I received the following email yesterday:
Dawn, since I listened to your show and read all your FAQs and resources on this journey, I thought you should be one of the first to know that our daughter has finally arrived after 6 ½ long years. We ended up using a surrogate and donor eggs with my husband’s sperm. I remember listening to one of your shows on surrogacy a long time ago and starting to think that it might be an option. I’ve gone back and listened to them all so many times in the last 2 years. They were really helpful in making the decision and some other shows helped us go with only transferring one embryo. Thank you. I am really hoping you can give me some advice now.
We have been home for almost a month and it is nothing like I thought it would be. I know I sound ungrateful and shallow, but I don’t feel anything like love for this beautiful child. I have dreamed of her and wanted her for so long, but now I feel like a stranger to her. She doesn’t feel like mine and I know she really isn’t mine. I know you talked about this issue but I never thought it would happen to me. Even though I’m not related to her, I thought I would fall completely in love regardless, but that hasn’t happened. I think I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life and I have no one to blame but myself since my husband wanted to stop a long time ago. I’m ashamed to tell him or anyone else any of this.
Does Instantaneous Love = Good Love?
The myth of falling in love at first sight is powerful and pervasive. Plenty of potentially great relationships have never taken off because of this myth, and plenty of first-time parents have suffered needlessly, especially parents via surrogacy, adoption, or egg donation.
We have idealized the instantaneous nature of maternal love to the point of absurdity.
Some mothers indeed feel an immediate intense love for their child, but plenty of us do not– regardless of how we became mothers. You’re blaming surrogacy and donor eggs for this lack of instant love, but others blame especially difficult labor, breastfeeding troubles, in-laws, or adoption. I pity the poor mom, who has nothing to blame.
Impact of Egg Donation, Surrogacy, or Adoption
I have talked with enough women to believe that surrogacy, donor egg, and adoption can impact the immediacy of your feelings of love. You haven’t had the intimacy of the past nine months to develop these feelings. Many moms through surrogacy or adoption do “fall in love” with their baby during the pregnancy, but some don’t. The good news is that you have the rest of your life growing in love with this child. This will be easier if you stop longing for the romanticized ideal of instantaneous love.
It’s interesting why we idealize the idea of falling rather than growing in love. When I think of falling, I think of something quick and painful. I much prefer the image of growing in love. Growth implies depth, roots, and the ability to withstand the forces of life. I have experienced the intoxication of lust and the warmth of maternal caring at first sight, but not love at first sight.
You may not have a biological connection through genetics or pregnancy, but your daughter is 100% yours regardless. Love is absolutely not dependent on biology. I assume you love your husband, yet you share no DNA. This child is yours and will share many of your mannerisms, habits, and traits. In other ways, she will be uniquely herself. Isn’t that what we all should hope for our kids?
Post-Baby Depression is Real
The depth of your despair, however, should not be taken lightly. Post-baby depression is real and is not dependent exclusively on the hormonal upheaval of birth. Adoptive parents and parents through surrogacy can and do experience depression after the child comes home. I partly suspect it is the natural letdown after achieving a long-sought-after goal. In part, it’s also because the first months of parenthood can be unexpectedly lonely and hard. These feelings are so common we’ve done a number of shows on them. Unfortunately, our society rarely talks about these darker parts of new parenthood.
Loneliness can hit new moms through surrogacy and adoption particularly hard. Pregnancy and pregnancy-related activities, like childbirth and breastfeeding classes, are great ways to find other women who will soon be going through the trials of early motherhood. However, once your child arrives, the opportunities explode if you look for them. Mommy-and-me type classes are very popular for everything from yoga to running to music. Community recreation centers and libraries often have these programs very cheaply. It really helps to have someone to commiserate with when your darling drops a diaper bomb on your white sofa, and you haven’t found the time to shave your legs in over a month.
The first months of motherhood are a lot of work done with very little sleep and few rewards. I’ve always thought that God planned the first smile to hit at around six weeks to ensure human survival. Just about when you think you can’t keep going, the source of your exhaustion smiles at you. Who knew that droolly toothless smiles were such a powerful fuel and aphrodisiac?
What’s a Mom to Do?
You need to ditch the shame.
You haven’t done anything wrong and aren’t weird or abnormal to have these feelings. However, you do need support and help, and you need it now. Share your feelings and fears with your husband. He may feel relieved because he feels the same way, or you may feel relieved that he doesn’t blame you. In fact, he may think that this beautiful child is the best thing that has ever happened. I have no idea what he’s feeling, but this is the type of thing couples should share.
Try to establish a routine.
I know this is easier said than done with a new baby, but it will help normalize your life if you have a scheduled time for a shower, fixing dinner, and doing the laundry. If you can afford it, hire a sitter so you can get out once a week to do something you like.
Run, don’t walk, to a good counselor.
Many infertility patients struggle with unexpected feelings once they finally succeed at having a baby, and a good counselor can help you work through them. Your infertility clinic may be able to recommend a therapist, or you can use the resource we’ve listed on our How to Find a Doctor or Therapist page.
If you have had thoughts of harming your daughter or yourself, immediately tell your husband, a therapist or doctor, and your best friend or someone in your family. Have someone nearby to call immediately if you have these feelings. This despair doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom, just a mom who needs some help right now.
Image credit: brennaval