The Myth of Love at First Sight with Donor Egg or Adoption

Dawn Davenport


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 youThe myth of love at first site can be especially hard for mothers by surrogacy, adoption, or egg donation. 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.

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 egg for this lack of instant love, but others blame an 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 on a Mother’s Love

I have talked with enough women to believe that surrogacy and 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 grow 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 at first sight and the warmth of maternal caring at first sight, but not really 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.  In part, I suspect it is the natural let down 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 ( Parenting kids conceived through Assisted Reproduction, Surrogacy , Are you Ready to Move to Donor Eggs or Sperm?Parenting Through Surrogacy, Parenting after Infertility, What 3rd Party Reproduction Can Learn from Adoption, Nurture vs Nature — Which Trumps in Parenting)  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 child birth classes and breastfeeding classes, are a great way to find other women who are soon to 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 for a very low cost.  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 insure 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.

You need to ditch the shame.  You haven’t done anything wrong, and you 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, for fixing dinner, and for doing the laundry.  If you can afford it, hire a sitter so you can get out once a week to do something that you like to do.

Run, don’t walk, to a good infertility 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 that needs a little help right now.

Image credit: brennaval

11/03/2010 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Infertility, Infertility Blog | 21 Comments

21 Responses to The Myth of Love at First Sight with Donor Egg or Adoption

  1. Avatar Lois says:

    What you are feeling is totally natural, especially when you are sleep deprived and your hormone levels are out of wack. Love at first sight isn’t a given with biological children either. With my first biological son, I was give pain meds and was so sleepy when ds was born, I hardly even knew what was going on. Then he had his nights and days mixed up and was eating every 2 hours. I was exhausted!!! I remember when he was 6 weeks old thinking OMG what have we done?

  2. Susan, congratulations on your son. You are certainly not alone! I just got a note from the original questioner and she said basically the same thing. Please post your comment on the blog so others can see it as well.

  3. Dawn thank you so much for posting this blog. My son through DE is now 2 weeks old and I have been struggling with some of these feelings. It is so nice to know I am not alone.

  4. Avatar Liz says:

    How is this for a confession. I did not feel what I thought I should for my bio daughter at first. With my adopted one, it has taken one year. Talking about it will help. Delay the adoption to take the pressure off. You can do that and not feel bad. You are doing the best you can. I wasn’t sure I loved my husband after the honeymoon wore off. Then slowly he became my family. Hang in there. You are prefectly normal. I’m too tired to check spelling today. Liz

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Liz, I’m always too tired to check spelling, and spell check has made me such a lazy speller that I can’t afford to not check. {sigh}

  5. Avatar D.P. says:

    We are trying to decide now what our next step will be. We are down to surrogacy with or without donor egg, but likely with, adoption, or a child free life. My greatest fear is that I won’t attach to a child that is carried by another woman thru adoption or any form of surrogacy. I identified with the questioner more than you could imagine. I must say that I have found the comments to be incredibly helpful. Almost inspirational. I had no idea that anyone else felt the way I do. I made my husband read them all as well. Thank you all for posting here.

  6. Love at first sight with ANY baby, adopted or not, may not occur. I interviewed nearly 100 parents for my new book and this was a common theme! Oh, how parents need to hear one another’s stories! It’s common and normal.

    I would encourage you to make sure you’re not suffering from post-adoption blues if your discouragement continues. There is a wonderful book by this title by Karen Foli. You can check out at amazon.

    I’m an adoptive grandmother and an adoptee myself, yet when our adult kids adopted and our daughter was depressed, I didn’t recognize the post-adoption blues.

    Take good care of yourself!!

  7. Avatar DivaStepMom says:

    I agree – your response is wonderful! I just wanted to add another perspective.

    My husband and I have just adopted a 5 year old from Taiwan. We’ve been home almost 3 months. And talk about rollercoaster! There were days at the beginning when I wondered what in the world had we done?! At times, I couldn’t imagine ever even liking this wild child. There are times when I’m sure she doesn’t like us much either! Then there are those days when she is a wonder and a joy and happy to be alive. And that makes every sacrifice worthwhile.

    My comment about love is that sometimes it starts as a decision. When I saw her picture a year and a half ago, I know that I decided to love her. Not the romantic, gushy kind of love, but the love that protects, provides and nurtures. That is a committment and a promise I made to her, and to myself when we signed the papers to get her.

    There are times when I look into her face which is so very different from mine and wonder how she can love me. There are times when I know she is doing the same thing. I know that we are both striving to do our best, every day, to become a family. She needs to be loved and we need to love.

    She loves it when she makes me laugh. She knows instantly if I’m unhappy, or heaven forbid, my husband and I should disagree about anything! (Guess whose side she takes?) And I know when she’s unhappy or just needs to snuggle for a while.

    Each of those small acts of kindness, which is what love really is, builds a bridge and that bridge turns into a bond of love, friendship and family. It takes time.

    And by the way, the same is true with step-children, of which I have two, ages 17 and 26. I’ve been in their lives now for 6 years. It took at least 6 months to just start building trust. Love? Yes, but that took a lot longer, on everyone’s part. But it is there. We are all stronger and better for the struggle.

    So to the poster – hang in there, talk to friends (you’d be surprised how many mothers feel the same things at one time or another), stay active, and do whatever you need to stay connected to your husband and those who love you. And be patient with yourself!


  8. Avatar Susan says:

    Dawn thank you soo much for blogging about this. I am a new mother via DE (my son is now 2 weeks old). These last few weeks I have been struggling with the same feelings as your emailer. It is great to know that I am not alone and that the love/bond between me and my son will grow.

  9. Avatar Sarah says:

    When I first read this post, I was impressed with how honest this new mother has been with herself as well as with Dawn. That in itself, says loud and clear that you (new mom) are willing to confront your feelings even if they aren’t the warm fuzzies that you expected/hoped for. That takes a load of courage!

    For years we have been working on adoption (as Canadians in China, Canadian laws prevent us from adopting abroad, so we have spent these years ‘pestering/petitioning’ our government with other like-minded families) and recently had a miscarriage, which left us nothing less of devastated. Nothing has ever consumed our lives like the desire for a child. When all of our friends are announcing their pregnancies and births, I say to my husband, ” I feel like we have been mentally pregnant for years, but without the excitement of knowing the baby will be here soon.” It is a terribly stressful and emotional time, as individuals and as a couple.

    It’s understandable that all this build-up and anticipation may one day be faced with the feeling, ‘What did we get ourselves into?’ Many of my pregnant friends spoke about this feeling (only when it came up in discussion, as they wouldn’t easily admit it without a context) when baby finally came home. Parenting, no matter how rewarding, sounds like it would come with a lot of mixed emotions. When we had our miscarriage, a friend who has also suffered loss said something to me I will never forget, “Be patient with yourself.” I repeated this little piece of advice in my head regularly and it pops up anytime that I find myself terribly angry and depressed about the situation. Those four little words come in handy;)

    Just like we all create our families in different ways, we will all create connections with members of our families on a very personal timeline.
    Be patient with yourself, with the new addition to your family, with your feelings.

  10. Avatar AMommy says:

    I have been in exactly your shoes but maybe even worse since I had twins through donor egg surrogacy. It was a dark dark place. One Creating a Family show that I found very very helpful was Parenting after Infertility. I think Dawn linked to it.

    Like the other posters experience, it took me 6 months before I really felt like a mom and then it took at least another 6 months more before I felt like I had my act together. I swear I didn’t leave the house with the twins by myself until they were over a year. But it has been 3 1/2 years and I feel completely and totally that I am their mom and that I am a very good mom. In fact, we hope to select another surrogate and do this all again in 2011. This time we will try really hard to only have one. {smile}.

  11. Avatar Melissa says:

    I love the term “growing in love” as opposed to falling in love. Thinking about our love in a family as being planted and growing as a tree is very powerful.

    I adopted an 8 month old, and while I always loved her, I at first felt a bit like I was babysitting her rather than mothering her. I went through all the actions of mothering without feeling a strong connection for a while. I can’t even say for sure how long it was until she became and felt totally mine. I just know now that she is the daughter I always longed for and I could not love her more no matter how she arrived.

  12. Avatar Douglas says:

    As soon as I saw this, before even reading Dawn’s response, I had two thoughts:

    1. Do not feel ashamed. Never feel that your feelings are wrong or that you should be guilty for not feeling how you ought. There is no “ought” with feelings. Feelings are a message from within you. Actions are what matter. Our responsible response to our feelings are what matter. There is nothing “wrong” with you.

    2. Attachment is a process. It involves the child having a need and you meeting that need, over and over, and by that process, an adopted child and mother grow in love for one another. It sounds crazy, but the very act of caring for and loving this child eventually PRODUCES the deep feeling of love and attachment that you are seeking and hungering for.

    I have a couple of internet friends who have experienced exactly what you are experiencing. You are not alone. Families fit together in weird ways, and every so often, we wake up and wonder what we’ve done and question our decisions.

    The part of you that wants to be a mom, the secret, inner yearning parent, is still there. It’s just covered in diapers and an odd disconnection from this tiny little life. Every act of love towards your baby is a step towards that bond.

    I also underscore what Dawn says at the end. Positive vibes aside, if you feel that you or your child are in any danger WHATSOEVER, you need to seek out assistance immediately. From the sound of things, that isn’t a risk. You want this child and worked so hard to bring her home… this is just an oddness of your attachment, and committed attention will heal it.

  13. Avatar Kirsten says:

    Great advice, Dawn.

    I am more in love with my children as they grow. Sure I actually did feel bonded with them at birth, but I was also scared, overwhelmed, etc with both the biological and adopted children. It was when the said ‘Mommy’, gave me a hug, high-fived, or made me laugh that the love is what overwhelms.

    Hang in there and try to rest instead of thinking so much.

    Sleep when the baby sleeps and try to take joy in the small moments.

  14. Avatar Carrie Kitze says:

    My heart goes out to this mom and to every other mom who has been in this place.
    For what ever reason, when the picture in our heads doesn’t match the one in our hearts we need some outside help. Talking to a therapist and others who have walked the walk would be really helpful. Also, I put together a parent guide that might have some words of wisdom for anyone who finds themselves in this position. The guide is called “Are You At The End Of Your Rope” and has some information on basic attachment activities, PADs (Post Adoption Depression–just because you didn’t give birth doesn’t mean that overwhelming feelings don’t occur.) You can find in on this page of resources Just scroll down to find it.

    Carrie Kitze
    Publisher, EMK Press
    adoptive mom

  15. Avatar Natalie says:


    I concur with Cathy – so well said. I am an adoptive mom, who also sort of tugged hubby along. I thought for sure I would be overwhelmed with love and bond from day one, and what I felt most was shame. That I wasn’t good enough to be a mom, that I had no idea what I was doing and was depressed to not have a mom of my own to ask for help.

    She also had colic so after hours of screaming and sleep deprivation on my part, lack of hygiene, food etc. I kept thinking about this huge mistake I had made. And then, without even realizing it, I recognized that this was a gift. A gift from God, that I asked for,and I wouldn’t stress myself out with setting the bar of how society felt I should feel, but instead let my emotions take me from care taker, to loving mom. It was a progression, and I think that there were feelings I felt secretly were because she was adopted, when in fact it was normal feelings of someone overwhelmed as a new mom.

    Of course, things were different with my second because I carried her and she is made from love from my husband and I and I see ourselves in her eyes and I had been through the marathon of the new mom thing a few years before.

    I will say, that I look back now and I cannot believe I ever had those thoughts. I consider her so definitively mine and feel so much love for her, I realize that it was part of the adoption roller coaster of emotions and I am a better mom because of it.

    Hang in there doll, many of us have been there, it is ok to express your feelings and talk to those who won’t judge you – which sadly is often strangers and professionals. Sometimes those too close to us or who have never been through the adoption, IVF or surrogacy process can simply never imagine or relate to what we have been through emotionally over the years leading up to that moment.

    Hugs, Natalie

  16. Avatar mom says:

    To the poster:

    I love the phrase “growing in love”- I think it much better describes the relationship with a new baby for some parents. I have a child through donor egg. After a long battle with infertility and a very difficult pregnancy, I remember being a little stunned that there was actually a real live healthy baby. I was so scared that something would happen to him (and he would die) that I really don’t think I let myself have any relationship with him. I think, at the back of my mind, I was fairly certain something was not going to work out. I did not trust my own self as a parent and was terrified to be alone with my baby. He really felt like a stranger.

    I did talk to my husband. And a therapist. My sister and best friend helped a lot by making sure I was able to sleep, recover and stay healthy. After a few months, I noticed that I was starting to feel more comfortable and learning to do things with my little one. Between four and six months, everything seemed to fall into place. I was confident that I could take care of this child and keep him safe. And I found that he was no longer a stranger, he was my baby. And I loved him. Completely.

    The bond with my child did not come naturally to me but it did come. And it has never left.

    Please give yourself time and allow yourself the resources you need. Also, new studies have shown that moms can get ppd even if they have not given birth so definitely think about getting professional help as well.

  17. Avatar Kim says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with Dawn’s response. I also wanted to add that this bond isn’t just dependent on the new mother. The child and his or her personality has a part in that bonding.

    As the mother of 5, 3 of whom were born to me and 2 of whom we adopted at 5 months and 6 months old, I can tell you that bonding with each of my children was a different experience. I loved them all from the point that I first knew about them. By love, I mean that as a decision and not necessarily an emotional reaction/feeling.

    I too felt like the daughter we adopted wasn’t “really” mine. In many ways I felt I was pretending to be her mother. The best advice I got was from a friend who was also an adoptive mom. She told me she had similar feelings when her son came home and that I should just keep taking care of my daughter, doing the things that parents do for their babies. She said in time the feelings of love would come. And she was right! I’m not even sure when it happened, but I know that by the time she’d been home 3 or 4 months I felt like her mother.

    She is 6 years old now and every bit as much mine as any of the children who grew in my womb.

    Please check the resources that Dawn mentions for support and post baby depression/blues. The stress of changing family dynamics by adding a new family member is very real whether you give birth to that new family member or not.

    Find a support group of other new moms (either in your community or online). Hang in there, the feelings of love will follow the decision to love as you act on that decision day after day.


  18. Avatar Cathy G. says:

    I just wanted to say that your reply to this mom was just terrific. I think you touched on all the major issues – the myth of immediate falling in love, the sleep deprivation and disruption of schedule that hit you all at once when you finally get that long-awaited baby, the commonness of post-partum (or post-baby-arrival) depression, the isolation, the need to share feelings with husband, the need for counseling, the need for social connections and creating a daily routine. I could not think of a thing to add! You write so well and so wisely. I am always impressed with reading your pieces.
    Cathy (mom to 6-year-old Leah Mei, adopted from China at 10 months)

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