The short version
Everyone’s birth and bonding story is unique but for most new parents the reality of labor and recovery is different from their ingoing expectations. My son was born in 2014 and I struggled in the transition to parenthood. I was completely overwhelmed. I internalized my inability to be the parent I had imagined I would be as a personal failure. To make matters worse, my baby was very colicky and I blamed myself for not being able to soothe his crying and help him sleep better. I loved him from the moment he was born. I loved when he sank into my arms and I loved hearing his baby squeaks, but I did not bond with him right away. I also had an undiagnosed postpartum mood disorder that lasted over a year. When I finally came out of the fog, I realized my experience did not have to be so difficult.
They say it takes a village and looking back, that is what I needed. I needed more support. My new family needed more support. Not every new parent's experience is like mine. Many parents have much sunnier experiences. However, no parent will say that becoming a parent was a piece of cake. Having the right level of support and access to the right information makes that transition much smoother.
The long version
My son was born in 2014. I did not sail into parenthood. Some experiences I had and the emotions I felt still feel very fresh and in some cases very raw. I expected the transition to parenthood to be natural. I knew it would be hard work but I also expected it to be like any other challenge I had faced in the past. Professionally I had done well and I was no stranger to hard work. I assumed a little determination would help me through a steep learning curve when I became a parent. I was ill prepared for what I would face and I had not planned for any help.
Labor & delivery
I worked until the day I went into labor. I had attended a full-day birthing class and walked away thinking I would be baking cookies and watching movies during labor. I was probably not the best student in that class. Luckily, I also remembered how to time contractions. Labor and delivery was quicker than expected and I felt pretty unprepared once I was in the middle of it. I had one small scare but overall the delivery was normal. We had a son, I was a mom.
Bringing baby home
I cried when we were getting ready to leave the hospital. I was overcome with fear, not the emotion I expected. It was going to be my husband and I, with this little person. My mom offered to stay with us for a week and my husband took two weeks off. In hindsight, this wasn't enough. I was overwhelmed – the intense discomfort of recovery, the pain of breastfeeding, the extreme sleep deprivation, the around the clock care of an infant, the piles of laundry, the cooking and cleaning that doesn’t get done, the isolation of being at home with a newborn.
From the moment my son was born, I had a strong desire to protect him and care for him but it took a 2-3 months for me to bond with him. Bonding with a baby is like falling in love but better - all of the butterflies and none of the anxiety about whether the feelings are mutual. This is your body's positive feedback loop and it is wonderful. I did not have that. I tried desperately to do everything right but when I fell short of being the parent I imagined I should be, I felt completely inadequate. I did not get to enjoy my baby as much as I should have.
Baby blues & more
My experience becoming a parent was shaped by the baby blues that started as soon as I got home. I had anxiety attacks, cried often, felt guilt about the smallest things, and was afraid of being alone. Every time an anxiety attack came on, I knew what was happening but was unable to stop it. When I contacted my doctor she told me these baby blues would pass. That was the only time I asked for help. It took me over a year to feel like myself again.
Everyone’s birth and bonding story is unique but for most new parents the reality of labor and recovery is different from their ingoing expectations. Most of our friends and family do not tell you the “truth” about labor and the transition to parenthood because 1) they don’t want to scare you, and 2) they forget. The first few months are a blur of chaos and happy moments. The further away you are from that first year, the less of the chaos you remember. The happy memories are the ones that linger. I look back on my experience that first year and realize it didn’t have to be as hard as it was.
There is a whole ecosystem of caring professionals whose mission is to help new parents transition into parenthood. My goal is to help parents find the care they need.
My experience after the birth of my second child was completely different. There were and still are moments of complete physical and mental exhaustion but I was more prepared. I had a lot of help. I took better care of myself and watched out for signs of postpartum anxiety. I had realistic expectations. I knew how to take care of a newborn. This time, I was able to enjoy all the good stuff so much more.