“If the test is positive, a blue color will appear.” It
seemed easy enough, especially for someone with a degree in nursing. But
that morning at five o’clock, standing with urine in hand, I, for the life
of me, could not seem to comprehend even these simple instructions. “Define
blue,” I said to myself over and over again, puzzled by the countless shades
of possibilities. Yet in only a matter of seconds the Crayola perfect color
appeared on the stick: I was paralyzed.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love children. My husband and
I had spent months discussing the pros and cons of starting a family. We are
mature, educated adults. We hold good jobs and have a lot to offer a child.
So why then, on the morning of August 4th, did I run frantically into our
bedroom, hysterically waving a small blue stick at my unsuspecting mate?
Stretch marks? Maternity clothes? What was I thinking?
I don’t know how I made it through work that day or,
quite frankly, how my husband made it through the next nine months. By the
end, I had gained forty-five pounds, had three ultrasounds, one stretch
mark, and enough Lamaze literature to fill a small room. I attended showers,
designed a nursery and tolerated the strangers who patted my belly. Finally,
on April 12th at 7:30PM, I delivered a healthy and active baby boy.
Of course, I was thrilled to have delivered a healthy
child and even more so to have regained the use of my bladder and the sight
of my feet. But my new son looked nothing like I’d expected. For nine
months, I had anticipated delivering the perfect Gerber baby, yet somehow
this red haired, blue eyed, wrinkled up creature more closely resembled E.T.
To be honest, it was far from love at first sight. So much for the elation I
had expected to feel.
Afraid to admit my feelings to anyone, my confusion
turned to guilt. I felt guilty for wanting to sleep, for crying over what
was left of my once athletic body, and for waking up during my first night
in the hospital and wondering why I was there. There were other times too;
times when the guilt came from forgetting, just for a moment, that I was a
mother. Times when I heard my son crying and wondered how the six college
students living above us, had gotten a baby. Times when I caught myself
wondering whose child was screaming in the grocery store, surprised to find
it was my own. And yes, on occasion, there were times, many times, when I
secretly waited for his “real” mother to come.
Although there is humor in this story, its message is
no joke. The maternity world is filled with articles and advertisements
depicting the joy of childbirth and motherhood. Television commercials,
sitcoms and movies bombard us with happy images. Adjectives such as
“maternal elation,” intense bonding” and “euphoria” are often used to
describe the healthy mother’s emotion after a successful delivery. Yet
society provides little or no assurance for new mothers who fail to
experience this joy.
Medical, midwife, and nursing textbooks cite factors
such as pain, delivery length and complications as possible explanations for
negative maternal emotions and delayed infant bonding. Yet my delivery was
perfectly normal – six hours in length and medication-free. I was not
uneducated, unwed or exceptionally young. My pregnancy was planned; our home
was ready and the Lamaze bag packed. So why did I experience primarily
relief, exhaustion and fear as I held my newborn son? Was I wrong for not
feeling happy; for not feeling love? Was I simply too selfish to be a good
Perhaps the experts are concerned, as am I, with the
extreme case of a mother who flatly refuses to hold or care for her child.
Obstetricians, midwives and nursing staff have become increasingly aware of
the dangers of post partum depression and medical intervention is available
for those who continue to feel unattached or struggle to care for their
infant. But, in my case, I wasn’t depressed; in fact, I took excellent care
of my son. I just wasn’t thrilled with the job.
"Children drastically change your life. The joys they bring are
second to none, but no woman should be made to feel guilty or to
question her competency as a mother, based on her reaction to
So where are the articles for women like me? Articles
that warn new mothers that maternal/infant bonding may take time? Where are
the television commercials that depict a new mother gazing for the first
time at her infant with relief, exhaustion and fear? Clearly, these images
aren’t the norm and they certainly don’t sell products. But, in not
recognizing and accepting the fact that many healthy nurturing mothers do
not bond instantly with their infants, we leave these women with no
emotional support at a time when they need it most. In retrospect, it took
me four years and the birth of my third child to fully recognize the
tremendous burden of guilt this phenomenon can have on new parents.
The truth is that it’s okay if you don’t feel the “joy”
in childbirth. It’s also okay if you don’t fall instantly in love with the
screaming infant they hand you in the delivery room. For some, love takes
time. My son came into the world naked and screaming. Then thanks to colic,
he proceeded to scream night and day for the next four months. And although
my husband and I did our best to exchange “duties,” I remained mentally and
physically exhausted long after the delivery. Why then was I expected to be
thrilled with this change; to fall instantly love this child? Had the very
same child not robbed me of my identity, altered my physique and curtailed
Every parent is different, just as every pregnancy,
labor and delivery is different. For some this maybe mean a home birth or
delivery room full of family and friends; a room overflowing with physical
affection and emotion. For others, love takes time; its expression is
subtle, private and discrete. But regardless of your style, rest assured
that everyone, whether they admit it or not, has had normal feelings of
doubt, selfishness, fear and incompetence, both during pregnancy and after
delivery. Children drastically change your life. The joys they bring are
second to none, but no woman should be made to feel guilty or to question
her competency as a mother, based on her reaction to childbirth.
So, regardless of what you feel when the big day
arrives, relax and give yourself the gift of time. Because the truth is that
instant maternal infant bonding is not a prerequisite for a healthy long-term
Ann Lloyd has a PhD in Housing/Family Studies from
Virginia Tech. She is a creative non-fiction writer specializing in
education, reading, gifted children, parenting, homeschooling, and most
recently housing psychology, gender, marriage, and the Prince Charming myth.
She is an unschooling veteran and the author of two books: Just ‘Til I
Finish This Chapter and Tips and Tricks for Homeschooling Survival. Her work
has also been published in a number of homeschooling magazines, including
Life Learning Magazine.