I didn’t love my baby when he was first born. That’s a strong statement to make, but based on how love works for me, it’s true.
There is much talk of the ‘oxytocin rush’: a hormone that is released when we baby holds our gaze, when a woman breast feeds, after we have sex with our partners and, as a side note, when our dog looks us in the eyes – perhaps shedding light on mans’ unique and long-standing companionship with the canine species.
But there is very little talk of what really happens after you have your baby, or how you will really (likely) feel.
Let me stress that this does not go to say that I in any way disliked my baby or that I wanted nothing to do with him. Simply, I did not experience that oft-referenced state of blissful nirvana which you come to expect during the first moments of holding your baby. Heck, I didn’t even experience that feeling during the first few weeks.
Rather, our relationship evolved more slowly. I look back now on those early days in the hospital and to be honest, I’m quite baffled by the way I reacted to having our baby. Granted, I was exhausted and in pain from over 48 hours of labor, and recovering from the same. But this thing that was in now the room with Kevin and I – it wasn’t yet my baby. It was a baby.
I didn’t want to cuddle with him. I didn’t want to hold him. Attempting to breast feed was an exasperating struggle that the mere thought of resulted in a downward slump of the shoulders along with a deep sigh.
I watched my husband bond with our new baby boy with astonished envy. It was like he didn’t want to put him down. How is it so easy for him? What is wrong with me? I’m the mom. Shouldn’t I not want to let go of this little guy? These were just some of the questions and doubts that surfaced in my mind during our stay at the hospital. I thanked the heavens again and again that we had the support and help of the hospital staff – and wondered again and again how I would possibly do this without their help just a button’s push away once we were discharged two days later. Just the thought of that feat blew my belly up into a balloon of anxiety.
We arrived home on a crisp, sunny afternoon in mid-October. In hindsight, it wasn’t as horrible as I had expected it to be, though I’ll never forget those first few nights. At first, I put our tiny eight-pound boy down to sleep in his huge crib all by himself; I have no idea why I did this, it was just what I did. It wasn’t until the third night home that something clicked and it dawned on me that we had his bassinet set up in our room; so we began to sleep him there. Two-am diaper changes blended into around-the-clock nursing sessions. Kevin had to return to work; how I dreaded those long days by myself so early on. I would begin the countdown to his return home from work around 3 pm each day…his shift wasn’t over until 8.
Breastfeeding was a battle that ended in tears just about every time. Around two weeks in, I gave myself permission to exclusively pump my milk for Oliver. It was the best option for me emotionally at the time, though pumping wasn’t much easier. I would wake at 2 and 4 am to pump – whether or not the baby was up. I’d have to plan trips out of the house around my pumping schedule. Bottles would need to be packed, and calculations done regarding their stability and Oliver’s feeding schedule.
Then, one day in late November, he latched on and breastfed as though he’d been doing it all along. I couldn’t believe it! After he breastfed himself into a peaceful slumber for the first time ever, we both laid together and napped. Our bond strengthened exponentially from that moment on. I no longer wanted anyone to feed him from a bottle while I was around. I wanted him in the same room as me. To cuddle with him, to sleep with him next to me. The bassinet attached to our bed didn’t feel close enough anymore. While before I was eager and relieved to have someone else hold him, I was now hesitant to pass him off, and would observe with watchful eye as others did just about anything with him.
He was suddenly my baby.
And I loved him.
It’s difficult to put into words the difference between my emotions toward Oliver during those early weeks and my emotions now. Because when I say I didn’t love him – there are a lot of things that doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean I didn’t want him. It doesn’t mean I didn’t care about him. It does mean I didn’t know him yet.
And now I do. And now when I look down at him while he’s nursing, or sleeping close to me, my heart swells with love, with pride, with motherhood. I can’t imagine life without him now. He is my world, he brings new purpose to all that I do. I want to do everything better now, for him.
I always cared for my baby. But to love him, is to know him. And now, I do.
I know he only nurses on one side. I know he loves to be lifted up high in the air. I know he can’t keep two socks on his feet. I know he loves to practice standing. I know he likes when I sing to him. I know he loves when I pull open the curtains each day and say ‘good morning!’ I know he likes it when I call him Mr. Fancy Pants. I know he likes to watch Mugsy run around the house. I know he loves to stare at the lights. I know he likes to be rocked, and would prefer to sit up and watch things around him rather than be reclined. I know he likes to watch TV, even though I tell him ‘no TV!’ I know he is in the best mood of the day first thing each morning. I know he doesn’t like long rides in his car seat. I know he doesn’t like laying flat. I know he’s still deciding whether he likes baths or not. I know he likes diaper changes. I know he loves when I grab his tiny feet and smush them into my face.
I know he knows I’m his mommy. And I know someday, he will love me too.