When I was pregnant with Mikayla Rose, I often compared it to hell (I know, I am a great mom). I had a terrible experience… It started with severe nausea and vomiting (Hyperemesis Gravidarum) that lasted all day and all night for the entire duration of my pregnancy and it only got worse when my gynecologist at the time convinced me that there was no way that I would carry full term and that I would most probably suffer a miscarriage. I also apparently had very little amniotic fluid surrounding the baby. Subconsciously this resulted in me ‘disconnecting’ myself from my pregnancy and baby to some extent. It was stressful and I was depressed – I cried every single time we left the gynecologist’s office. This fear of miscarriage carried on up until about six months – waiting for the supposedly inevitable the whole time. My husband and I never shared this with anyone, it was confusing and private – and we still had hope.
We eventually decided to make an appointment at the Fetal Assessment Center in Cape Town to get a second professional opinion – the result? Baby is perfectly fine and normal, a little bit on the small side, but absolutely nothing to be alarmed about. That gynea pretty much ruined my pregnancy… Anyway…, we decided to rather go back to my hometown to have my family doctor deliver Mikayla – we carried a full term and the only reason for the emergency cesarean was that there were very high ketone levels in my urine and my constant vomiting was denying my body and my baby the nutrition we needed.
Everyone talks about that moment when they first lay eyes on their babies, when they felt this huge rush of love, when they knew they would give their life for this child in an instant, when their life hits this pinnacle of pinnacles. My moment wasn’t exactly like that, and it took me a while to realize that it was fine (and normal) too.
Mikayla weighed 2.9kg at birth and when I first saw her I felt joy, relief, and even awe… deep, huge awe that this was a real baby – that this was my baby and I was her mother. Here she was, little grasping hands and pouty lips. Suddenly this abstract idea in my belly had turned into a real little person. I knew I loved her and that she was beautiful and perfect, but something was missing. I was so heavily medicated at the time that I wrote this strange feeling off and left it at that. I felt like a bride at an arranged marriage. I knew that the baby in my arms would be hugely important in the rest of my life, but right now, we had just met. I couldn’t stop staring at her over the next few days – not because I loved her, yet, but because I wanted to get to know her so badly.
I was at home with Mikayla for about a month when I realized that I had Postnatal Depression, it was impossible to ignore it… and maybe that contributed to the lack of a bond I was feeling towards my child. Mikayla had colic, and I really struggled to breastfeed – no matter how hard I tried I just never had enough milk. This didn’t help at all, I felt like such a failure. I went to the doctor and was put on medication for the depression. It helped in some ways, but the bond was still missing… After two months I felt like I would lose my mind if I stayed at home any longer, so I started my new job – worst mistake ever. Not only was I not ready emotionally, but physically as well. I missed a lot of days at work due to either being sick or having really bad depression. After six months I resigned and started working at a different company doing kids clothing. I was doing really well and it lifted my spirits for a short while, but I still did not have my bond with my daughter.
It took some serious soul searching and long, deep contemplation for me to finally realize that this was my baby, my little girl, she did not die, she made it… we made it and she is here and I don’t have to worry about losing her. I actually only realized that I didn’t fall in love-at-first-sight with my baby about a year later, when I was feeling that kind of love that made my heart feel like it might burst. I finally felt the bond between us starting to grow. I could feel the roots of this love and unbreakable bond working their way into me as I kissed her padded cheeks and watched her while she slept. By the age of two it was undeniable and got stronger every day… now at the age of almost four, she is my life… my everything, my existence. I have never felt a deeper love or a stronger bond than I do with my daughter.
I think the insane after-pregnancy hormone cocktail actually made the love I was supposed to feel for my daughter attach itself to my husband. I had never loved him more intensely than in those first days when we came home from the hospital as a family, as I watched him hold our sleeping daughter on his chest, as I watched him, too, fall gradually in love with our child.
In retrospect it is clear that hitting the “pinnacle of pinnacles” after the birth of your child is actually really hard for some moms. Whether you have experienced a surgical birth or a non-surgical birth – your body has just experienced a trauma. I know everyone insists childbirth is “the most natural thing in the world”, but guess what? It can also be incredibly disarming and scary, especially if you are on an operating table, awake, while someone is pulling a human from your body – I’ve heard having one emerge from your vagina is also not the most relaxing thing in the world.
So don’t worry, rest assured in knowing that the day will come where you love your child so much it hurts. You are NOT a bad mom, you are human. You are amazing. You are loved and you will love, it sometimes just takes some time.