Aleteia

What happened when I couldn’t love my newborn son

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It's more common than you think, and there's help.

It is important for us to understand that babies, even in the womb, are like a sponge absorbing our emotions, and that what we feel will remain imprinted in their emotional memory. Everything is recorded, including our reaction when they were placed in our arms for the first time. For women, the birth of a child is one of the most important events in our lives. It is assumed that motherhood comes full of positive emotions, pleasant sensations, and wonderful moments. But we know that is not always so.

In fact, for many women, maternal instincts do not kick in immediately, which makes those mothers feel guilty, as if they were “bad mothers.”

As soon as their baby is born and placed in their arms, at their breast… what do they feel? Nothing! Thankfully, nature is wise, and in a very short time that “nothing” becomes “everything.”

An unexpected pregnancy

I remember the birth of Tommy, my first child. To begin with, it was a pregnancy that I did not expect. A few weeks after I got married, I found out that I was pregnant, and I cried — out of fear! How I regret that moment.

At that time, I did not know that my son could already feel whether he was being rejected or accepted. I was newly married, living outside my home country, and far from my family; becoming a mother so soon made me feel fear, anguish… terror!

For his part, my husband was the happiest man on earth, and his support was fundamental in helping me transform my negative emotions into happiness and joy. I wanted those nine months to fly by to have that little child in my arms.

We decided to return to our country so that our son could be born close to our families. After being married 9 months and 15 days, I went into labor. After almost 12 hours of indescribable pain, I felt exhausted to the point where it seemed I simply could not carry on.

Only those who are mothers will understand when I say that I swore this would be the last time I would ever go through that agony. With each child, we say the same thing!

Meanwhile, my husband was as happy as ever, enjoying and recording every moment – while I wanted to kill him because he was the cause of my suffering. There he was, recording everything, while I was desperate, exhausted, and drained.

What do you mean, “we” are in labor?

“Here in the hospital, we are already experiencing labor pains. Smile at the camera. Say a few words, darling… ” While I responded, “We? … moron!” Actually, I think I used much stronger language, because “we” were not in labor pains: the one writhing in pain was me!

Finally, after I was given an epidural twice, my little boy was born. And as soon as he was delivered, without cleaning him up or anything, they placed him on my chest.

I was scared and exhausted, and the expression on my face said, “What?” It was one of those feelings that pass quickly. Inside I was asking myself, “What am I supposed to do with him? What should my reaction be? Should I hug him, or what? Help!”

There he was, my baby, placed upon my breast, covered in… well… of all stuff that newborns are covered in, while the doctor was busy sewing me up.

A flood of emotions

Many emotions, sensations, and thoughts seemed to overwhelm me like a tsunami in the blink of an eye. I could not hug him. I just watched him and touched him with the tips of my fingers. I could not express in any other way my love for him, or welcome him into this world — and how I regret that.

I am among that percentage of moms whose maternal instinct did not burst forth ipso facto with the arrival of their first child, and that made me feel very guilty. Later, I understood that there is nothing wrong with not feeling joy at that moment.

Once home from the hospital, for many nights we did not sleep — literally. My husband and I were glued to the baby to monitor his breathing. A few days later, my son was very irritable; he did not want to eat, though he was not sick. He kept crying – and I with him.

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Tears, and more tears

I remember feeling as if nights and days were both endless. Whenever he slept, I would lock myself up in a room and cry. I was bothered by the presence of people. Friends would visit me and I would leave them sitting in the living room chatting with my mother because I could not tolerate being in anyone’s company.

I particularly allowed myself to bawl in the shower, so that the running of the water would drown my screams and tears. I thought I was losing my mind. I did not understand what was happening to me. I only knew that something was wrong, but I did not understand what or why.

How frightening those sensations were! I felt a terrible loneliness. Whenever I would look at my baby, I would cry even more; I felt ungrateful for not enjoying this enormous gift I had received from life.

I truly wanted to feel joy and happiness, but I could not. The tears came against my will.

The change

Suddenly, I felt compelled – though no one told me to do it – to talk to my baby, to express how I felt, and to touch him often. I would lay him on my bosom so that he would listen to my heart beat, and I would constantly tell him that he was not responsible for me feeling this way, asking his forgiveness for transmitting to him my sadness.

At that time, I did not know that the “baby blues” experienced by some first-time mothers was a known phenomenon, and that this included mood swings, irritability, crying for no reason, or increased emotional sensitivity. Nor did I know that I should observe those changes in myself and see that they did not extend or become more intense, since I ran the risk of seeing the transient “baby blues” become postpartum depression.

Soon I noticed that, if I was at peace, my baby did not cry and slept all night. All my attitudes, my moods, and even what I ate, affected my son. I understood that he and I had an impressive emotional connection and that I was his thermometer.

Everything I did or did not do with my son at that time has repercussions to this day. In fact, I developed the habit of playing background music, one song in particular, where the sound of running water and the chirping of birds can be heard in the background. Such was its effect then, that to this day, any time my son feels sad, anxious or irritated, if he listens to that same melody his stress level lowers automatically. He says he feels very peaceful and that the chirping of the birds reminds him of me because every time he woke up and cried, I would whistle to him in what sounded like the chirping of the birds, as a signal to him that I had heard him cry and was on my way to rescue him from his cradle.

Be prepared

It is important for women who want to be mothers to be prepared to go through this. The most important thing is to be informed about what is normal to feel or experience, and what is not, and what should be done. This does not have to be difficult; we can start by talking to our own mothers, or to sisters or friends who have already had children — there’s a good chance they have experienced “baby blues” or know someone who has. There are also abundant resources on line nowadays.

It is also important to be aware that babies feel and hear absolutely everything, even in the womb: love, rejection, acceptance, sadness, anger, screams, moods… everything!

Therefore, mothers should do everything possible to carry their pregnancy as healthily as possible, both emotionally and physically. Equally, they should try to live the postpartum period in an environment of tranquility, love, and peace.

You will suffer the effects of hormonal changes, and you cannot control them, because it is a natural process in your body. But what you can control are their consequences, making these as bearable as possible. This will prevent you from going from normal “baby blues” to a much more disturbing condition.

This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia, and has been translated and adapted here for English-speaking readers by Martha Fernández-Sardina.

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