Delayed Bonding after Infertility and Loss

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Photo by Anthony King THIS SIDE OF IF

Today I asked my baby, “Do you know how special you are?” Of course he didn’t know. For one, he didn’t know what I was saying. Also, as I immediately realized, it was the first time I had asked him that. He’s four months old.

Until today, I had managed to work my way up to, “Mama loves you so much.” It took a little time to get there. It’s taken some time to bond with him. Some women bond with their babies the moment they know they are expecting. Many bond with their babies-to-be at some point throughout their pregnancies. Then others feel that inseparable, indescribable bond the moment they lay eyes on their newborn babies. I wanted to. I thought I might since I had wanted to be a mother for so long. It didn’t come that quickly.

After experiencing infertility and loss, we guard our hearts. We think if we don’t bond with the baby, we won’t jinx ourselves. We think the worst won’t happen, or if it does, it won’t hurt as badly if we’re not attached. We wonder, what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I feel connected to my baby? Some of us try and fail. With my firstborn, I didn’t feel that special kind of love until he was a few hours old. It was then that I told him I loved him. I didn’t say it right away. I didn’t feel it yet. I wanted the first time I told him I loved him to be sincere, and the truth is, I didn’t know anything about him the moment he was born except he had a LOT of hair and that newborn babies’ bottoms really ARE soft.

Photo by Jalina King THIS SIDE OF IF

So I told him I loved him when he was a few hours old, and it felt right. After that, I went on to tell him every day, multiple times a day, “I love you so much. You’re so special. I waited a long time for you. You’re the perfect baby for me. You’re the best baby. You’ll never know how special you are, but I’m going to do my best to help you understand.” Two years later, I am still in awe of him, and I still say these things often.

I explained in My Oldest is My Favorite that each child and my relationship with them are different. It would be the same with any pair of humans. It took longer for me to bond with my baby than it did with my toddler. He was our planned surprise, as in we tried for him but didn’t think he would come along so quickly. He threw us for a loop in ALL of the ways. Nine months wasn’t long enough to get over the shock of his existence before he entered the world. The moment I really felt connected with him was when he laughed for the first time at 3.5 months old. Like really laughed. At me, his mama who some days still feels like “Who the heck is this baby, and how did he get here?” He laughed at me. Looking at me and interacting with me made him so happy that smiling wasn’t enough to express his joy. What an amazing feeling. I didn’t want the moment to end.

Bonding with your baby after infertility and loss can be delayed for several reasons, including:

  1. Fear of losing another baby or “jinxing” your pregnancy.
  2. Disbelief that you actually have a happy, healthy baby to love and raise after all the trials.
  3. Guilt of replacing a lost baby, feeling like older siblings weren’t enough, or infertility survivor’s guilt.
  4. Desire to be an intentional and sincere parent, therefore delaying thoughts and expressions of love until it feels right. This is not exclusive to IF Mamas but may be intensified by our time with infertility or loss.
  5. Feeling like your baby or parenting in general aren’t exactly what you imagined they would be. You did have all that time to set expectations, after all!
  6. Postpartum depression. Other symptoms of postpartum depression include a change in your sleep patterns, thoughts of harming yourself or the baby, doubt in your capabilities as a mother, loss of interest in activities you enjoy, frequent crying spells, panic attacks, or feeling unhappy about being a parent. If you feel you might be struggling with postpartum depression EVEN IF YOU HAVE BEEN CLEARED BY YOUR DOCTOR, seek help.

Schedule an appointment with your OB or primary care physician, who may refer you to a counselor. (Insurance companies often require a referral for counseling, but not always.) You may also be able to call your medical insurance company or search online for a list of counselors covered under your insurance. If you work outside the home, your employer may provide some sort of employee assistance program that will pay for a specified number of counseling appointments. Companies that provide this option usually provide it to ALL employees, including part-time or unbenefited employees, so check your company’s intranet for this option. Looking for anonymity or hate talking on the phone? Text 741741 to be connected to a trained volunteer counselor.

Bonding with your baby after infertility and loss can be delayed for several reasons #motherhoodafterinfertility Click To Tweet

Getting to know my new baby and figuring out how he fits into the family has been an adjustment that can sometimes be more emotionally challenging than I could have guessed. A friend recently described it to me as, “struggling with an answered prayer.” I thought that described it perfectly, especially when I applied the concept to other scenarios. Maybe your answered prayer is a husband, but the newlywed phase is a bit of a rough patch. Maybe your answered prayer is a beautiful forever home, but the responsibilities of home ownership come as a bit of a shock. Maybe your answered prayer is the ability to stay home with your babies, but you struggle with the guilt of not contributing financially to your family. (I may relate to one or two of these.)

Struggling with an answered prayer doesn’t diminish the greatness of the blessing. As we’ve learned from waiting for our babies, the best things take time. As I’ve learned from Theodore, some take more time than others. I picked him up and was overcome by love for him. I thought about how quickly and unexpectedly he came in what will one day prove to be his perfect timing and asked him, “Do you know how special you are?”

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