Monday, June 25, 2012

Finally Embracing Motherhood

 Right after Henry was born, my father-in-law asked Matt, "Could you ever imagine yourself loving anything more than him?" I remember feeling so thankful that he hadn't asked me the same question. I knew I was supposed to say that I could never imagine myself loving anything more than my newborn son, but, honestly, I didn't even know my newborn son. Yes, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that he arrived safely in our lives, and I was overcome by the sheer miracle of the universe replicating itself through my own body, but I didn't immediately love Henry the way I grew to love my life partner, Matt, or even our trusty bloodhound, Hoss.

I am finally--after sixteen months--coming to a place where I can begin to say, "My life is definitively better with a child in it." 

Even as I type that thought, the guilt floods in. What if Henry reads this post when he's older and gets the wrong impression? What kind of mother am I if it took me sixteen months to fully embrace motherhood? What will all of you "real" mothers think--the ones who were immediately able to elevate having children to the most precious place in your life? 

But this is the truth for me, and it needs to be said in case it falls on some mother's ears who also took a longer path to the Joy of Motherhood. Matt and I are finally at a place where the sheer work that it takes to raise a child is balanced by the sheer pleasure. Henry is a sweet, sweet boy--he always has been. But now he communicates with us. He says "mama?" when he wants something to eat or wants me to help him put on a hat (his favorite is the shower cap featured above) or wants a drink from my water bottle. He likes to do big work, like carrying around a child-sized rake or flipping over the ottoman. He can put his banana peel in the compost and carry his breakfast to the table. We like to sit side-by-side on the step in the backyard, looking for birds, picking up sticks, and waiting for our neighbor Patty to come outside. 

Although I wish it hadn't taken me 16 months to come to this place, I don't blame myself for taking so long to get here. It is what it is. I can't change the way I feel or will myself into a different state of being. Instead, I have focused my attention on the actions of joyful motherhood. I spent a full year with Henry all day long, breastfeeding him every 3-4 hours, singing him songs, taking him outside to stare at trees as mobiles, trekking to museums/playdates/swimming pools/parks, smiling at him and telling him I love him. Matt and I nearly always respond to his demands with patience and grace. We modify our schedules to meet his needs for routine and rest. We read him books constantly. 

As I prepare to give birth to a second child (in January), I imagine that my transition into expanded motherhood will be even more difficult. Matt and I are intentionally trying to space our children close together for a variety of personal reasons, none of which will actually make the act of raising two young children any easier. It feels like we're at complete capacity right now. I feel like I sprint, sprint, sprint and then pass the baton to Matt while I double over on the ground, frantically trying to catch my breath. With our second child, there will be no tag-teaming, no easy passing of the baton. We will go from "two on one" to "two on two" or even--shutter--"one on two." 

In the low moments (or low year? or years?), I will remind myself that the days are long, but the years are short. I will also come back to this quote from this article:

I think parenting young children (and old ones, I've heard) is a little like climbing Mount Everest. Brave, adventurous souls try it because they've heard there's magic in the climb. They try because they believe that finishing, or even attempting the climb are impressive accomplishments. They try because during the climb, if they allow themselves to pause and lift their eyes and minds from the pain and drudgery, the views are breathtaking. They try because even though it hurts and it's hard, there are moments that make it worth the hard. These moments are so intense and unique that many people who reach the top start planning, almost immediately, to climb again. Even though any climber will tell you that most of the climb is treacherous, exhausting, killer. That they literally cried most of the way up.
I won't get angry or disappointed about what I do or do not feel. Instead, I will focus on what I do and the kind of mother I am for my two children. That's the very best I can do.

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Anonymous said...

oh, sara, this brought tears to my eyes! thank you for your honesty, for the beautiful way you put into words your love for your family & for sharing all of this with the intention of being truthful about your experience and helping other mamas out there. you are an inspiration! -sarah smith

diana said...

This is such a beautiful post. And I do think that it is wonderful to write about things like this. You can find endless information and opinions on baby gear and parenting decisions, but there is much less out there on just being a mom and all the things that come with it.

I think the love for my son was there immediately. He could break me in two from the moment he was born. But settling into motherhood wasn't as easy, and I felt some guilt in that (and still do at times). I don't remember all of the hard parts, at least not in detail. I'd like to think that I settled into motherhood with ease and grace, but in fact I was over protective, nervous, controlling and a little crazed. Now, at nearly 15 months, I'm finding myself more at peace. I worry less and relax a lot more. I have more patience and can be much more present in the moment.

Lately I've been wanting to have a second child, but for my husband and I, I think spreading our children out more is a good thing. I think I would be much more at ease with a newborn, but I'm not sure how well I would do with two children at once.

Jenny said...

I have a four and a half year old and a newborn. While I loved my older child fiercely from the moment he was born, it was a sort of overwhelming mama bear protective love. The first 18 months felt like a slog. I completely recognize how you feel/felt. I now enjoy my son and really like him as a little person. He makes my day and my life so much more wonderful. My second chid has been much easier because I know this very brutal newborn-baby period will end rather quickly and she will become a funny child I'll love to be with rather than work to be with. Hang in there! That quote is right on and something I think of frequently!

Rosalie said...

I've found the transition to two children far easier. Probably helped that my second child is a relaxed soul and my first was incredibly high needs with severe reflux. Thank you for your honesty, I felt the same. In fact it was around 14-16 months that things really blossomed for us. This time round it was very early on and now my second is four months and the time just flies. Yes it is scary doing the one on two at first but it soon becomes normal. I was saying to my husband, I'm glad I never have to go through those first time mum first months ever again. They are so bewildering.

Molly said...

Though I can't say I've been in your shoes (I bonded immediately with my Henry after a very trying pregnancy and rough labor, even though I was convinced I couldn't) I'm glad to read this post as I can see this coming thru in your posts many times and it's good to know that you're aware and are working through it.

Everyone has different expectations of parenthood and some of us get rocked right off of our foundations and it's good for everyone to be honest with their experiences. I felt a great sense of relief when I shared my antepartum depression secret on my blog- all of the sudden other friends started opening up about how what I thought where perfect pregnancy, birth stories, and early parenthood were not what I assumed and we're all better for it. In fact, my own experiences helped me see the warning signs in a few friends and talk them thru the hard months they had.

I'm glad your persevering; you seem to have a lot you want to accomplish in your life, which is great and I'm sure you'll exactly where and how your children are to fit into the rest of your life.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for this Sara. My little boy is just turning 12M and only now am I seeing the reward. Just this weekend though I was overcome with guilt and "bad mother" syndrome when I was looking as his newborn photos and videos and remembering how I didn't love him in the same way that I love him now. Your honesty makes me realize I am not the only one who needed time and it gives me hope that I will be ready for a second one soon. Mother's aren't honest about this enough. I think we think that our only options are being overjoyed with motherhood or post-partum depression. The reality is, many of us are somewhere in between.

Carrie said...

As Molly said, this has been apparent in your posts, and I'm proud of you for posting about the issue outright. Oh, and I'm with you. In contrast to my experience with my first son (TOUGH), I loved my second son fiercely and ferociously from the very second I saw him. I don't know why. I just did. I called him Angel Baby right away, because it really felt like he was sent down from heaven (and I am not religious whatsoever!). It has taken my second son's lifetime to date (up until recently, really--14 months) for my feelings for my first son (who is almost 3 1/2) to "catch up" to those I felt so easily for my second son. In fact, I'm not sure they are 100% on par or whether they ever will be. I wonder if there is something that lasts "forever" and just can't be replicated when the bond is so instant. Regardless, I've accepted my feelings, and my sons will not know the differences. It's ok. And I agree with a couple of posters that the two-kid thing is difficult at first with logistics (feeding infant all the time; chasing older all the time), but it gets much easier around 8 or so months in. I promise.

Kate said...

Sara, great post as always. Kudos to you for your courage to share your honest experience. It really makes a difference for us regular (read: not superhuman) folks.

On a completely different note, I've read a couple of articles recently that I thought might interest you. One is in a similar tone to yesterday's post:

The other is a bit of an "expose" of sorts on homebirth which I know you have some experience with. It has a pretty obvious slant against homebirth (and some unnecessarily scary stories which aren't representative of homebirth), but I thought you might still appreciate the exposure of some serious flaws in the gold standard study showing that homebirth is as safe as hospital birth. When a Harvard Med School Instructor re-analysed the data, she was able to show that the data in fact implied that homebirth was up to three times more deadly than hospital birth... Anyway, I thought it was a pretty compelling piece, and just wanted to pass it on in case it interested you.

Take care!

Kate said...

Sorry, I forgot the link to the second article. You can find it here:

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing this, Sara. My husband and I are talking about having a family, and I know dealing with my own expectations of motherhood might be challenging. It's wonderful for you to share your own experiences. Thank you!

Rebecca said...

Thank you for posting this! I have a 7 month old and while I do love her more all the time (as she grows more autonomous and more personality), it was so hard at first. I was amazed by her, proud of her, thought she was beautiful and perfect at birth.. and yet.. I did not feel any kind of magical, motherly love. My husband and I were astounded and felt a huge amount of guilt over how we felt about the baby. We'd leave each other notes in the middle of the night (when we took turns getting up with her) that said things like, "I love you more than her!" It felt horrible to say and feel those things, but good to vent them. Parenting is HARD WORK. I'm not sure why I didn't realize it would be so hard before. I like that quote - there are moments when you are able to look at the bigger picture and see how beautiful it is. I try to enjoy them often, but it's easy to get bogged down in the every day hardships of caring for a little person.

I always thought I was meant to be a mother, so it's hard to face these feelings. And I think a lot of people who never wanted to be mothers are blindsided by the automatic love they feel. Everyone is different! We never know how we'll handle things until we get there, but the most important part is that you keep trying and doing your best.

Rachel said...

I was diagnosed with preeclampsia when I went to my 30 week midwife appointment. I gave birth to my daughter by c-section the next day. She spent the first 8 weeks of her life in the NICU. I had been planning a water birth at a birth center and I ended up with the most opposite of birth experiences possible. After a very traumatic 24 hours and a frightening c-section the calls and visits of congratulations came pouring in. I hated it! Why were people congratulating me when my body had failed me and my poor baby girl had to come out 10 weeks early, weighing only 2lbs. 2 oz. I cried. A LOT. I often got remarks like, "You must love her so much" and "I bet you don't even remember what life was like before her". I did feel love for her but I was not instantly in love. I felt admiration for her for conquering all that she had to, but I was grieving the birth experience that I missed out on, the chance to hold and touch my baby after she was born. (I wasn't able to hold her until more than 24 hours after she was born). I DID remember what my life was like before she was born. I missed it so much and I craved the normalcy that was my life just days before. The NICU became my life. For many weeks all I could do was stick my hand through a porthole and touch her head as she slept peacefully in her isolette. But, I was there. I was present and involved in her care. As soon as she could start spending time out of her isolette I held her for hours at a time. We had challenges at every corner. Breastfeeding was a huge challenge that we have just now conquered (she is about to be 4 months old). I was so worried about bonding with her and I was afraid that she wouldn't be able to distinguish me from the many nurses that cared for her. Every day that I arrived at the NICU I had no idea what I was going to walk in to. Sometimes I was greeted with good news and other times very disappointing news. Looking back now I can pin point the exact moment that I fell deeply in love with my daughter. The doctors were very concerned about some bloody stool that she had been having and they thought that she might have a very dangerous intestinal infection. They needed to start aggressive treatment immediately. I was losing it. I couldn't take being in the NICU any more and now we would be there even longer. I felt like everything around me was spiraling out of control as I watched the nurses surround my little girl to place IV's and draw blood. When they were finished they handed my baby to me and I cried and held her close. One nurse told me, "I know this is hard, but she needs you to be strong for her". I looked down at the tiny little baby in my arms. She actually looked very peaceful and content in my arms despite all the poking and prodding she had just been through. I realized that right then she was much stronger than I was. I felt so proud of her and I was flooded with the most overwhelming feelings of love for her. She came two weeks after all of that and has now been home for about 8 weeks. Some days are hard but I am so thankful that she is home and she is healthy. I am so thankful that we were able to form such a wonderful bond despite our difficult start.

Anonymous said...

The other thing to note is that there are many studies suggesting that homebirth is 3-7x more deadly than hospital birth and this was the only (peer-reviewed) one that showed it was "safer". In fact, the data always showed it was more dangerous but because it was written by a midwife, they focused on the interventions (more in hospitals) and did not talk about mortality in the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Sara your honesty is so welcoming. Don't stress babes...i dont think you are!....i never bonded with my now 18mnth old son due to the sheer exhaustion of taking care of him. He was too much for me and my feelings were never automatic like some moms. But what got me thru was reading thru blogs of mommies who truly cared and loved their babies. this inspired it taught me how to love my son. it was also around 15/16months taht i fell inlove with my son...head ova heels...what we feel is not in our control. let it be :)

Aimee said...

I hope you and your family are okay! You usually post so consistently... Sending happy thoughts down south.

Megan Aronson said...

I am thankful you shared this. I especially loved the quote at the end. <3

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