When I was hugely pregnant with my son, I daydreamed about what it would be like to lay eyes on him for the first time. Would he have my nose (he doesn’t)? What about my husband’s smile (he does)? I just knew it would be love at first sight, mostly because that’s what everyone kept telling me to expect. My Facebook newsfeed was full of new parents declaring a love that knows no bounds. I would often see a picture of a new mom with perfectly applied makeup holding her brand new baby with the caption reading something like, “today I know what love is!” For many parents, this is probably an accurate depiction of the day they became parents. In the lives of many, it’s probably a day overflowing with love. However, for just as many people, it’s not that simple.
I have a confession about the day my son was born: it wasn’t love at first sight.
If I’d posted a picture of me holding my new baby that first day, the caption would have read something like, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing” and my hair would have been plastered to my face by my tears. Sure, I had a strong biological connection. I felt compelled to protect him. It was an “I’d lift a car off of you” sort of instinct, but I wouldn’t describe it as love. I had never been around a newborn before, and I had no clue how to care for one. And even if I’d had experience with babies, I didn’t know THIS baby. I had to figure out what he liked and what bothered him. We had to form a relationship and get to know each other. I didn’t fully love him until I knew him.
These feelings were only exacerbated by my postpartum anxiety. My new baby petrified me, and I couldn’t believe the nurses at the hospital were actually allowing my husband and me to leave with such a tiny, helpless person. The first night home, I couldn’t imagine going to sleep and trusting that my baby would be okay. I stayed up the entire night watching reruns of The Dog Whisperer while I held my new son, often checking to make sure he was still breathing. My insistence on holding him all night wasn’t a reflection of my devotion as much as my sheer terror.
Naturally I assumed there was something wrong with me, that I was the victim of a defective mom gene. When people asked, “aren’t you just head over heels?” I would answer with the obligatory, “I’ve never been more in love!” It wasn’t until I read Vicki Glembocki’s memoir, The Second Nine Months that I gave myself permission to let my adoration for my son develop organically. She helped me see that we all grow into parenthood differently, and for some of us it takes time for that powerful, all-consuming love to develop. Through this realization I learned my most important parenting lesson to date: it’s always okay to have some grace with myself. I’m never going to be the perfect parent I envisioned myself being back before my son was born and parenting was all hypothetical daydreams.
In reality, being an authentic parent is much more rewarding than being a flawless one.
Since then, I’ve come to realize that what I was feeling is totally normal. I’m a psychotherapist, and I work with women experiencing postpartum depression. I frequently hear women express guilt that they aren’t bonded to their baby, even before they’ve given birth! We’re constantly bombarded with messages about what kind of parent we should be and how we should feel. Too many of us have bought the hype and feel inadequate when we don’t react like we “should.” There’s no right way to feel when you’re thrown into parenthood, and it’s never wrong to acknowledge that it’s an adjustment for everyone.
If you’re a new mom, and you aren’t yet smitten with your wrinkly little newborn, rest assured what you’re feeling is just fine. Someday you’ll look at your clever, funny, exasperating three year old across the dinner table, and you won’t be able to imagine a time when you didn’t adore that curly hair (my husband’s), dimple chin (mine), and infectious laugh (all his own).
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