What happens if maternal instinct just doesn’t kick in? Breaking the last parenting taboo.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
I work with many Mums who have suffered post natal depression and still battle the guilty feelings often years later. I help them heal, move forward and let go of those negative and destructive past emotions.
We are conditioned to believe that the attachment between mothers and babies will be instant, unbreakable and natural but it isn’t always.
The received wisdom is that from the moment a woman learns she is pregnant, a lifelong bond begins to grow, linking mother and child for ever in the strongest possible manifestation of love.
But what if it doesn’t? What if that much‑vaunted bond fails to materialise?
Motherhood certainly didn’t provoke the sudden flood of love Ruth Hagin had expected to feel for her baby daughter Sandra.
Instead, she was consumed by anger, resentment and loathing.
Here is an article published in The Daily Mail where 3 mothers share their stories.
‘When Sandra cried, I’m ashamed to say I shouted at her,’ Ruth recalls. ‘I used to pace our flat visualising ways of getting rid of her. I hesitate to say this, but I felt my life would be so much better if she wasn’t here.’
It is a searingly honest — if profoundly shocking — admission, and one for which Ruth is likely to be castigated: mothers who are brave enough to admit to feeling ambivalent about, or even hostile towards, their newborns are often stigmatised.
Ruth says: ‘Sandra was a beautiful baby. When my friends and family said: “Isn’t she gorgeous?” I smiled, but said nothing. How could I admit that I deeply resented — even hated — this perfect baby? I felt like a monster, the worst mother in the world.
‘I used to stay awake at night, staring at her in her cot, thinking how much better my life would be without her. The only flicker of affection I felt was when I was breastfeeding.
‘I was exhausted and felt completely numb. I kept waiting for the sudden rush of love that everyone told me I would experience — but it never came.’
Studies have shown that one in five new mums fails to bond with her infant, but feelings of shame and inadequacy often prevent them from admitting the fact.
Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson, author of How To Have A Happy Child, explains: ‘The forming of a bond is absolutely crucial to a baby’s long-term emotional and psychological development, and there is a general expectation that a mother’s attachment to her newborn is instant.’
For some mums it is love at first sight. But for many it is a process of meshing that takes time: days, weeks, months, sometimes years.
For Ruth, 34, from Bristol, who works as an office manager for a voluntary organisation, it was two years before she fully formed a loving attachment to her daughter.
The irony is that she very much wanted a baby. She was a teenager and engaged to be married when she became pregnant.
‘I was determined to be the best mother, but I was so young and inexperienced,’ she recalls. ‘I was a perfectionist; I still am. I began to deeply resent the intrusion of a baby into my ordered life. I was mourning the life I had lost, the freedom my soon-to-be husband and I had enjoyed together.
‘He was brilliant with her — very loving and caring — but when I looked at her, all I felt was anger.
‘My relationship with my husband suffered: we had lots of rows as I was so angry and resentful, and after three years we divorced.
‘One day, just before Sandra was two, I’d left her with him and walked to the shops. Suddenly, I got the idea I could just get on a train and leave them both behind.
‘At that point, something clicked in my head. This was not normal. I was an intelligent, rational person so why did I want to abandon my child?