The mother baby bonding process – is it always automatic?
The mother baby bonding process – is it always automatic?
Women having babies is nothing new – in fact in Australia the latest statistics show that 311,104 births were registered in 2016.[i]
Clearly, this statistic shows that there are a lot of women having babies! The process of adjusting to motherhood is assumed to be relatively straightforward and common sense; women fall pregnant and start bonding with their babies in utero, give birth, immediately feel an instant gush of love when they see their babies for the first time, and then get on with caring for their infant. While this mother-baby bonding process may be automatic for many women, there are also numerous women who, due to a variety of factors, struggle socially, psychologically and emotionally with having a baby and being what is considered a ‘good mother’.
In my role as a counsellor in the perinatal area of women’s health (focussing on the period immediately before and after the birth and the first few years of a child’s life), I have found the reasons a number of women have difficulty adjusting is because they feel mixed emotions with having a baby and/or with the degree of love they feel (or rather don’t feel) towards their child. These mothers often make statements such as “I feel like I’ve been given the wrong baby in hospital and this one isn’t really mine because I don’t feel anything for him/her”; and “If I knew this was how it was going to be, I never would have had a baby”. The sense of isolation these women feel due to this subject being such a sensitive and socially taboo topic is enormous.
Reflecting on these mothers’ experiences, some commonalities underlying their general feelings of overwhelm and chaos stand out:
- Feelings of inadequacy where mothers feel like they are never ‘enough’.
- Anxieties about being and presenting the image of a ‘good mother’.
- Women questioning themselves – ‘What’s wrong with me; why can’t I meet my own and others’ expectations around mothering?’; ‘Am I doing it ‘right’?’; ‘Is there something more I’m meant to be doing?’; ‘What if I’m missing something and I accidentally damage my baby?’.
- Constant anxiety about how their baby is developing and the belief that if something isn’t right, surely that must mean that it’s their fault; just one more thing to add to their list of mothering failures.
- Self-confidence drops and, as self-doubt increases, mothers avidly research for information, not trusting themselves to otherwise work out what their babies need or want.
- Mothers become increasingly anxious and their sense of failure gains momentum.
- Feelings of shame, guilt, resentment and loss rise as they blame themselves, or others, for their sense that things are out of control.
- For some women, their self-identity has been shredded and they feel distressed and confused because their beliefs about themselves and the world have been turned upside down.
- For other mothers, their thoughts go along the lines of despairingly believing that their experiences confirm that they ‘can’t do anything right’. Such beliefs sometimes extend right down the line to thinking the baby (and the world) would be better off without them so they contemplate self-harm or even suicide.
All along the continuum, mothers feel the stigma of being ‘different from other mothers’ and are fearful of being exposed in their vulnerabilities, despite their best efforts to camouflage any signs of difficulty in caring for and loving their babies. Comparisons and competition flourish behind the façade of coping and trying to be the good mother.
We are all caught up in our ideals and beliefs to some degree, but entering motherhood / mothering / parenting is a sure-fire way to highlight just how deeply the pictures of how things ‘should’ be, look and feel are embedded in our lives. Cultural, religious and nationalistic ideals and beliefs can be very influential. Women are often trained by social norms from birth to assume they will become mothers one day. Constant self-sacrifice for children is subsequently expected as part of the ‘good mother’ job description. This is seen as a way of demonstrating ‘love’ for a child. However, for women who are struggling with feelings towards their baby and mothering in general, it’s felt like just another symbol of how badly they are failing.
Some mothers feel helpless and lost as nothing they are doing seems to overcome the problems they face, despite all their efforts. The harder they try to get their experiences to match up with their beliefs and ideals of being a good mother, the more elusive the whole notion of mother-baby love becomes. Meanwhile, self-love is non-existent and treated as a foreign concept.
In the exhaustion that follows in trying to live up to their own and the expected norms of society, women wonder what they can do to find a balance. The generally accepted solution is that they need to somehow ‘do’ more. But from my observations, the drive that it takes to try to ‘do’ more actually leads to further distress and more exhaustion, so the merry-go-round continues faster than ever. Even those who have gradually grown to feel closer to their babies wonder why they still feel a sense that something is missing, while those that haven’t found a connection with their child feel that their mothering behaviours are fake – contrived and equally unfulfilling.
Regardless of the behavioural driver, is it any wonder that mental health issues, self-abuse, child abuse or neglect and other social ills can easily sprout unchecked when women are caught up in these intensely confusing and self-defeating cycles?
There is a lot of worldwide research that confirms that the above baby bonding snapshot of what mothers are actually experiencing when it comes to accepting, loving and caring for their babies is quite widespread, which begs the question – ‘what is going on here?’. Perhaps the key is in going back to basics, starting with considering if there is another way to understand the concept of ‘mothering’? The following statement offers a fresh starting point for reflection on this subject:
"A message to all mothers: It is wiser to mother from your innate knowing rather than from the ideals and beliefs that flood your head."Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume I, ed 1, p 547
Learning as women and mothers to live from this basis can be confronting; women aren’t asked to ‘do’ anything or feel a particular way, including when it comes to the mother baby bonding process. As a stepping stone in reconnection to self, women are asked to stop and honestly consider what stories they have accepted without question; where (or who) they have come from and how they play out in their lives, especially in the mothering sphere.
Stepping back from all the traditional ideals and beliefs around womanhood and mothering, including any baby bonding pictures and associated expectations of perfection, requires a non-judgmental approach with a willingness to keep exploring in all the nooks and crannies where things have previously existed unchallenged. Some mothers grapple with self-worth issues and can’t fathom exploring life in this way so don’t go any further, while others feel motivated to at least tentatively dip a toe in the water and experiment while slowly increasing their levels of self-awareness and love. Others find that they can move at a faster rate. It’s up to each woman to make her own choices in her own time and there are no right or wrong paths and/ or exams to sit along the way.
It is endlessly confirming to all women that there is no ‘trying’ or ‘doing’ required; that all their perceived flaws and fears are unfounded and that inside each and every woman is an inner wisdom perfectly attuned to her and her circumstances.
As women bypass how they ‘should’ be and instead tune into their own inner wisdom, space is created wherein they begin to recognise just how much they do innately understand about mothering. Our inner authority offers a way forward so that the mother-baby bonding process can thrive, rather than mothers finding themselves sinking under the burden of images, expectations and judgements that come with trying to fit the ‘good mother’ mould.
Women discover the wise women they truly are, start to trust themselves more, and experiment with finding their own unique way with motherhood. Over time as women learn to trust and express this inner wisdom, there is ample opportunity to lovingly grow their relationship with their child with incredible and lasting results across the lifespan.
Really, it seriously is a win/win situation all round!