Detached. Apathetic. Determined.
Not words you’d expect a mom to use when describing her emotions towards her new role. I had a new job and I attacked it the way I knew how. I read up on it, watched relevant programs, asked friends and family about their experiences, then formulated a plan. I expected it to be hard. I expected not to get much sleep. I even expected the unexpected. I figured love would get me through. That inexplicable bond between mother and child would carry me through the difficult patches.
I had not expected that part to be one of my biggest challenges.
I loved my daughter from the beginning. I loved her before I knew she was a she. My love began pretty much the moment I saw the word “pregnant” on the test and was solidified when I saw her bopping around the screen during my first ultrasound. I cried when she was born and declared she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I gave her big kisses and cuddles and couldn’t help staring at her while I tried to get my head around the fact that the baby I was holding was mine. That she was the same thing that had been squirming and jumping inside my belly just hours before. I lay there in the hospital bed, enjoying tea and toast while I breastfed this little tiny being for the first time. I doubt I’d describe the feeling as natural but that made it feel all the more amazing. It was like primal instincts were at work because both of us were clearly novices yet things seemed to be going relatively well.
I shook my head, trying to clear my mind and stop the surreal out of body experience I seemed to be having.
Did I really just have a baby?
The next thirty-six hours were under the same haze. Everything was still somehow running on auto-pilot even though each minute brought on something else I’d never done before. I fumbled around trying to get diapers on, open a pack of wipes, scrape off the odd substance called meconium. She had her first paediatrician appointment. They showed me how to bathe her. I was encouraged to keep a feeding/changing chart. I went through the motions, thankful that I was able to keep up, for the most part.
My Dad welcomed us home and held his grand-daughter for the first time. He sat there silently looking at her, never one to say the word ‘love’ out loud, with the emotion clearly visible on his face. Throughout the next week, my husband and he took turns holding her when I wasn’t feeding her. I watched with awe and envy at how natural the love and instant the bond seemed to be when they were around her. Perhaps it was the strain of labour, the antibiotics I was taking, the sleep deprivation I was feeling. I was sure once the effects of these faded, I’d begin to feel more normal. I’d start to feel like a mom somehow. I’d know in my heart that this little baby belonged to me.
The days passed and I watched this little girl grow and change almost before my very eyes. We took an obscene amount of photos, desperate to catch every significant moment on film. My Dad left, my husband went back to work, and I worked to get my baby on a relatively regular routine. She ate, I changed her, I handed her off to Daddy or put her on her tummy on the floor, she looked around at the world, she yawned, I swaddled her and put her to bed, I rested or ate myself while she slept. And repeat. Repeat again. And Again. And again. And again.
I still felt like I was watching the world through a haze. Everything felt so surreal but it still felt like that weird floaty feeling I’d had so many times before after an all-nighter or long string of short nights before a crit. I still felt numb. I still felt no connection.
I reassured myself. This was all very normal. The ante-natal instructor had told us that only about 1 in 5 women have an instant bond with their babies.
Everything takes time. Just watch her, cuddle her, interact on a human level with her and the bond will come.
Friends who had become mothers before me had told me about the baby blues. Hormones were the culprit of all the tears. It didn’t feel natural but that was just because it was all new. This tiny human was not predictable and didn’t know what she wanted and even if she did, communicating it was out of the question. Of course it was hard for me. I was expected to figure out the needs of someone who couldn’t figure it out herself. I just needed to get some patience and to persevere.
So I did best I could. I smiled at her. I sang to her. I cuddled her. I took her for walks. I stuck to a routine so I could anticipate which need might be the most likely. The health visitors told me she was thriving. Friends and family told me I looked really well. Inside, I felt nothing more than a milk machine.
I didn’t feel anything for this baby.
Yes, I did love her. I even thought she was lovely, and cute, and an amazing little human. But I didn’t go all gooey when I looked at her. I didn’t get teary when she outgrew her newborn clothes. When she rolled over, I consulted the book to see if she was on target and showered her with praise as the book recommended. Did it really last this long? How long would it take before I felt something when she looked at me, when she curled her tiny hand around my finger?
My sister was visiting when little miss smiled for the first time.
I said, sure of myself, “It’s gas, I’m sure of it.”
“No no, it was a reaction to you. It was a smile.”
I still didn’t believe it. She smiled again when the health visitor was there, so two people had confirmed it. I took it as true and dutifully wrote it down in her baby book. I couldn’t understand how she’d smiled yet. And at me. She was small but surely she could see through this façade. Surely she could tell I was just going through the motions. Did she really feel something when she saw me? Sure, I thought she was lovely and cute and amazing but I felt no huge connection. Not really.
How crap is that?
My baby was a few weeks old and someone else had to tell me it was a real smile? Instead of being like most moms seeing smiles through gas, here I was trying to explain it away.
Perfect strangers told me to enjoy this time as it was the best time in their lives. Other moms gushed about savouring every moment because before I knew it, they’d be grown. That it’s the early years that really formulate them into the people they’re going to be.
This is the best it gets?!?!? S**t
Savour every moment??!? I’ve felt so numb through it all, how many of the important moments had I missed??!?
It’s hard work but the rewards are worth it?!?!? Where the f**k are the rewards?!?!
Some friends had reassured us, the first twelve weeks are pretty rotten but it gets better when they start making sounds like they’re trying to communicate. I tried to stick it out. That’s why I couldn’t bond with her. She was just a lump that pooped, ate, and slept. I needed interaction.
Of course I didn’t fall in love with her right away. I needed to see her personality emerge for that bond to be complete.
Twelve weeks came and went. I sought help. I started counselling and anti-depressants. The health visitor and my counsellor separately suggested I attend a local ‘bonding with baby’ course. I was incredibly offended. Who were they to try and interfere with my relationship with my daughter? My baby and I were learning how to communicate with each other. I knew, within reason, when she was hungry or tired or needed changing. She smiled and engaged people, actively trying to get them to interact with her. She was positively textbook on the weight and physical milestones. She seemed happy. What could I possibly get out of that class? How much more could someone connect to a smiling lump? We were okay, weren’t we?
I continued to do everything the books and counsellors recommended. (save the classes or groups…another topic for another day) I took pictures of every move she made, face she pulled, new development she conquered. She developed a sense of humour and I did my best to capture it on film. I was so happy when she laughed for the first time. She would giggle when my husband played with her so I encouraged him to do so as much as possible. I thrived on it, trying to soak up the natural connection they had with each other.
I don’t remember how old she was when I first played with her and it felt natural. My husband pointed it out.
“That,” he said, “was your real laugh.” We both smiled in relief. It was going to be okay.
To be continued...