Can you remember the magical feeling when you looked into your newborn’s innocent eyes for the first time? When you instantly forgot the pain and exertion of childbirth and an all-encompassing wave of motherly love flooded your heart?
When tears of joy streamed down your cheeks as you marvelled at the beautiful, perfect being in your arms. And you knew that your life was complete and you would love this tiny creature beyond your last breath?
Well, I can’t.
I remember 16 hours of labour pain, 2 hours of pushing and the feeling of desperation over yet another unsuccessful attempt to get the job done. I remember an injection needle and scissors appearing between my legs and an episiotomy that still hurt months after the birth.
And I recall my first thoughts when the midwife finally placed the blood-covered bundle on my chest: “What am I supposed to do with this thing now? Can’t somebody else take it, please?”
No instant overwhelming rush of love. No motherly feelings. No happiness. Just exhaustion, anxiety and the ineffable dread of the unprecedented change my life was about to undergo.
In my first months as a Mum I often wondered whether I made a terrible mistake when I decided to have children. I grieved for the independence and freedom I lost. And I resented my little daughter for causing so much difficulty and complication and for not allowing me time for myself.
Sometimes I felt like running away. Like hiding in the tallest trees of the deepest forest never to return. I wanted to escape the thing that had stolen my life, identity and joy.
And the constant guilt was killing me. I was ashamed of myself for not being able to embrace motherhood and find happiness in my new task. I felt sorry for the tiny person who was stuck with me as her mum. I was a failure, a cold, loveless monster, a pathetic excuse for a mother.
I beat myself up every day. And I cried. Because I wasn’t good enough.
But then, something amazing happened.
For 3 months I thought that something was wrong with me. I had seen the heart-warming Hollywood movies and exuberantly happy baby-announcing Facebook posts. I knew how a new mother was supposed to react and behave. I witnessed the elation, love and joy I should feel.
Why did I not feel that way? Why couldn’t I be happy? I wasn’t suffering from post-natal depression. So what was going on?
My mind kept racing, comparing myself to other mums, trying to justify and explain my disappointing performance. I felt inferior, inadequate, embarrassed.
But then, one day, I blew raspberries on my baby’s stomach. She was giggling and wiggling and we both laughed and enjoyed the moment. And as our eyes met, it was finally there. I could feel the endless love for this little creature fill my heart and flow through every cell of my body. My eyes filled with tears of joy and relief.
I had been terrified that I didn’t love my child, that I was a bad mother. But the love was always there. I just didn’t allow myself to see it because I was so upset about the change in my life.
I wasn’t uncaring, loveless or dead-hearted! I just needed more time to adapt.
Some people are natural parents. They thrive after their child is born. You can see the fulfilment in their face. But not everybody is the same.
Change never came easy to me and the change a newborn affects in your life is massive. I wish somebody had told me that feeling overwhelmed and grieving for your old life is normal. That the lack of instant motherly affection is not a sign that you aren’t good enough as a mum. And that there is no reason to worry and beat yourself up.
Being a new mum is difficult and exhausting enough without the worry and guilt. Without the self-condemnation and feelings of inferiority. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
Some people are natural mums and others aren’t. But they are both worth the same. They both have their struggles, they both do their best, they both love their children.
My little one is 4 years old now. I still sometimes wish I had my old life back (and then implore the Universe not to take my child away for being so ungrateful).
I miss the times when I was free and had only myself to consider in all the choices I made. Sometimes I feel constricted, frustrated and like I am wasting my life away with uninspiring household chores.
I jump at opportunities to spend time without my daughter. I loathe monotonous, never-ending tea parties and the trampoline gives me a headache. And it took me quite a while to develop a bond and motherly feelings.
But, so what? I would still give my last breath if it meant my daughter could have one more.
I feed her meals she enjoys. I spend hours playing her favourite games. We sing, paint and laugh together. I comfort her when she cries, kiss her knees when she grazes them, encourage her when she tries something new. I cuddle her to sleep at night and wake her with a hug in the morning.
But I am human. I struggle with change. And the person I used to be didn’t disappear when my child was born. The passions and interests I had didn’t vanish. And the need for freedom, silence and creative expression will always exist.
It doesn’t change the fact that I love my child with all my heart. I am a good mother. I do my very best! I am enough.
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Dr Berni Sewell, PhD is a health scientist, energy healer and self-worth blogger. She is on a mission to make you feel good about yourself, no matter what. Download her free guide Instant self-worth: an easy 4-step solution to heal your self-worth in under 5 minutes a day” and start to boost your confidence today.