Tuesday, April 19, 2011

To Every Mother Who Didn't Overwhelmingly Love Her Baby Right Away

What a title, huh?

I have to confess that I didn't feel overwhelming love for my baby right away. When my bonus father (i.e., my father-in-law) asked Matt, "Could you ever imagine yourself loving someone so much?" right after Henry was born, I was just thankful that he hadn't asked me. I didn't want to lie, but I also didn't want to seem like a bad, indifferent mother.

I didn't beat myself up (literally or figuratively) about the fact that I didn't feel overwhelming love for my son when he first entered the world. I know that I can't control my emotional reactions to things; I can only control my actions in response to those emotions.

So I acted as if I loved my son more than anything when he first arrived. I doted on him and treated him gently and talked to him and rubbed his back and breastfed him (a lot!) and cuddled with him and smiled at him. But inside, he felt a little like a stranger to me.

That's the thing. I did love my son--when he was growing inside me. I spent nine months getting to know and love(!) "Coconut."

But then when he came out, he didn't feel like the same person. And I had to tell myself that it was okay; I would just have to get reacquainted with my son as he really is--instead of who I thought he was. I also had to give myself time to heal from our 45 hours of labor. I also needed to adjust to the stark difference between my old life and my new life.

It didn't take long for my love for Henry to grow (kind of like the beautiful weed outside our dining room window that grows faster than anything I've ever seen and now towers over our house).

Each passing day gets easier and easier. We've created a beautiful daily rhythm together, breast feeding has finally gotten easier and less tender, Henry smiles, and I feel honored to help my son reach his inner potential day in and day out.

Even as I write and reread this post, I cringe at the thought of admitting all of this to the wide, wide world. Are you going to think I'm a horrible mother who's not worth of the honor of raising a child?

But the best I can do is be honest and speak about the dark parts. There might be someone else out there who felt the same way (or will feel the same way in the future), and these words might help them to not feel so alone.

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lene said...

No, you are not being a horrible mother, you are just being human! I admire you for the honesty, which i know must not be easy in a world where mostly "perfect" mothers reign! The smile on Henrys face tells me the true story :)

Amber said...

I thoroughly appreciate the honesty. I just found out that I'm pregnant and I must admit this is one of the things that scares me the most. What if I don't like my child? It is great to hear that even if the love isn't there immediately that it does arrive.

C├ęcy said...

Thank you for your honesty.
I think we put such high standards on ourselves and young mothers in particular. We can't and shouldn't expect ourselves to be perfect right away. Like any relationship, sometimes you get smitten right from the beginning, sometimes the person just grows on you.
I have to thank you for your honest words, I feel like it takes the pressure off for when I'll have kids.

diana said...

I certainly don't think you're a bad mother. It must be hard to admit and to publish it for everyone to read. But you are right, you cannot control your emotional reaction to things.

I just had my son 3 weeks ago, and I did feel that gush of love and emotion for him and for our new family. But there are other moments when I questions myself. I felt so guilty that I had to ask the nurses to take him from my chest after he was born so I could get stitched up, but I was still in so much pain that I thought he was going to roll or fall off of me. Now that we're home and my husband is back to work, we're doing really well, but there are moments when I question what I'm doing.
No one is perfect and there is no one way to love your child or to be a parent. I respect your honesty in sharing this.

sk said...

Thank you for sharing! I don't have kids yet, but I can totally imagine feeling the way that you did-- it always takes me a long time to warm up to people/new things. I'm glad to know that it's totally normal, either way!

Andee said...

Thanks you so much for being honest Sara! I feel like nobody tells the truth about weddings or babies; I feel like everyone sugar coats everything, and I want the truth, not some candy coated everything is fine bs. You are working to make it acceptable for women to be really honest with each other, and isn't that what we really want?

Jayna said...

You are so awesome for being open and honest about this and your whole journey through pregnancy. I truly appreciate your sharing. I also do not have children, but if I'm ever pregnant, I know I'll be re-reading all of your posts.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your honesty and authenticity Sarah! I hate how we as a society so often fail to talk about reality! Anyway I thought you might like this: http://www.ted.com/talks/rufus_griscom_alisa_volkman_let_s_talk_parenting_taboos.html

This is one of my favorite Ted Talks ever, I was dying laughing at the growth curve of love. I hope you enjoy it.


Alotta Lettuce said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your honest Sara. There seem to be so many taboos around what one can say about parenthood in general and their child in particular, lest they be perceived as terrible and unloving.

But these taboos do EVERYONE a tremendous disservice. Parents themselves, their children, and anyone and everyone out there who might be THINKING about becoming a parent.

The more honest people are about the realities of parenthood - every single aspect of it, good and bad - the better prepared the rest of us will be.

A good friend recently confessed something similar to me - that she's not quite in love with her son. But unlike you, this is her second son, and she very much DID fall in love immediately with her first. She's struggling with the fact that she didn't have a similar experience with #2, and feels as if she's been lied to by the parents who insist that they love all of their children equally, because that hasn't been her experience so far. But she's falling more and more in love with #2 each passing day and I have no doubt that in time, she'll hardly be able to conceive of the time when she WASN'T overwhelmingly enamored of him, just like you and Henry. :)

V. Wetlaufer said...

I agree with what others have said. I appreciate and admire your honesty. Telling women they will always fall intensely in love with their baby the minute the baby is born (well, partly based on oxytocin but....) contributes, I think, to the stress women feel postpartum. There is so much pressure on women to say and do and think and feel all the "right" things (a definition which changes depending on who is talking) that no one could ever live up. It is important to be honest and I think you highlight a really important aspect of this: the difference between our dreams of who our children will be and who they are. I don't have children yet, but I have daydreamed so many times about what my future children will be like, I worry sometimes about feeling disappointed.

Also, on a totally different note, that fabric behind Henry's head is adorable!

Anonymous said...

Sara - you have hit the nail on the head with one of my greatest fears. Immediately after my husband and I got married, I wanted to hurry up and have kids - it seemed like the next step. But we agreed we should stick to our original pre-marriage plan and wait at least until I finish my degree.

Now I feel the opposite - I definitely want to wait until I finish school and I would prefer we waited until my husband is finished as well. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if I want kids at all. People keep telling me it's one of the greatest experiences of one's life but I feel that there are so, so, so many other things I want to "get out of the way" prior to having kids (particularly lots of traveling), what if I run out of time to do them all and feel the biological clock's push to have children?

A few months ago I thought I might be pregnant and I was more frightened than I have been in a long time. I was scared of losing my current, flexible, independent life and I was scared if I was pregnant and did have the baby that I would always resent that child for anchoring me down, so to speak. Turns out I wasn't pregnant, but I still wonder will I ever desire having kids? If I get pregnant unintentionally, what if I don't love my child?

Your openness is a comfort to me and in particular what you said about not helping how one feels, only being able to help how one reacts to feelings.

Claire said...

Thank you thank you thank you for sharing your true emotions. I love reading your blog because I believe you and trust you to be honest about your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. I think it is so refreshing to have a voice in the blog world that does not pretend that their life is perfect and "as it should be". I am not yet a mother, but hope start that journey in the next couple of years. Know that I will revisit these posts.

Aamba said...

This might sound weird, but I felt that with my dog. I wondered if it was the same with a baby, and I suspected that it was.

For the first month or so I was unable to see how cute my dog was. I knew objectively that she must be, she was a little toy terrier, but I just couldn't see it.

I was frightened of the new responsibility and I couldn't see her personality yet.

I worried that I might not grow to love her and that was very scary.

But once she started to show who she was, I began to fall in love and it grew deeper and deeper and deeper every day.

Three years later she is the most loved creature in my life. It's a stronger love than I've ever felt before.

Anonymous said...

I think it's really common. I've heard and read the same things from friends, on mom support group boards online, etc. I would guess that I hear it from at least a quarter of the people I know. Totally common. Do you have a mom group that you've joined so you have other new moms to relate to? New mom fitness groups, breastfeeding groups, etc. are great resources.

Rosalie said...

Thanks Sara, more mothers need to be honest about motherhood. There are too many mum blogs showing sunshine and happiness and they always seem so together all the time! Making guilt even worse for those struggling. I'll admit to this too, in fact it took a long time for me to properly feel that intense love. I don't think a traumatic four months helped. Now it still grows the love, particularly with this toddler age we're coming into which is just fantastic, when you see your child becoming a proper little person it's just mindblowing.

Leah said...

I appreciate your honesty. As someone who is head-over-heels in love with a little grape-sized being inside of her, I have been wondering what it will be like to actually meet the "person" I imagine is developing inside me. I keep having dreams that my baby has been born and I don't recognize him/her. In one dream I even said to the midwife, "That's not my baby!" So it eases my mind to know that even I really do feel that disconnect after birth, it doesn't mean I don't/won't love my child every bit as much as I love the idea of my child. The love will come.

Anonymous said...

All very normal, from what I understand. I think gauging love by "feelings" is overrated in every arena (romantic love, parenting, etc.) Those feelings ebb and flow, but it's our choices that remain constant.

Carrie said...

Sara: I felt the same way with my first. And I just had my second on Saturday, and the experience has been COMPLETELY different. I have no idea why. But I'm head over heels, and it is delicious! It's just another example to me of accepting emotions and going from there.

Anonymous said...

My friend kept wondering when her baby's "real parents" were going to pick her up. She said she just felt like she was babysitting. Of course now she feels differently but she felt that way with both of her kids in the beginning.

georgia said...

I've never commented before, so hello! Thank you so much for posting this! I've been meaning to write a similar post for so long but my blogging skills are lacking :)

To take it even one step further, I didn't feel anything for my daughter while she was inside my belly. I've always chalked it up to her being unplanned, but I never felt any connection with her while I was pregnant. People would enthusiastically ask me, "Do you talk to her and play music for her!?" And I would just shrug because I felt totally absurd talking to a baby that I couldn't really fathom.

I suspected I wouldn't have that "sparks and rainbows" moment when she was born - and I didn't. And I have to honestly say that it took me weeks, perhaps even months to really fall in love with her. I try and tell new struggling moms that I meet, "Just take care of the baby. Breastfeed the baby. Keep on keeping on. Day after day. The real, stop-you-in-your-tracks love can come later." My daughter takes my breath away now and I live every love cliche in the book. But it took a lot of time.

You're a great mom! And I so appreciate you sharing this post with other moms who might be struggling with the somewhat jarring reality of becoming a parent.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I just had a conversation about this. I was feeling slightly guilty that I as well did not have this huge gush of love right after the birth. It is something that is so hard to explain. I would have done anything to protect this little beautiful creature, but that was was the problem...it seemed like a little being to me (feeling wise) rather than my baby. Within a day or two everything had changed but everyone aleays said that you would have that momment when the baby is here and you have this love you have never felt. I did have a love I had never felt rush over me but it was for my husband and not the baby.

I do know the same love for the baby now and it is a crazy deep, I miss her when she is sleeping love...but it took sometime to completly fall in love with my beautiful girl.

Coussirat Clan of Houston said...

I remember when Sofia was just born I would look at her and ask her aloud, "Who are you?" I was overwhelmed by the fact that she felt like a stranger to me and I was going to have to love her and care for her. But it just happens. You do it and one day you realize that you love them more than you ever thought you could. Ana turned 3 months today and I'm really starting to fall for her! I mean I've loved her all along, but it is more tangible now than before.

You're a great mom and are doing other moms a service with your honesty. xo, Angie

Anonymous said...

Thank you. I'm 14 weeks along and we've just started telling co-workers, distant relatives, etc. Everyone asks me, "are you EXCITED?!?" and I say yes... but it's a lie.

Since the moment I found out I was pregnant I've been, for the most part, really, really calm. I'm a high-energy person in most things, but for deeply personal, life-shifting things like this I react with this nearly stoic-looking calm. It's like I'm not allowed to admit to that, though : I have to be delirious with glee or something.

I suspect that my reaction to meeting this kid for the first time will be similar, and I expect that it will take me time to move in to that deep love a mother feels. I'm totally OK with that - it's not something to rush.

Knowing ourselves and being honest with ourselves can only make us better mothers.

Jennifer said...

I absolutely love your honesty and authenticity Sarah! I hate how we as a society so often fail to talk about reality!
Jennifer Dominquez

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