What happens when you don’t feel a bond with the baby you’ve always longed for? After all, aren’t you supposed to feel an overwhelming love for your infant from the moment you look into their eyes?
Well, not always. Watching Gemma Hastings play toy cars with her toddler on the floor of their living room, you would never guess that she struggled with depression when he was born two years ago. Today they giggle and laugh together and clearly have a really loving relationship. She’s enjoying being a mam to Jenson who is as bright as a button – and he obviously loves her right back – telling her the colours of all his cars and asking her to read to him from his favourite animals book.
“When I fell pregnant with Jenson, I felt really, really good because I’d been trying for a baby for over a year,” Gemma recalls.
“I didn’t feel anything at all”
“But the birth made me feel like I couldn’t do anything – I had an emergency Caesarean section and that really upset me. Then the relationship between me and Jenson’s dad broke down and that set me in a really bad space. Jenson was about four months old at that time.
“It’s really hard to describe how I felt but I just didn’t feel like I was worth it. I didn’t feel like I wanted to be here. I just felt like I had this baby that I had to get up, look after and, looking at him, I just didn’t feel anything at all.
“It’s really upsetting knowing that you have been waiting for so long, you’ve given birth to this baby and you feel you don’t have the bond you hoped that you would have.
Before the birth, you feel as if you’re going to have this amazing bond and you’re going to be the best mam ever. But for me, it just wasn’t like that.
Gemma, who’s now 26, didn’t feel she could ‘burden’ family and friends with her sadness. “It was hard speaking to them about how I felt because I didn’t want to upset them and friends have their own problems so you don’t feel you can talk about it to them.”
Fear of being judged
Luckily though, she had a health visitor who recommended the Children North East service, NEWPIP (Newcastle Parent Infant Parternship) which offers free help to mums and dads in Newcastle who are having trouble bonding with their babies.
At first Gemma admits she was scared to approach them. “I thought they might take my baby off me – that I’d be judged. What if they felt I wasn’t good enough?”
On the contrary, Peter Toolan, clinical lead at NEWPIP, worked sensitively with Gemma to build up her confidence with Jenson.
“Peter showed me that it wasn’t that I was doing anything wrong – I was just trying too hard to love Jenson and not letting it come naturally.”
Gemma wanted to tell her story so that other people feeling like she did in the beginning, might feel more able to come forward. “I’d say, if you’re suffering from post natal depression or anxiety and feeling a bit low about yourself, go and seek help. You’re doing everything right if you speak to someone.”