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Angela Flanagan: My birth story

One mum’s emotional story of struggling to bond with her baby

Author Angela Flanagan
Categories   Birth Stories

The Edit

You're often told, when your baby is born, you'll fall madly in love with them straight away. But what if you don't?

I was eight months and one week pregnant when I went into labour, which for me started in the early hours of Christmas Day! We went to bed at 11pm Christmas Eve, then 90 minutes later I woke to my waters breaking. I couldn't believe it! We kept joking it would be just our luck to have a Christmas baby, rather than him arrive mid-January as we expected.

As an overview, I laboured at home for 20 hours, but I didn't stay UFO (upright, forward, open) the whole time, as I was so desperate to sleep. This delayed my birth and my tiredness was on another level. When we got to hospital, I was 10cm dilated, so started pushing. I pushed for around two hours, but my little boy didn't descend even an inch.

After some time, it became apparent he had turned during contractions, possibly due to trying to sleep. I was told I needed to go to theatre for intervention. It was at this point that my brain switched off. I was the most exhausted I've ever been and hearing I needed medical intervention did something to my mindset.

I had to wait to go to theatre and the contractions were getting stronger. When finally in theatre, they couldn't turn him to get him out, so I had to have a C-section. My brain shut off even more as my body was shaking like crazy from the epidural, and everything felt like it was shutting down. When our son Arlo was born, I was so happy to see him and couldn't believe how beautiful he was. But my life didn't change in that moment. I felt numb and out of control.

A number of hours after Arlo was born, he was diagnosed with blood incompatibility jaundice. He was put under blue lights and I didn't know what was happening. I was told if they hadn't caught it when they did, it could have been a very different outcome. This sent me even further out of control.

He was taken to NICU for nearly two days and this is when I went into a dark hole. It broke my heart to look at him with the mask on his face, under the lights and I was scared to hold him. We were in hospital for seven days altogether as Arlo relapsed four times, each relapse sending me into a darker hole. I couldn't stop crying.

I stopped sleeping, wasn't eating and didn't really know who I was anymore. My sole job was to feed my son and rid him of jaundice. I lost all my baby weight after three days and also lost myself. I was in a cycle of feeding Arlo, expressing, trying to sleep, and that was it. I had to be reminded to eat and felt like Arlo belonged to the hospital, as I was reliant on them telling me what to do. I was even on a breastfeeding plan as I couldn't feed him enough.

Fast forward to getting home and things didn't improve at all. My milk didn't really come in and I couldn't fill Arlo up. I was expressing seven times a day, so I couldn't just sit and cuddle Arlo as I had to express straight away, and I was only getting enough for a couple of bottles so was reliant on formula for topping up. This went on for three months.

I knew I loved Arlo, but I still didn't feel overwhelmed with love. He was my baby and my job was to keep him alive. That was it, at that point. I had pressure to breastfeed him in different positions, to try and encourage my milk and I was being told I needed to look after myself as my weight was plummeting. I cried a lot, slept very little and lived my life around when I could be home to express and feed.

After three months, Arlo started to refuse my milk. I had to use shields constantly and my milk was getting less and less. He then refused my expressed milk. This was my turning point.

After a lot of support from a breastfeeding councillor, my health visitor and most importantly my husband, teamed with Arlo not taking my milk anymore, I decided to stop breastfeeding. After a few weeks I literally felt a cloud was lifted, and I looked at Arlo and cried my eyes out.

I couldn't believe how in love with him I suddenly was and how in that moment, I really felt like his mother. The guilt I felt for not loving him like that for nearly four months was overwhelming. I felt awful for not bonding with him and not loving him like I suddenly did. I knew I needed to move on however and start living my life with him.

I will stress that it wasn't because of the breastfeeding I felt like that. It was because my body and my head weren't functioning. Stopping breastfeeding took that pressure off, to allow my body to heal.

Arlo is 13 months old now and is literally my whole world. I'd do anything for him, and I love him more than life itself.

Motherhood comes with so many ups and downs. It's all about how you navigate it. Speak with professionals if you need to and don't be ashamed to admit your feelings. It was only because I was so honest about how I wasn't bonding that I got the help and it stopped me getting full postnatal depression. If I'd have bottled it up, I'm not sure where it would have led me. I am forever grateful for all the support I got.

My inbox is always open if anyone wants to talk. Motherhood is a club we're all in together, and we all need to support each other.

Author Angela Flanagan

Angela is a PA living in the South East of England with her husband and little boy, Arlo. Angela loves nothing more than time with her boys, and believes in speaking out about motherhood, as it's full of ups and downs, and is a club we're all in together.

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