Love at First Sight?

Amanda Dunbar, IBCLC, Tyne and Wear, UK

Originally published May 2015

Does motherhood come with that rush of love at first sight? I think, like many mothers-to-be, I expected to fall head over heels in love with my baby the first minute I saw her. We have all heard about the rush of love that comes at first sight, but do we all experience it on first meeting our babies?

At the birth of my first daughter, I looked at her for the first time, thinking, “Did I make this? Can I take her home?” I’m not sure I remember any rush of love.

My last baby was a in a brow presentation, that is the largest area of her head was trying to fit through my pelvis during birth. When she was born, she was bruised and swollen looking as though she had done ten rounds with Mike Tyson! I can remember crying with joy at my son’s birth. He had opened his bowels all over me, yet John and I were bursting with happiness. But, when this last baby was ready to be born and it was time for my son to leave me in hospital, he had to be peeled off me crying. This new little girl was the cause of our separation. It was heart breaking for me.

There was no rush of love. She was not very pretty but she needed me. However, I put her to my breast and she stayed there for a very long time, and my love grew. That little girl is ten years old now and very close to me, but I still have that guilt about why I did not love my wonderful child at first sight.

This feeling is something we mothers do not often talk about. So, when F, a mother in our La Leche League group, was honest enough to share her sense of guilt about not feeling a rush of love for the beautiful four-day-old girl in her arms, I knew we had to talk about it. I reassured her that it was normal and with mothering through breastfeeding love can grow and grow. Following this disclosure, I decided, for F’s benefit, to start a conversation in our Facebook group around this subject. I knew this mother and I were not alone, but I needed to show her that. I have permission to share some of the other mothers’ experiences.

Emma. “I expected something like in the films, where everything in the room fades out and it’s just the two of you in a bubble of happiness. Instead, all I felt was confusion, tiredness, and hunger. I hadn’t had the birth I wanted at all due to the little tinker getting stuck. I couldn’t cuddle her while I was being stitched up and I felt sick. When we got to the ward, all I wanted to do was sleep. Then followed a mass of visitors and a struggle to breastfeed. I felt awful and she did not want to be with anyone but me!

It was a gradual thing for us—I fell in love with her over a period of weeks. I mean, I always loved her and worried about her, but I just didn’t feel connected. Now I can’t imagine life before Katy. Her face lights up my day! I love her more than I thought I was capable! I wouldn’t change being a mammy for anything.”

Victoria. “I didn’t get a rush of love at all. They produced this baby and I remember thinking, ‘Is that it? After all that.’ I’d had a tough time! I remember the midwife saying, ‘Look your baby has opened his eyes,’ and thinking that I was a lot more concerned about what the man with the big scissors was doing! It was hard to bond having such real difficulties with breastfeeding. But we have a really strong bond now. I still suffer from separation anxiety and would do anything for him. But it did take time. I think there is a lot of pressure to feel a certain way after childbirth and so people don’t always like to admit they didn’t. I cared for him and I felt protective, but I didn’t fall in love with him until later.”

Nikki. “I love both my children more than they will ever know but it took time with both. Throughout the worry of pregnancy, I had never allowed myself to believe they would arrive. Instead of love, I felt relief and pride. I have a very warped level of self-confidence in that I don’t think I’m good enough, which I believe I projected briefly on to my children, waiting for confirmation that I was allowed to love them. There is no logical reason for this and I grew to love them. I let nature take its course, as I became the most important person to them. I believe I earned my own self-approval and that allowed me to fully accept I am a mother. My little girl has grown to be loving and kind and my boy is a ray of sunshine: they are perfect. Just like in any relationship, it takes time for love to grow and it’s just an amazing feeling when you do get there.”

Emma. “I had IVF to conceive my little girl and thought because she was wanted so much, the love would flow out of me! For some reason it didn’t. I had a traumatic birth, ending in an emergency c-section. I remember being in a small bubble when she came out and we had skin-to-skin, which was amazing, but for some reason it didn’t feel real. I remember crying when I got home from the hospital because I felt like a bad mam for not being in love with my baby. However, after a rocky start with breastfeeding (a tongue-tie snipped at four weeks), we are now 18 weeks in and I believe the breastfeeding has helped me fall in love with my daughter. There are changes every day and I love her so much I could burst! Try not to beat yourself up, it will happen. Pregnancy and birth are hugely overwhelming.”

Another mother outside the group shared her initial reaction on first seeing her baby.
Rachel. “I don’t know what I was expecting—but the reality didn’t live up to my romantic expectations. I had cute little baby clothes, but I didn’t want photographs of this alien-looking creature. After holding her at my breast and staring at her for many hours, over the first few weeks, she blossomed into the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, despite her baby acne and cradle cap.”

The morning after we had this late-night discussion on our Facebook group’s wall, I got a message from F, saying, “Thank you, it really helped reading that!”
Mother-to-mother support, the best there is!