my abilities as a mother. Unless sleep deprivation sends me quite mad again!!!

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Oh love. Thank you so much for sharing some of your story in response to my blog post. I hear you with the breastfeeding issues too, and totally understand the sense of fierce protection. Congratulations on your pregnancy and yes to being patient with the process this time round. We all get there x

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Jennifer, thank you for sharing. I had almost exactly the same experience, it was so nice to read this and relate to it so much. Our little boy had to be taken to Neonatal almost immediately after his birth and stayed there for a few nights. It came as such a shock as we expected the birth to go a certain way and have that overwhelming rush of love and skin to skin cuddles. I knew I loved him and I too felt a huge sense of protectiveness but that deep connection wasn’t there. My little one is now four weeks and smiled at me yesterday, it made me so delighted too! The more time we spend together the more I can feel our connection getting stronger which is so lovely. Thank you for being honest as it has made me feel so much better!

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What a brilliant post and such an important point to highlight. I was another that didn’t instantly fall in love, the need to care for her and protect her was there but I didn’t feel the all comsuming love that I do now. I think I was just in shock looking back. It wasn’t really until we were home and my husband had gone back to work and it was just the two of us that I fell in love with her as I got to know her. Until that point I just felt a bit numb and scared of doing something wrong/people thinking I wasn’t good enough.

I am now quite pregnant with number 2 and often wonder if I will get that rush of love this time now know how great it is going to be (after you get through the deathly tired stage).

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The love comes. I think the first time can hopefully teach us how the love can grow rather than just feel like an overwhelming sense after labour. Be kind to yourself, and congratulations! Thanks so much for reading. Anna x

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Anna, I think you’re just brilliant and follow you on IG. Thanks so much for sharing this.

I think it’s so so important for all experiences across the motherhood spectrum to be shared, the good and the bad. I think someone shouldn’t feel bad for sharing a brilliant experience the same way they shouldn’t for sharing a difficult one.

I was fortunate to have exceptionally positive birth/bonding experiences but exceptionally hard pregnancies. I would hate to feel like I couldn’t share the positive for fear of upsetting anyone and equally that I couldn’t share the negative for fear of being judged.

The good/the bad, the positive/the negative – let’s share it all as you did in this post. Thanks so much again for sharing x

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Completely agree with this. So important that people feel comfortable to speak up whatever their experience xxx

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Yes!!! It’s so good to share the highs, the lows, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative. We are all in it together. Thanks for your kind words. Anna x

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I’ve been following Anna for ages so it’s lovely to see her on these pages, she writes so beautifully.

I don’t feel like I had a bond with my son until he was a few weeks old, like I loved him and he was my everything but I didn’t get that rush of euphoria when he was born or the overwhelming love that I now know exists.
I had a haemorrhage immediately after he was born by forceps so I saw his face for all of 30 seconds before he was taken away and I didn’t see him until about 5 hours later, so I was about the 6th person to even hold him and I felt so detached. He’d been fed from a cup and he just would not latch, so there stated a whole 4 week nightmare.

Safe to say 3 years later he’s my absolute world, and although we are still going through tough times (we are 7 months into a 2 year weekly chemotherapy treatment for him) he brings SO much joy to my life.

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So sorry to hear this Claire. Sending you and your little boy lots of love and strength. xx

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Hi lovely. I’m so sorry that you had such a rough time after your son’s birth. It must have been so hard to have to wait so long to see him. That makes my heart ache to think of. I really hope this chemo goes well. What a journey you’re on. I wish you all the best through the treatment and am sending you lots of love. Anna x

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Yep. After we lost Alexandra I was terrified that we’d lose Ophelia too. I went from not being able to put her down to barely being able to look at her. She was jaundice so a long stint in hospital plus back tongue tie made things even more heightened. It was definitely a slow burner for me; what was the point in loving too hard too fast if you have to prepare to say goodbye? That was how felt for weeks. Now she’s my squishy and she’s just utterly awesome xx

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Oh darling. I’m so sorry for your loss and it’s totally understandable that you’d fear another loss and would want to hold back to protect you from experiencing that pain again. I’m so glad you can enjoy her now. Thank you for sharing some of your story with us xx

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Oh my goodness all the hearts and tears. So beautifully written and exactly right, each baby/pregnancy teaches you something different.
My first was a difficult labour and hard first months but grew into an amazing funny loveable baby quickly. My second was a dream labour and I felt utter euphoric love the minute he arrived. However from 6 months on it has been a hard slog of screaming, no sleeping and a fierce determination to do things his way. He is now two and things are starting to improve as his communication is better.

‘You were my labour of love’ sums it up perfectly thank you xx

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Oh gosh, these babies can be so different can’t they. I think I expected a ‘copy and paste’ scenario the second time round. I’m glad that things are starting to improve now. Oscar really turned a corner in himself once he could start to communicate a little easier! x Anna x

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I don’t think I felt an instant rush of love with either of my girls but thankfully knowing that I’m not a hugely emotional person I wasn’t expecting those feelings so I didn’t feel bad about it. I knew I would come to love them fiercely and I was very excited to get to know them I just expected it to take time to adjust. I still feel a little perplexed when I hear people talk about this bolt of blinding love they felt the moment they saw their child. I want to say “but you don’t even know them, sure that depth of feeling is a slow burn?” but I know everyone’s experience is different. The only thing I felt a little bad about was when my second child was born for the first few months I knew that my first born was basically my favourite child. I know that sounds awful but I had so much love for her and the new baby was essentially a stranger so it did take a while before I could honestly say I loved them both equally.

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Yes! I love your honesty here and totally agree. Sometimes it’s a sense of love growing as you ‘get to know’ your baby. I really experienced this with Charlie. I know what you mean about feeling more o love for your older one, because you know them so well by that point. I really identify with this! Thanks. Anna x

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One of my well-meaning colleagues assured me when I was pregnant that I would experience this overwhelming rush of love for Lyra as soon as she was born. However my feelings were definitely more shock and nervousness about keeping this little being alive! It definitely took a few weeks for Lyra and I to bond. And she too became a different, much happier person when she turned six months and started to eat proper food. I think on reflection I should probably have weaned her much earlier! x

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Oh gosh yes! I always remember being let out of the hospital after having Oscar and being shocked that they’d just let us leave with a baby! Charlie started feeling happier once he started eating around six months. I think there can be so many digestive discomforts that ease around that time as the gut matures. I’m glad she’s a happy little lady x

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Beautifully written – thank you for sharing this. I had the euphoria of total devotion after my son was born – it was so powerful and all-encompassing. But this makes me feel ok if that doesn’t happen immediately with any future babies – each story is different.

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I can completely identify with this. When my son was born I was so exhausted and traumatized all I wanted to do was sleep. Then my placenta wouldn’t detach and I had to go for surgery so didn’t see him for a few hours. I always felt fiercely protective of him, I distinctly remember standing at the hospital doors not wanting to leave 2 days later as I felt he and I were safe there. But then I remember getting home and just feeling nothing, I remember putting on fake smiles and pretending I was so much happier than I was. It turned out I had PND which really affected my bonding with him. A midwife suggested doing a “re-birthing” a week or so later by having skin to skin with him in the bath (I’d wanted a water birth that didn’t happen) and it helped a little, but it really has been a slow burn for me. However, I actually love that now because I’ve fallen head over heels for him because of who he is, not just because he’s my blood. He is my absolute world and even though I don’t think I could love him anymore, everyday he does something which makes me fall more deeply. His baby brother is due in 9 weeks and while I would love to experience that rush this time round I’m trying to be more realistic about it as I know it will come eventually.

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I had IVF to conceive my twin girls. I then had a long stay in hospital to monitor my pre-eclampsia before they induced me. Induction starting the Friday morning, they were born the Sunday night. I had no epidural because the anaesthetist was ‘too busy’ and when I eventually received it (protocol dictates it has to be put in place at 8cm), I kept falling asleep as I was so tired. When they were eventually born, by foceps, I couldn’t have cared less – and then my husband was sent home an hour later and I was left in a complete state of shock, and I never really caught up to the tiredness (the first night we were home, I woke up screaming in terror as I was hallucinating there were mice crawling all over the babies). This experience meant it took me ages to bond. And the guilt of that (especially given all we had gone through to get pregnant) I carried for months and months and I never got that rush. It grew, and 4 years down the line I obviously love them more than anything, but I still have issues on how that was all ‘taken away’ from me. Much love to everyone that suffered x

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