All too often we are shown over and over and over again those scenes in movies where a mother, who has just given birth, lies in bed in beautiful nightgown complete with a bed jacket. Her hair is perfectly coiffed as she is handed her baby. She instantly knows how to hold this perfectly quiet and peaceful infant. Her face softens as she oooohs and ahhhs as the camera goes all vaseline and fuzzy while sappy music swells in the background.
I don’t know how your births went, but mine were nothing like that. My hair was everything but perfectly coifed, I was wearing a frumpy hospital gown, and I had no clue what to do with this squirming thing now in my arms who was screaming at me like some sort of pissed off Banshee. The second time around, I knew what to do with the little one but she could not cooperate because she was physically unable to do so. The third time around went much much better despite the persistent lack of perfectly coiffed hair and no sappy music.
No one tells new mothers at their baby showers just how hard birth and those first few weeks will be on us. It’s all fun and games, cute frilly or frocky clothes in blue, pink, or some other pastel. Even if we do know what to expect, depression can still slam into us after birth. It is not something we choose. Not something we can turn off at the drop of a hat or just because you want us to be happy again. It takes time to heal.
One of the biggest things depression or a mood disorder affects is a mother’s ability to bond with her infant. The best way to describe this feeling to someone who did not have a problem bonding with their infant is this:
Let’s say you hate cats. You don’t know why but you do. You visit a home with a cat. Said cat decides that YOU are a brand new BFF and relies on you for everything. Meows at you constantly, purrs, wraps itself around your legs, curls up on your lap, and wants you to pet it every second you are there. This interferes with your ability to have an adult conversation with the friend you came to visit. Suddenly your thoughts are sliced in half, then in quarters. You’re distracted, frustrated, your blood pressure rises, you may even begin to itch or manifest physical symptoms as you try to detangle yourself from the cat.
The difference between someone who hates cats and a mom who is depressed and doesn’t bond with her child is that somewhere, deep inside, that woman LOVES her child. She does. Even if she is not showing it, she does. She wants to bond to that child and is desperate to try anything.
Motherhood is something we add to our sense of selves though, not something which should overtake our sense of self. We should not superglue the baby to ourselves and miss out on life because we are a Mother. There needs to be a balance, a sense of old and new. It is a hard line to walk. A hard line to find. An almost invisible line to find if you are a mother with a Postpartum Mood & Anxiety Disorder. But it’s there. You just have to be patient and wait for it to slowly reveal itself.
I struggled with bonding with our first two daughters. Our first because I had not a clue what to do with her, even apologized to her at 7 days old because I did not know how to talk to her. Our second because she was physically separated from me at less than 24 hours old and sent to a NICU in another city over an hour away. I would later find myself wailing that I wanted to leave her at the hospital. We did not bond until she was nearly three years old and back at the same hospital in which she spent time in the NICU.
I bonded well with my third though but I did not struggle with Postpartum OCD or Depression that time around. We had all the warm fuzzies and after a few weeks if you listened closely enough, you could hear sappy music in the background.
I know my issues with depression and OCD interfered in my ability to bond with my babies. But today, I try so hard not too look back and be sad. Instead I try my best to bond in the here and now because that’s what matters. I cannot change the past. I can only work to improve the present and make the future even better. (Believe me, it’s taken me almost 6 years to be able to say that!)
Did your PMAD affect your bonding? How? What was your experience?
Let’s get to just talking.