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Thursday, 7 July 2011

I Missed My Connection

Detached.  Apathetic.  Determined.

Not words you’d expect a mom to use when describing her emotions towards her new role.  I had a new job and I attacked it the way I knew how.  I read up on it, watched relevant programs, asked friends and family about their experiences, then formulated a plan.  I expected it to be hard.  I expected not to get much sleep.  I even expected the unexpected.  I figured love would get me through. That inexplicable bond between mother and child would carry me through the difficult patches.

I had not expected that part to be one of my biggest challenges.

I loved my daughter from the beginning. I loved her before I knew she was a she.  My love began pretty much the moment I saw the word “pregnant” on the test and was solidified when I saw her bopping around the screen during my first ultrasound.  I cried when she was born and declared she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I gave her big kisses and cuddles and couldn’t help staring at her while I tried to get my head around the fact that the baby I was holding was mine.  That she was the same thing that had been squirming and jumping inside my belly just hours before.  I lay there in the hospital bed, enjoying tea and toast while I breastfed this little tiny being for the first time.  I doubt I’d describe the feeling as natural but that made it feel all the more amazing. It was like primal instincts were at work because both of us were clearly novices yet things seemed to be going relatively well.

I shook my head, trying to clear my mind and stop the surreal out of body experience I seemed to be having. 

Did I really just have a baby? 

The next thirty-six hours were under the same haze.  Everything was still somehow running on auto-pilot even though each minute brought on something else I’d never done before.  I fumbled around trying to get diapers on, open a pack of wipes, scrape off the odd substance called meconium.  She had her first paediatrician appointment.  They showed me how to bathe her.  I was encouraged to keep a feeding/changing chart.  I went through the motions, thankful that I was able to keep up, for the most part.

My Dad welcomed us home and held his grand-daughter for the first time.  He sat there silently looking at her, never one to say the word ‘love’ out loud, with the emotion clearly visible on his face.  Throughout the next week, my husband and he took turns holding her when I wasn’t feeding her.  I watched with awe and envy at how natural the love and instant the bond seemed to be when they were around her.  Perhaps it was the strain of labour, the antibiotics I was taking, the sleep deprivation I was feeling. I was sure once the effects of these faded, I’d begin to feel more normal.  I’d start to feel like a mom somehow. I’d know in my heart that this little baby belonged to me.

The days passed and I watched this little girl grow and change almost before my very eyes.  We took an obscene amount of photos, desperate to catch every significant moment on film.  My Dad left, my husband went back to work, and I worked to get my baby on a relatively regular routine. She ate, I changed her, I handed her off to Daddy or put her on her tummy on the floor, she looked around at the world, she yawned, I swaddled her and put her to bed, I rested or ate myself while she slept.  And repeat. Repeat again. And Again. And again.  And again. 

I still felt like I was watching the world through a haze.  Everything felt so surreal but it still felt like that weird floaty feeling I’d had so many times before after an all-nighter or long string of short nights before a crit.  I still felt numb.  I still felt no connection. 

I reassured myself. This was all very normal. The ante-natal instructor had told us that only about 1 in 5 women have an instant bond with their babies. 

Everything takes time.  Just watch her, cuddle her, interact on a human level with her and the bond will come. 

Friends who had become mothers before me had told me about the baby blues. Hormones were the culprit of all the tears.  It didn’t feel natural but that was just because it was all new.  This tiny human was not predictable and didn’t know what she wanted and even if she did, communicating it was out of the question.  Of course it was hard for me.  I was expected to figure out the needs of someone who couldn’t figure it out herself.  I just needed to get some patience and to persevere.

So I did best I could.  I smiled at her. I sang to her. I cuddled her. I took her for walks. I stuck to a routine so I could anticipate which need might be the most likely.  The health visitors told me she was thriving.  Friends and family told me I looked really well.  Inside, I felt nothing more than a milk machine.

I didn’t feel anything for this baby. 

Yes, I did love her.  I even thought she was lovely, and cute, and an amazing little human.  But I didn’t go all gooey when I looked at her.  I didn’t get teary when she outgrew her newborn clothes. When she rolled over, I consulted the book to see if she was on target and showered her with praise as the book recommended. Did it really last this long?  How long would it take before I felt something when she looked at me, when she curled her tiny hand around my finger?

My sister was visiting when little miss smiled for the first time.
I said, sure of myself, “It’s gas, I’m sure of it.” 
“No no, it was a reaction to you. It was a smile.” 

I still didn’t believe it.  She smiled again when the health visitor was there, so two people had confirmed it. I took it as true and dutifully wrote it down in her baby book.  I couldn’t understand how she’d smiled yet. And at me. She was small but surely she could see through this façade.  Surely she could tell I was just going through the motions.  Did she really feel something when she saw me? Sure, I thought she was lovely and cute and amazing but I felt no huge connection. Not really. 

How crap is that? 

My baby was a few weeks old and someone else had to tell me it was a real smile?  Instead of being like most moms seeing smiles through gas, here I was trying to explain it away. 

Perfect strangers told me to enjoy this time as it was the best time in their lives.  Other moms gushed about savouring every moment because before I knew it, they’d be grown.  That it’s the early years that really formulate them into the people they’re going to be. 

This is the best it gets?!?!?  S**t

Savour every moment??!?  I’ve felt so numb through it all, how many of the important moments had I missed??!?

It’s hard work but the rewards are worth it?!?!?  Where the f**k are the rewards?!?!

Some friends had reassured us, the first twelve weeks are pretty rotten but it gets better when they start making sounds like they’re trying to communicate.  I tried to stick it out.  That’s why I couldn’t bond with her.  She was just a lump that pooped, ate, and slept.  I needed interaction.

Of course I didn’t fall in love with her right away.  I needed to see her personality emerge for that bond to be complete.

Twelve weeks came and went.  I sought help.  I started counselling and anti-depressants.  The health visitor and my counsellor separately suggested I attend a local ‘bonding with baby’ course. I was incredibly offended.  Who were they to try and interfere with my relationship with my daughter? My baby and I were learning how to communicate with each other. I knew, within reason, when she was hungry or tired or needed changing. She smiled and engaged people, actively trying to get them to interact with her. She was positively textbook on the weight and physical milestones.  She seemed happy.  What could I possibly get out of that class?  How much more could someone connect to a smiling lump?  We were okay, weren’t we?

I continued to do everything the books and counsellors recommended. (save the classes or groups…another topic for another day)  I took pictures of every move she made, face she pulled, new development she conquered.  She developed a sense of humour and I did my best to capture it on film.  I was so happy when she laughed for the first time.  She would giggle when my husband played with her so I encouraged him to do so as much as possible.  I thrived on it, trying to soak up the natural connection they had with each other.

I don’t remember how old she was when I first played with her and it felt natural.  My husband pointed it out.

“That,” he said, “was your real laugh.”  We both smiled in relief.  It was going to be okay.

To be continued...


Laura Savage said...

I am glad you sought help at the advice of your friends and family. Keep that chin up. The best is yet to come!

Sandra Sutherland said...

Thanks. I feel like I should write a post to reassure people it's not all bad but I promised myself I'd be honest about my journey on here. Very hard to think about, even harder to see written, but it feels good to have it out there. Your support is really helpful. I see glimpses of the light at the end of the tunnel but it's a while away yet.

The Boy and Me said...

This has sat in my inbox for days because I wanted to read it but hadn't had a chance before now. I'm glad I did, it's a stunning post; raw, real and honest.

I think you'll find most mums agree with you; in the first few weeks you don't really get anything back and it is boring and soul-destroying (IMHO). It's only when they can interact with you that you know that they love you and need you. You may not have picked up on her need for you at first; the fact that she'd only calm for you, etc. I didn't until my mum pointed it out to me.

I think I survived in a haze for the first three weeks, I loved The Boy with my entirety but it was only when he was rushed into hospital, unconscious and in an ambulance, at three weeks old, that I realised how much I couldn't survive without him. It was at *that* point that I connected with him and saw what I had. From that point on he was mine.

Fantastic post.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Such a wonderfully honest post which has actually left me stuck for something to write!! I didn't suffer PND so can't really comment on that as I have no knowledge of it but what you have told us here is something many new mums go through. It is difficult to bond with a baby when all they do is cry, feed, poo and sleep.

Beautiful post. Seriously beautiful.
CJ xx

Hayley Carter said...

Hi Sandy - just found your blog. I'm recovering from PND too, and I wish you all the best. I too write a blog - - which is actually quite humerous (it was theraputic to know the real, funny me was still in there somewhere!). Have a read if you fancy a giggle. Good luck for the future.

Christina Thomas said...

I can relate to this one. Interesting that you mentioned recording milestones in her baby book. For me, I knew something was not right when I found myself unable to write anything in Philip's baby book. Mine was a monthly book which had an outline to follow like "New thing baby did this month," and "My favorite activity with baby."! I found it frustrating that I could not think of anything positive, so I put the book away. It was another reminder that I was not the mother I was "supposed to be." After seeking help/treamtment I tried to go back and put a positive spin on some months, but in the end I decided It was ok if Philip did not have a baby book. Instead I have a box full of momentums, like his hospital band and a lock of hair. When Theo was born I never once thought to buy a book.

Sandra Sutherland said...

My goodness, you have no idea how good it feels to know 'normal moms' feel these things too!! In the early days of PND, I found myself constantly questioning what most new moms feel and what were signs of PND. I have stopped doing that but it's nice to know some of these things I have recorded (and will write about in future) strike a chord with other moms of various experiences.

this is us said...

lovely honest post, and an optimistic end.....
I imagine alot of Mums go through some slight form of this, especialy with a first child, it is quite a shock to the system, but with PND, it must be so hard. Nat

Sheila H said...

Reading blogs like this, it brings it all back, I wish I had had blogs and the internet available back when I had these conflicting emotions with being a new Mum back in 1994 and 1998, I felt so alone with it back then!

Sandy Sutherland said...

Sheila, I wish I'd realised how many other women write about this online when I was going through the hardest and lowest bit last year. I started this when I thought I was 'better' to share with others and have since realised that I've still got a ways to go to say I've truly survived this. Thanks for reading and for commenting.