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"Why don't I feel like a mother?" I didn't have an instant connection with my new baby.

It was 20 years ago when I first watched the episode of Friends where Rachel gave birth. It ended beautifully with Rachel holding her in her arms, looking lovingly and adoringly at her new daughter.

I thought that would happen when I gave birth, that I would immediately fall in love with my daughter. 

I was wrong.

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First, there was no pushing because I had an emergency c-section. I held her in my arms and sobbed deeply as I was completely sleep-deprived from having been in labour for almost 36 hours. I was emotionally overwhelmed, physically exhausted, and mentally drained. That magical, instant connection I had seen in all those movies and TV shows while I was growing up did not happen for me.

I looked into her piercing dark eyes and it felt like an alien was cradled in my arms. I didn’t know how to hold her, squirming, wriggling, as fragile as a baby hummingbird. I was afraid of hurting her. My shoulders were tense as I focused all my attention on supporting her neck. Her tiny, sharp fingernails clawed at my breasts. I was uncomfortable and disappointed in myself. 

My pregnancy is over. She is out. I am a mother now. How come I don’t feel like one?

When are my maternal instincts going to kick in? 

What if they never do?

Then the nurse took her to do her medical checks. I sighed with conflicted relief. I thought the feeling would subside over the next day or two. But it didn’t.

When we were discharged from the hospital, I felt like a fish out of water. We got home, and I trudged through the first night of waking up every hour to feed. Then came the morning when my husband left for work and I was alone with her.

There was a little stranger awake in the crib in our room. I didn’t know who she was, and she didn’t know who I was. I stared at her. Her eyes would open every now and then as she fidgeted and grew in awe of her own hands.

There was this awkward silence where I didn’t know what to do or say. 

Should I be holding her all the time?

Is it normal for her to lay there like that?

What should I be doing when she’s not doing anything?

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I felt restless and unprepared. For most of the day, I looked at her and wondered when it would feel normal. I could no longer just leave and go for a coffee, put my sneakers on and go for a walk, or meet up with a friend for lunch without taking into consideration her schedule and needs. 

Grab the stroller. Pack the diaper bag. Bring extra clothes. Check the weather. Don’t forget anything or else.

Breastfeeding was difficult. It hurt every time she latched. I felt trapped inside my house even though it was the first time in over a decade that I didn’t need to be anywhere. I was on maternity leave and I could do as I please; however, I envied those who had meetings to go to, emails to respond to, and projects to lead.

About a week after we came home, I still didn’t feel like a mother. I even Googled, "Is it normal to regret having children?"

And the results I saw ranged from anonymous mothers who confessed they never should have had kids to those who grew into motherhood. I desperately clung to the words of the latter. 

Around two weeks postpartum, a community nurse came to do a home visit. After I shared with her how emotional I was feeling, she said, "You’re nearing the end of your baby blues so you should be feeling more like yourself very soon."

I had no idea what baby blues was. Then she explained that due to hormone changes, it is very common for mothers to experience feelings of sadness in the first two weeks after giving birth. She gave me her number and said to text or call her whenever I want. If I still felt this way or if it got worse, I needed to get help immediately. 

Thankfully, after the visit, the following days were much better. I developed a routine that helped me get through those silent and lonely days. And over time, my daughter and I grew to know each other. I felt less alone.

From giving eye contact to smiling to belly-aching laughing, she became more animated. She was able to hold her head up, then roll over and then sit up. Then she was crawling. By the time I was about to return to work, she was learning to walk. I didn’t want my leave to end.

With each milestone she passed, I learned more about who she is, her likes and dislikes, character, and idiosyncrasies. As she was carving out her identity in the world, I was defining myself as a mother. We were each on our own self-discovery journeys. She became my baby girl, and I became her mum.

Almost six years later, our connection is as strong as ever. She never ceases to amaze me with her endless curiosity, openness, compassion and candour. But it didn’t happen instantly. There were no sparks or movie magic. It took time for two strangers to get to know one another. And the journey has been worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears.

Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP is an author, wife and mum of two. She writes stories to empower individuals to talk about their feelings despite growing up in a culture that hid them. You can find more from Katharine on her Website or Podcast, or you can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

If you think you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia. You can find their website here or call their helpline – 1300 726 306 

Feature Image: Getty. 

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