Great Expectations…On Childbirth and Bonding

I don’t think there is anything more amazing, more magical, or more awe inspiring than holding your baby for the first time. The moment you meet that incredible, beautiful baby that you’ve been carrying and nurturing inside your body for the past nine months…that moment is nothing short of breathtaking.

But, what happens when the euphoria you expected to feel is nothing more than a sigh of relief? What if you expected an overwhelming flood of emotions, but instead, you just feel…tired? I suspect this happens more often than we’d like to admit.

Most likely, we feel guilty for the absence of those fireworks and probably wonder, what’s wrong with me?

I found myself in this conflicted state of emotion at the time of my daughter’s birth. I had great expectations that the moment I laid eyes on her, those nine months of waiting to see my beautiful girl would culminate in a flood of emotions. Instead, it was quiet and surreal.

Of course I knew I loved her. I was holding my baby, my heart, right there in my arms. My love for her was clear and unwavering, but I did wonder where that lightening flash of emotion was. It’s something that left me feeling a little deflated. It left me feeling like a bad mother. I worried about it. It made me question my mothering abilities and whether or not our bond would be strong.

Then, I started looking at it from a scientific and physiologic point of view. Oxytocin, which is known as the love hormone, is produced during pregnancy and surges during labor and delivery. This hormone, no doubt contributes to that euphoria and overwhelming sense of love we feel at the time of childbirth. Unfortunately, epidurals can decrease the production of oxytocin at the time of delivery. I had an epidural and it worked good.

Now, this is not a post for or against epidurals. It is merely an observation and something I believe contributed to my lackluster emotions right after delivery. Sure, I was pain free and completely grateful for that at the time. However, I was also lacking some of that love hormone surge.

Additionally, pain during childbirth releases all those natural endorphins that really does culminate in a catharsis at the time of birth when you literally see the fruits of your labor. During my daughter’s birth, I was having normal conversations in between contractions and pushing. It really was surreal. There was no release of endorphins for me.

I can make sense of it now and realize that my pain free birth inhibited the release of those fireworks we all expect at the time of our child’s entrance into the world. I think what made this so much more evident to me was that it was in complete contrast to my first childbirth experience with my son. I felt everything during his delivery…the pain and the euphoria.

This is simply my story, I am not espousing which form of childbirth is best. You must make that decision for yourself. The plus side of my pain free birth? Aside from the obvious, no pain, I had energy and some clarity at the time of her birth. It was nice to have that energy.

Energy I could focus on further strengthening our bond.

I held her…a lot. During those first hours following her birth, we snuggled skin to skin (which increases oxytocin production), I breastfed as much as I could (you can read my struggles with that here), and we spent time together in the wee hours of the night, just her and me; feeding, rocking and cuddling. She was always on my hip or cradled in my arms.

We bonded. I no longer worry about the quietness of her birth. Our bond is evident, strong, and enduring. I love her more than I could ever have imagined.

Our mother-daughter bond was in fact born on that quiet morning of her birth, and the fireworks? Well, from her first smile to her first day of preschool, I’d say my heart has been bursting with them ever since.

The lovely Cheryl from Mommypants, asked me to share my mommypants moment with her. Please go check out my post there today. I write about this moment of my daughter’s birth and how the lightening flash of emotion finally presented itself. I can’t thank Cheryl enough for her encouragement to share this moment. She is an incredible writer and so helpful and instrumental in helping me to fine tune it.
16 Responses to Great Expectations…On Childbirth and Bonding
  1. Liz
    March 21, 2011 | 6:32 am

    I, like you, loved the girls, but did not have that overwhelming rush. I kind of felt like that kind of love needed to grow in time, as I got to know this new little person. I know I'm unusual in this thought, but just like it takes a while to know you're going to marry someone or forge a great friendship with your best friend, you need to really get to know your baby before love that reach that level.

  2. mommymommymommy
    March 21, 2011 | 7:28 am

    I had a difficult delivery with my oldest-I had to be knocked out to deliver her. I remember seeing her for the first time as my husband showed her to me as I was in recovery…I do not remember a surge of love or fireworks, just exhaustion.

    Even though we did not bond at the moment of birth, we are closer than close.

    My twins were adopted. I remember seeing them for the first time and being so overwhelmed with emotion that I just cried and cried. I am just as bonded to them as my biological child. It was a different feeling than what I felt with my older daughter.

    All three of my kids have spent so much time with me that we are a tight knit group. I am truly blessed, even though our first moments together were not typical.

  3. Grumpy Grateful Mom
    March 21, 2011 | 8:00 am

    I also didn't feel that rush when I had my first. I was happy to have her, but she felt like a stranger to me. Then, she cried for the first six months. The bonding happened, but it was a little late.

    I was shocked when I had my second daughter and did feel the rush of emotions. I couldn't even sleep, I was so excited. I had epidurals for both births, so I'm not really sure what the difference was with me. I'm glad that I'm not the only one.

    I'm so grateful for all my kiddos today. :) Janae

  4. JDaniel4's Mom
    March 21, 2011 | 11:52 am

    All I remember is being tired and needing to go to the bathroom. I loved him from the start but, I need a little rest time after a long labor to totally click in.

  5. renegademothering
    March 21, 2011 | 12:06 pm

    Hi…new here. I have read about this phenomenon in books, etc., and I have to say it has been true in my case. I've had three unmedicated, natural births and I felt such a remarkable state of elation, joy, euphoria and pure ecstatic LIFE the second my babies were born. It was most pronounced with my son and 2nd daughter (the younger two) – who were born under water with midwives. The third was a homebirth and due to a much more difficult labor, the moment of birth and the few moments after were even MORE spectacular. I wasn't tired or exhausted at all – quite the opposite. I was charged, elated and so fully in love with my baby. It was like I had always known her. I was bonded to the depths of my being, instantly, and that feeling never went away. The pain didn't make my mind unclear or hazy — since it ceases the MOMENT the baby is born, it's instantly forgotten, replaced by an overwhelming joy at the sight of the baby. Now…4-5 hours later…? Yes, exhausted. For sure! Anyway, if you're curious, I wrote about my homebirth on my blog

    Glad I found your blog. I really enjoy it. Cheers.

  6. April K.
    March 21, 2011 | 12:24 pm

    I think a lot of us equate "feeling love" as the heart pounding, breathtaking, spine tingling feeling we get when we meet someone we're attracted to. Since we're not supposed to have those types of feeling towards our children, we don't "feel" love like we've "felt" it in the past and I think it's really, really easy to confuse one for the other. For instance, I don't experience the same physical/emotional response towards my parents/children as I do towards my husband, and yet, I love them all. But I think that, once the baby comes and we don't experience the high that accompanies falling in love/lust with your spouse/significant other/etc. – that instantaneous rush that we most certainly equate with "falling in love" – that we think something is wrong or that we've failed. I never had a defining moment where I all of a sudden felt that I'd just fallen in love with my mom…the love was ALWAYS there, but just in a different form. Hope that makes sense! :) Thansk for the post!

  7. Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds
    March 21, 2011 | 12:26 pm

    I always knew I loved my baby, but I have accepted that I'm not a baby person. That floppy neck stage is not for me. If kids came out as cuddly 18 month olds, I would have a dozen of them!

  8. Cheryl D.
    March 21, 2011 | 3:03 pm

    Very interesting observation! I didn't feel the fireworks either! I had problems with my pregnancy, so they delivered my daughter early via c-section. I didn't even go into labor! Hmmmmm…

  9. parenting ad absurdum
    March 21, 2011 | 3:13 pm

    This is such a great post – it's so good to open and honest about how different each mom's experience is during and post birth. I had several friends tell me beforehand that it was okay if I didn't fall in love immediately. I bless them for it.

  10. Sherri
    March 21, 2011 | 8:41 pm

    I loved your post at Cheryl's today, and think it's great that you are approaching the idea over here as well.

    Birth and motherhood is just different for everyone, and not many people will recognize that and give credit to those who don't have the "storybook" feelings.

  11. AnnaNova
    March 21, 2011 | 10:39 pm

    I think one's emotions after labor are hard to describe.
    I didn't necessarily have "fireworks", but that feeling of overwhelming love, excitement, and elation is hard to put in words.
    What's interesting, though, is that with my son I had a 30 hr labor with no pain meds (with a sleepless night and a half), and I thought I would be completely exhausted by the time he was born, but when he finally landed on my chest, I felt so exhilarated. I still look at my post labor pictures and wonder how I could look so "fresh" after all that. I don't think I had ever felt more alive in my entire life.
    I felt bonded to him right that second, and it seemed like there was an invisible line still connecting the two of us even when somebody else held him.
    That being said, I don't believe bonding occurs once and for all. It happens (or doesnt happen) every moment of every day, and it happens between your child and many other people. Relationship between a mother and a child has to be nurtured, like any other.

  12. Stacey
    March 22, 2011 | 7:29 am

    I think sometimes we set ourselves up for disappointment with expectations like this. It doesn't matter how the bonding happens, it just matters that it happens. I'm glad that you didn't allow the lack of fireworks to make your time with your newborn any less wonderful.

  13. Mama Wonton
    March 22, 2011 | 11:26 pm

    I had the epidural and I'm happy that it left me in the dark about the pain of childbirth! I didn't think twice about the fireworks of emotions I was supposed to have… until your post. Ha ha.

    I'm glad you were able to bond with your child despite your expectations. That picture of you and the babe is absolutely beautiful!

  14. Melinda
    March 24, 2011 | 10:19 am

    I had an epidural both times so I don't know what I missed! :) I know I had Post Partum Depression both times. It was strange, with my daughter, I didn't want to be alone. Then, with my son, I didn't anyone around me. It's crazy how our hormones can affect us so intensely. Love the picture, too! :)

  15. Betsy at Zen-Mama
    March 24, 2011 | 4:59 pm

    My bonding with my first was delayed because of a terribly painful birth (despite epidural). I felt terrible for weeks. It was much easier with the 2nd two. Great post and great information for everyone to share…we're not alone!

  16. Katie Hurley, LCSW
    March 24, 2011 | 8:58 pm

    I know I was flooded with emotion almost immediately…I dealt with many years of infertility to get there. But some of that was relief that my daughter was finally there and I made it to the finish line. I also had c-sections with both, and I was a bit out of it at first…which left me very emotional. Great post, I'm so glad you addressed this. We all have ideas about how it should go, but it often doesn't go that way.