How Women Really Feel When They Become Mothers

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8 min read

You never forget the moment your child is born. At least, you’re not supposed to.

For all the declarations on social media of “greatest moment of my life,” often the story is far more complicated. Child birth can be amazing… but it can also be frightening, unpredictable and often occurring in a haze of drugs and hormones. 

And, although I am now #madlyinlove with my little baby boy, our first meeting wasn’t the romanticised experience I had expected. At the time I wondered “are all those #blessed and #loveatfirstsight Facebook baby announcements legit? And if they are, am I a bad person for not immediately feeling the same way?” Before the mother’s guilt engulfed me, I asked other mums (and dads here) about their transition into parenthood and if it had been as wonderful as they expected.

Their responses might surprise you.

My “firing-squad” experience

Walking into the operating theatre (yes walking) to have my caesarean-section I may as well have been on my way to face a firing squad. I was in tears. And not the happy kind. 

“Have we made a terrible mistake?” I thought to myself. My husband and I loved our pre-baby life. We enjoyed hanging out together, sharing adventures, travelling. We knew we had something very special, something worth protecting. The prospect of losing this was confronting. No, devastating.

When the surgeon held my tiny newborn son above the curtain and I saw him for the first time, it wasn’t love at first sight. I was petrified. Also, I didn’t recognise him. The fact that he bore none of my or my husband’s features was unnerving. My first thought was, “where on earth has he come from?”.

I didn’t feel the instant connection people often talk about. His piercing dark eyes, healthy screams and strong little body were intimidating. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders (I still do). Of course, I would have done anything to keep him safe and all I wanted to do was hold him as close as possible. Despite this, he was still a stranger whose existence threatened something I treasured dearly – my pre-baby life.

But at 1am the following morning I woke in a cold sweat. I was panicking because he wasn’t in my arms. “Where is he?! Where is my baby?!” The nurses collected him from the nursery and the warm, tiny, confounding little bundle was handed to me. It was only then that I understood the Facebook posts. Now all I can see when I look into his deep blue eyes is all the joy to come.

Diana, USA: mother to three-month-old twin boys

“I had no idea how I would feel. I am not an overly emotional person, and pregnancy certainly did not make me feel all lovey-dovey. I had a caesarean-section, so I was very drugged up when I ‘gave birth,’. I remember thinking: ‘this is so weird,’ as I saw my sons rise above the curtain. Then afterward, once I was stitched up and wheeled back to my room, I fed them still thinking: ‘this is all surreal’.

Once the anaesthesia and drugs wore off and my mind was a bit more clear I kept waiting for that overwhelming love to hit me…

Once the anaesthesia and drugs wore off and my mind was a bit more clear I kept waiting for that overwhelming love to hit me, the kind everyone’s Facebook statuses says they have the moment they look at their child. I didn’t feel that. I felt disconnected looking at these two little beings. Then I started to worry: ‘what if I never felt that love?’.

Long story short, I did. As I got to know them better and we spent hours looking at each other the love grew. That love has built to a level that is indescribable. It just wasn’t instant. And that was the most unexpected thing for me.”

Kate, Australian: mother to three-year-old girl (with another on the way)

“In the first few weeks after becoming a mum I felt a protectiveness and sense of duty rather than instant adoration. I felt like I’d do anything she needed of me without hesitation. The joyful love came a bit later.”

Mel, USA: mother to one-year-old adopted baby boy

“The thing that I didn’t expect to feel was…like myself. I expected that everything would change so dramatically that I wouldn’t feel like myself at all anymore. But it turns out that I’ve stayed the same person and just found that my capacity to love has grown. I found even more love in my heart for my husband and an entirely new “man” who I’ve only just met!

It’s all very surreal to me. I still haven’t really used the word “Mom” when referring to myself outside of when I’m with my baby. It just doesn’t seem real! But that could also be because it happened so suddenly.”

Sarah, British: mother to eight-week-old baby boy

“I feel I was prepared for all the things you can’t prepare for with a newborn.

I had so many people tell me you can’t prepare yourself for how much love you will feel, or for the tiredness or for how you will feel when your baby cries. There is a lot of truth to this, but because I’d heard it so often, I was prepared to feel surprised.

What I didn’t expect was how having a baby would change my relationship with other people.

What I didn’t expect was how having a baby would change my relationship with other people. I feel more in love with my son’s father than ever before and closer to friends who have children already. Obviously I had spoken with friends about the challenges they experienced when their children were newborns, but there is something different about living it. There is a saying: ‘knowledge is just a rumour until you feel it in your body’. That really fits how I feel. Now I have been through the same experiences as my friends with children, I feel much closer to them. I am deeply grateful for the old friends that have reached out – some quite unexpectedly – to support me at this time.”

Michelle, Australian: mother to four-month-old baby girl

“The biggest thing for me when becoming a mother was how much love I had for my baby when she can’t give me that immense love back. In the days straight after delivery I missed the kicking in my stomach which I got used to in the last couple of months of pregnancy. I kind of felt empty, but then when I held her in my arms it was just so special.”

Bridie, New Zealander: mother to two-year-old girl and four-year-old boy

“When my first baby was born, my son, I was slightly shocked by his arrival. He was, unexpectedly, born four weeks early. My labour was very short. The doctors passed him to me after checking his breathing and my initial feelings of concern to know he was OK gave way to complete bewilderment. There was this little person in my arms and he was mine. I waited for that surge of euphoria I had expected – but it didn’t come. I felt guilty about that, but I also know one moment in time isn’t a reflection of my love for him.”

I waited for that surge of euphoria I had expected – but it didn’t come.

Sarah, Australian: mother to two-year-old girl

“Moments after my daughter was born she was whisked away to intensive care. It wasn’t until 24 hours later when I held her for the first time that I felt an immense feeling of love, the gravity of which was quite overwhelming.

Parenthood for me has been marked by a series of stark contrasts.

Longing for the freedoms and adventures of my old life, whilst at the same time feeling totally content and at peace with my new life and it’s responsibilities.

Missing my career and the independence it gave me, whilst also loving being at home baking muffins, doing puzzles and being present in the moment.

Finding the balance between the old me and the new me is an evolving process.

Missing my old body and the way it made me feel one minute, and then feeling acceptance and totally in awe at the female body and its functions the next.

Going from being totally self-involved, to more selfless in my approach to life and the people in it.

A huge range of emotions are experienced on a daily basis when you are a parent. It is a role which I stumbled across and have fumbled my way through, and as cliched as it may sound, it is the most rewarding role and has been unrivalled when it comes to giving purpose to my day.

Finding the balance between the old me and the new me is an evolving process. It is teaching me a lot, not only about life, but also about myself. Some things I am proud of and some I am not. I am, however, thoroughly enjoying the ride.”

Allie, Australian: mother to two-year-old and seven-month-old girls

“One thing I didn’t expect about becoming a Mum was how it would make me face up to my own shit! I have been really grappling with my own impulses to be polite and nice when actually I should be standing up for my child and myself, or at least drawing a line between other people’s needs over my own. I think this is a very female thing and probably (hopefully) particular to our generation and those before us. I am so concerned about being nice that sometimes I feel I haven’t served myself or worse, my girls, in public situations.”

Phoebe, Australian: mother to 10-week-old baby girl

“After a very long and painful labour, the moment I finally held my gorgeous daughter Tilly felt different to how I had always imagined it would.

I was utterly exhausted and the five minutes I had with her before she was taken to special care for the night was overwhelming. We didn’t get the skin-on-skin contact I had always pictured, I didn’t cry with happiness like they did in the movies and my husband and I didn’t get to discuss what to name her whilst looking lovingly into her eyes.

As women we are programmed to tell others how magical having a newborn baby is and how whole, happy and complete we feel. In actual fact, my friends and I often vent to each other about how tired, anxious and unsure we feel as new mums.

Those first few weeks in the “newborn bubble” definitely weren’t as fun and happy as people often describe them to be. Being a new mum is hard work. You have no idea what you are doing or what your new baby is crying about. I felt exhausted, hormonal, teary and I often found myself missing the simple life my husband and I had pre-baby.

Was I meant to feel this growing love from day one? I’m not sure.

Pre-baby I would have described myself as a very relaxed and laid back. Having a baby has brought with it anxiety I’ve never experienced before, which I didn’t expect.

Nine weeks on and things are slowly becoming easier. I am finding myself falling more in love with this baby every day, especially now she is much more alert, smiling widely and chatting away to me in her own little baby language. Was I meant to feel this growing love from day one? I’m not sure.

Those post feed snuggles, big smiles and lovingly looks from those big blue eyes are totally worth the sleepless nights and self-doubt. I love Tilly like nothing else and I can’t imagine my life without her.”

Meeting your newborn baby
Phoebe’s daughter, Tilly

How did you feel when you first became a parent? Did you feel or experience anything which you didn’t expect to? Please share in the comments below.

You might also be interested in Dads Share Their Secret Fears About Becoming Parents.

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