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“I felt guilty because everyone told me about this love I’d feel, and I wasn’t there yet,” she says in the December/January issue of American Baby. “I remember asking Nick [Lachey], ‘Is something wrong with me? I’ve wanted this my whole life and I’m forcing myself to have those feelings.’” Vanessa, now pregnant with her second child, a girl, with husband Nick, added, “For me, the love really flowed when I found out the baby was a boy. That’s when I could finally bond, once I knew ‘it’ was a him.”
As many women can attest, impending motherhood is rife with expectations. It’s often not enough to maintain a healthy pregnancy — many women feel pressure to have their maternal instincts flow from the moment the pregnancy stick turns positive, and they feel confused and disappointed when those feelings don’t materialize. To be fair, pregnancy is a deeply personal process and there are plenty of women for whom the experience is wholly transformative. For others, feeling “like a mom” is a slower process, an evolution that can begin even after a child is born, or resonate with a second pregnancy. As actress Liv Tyler recently said in the December/January issue of Town & Country of her second pregnancy, “You’re more present in your body, and it’s making me a better mother for [my first child] Milo.”
It’s possible that such expectations are fueled by picture-perfect Hollywood ideals. Reading about “glowing” expecting celebrities may make those undergoing difficult pregnancies feel like they’re missing out. Ditto for our social media–obsessed world, where Instagram shots of growing baby bumps and viral baby announcements populate our feeds. “The way motherhood is depicted in our culture isn’t always realistic,” Dr. Bethany Marshall, a Los Angeles based psychotherapist, tells Yahoo Parenting. “The baby blogs, the ‘bump watch’ coverage, the trendy strollers — all these present an idea of motherhood that has nothing to do with the self-sacrificial work of actually being a mother.”
For others, serious psychological issues may make bonding with an unborn baby difficult. Currently 10 to 20 percent of women struggle with pregnancy-related depression, and after the birth, nine to 16 percent develop postpartum depression (for those with a history of the illness, that number skyrockets to 41 percent), which can disrupt the attachment process.
Granted, pregnancy is a period of transition in which women experience identity changes, hormonal highs and lows, and stress — all of which can muddle a mother’s feelings toward her unborn baby. The key is to recognize when feeling detached signals a more serious problem. Marshall suggests asking yourself: “Do I really want a baby?” “What does motherhood mean to me?” “Do I have a history of caring for people at my own expense?” and “Am I psychologically prepared for motherhood?” Then allow people to nurture you so you can focus on your growing baby. “Only when you learn what your detachment is saying,” says Marshall, “can you fully embrace motherhood.”