Serena Williams recently revealed that she struggled to bond with her unborn daughter. And it's a topic that deserves more attention.
“Throughout my pregnancy, I’d never felt a connection with her,” Williams wrote in a personal essay for Elle. “While I loved being pregnant, I didn’t have that amazing ‘Oh my God, this is my baby’ moment, ever. It’s something people don’t usually talk about, because we’re supposed to be in love from that first second.”
Shruti Bali, an attorney in New Jersey, is glad the 40-year-old tennis legend is shedding light on the subject. She had a similar experience in 2017 and felt very much alone.
“At every ultrasound, my husband was the one gushing and oohing and aahing,” Bali told TODAY Parents. “Meanwhile, I was completely underwhelmed. I desperately wanted to mirror how he was feeling, but it didn’t happen."
While some women feel an instant bond with their unborn child, for others it can take until the birth or even months after the birth for that connection to take hold. There is no normal.
“Not feeling an immediate connection can leave a person feeling as if something is wrong with them,” mental health professional Dr. Kryss Shane told TODAY Parents.
"Much like romantic relationships, some claim they knew from the first moment, others took time to recognize the love,” Shane explained. "Every pregnancy is different."
Connections take time
According to Dr. Allison Deutch, director of the Reproductive Psychiatry Program at NYU Langone Psychiatry Associates, statistics show that one in four pregnant women feel little attachment to their unborn child.
But Deutch said she wouldn’t be surprised if the number is actually higher than 20%.
“That’s why it’s so powerful for women like Serena Williams to come out and say, ‘This happened to me and I need to share it,’” Deutch told TODAY Parents. “Many women don’t know how common it is because all they see is women lovingly caressing their bumps on social media.”
It wasn't until Williams and her husband, Alexis Ohanian, welcomed their daughter Olympia in September 2017, that she felt a real connection.
“When I finally saw her — and I just knew it was going to be a girl, that was the one thing I knew about her before we even had it confirmed — I loved her right away,” Williams shared in her essay for Elle. “It wasn’t exactly instantaneous, but it was there, and from that seed, it grew.”
Bali said she also felt a rush of love when her son Hayden was placed her arms.
But that isn’t always the case.
“Giving birth is emotionally and physically rigorous. And the fact that as a society, we sort of hand women babies to care for after they’ve been laboring for 36 hours and we’re like, ‘Don’t you love it?’” Deutch said. “That’s a problem.”
She added that love doesn’t have a timeline.
“I’ve had women say, ‘I didn’t feel that connection until my baby was three months old and they started smiling and giggling,” Deutch said. "But it might take even longer."
It's important to reach out to your doctor if you’re also experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, which include anger, anxiety, guilt, crying and thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby.
“Those are signs that something else might be going on,” Deutch noted.
Deutch encourages expectant parents to have fun when they’re creating their registry.
“It can help you begin to think in a very concrete, tangible way about what it will be like to have a baby,” she said.
She also suggests writing letters and playing your favorite songs.
“As you get further along in your pregnancy, the baby might respond to your voice and to music with kicks and movement,” Deutch said.
Shane tells people to be patient and focus on what is universal.
“Envision hugging the child, picture rocking the baby to sleep, attach yourself to the future of taking the child to your favorite park,” she said. “This makes them more real and concrete than abstract while still forming and growing.”