Love is a choice, not a feeling.
When I was expecting my first child, I entered pregnancy with eagerness and anticipation. I expected pregnancy to go smoothly, and for it to be a fun time of expectation. I didn’t expect to be too sick to leave bed. I didn’t expect to feel physically miserable until I gave birth. I didn’t expect to suffer from depression during pregnancy and didn’t expect postpartum depression to be so severe.
I am not alone in my experience of pregnancy. For many women, pregnancy is not an enjoyable time. Whether from unpleasant symptoms, unwanted comments from everyone from family to strangers, or the normal stress that comes from growing a new human being, pregnancy is often much more challenging than women expect it to be. I’ve heard from many mothers (even mothers with easy pregnancies) that they love babies but hate being pregnant.
Many women feel guilty admitting that they hate pregnancy. Others feel bad admitting that they were not thrilled when they saw those two lines on the pregnancy test. Still others struggle with not feeling overwhelming feelings of affection for their newborn.
All these feelings are normal, though, and many women experience them. How can we cope with unwanted negative feelings around pregnancy and childbirth?
Have realistic expectations
Pregnancy and postpartum are physically and emotionally demanding times. A woman’s hormones fluctuate a lot during this time, and it’s not realistic to expect yourself to feel the way you normally would.
There’s a saying that “every pregnancy is different,” and it’s true. No two experiences of pregnancy (even in the same woman!) are the same. Your best friend, sister, or mother may have had few symptoms and been able to maintain their usual schedule during pregnancy. You may need to go on bedrest, suffer from pregnancy induced anemia, or have a baby in the NICU. Your experience may make it impossible for you to carry on with life as usual, and that’s alright.
Be patient with yourself
Becoming a mother (for the first time or the eighth time) is a major life change. Some people adapt to change very easily. For others, it is a much longer process. How long it takes you to adapt to motherhood can be affected by many factors, such as the strength of your support system, your health, your temperament, etc. Needing more time to adjust to a new phase of life is not a sign of weakness.
You may not feel the way that you expected to feel towards your baby. That is alright. Some mothers instantly feel bonded to their child, while it takes longer for others. Every mother and baby’s relationship is different. Not feeling a certain way is not a sign that you don’t love your baby or are a bad mother. It may just mean that you need more time to adjust.
Remember that love is a choice
I have had difficult pregnancies followed by postpartum depression with each of my four children (including the baby that I miscarried). The length of time that it took me to bond with each varied greatly, but I assure you that I am madly in love with each of them. When I was suffering from postpartum depression, I would often feel guilty that I didn’t feel a certain way towards my baby. In those moments, I would try to remind myself that love is not a feeling. Love is a choice.
It is easy to love someone when you feel affection toward them, but that isn’t necessarily true love. True love – as our faith reminds us, through the example of Christ – is a love that chooses to suffer for the sake of the beloved. Sometimes, that suffering is great, but often it is just little, hidden, and mundane. The love of a mother is less about feeling a certain way, and more about the daily commitment to care for and protect a child. Love is choosing to get up and feed the baby. Love is choosing to change yet another poopy diaper. Love is choosing to become pregnant, knowing it may mean unpleasant symptoms and painful labor. Love consists in the daily sacrifices of motherhood.
So, even when you don’t feel the way you expected to feel toward your child remember – love is more than a feeling. Love is the daily choice to care for your child, born or unborn. Love is choosing to persist, even when it is difficult.