It would be unlikely that any woman who has had a child growing inside her, and then delivered that child into the world, is unchanged by the experience. Whether it be a good or bad experience is very subjective, however I have no doubt that we are all changed in some regard from it. I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with our first child. It was such a rush of mixed emotions the likes of which i had never experienced before. Two days prior I had received some bad results from a recent pap smear and was almost convinced that I was headed for cervical cancer. To then find out I was also pregnant was devastating. Then there were the feelings of guilt because this should have been one of the happiest moments of my life, to discover that my husband and I had created a new life from a wonderful loving relationship. All this fueled by the tumult of early pregnancy hormone changes. For some months I was a bit of a mess. Fortunately all turned out well (after a couple of other pregnancy anxieties) and I gave birth to a lovely baby boy in a labour that was elating and empowering, and even euphoric at times.
The actual birth gave me a new sense of confidence and enormous sense of achievement at having successfully got my baby through some adverse pregnancy issues, to enter the world safely. The feelings of protection and nurturing I had for this helpless thing were at times overwhelming. I felt I would protect my child with my life. It was difficult at times to remember that I was wife as well as mother because caring for such a fragile and dependent creature was almost all-consuming.
In the early months the sleep deprivation and hormone changes were almost debilitating. Indeed quite a high percentage of women suffer terribly with post natal depression. I think possibly we all do to a certain degree. Giving birth and raising a child is such a huge responsibility, and no amount of reading or advice can prepare you for it. I thought myself a reasonably intelligent and capable woman before I had a baby. Then suddenly I was in a situation where quite often i was only guessing what I should be doing, or what the problem may be. All the while advice was coming in from every direction, some of it so ridiculous as to be laughable. Finally I decided to ignore the advisers and do things my way, afterall I was still a reasonably capable and intelligent woman! Good move. My mental state improved dramatically and I relaxed, so did my baby. Sleep filled our nights and I returned to being the mostly rational person I had been before. This also probably corresponded with a hormone shift.
It is not just the physical act of the birth that changes a woman's mental state. Sure hormones are responsible for a lot. But having children has changed my whole outlook on life, on my mortality, and on my thoughts on being a woman in the first place. I consider it a blessing to be a woman and a privilege to be able to have a life grow and develop inside you, then to feed it from your own body, comfort it and protect it. Indeed it has made me whole to have done this. There is no greater experience in life. Suddenly I have extra purpose in life, and greater desire to look after myself so as to be around to guide and teach my children so that they become worthwhile adults who hopefully will contribute something to the world. For all the frustration and anxiety that goes with this job, it is the most rewarding task to ever embark upon. There are no words to describe the pleasure of having your own child contented, safe and sleeping in your arms.
I doubt men experience anything near as powerful as what a woman does through this whole event. The bonding does not occur nearly as early for the most part. They obviously do not experience the physical changes a woman undergoes during pregnancy, or the pain and exertion of the birth, and can have no comprehension of it even if they have been present throughout. I wonder if the protective and nurturing instincts are as strong either. These began with me from early on in the pregnancy, well before the birth. This is of course a generalization, and I would never say that men are not protective of their children. I just wonder whether it forsakes all else like it can do with women.
Perhaps to men us mothers become extraordinarily neurotic, temperamental and demanding following child birth, but a lot of it is because of this sudden and complete shift in the mindset when you become "mother". Once the protective mechanisms are in gear they cannot be turned off. It is however very difficult for an instinctive mother to remember her other roles in her life and thus I am sure many relationships suffer as a result.