Not loving a child

[deleted account] ( 2 moms have responded )

This is a story that was originally published in Daily Mail in the Spring of 2009 (The names of both Mother and Daughter were changed, obviously). The story is no longer there, it was pulled, but this is a copy I found. I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue.

Here is the story:

It's a confession few mothers would ever make. But here, one woman asks... So why can't I LOVE my own daughter?

By Rachel Porter

Last updated at 9:14 AM on 22nd January 2009

Shelley Price can't stop the tears from falling as she makes her startling confession. The mother-of-two is in the living room of her home in Halling, Kent, surrounded by all the usual signs of a busy family life. There are photos of her daughters on the sideboard and toys spilling out of cupboards. But the cosy domestic scene only makes what she has to say even more poignant.

Shelley is about to admit to one of the great taboos of motherhood. No matter how hard she has tried, she says she can't bring herself to love her elder daughter, Catherine.

"I know what people will think. Everyone will hate me. I'm the woman who doesn't like her own child. But I'm speaking out because I'm convinced I'm not alone," says the 33-year-old. "I hate myself for the way I feel, but whatever it is that makes a mum want to hug and kiss her child, I have not felt it. Catherine has always felt like someone else's daughter."

Shelley had Catherine, now 11, when she was just 22, with her first long-term boyfriend. The five-year relationship ended shortly after Catherine's birth. Yet instead of forming a tight-knit unit with her baby, Shelley didn't feel any maternal warmth. What makes her admission all the more difficult to comprehend is that she is a model mother to her two-year-old daughter, Poppy, by her current partner, Andrew.

"I used to say I wasn't cut out to be a mum. But now I've got Poppy I know that's not true," she says. "I've tried to change. I've been trying for 11 years. But if I give Poppy a cuddle, it feels different to hugging Catherine. I've tried to explain to Andrew how I feel, but he doesn't want to believe me. So, I've kept up this pretence that I feel the same towards both my daughters, because it's easier than trying to explain how I really feel."

Shelley's admission sounds shocking, but there is no doubting the fact that this housewife and mother is tortured by her terrible secret and longs to have a normal relationship with her first-born. Not only is there an indescribable guilt, she also feels devastated that her daughter is missing out on such an important bond.

'I'm a loving person," she says. "Over the years I've had time to think about how this happened and I haven't come up with anything that would pass as a reason or excuse."

So what is at the root of this distressing problem? Shelley is adamant that she did not suffer from post-natal depression - it has certainly never been diagnosed. Her only attempt to ask for help, when Catherine was four, was dismissed by a health visitor. However, she does admit she wasn't for motherhood when she became pregnant at 22. "I was in a stable relationship with Catherine's father but I'd never intended to have children so young," she says. 'We didn't bother about protection as I had polycystic ovarian disease and my doctor said it might take years to start a family. So it was a shock when I realised I was expecting. Deep down, I felt it wasn't the right time for me."

Her mother, Linda, with whom Shelley had a close relationship until she died in 2005, expressed similar concerns. 'I can remember her sitting me down and saying: "Shelley, I don't think you're ready for a baby."

But instead of listening, I felt even more determined to prove her wrong.

"Now I wonder if I shouldn't have gone through with it. I wasn't ready and every minute since has been a struggle."

After a healthy pregnancy, Catherine's birth was relatively straightforward.

"But when the midwives put Catherine into my arms, I felt nothing at all," says Shelley. "She didn't feel like my own flesh and blood. She felt dirty. I know I shouldn't have cared. Like all newborns, she wasn't all pink and peachy. But I did not want to touch her. I didn't even want to look at her. I asked the nurse to take her away and clean her. I know it sounds awful, but I just wanted to have a shower and forget all about it.

"It was obvious that something wasn't right from the start. That first night, I sat there emotionless from 10pm until 7am with Catherine in my arms, waiting for this love to hit me but it never happened. Months and years went by and those feelings never came. At first, I thought it would pass. I assumed it was shock. It didn't ever occur to me that I could be depressed."

Why? Shelley is adamant she did not suffer from postnatal depression - but a psychologist said it is a possible cause.

"My labour wasn't at all traumatic and everything in my life at that time was happy and stable, so I kept my feelings to myself and struggled with them in my heart. The relationship with Catherine's father broke up soon after she was born. We just weren't right for each other. He doesn't have anything to do with her now."

At all the routine checks, Shelley appeared to be a contented new mum.

"I lied about how I was feeling," she says. "When my health visitor called round a few days after Catherine's birth, I said everything was fine. Every new mother feels a bit strange at first. My hormones were all over the place and I thought I just had the normal baby blues. It seemed silly to get too worried. Later on, I realised I wasn't like other mums, but I didn't know who to turn to. I couldn't explain how I felt. I did not dislike Catherine, but I didn't really like her either.

"When she wasn't well with teething and tummy aches - all the normal things babies go through - I took her straight round to my mum. I couldn't get rid of her fast enough. I would never have let her come to any harm, but I didn't want to deal with her myself.

"I used to be so glad to drop her off at playgroup. The whole time she was there, I would dread having to collect her. Other mums would scoop up their children in their arms and ask them what they'd been doing, what games they'd been playing - I just couldn't do it."

Shelley tried desperately to summon up maternal feelings.

"I did hug Catherine, but it was always half-hearted. I always told her I loved her but I never really felt it or meant it. If she fell over and hurt her self, I'd pick her up. But I would put her down just as quickly. I didn't feel any warmth when I was hugging her and I'm sure she knew my heart wasn't in it. I went through the motions because I was so determined to be a good mum and didn't want Catherine to suffer.

"I don't remember any of the landmarks, such as when she said her first words or got her first tooth, even though I can recall all those stages for Poppy without thinking. I can't think of a single moment in Catherine's life that has made me feel like a proud mother. I can't lie - I don't remember anything that has made me feel like a mother should."

"Until I had Poppy, I hadn't realised how bad I'd been to her."

Shelley shudders at the memory of Catherine, as a toddler, pleading for affection.

"Like babies do, she would stretch up her arms to me, but I'd ignore her. My mum used to say: "She wants you to love her. Why can't you love her?" And I'd say: "I do, I do." But inside I knew I didn't - not like a mother should. 'If Catherine wanted to play in the park, I didn't want to take her. If she wanted to climb into the bath with me, I wouldn't let her because I hated being too close to her.

"I feel so guilty thinking about it because I do all of those things with my other daughter and I love it. I've read up about postnatal depression and the symptoms, but never found anything which went anywhere near describing how I felt. Mum and I had a heart-to-heart one day and she admitted she had found it difficult to bond with my older brother. I don't think her problem was anything as bad as mine, but I think that's why she understood what was happening to me.

"When Catherine was about four, I wouldn't let her call me Mummy. I admit that does sound wicked. But if she called me 'Mum' when we were out, I'd say: 'Don't call me that; call me Shelley.' She called me Shelley for two years and never asked me why."


Around this time, Shelley made her first and only attempt to seek advice from a health visitor. "I was really worried that Catherine was getting older and I wasn't getting any better at dealing with her," she says.

"The thought of telling someone about it terrified me, but I was desperate. So, eventually, I told my health visitor that I didn't feel right towards Catherine. I said I had no patience with her and didn't feel able to love her. I let it all out. The woman leaned over, put her hand on my knee and asked if I smoked. I told her I did, so she said: 'Whenever you feel yourself getting stressed, whenever Catherine screams or cries, lock yourself in the toilet and have a cigarette.'

"That was the sum total of her advice. After that, I felt completely deserted. I had no choice but to keep it to myself. In desperation, I read every problem page in every magazine and newspaper in the hope I'd find something to reassure me I'm not the only mum in the world going through this. But I've never seen this discussed anywhere. It's so isolating. All I've ever wanted was for things to feel right between us."

So, what do the experts say about Shelley's lack of maternal feeling towards her elder daughter?

Psychologist Dr Pat Spungin says that a mother's failure to love her child adequately can be the result of any of several issues.

'Fake it till you make it'

"Postnatal depression, which can suppress the usual emotions of love and affection and make it harder for the mother to pick up on signals from her baby, is a possible cause," she says. "In milder cases, it's possible that a mother with a lot on her mind - relationship worries or other stresses - wouldn't recognise the symptoms and get help. A failure to bond can occur if the baby reminds the mother of someone with whom they've had a bad relationship (such as a former partner or parent). Also, if the baby cries a lot and doesn't respond well to comforting, mothers can experience feelings of inadequacy and resentment that interfere with bonding."

Bur, Dr Spungin says, whatever the reasons, a mother who recognises such an affliction in herself must take action. "A mother who feels that she's struggling to love her child has a responsibility to do something about it," she says. "All any child wants is love and support, so to grow up believing their mother doesn't love them has potentially devastating consequences for their self-esteem. I would recommend relationship counselling and a policy of 'Fake it till you make it', which means that, until a genuine bond develops, behave warmly and lovingly towards your child and allow them to do so to you."

After such a traumatic experience of first-time motherhood, Shelley was understandably apprehensive about having another baby, but the arrival of Poppy has proved an important step in her rehabilitation.

"Though it didn't change my feelings towards Catherine at first, it was a relief to feel emotional about Poppy from the moment she was born," she says.

"I feel terrible. I couldn't believe the strength of my feelings for her from the first time I saw her. It felt right. It felt so different from the last time. I can't explain why, it just was. Now, I'm so close to her. I'm always playing with her, cuddling her, picking her up. She's the love of my life.

"I know that the way I am with Poppy bothers Catherine. She doesn't need to say anything; it's the way she looks at me. I can tell what she's thinking. Sometimes, if I've been playing with Poppy, she'll come and sit next to me, put her head on my shoulder and her arm round me, waiting for me to cuddle her. I look at her little face and know I've hurt her. I do care deeply for Catherine, but I have just never felt the same bond with her.

"I wish I could say she was a little brat, but I can't. She's a lovely, intelligent girl and has never done anything to justify the way I feel about her. Catherine hasn't done anything wrong and I have told her that.

"I think the bond has strengthened since I had Poppy because I feel more human again. I've made more of an effort to talk to Catherine, which I've never done in the past. She's told me all about her love of High School Musical and she's absolutely mad about animals. I am determined to build on this, so I can make up for all the years we have lost.

"Every night I go into Catherine's room while she is sleeping and look at her. She looks so sweet and I feel terrible about what I've done to her. I whisper: 'I'm so sorry for the way I've been with you." But I know I can't help the way I feel. I can't turn on my feelings like a tap. I can't change the past, but I'm hoping we can make our relationship better. I want to put it right, but perhaps it's too late for that.'

Read more:

You don't have to answer all the questions, just thought they would give us a good place to start.

Do you think a lot of mothers feel this way but are afraid to say anything to anyone due to the social stigma, or do you feel no mother should feel this way, and that she is a horrible person for feeling no love toward her child?

Do you feel she took appropriate steps to learn to love her child, or should she have done more? If more, what should she have done?

Do you feel it will be damaging for her daughter to have had the story published, even though the names were changed, or do you think she is helping other mothers with similar issues find the courage to ask for help and know they are not alone?


View replies by

S. - posted on 11/07/2012




I have known this with 3 mothers I know personally, one being my mother towards my sister now (38) my mothers situation has never gotten better but then I don't think she has tried enough. I do believe mothers are afraid to admit they feel this way and yes no mother should feel this way but it is a fact that some sadly do! I don't and can't understand how anyone can feel this way but we are all wired different, it upsets me to think of the poor children and with out question that child will grow up with major issues.

Maybe she pubished the story to help others, maybe she published it to make herself feel better or maybe the child will grow up read it and what think she was unlovable from birth (that poor poor child) but if this was me personally i wouldn't make it public, I'd seek out all the help i could to help fix ME and I most certainly wouldn't go on to have more children.

Nikki - posted on 11/07/2012




Wow, this was really heartbreaking to read. I feel for her daughter. It's hard to say if she did enough, I haven't walked in her shoes. As a very maternal mother if I felt that way I would seek help, I would seek out every kind of therapy and hormone tests to try and work out the source of my problem. I just cannot comprehend feeling like that.

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