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 briefly even underwent a couple of stress management classes that were taken up by a reputed mental health counselor, at Legacy Healing. 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