Emma Smalls, from the UK, is mum of almost two-year-old Serena and works in risk management for an international bank
"At 37.5 weeks I was told my daughter had stopped growing in the womb so I needed to go in for a C-section within a few days. It was completely unexpected; we had no time to digest the news. I was nervous and worried, but from the moment I was wheeled into theatre and my OB/GYN kindly held my hand and told me all would be okay, it was a truly joyous experience.
"When I first met her, I cried tears of relief that it was all over, but more importantly that she was fine. As I had gestational diabetes in my last trimester and needed insulin before surgery, she was taken away not long after she was born and kept in NICU for 48 hours. I had heard all about the immediate 'rush of love', but for me it all felt very surreal - like an out of body experience; 'Did that just happen?'. When I was pregnant a friend of mine had told me not to worry if I didn't feel the all-consuming immediate bond and that this was normal and OK. I'm so grateful for that piece of advice as it gave me faith that bonding would come in my own time. So I was kind to myself and allowed myself whatever time it took for our bond to grow.
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"We stayed in hospital for four days after the birth and it felt like we were in a little bubble. My husband would go up to NICU and take pictures for me the first two days and I remember looking around my room thinking it felt nice and safe but worrying about what it would be like in the real world.
"The first few nights back at home were a mixture of excitement and disbelief that I was now a mother to the tiny being in the Moses basket. I watched my husband hold our daughter and thought how natural he seemed. I wondered whether anyone would look at me interacting with our daughter and think the same thing about me.
"My milk didn't come in straight away so we started with formula and I remember painstakingly trying to follow the instructions - the warnings about what could happen if you didn't mix the formula correctly all sounded a lot more serious than I expected. When I was able to breastfeed, I found the first few weeks really hard and wanted to give up pretty much every day. I felt I had no idea what I was doing and this was not the loving, bonding experience I had imagined. Luckily I had an amazing midwife who showed me how to feed and pump and this completely turned things around for me. By the time I got to four months and breastfeeding had gone down to once a day, I made the decision to let go and continue exclusively with formula. I wanted my memories of breastfeeding to be positive and thought it was best to say goodbye to it with fond memories rather than ending it with regret and frustration.
"My advice to other new mums would be not to pressure yourself to feel a certain way as it's different for everyone. Let your relationship with your baby grow in good time and when you're sharing responsibilities with your partner, play to each other's strengths - don't feel that as a mother you need to be the expert at everything. Accept help, ask for it if you need to - I wish I'd done this sooner. In Dubai we have access to great support such as the midwives at Health Bay, Babies and Beyond and Malaak. I used all three services during my maternity leave and there's no shame in reaching out for support."
Photos by Aiza Castillo-Domingo