Friday, February 13, 2009

My Tiny Valentine

You could have heard a pin drop in the mothers' group when I said I didn't love Westley right away. The topic was "Falling in Love with Your Baby," which made me cringe a little inside when I heard it. But I'm all for sharing openly about this crazy parenting stuff. The good, the bad, and the not-so-lovey-dovey. So I admitted that I didn't love Westley when I was pregnant with him, that I didn't love him the minute I saw him, or even a month after he was born. In fact, it took me a good four months before I could say out loud that I loved him and not feel like a faker.

The other mothers, who liked to expound week after week how deeply bonded to their babies they were--how open and tuned in they were in this yoga-class-is-my-religion kind of way--didn't resonate with this AT ALL. It was all blank stares and crickets chirping. My suspicion is that I'm not the only mother in the world who felt the way I did, and probably not the only one in the group. But no one seems to want to talk about it.

Admittedly, it's not my favorite thing to talk about either. It's fucking painful, even now when it seems so long ago and strange. It wasn't how I expected to feel, and definitely wasn't what I wanted. I was ready to fall in love with my baby from the minute those two lines showed up on the pee stick. I was very happy to be pregnant, crazy symptoms and all. But my body was more of a science project than a sacred vessel. I didn't really feel connected to my pregnancy as the act of carrying around a tiny person. Sometimes I'd rub my belly and think something lame like, "Hi, baby." But trying to imagine my fetus as a little human, who had a face and a sex and a brain (and would someday have a name and a voice and opinions and and and...) made my head spin. Every midwife appointment was surprising, with a doppler on my torso revealing wush-wush-wush. That little heartbeat was like a miracle. Although I looked forward to the sound each time, I never expected to hear it, and it sent my own heart racing with the re-realization: Holy shit, there's something alive in there.

That's all it was, though. Some thing. Maybe if I had known with absolute certainty that I was having a boy I would have felt more connected to the thing as a "him." Maybe I would have called him by his name, and pictured him with blond hair (yes) and brown eyes (nope), wearing tiny corduroy trousers and button-front shirts. Or maybe not. Maybe he would have been just as much a stranger to me when he was born.

As Westley lay floppily across my chest in the birth pool, I searched his tiny face and body for something familiar. But he was a total stranger. I felt no bond with him, and I thought I knew nothing about him. Apparently, growing another person inside of you isn't always an adequate way to get to know him. There was no "My baby!" moment when the midwives hoisted
Westley out of the water and into my arms. In fact, I think I had forgotten that I was going to have a baby, and even though I'd pushed him out just moments earlier, I didn't really believe he was mine. I didn't dislike him at all, but love didn't even enter the equation.

I forced myself to believe that as time passed, I would start to love this little dude who had mysteriously come to live with me. Despite my intent to let feeling love for Westley be a gradual process, I was very hung up on not feeling this incredible Love that so many other mothers talk about experiencing with their new babies. As far as I could tell, I was just doing it wrong. He was beautiful and healthy and very lovable, so it was something about me. Bad mother, I would think. Isn't loving the baby a major component of your job? Only bad mothers don't love their babies.
Right now, with Westley cuddled on Rob's lab to read books, it's hard to believe I ever felt the way I did in those first few months. Because although I remember not loving him, I don't really remember falling in love with him. In my mind, there is only Then--taking care of a little lump of human and feeling more like his underpaid employee than a loving parent--and Now--flirting with him and calling him "my little boyfriend" because he sticks his tongue out to kiss me. The only conclusion I can draw is that it wasn't just me falling in love with him, but the two of us slowing getting to know and love each other that changed everything.

Loving Westley is almost effortless now that I know what an awesome dude he is, though sometimes it's strange to think that he loves me--and not just because I fed him with my body for 14 months, and continue to do so. No one is or has ever been as visibly happy to see me as he is. No one has ever whipped his head around to follow my every move (with the possible exception of my brother when he was a baby), or greeted me with an ear-to-ear grin. I feel undeserving of such pure, unchecked, joyful affection. Especially when I think about him loving me before I loved him. It feels a little shameful, actually, and that is something I still have to work on.

Not loving your baby right away sucks, but what sucks even more is being ashamed for feeling the way you do. Feelings are information, not character flaws. But when I spoke up in that yoga studio full of mothers, it felt like a confession. I felt like I was revealing something awful, something that I was wrong for having experienced. Fourteen months later, I still sometimes wonder if I was wrong. What is unquestionably wrong, though, is beating ourselves up over imaginary ideals. There's this concept of A Mother's Love as something perfect, pure, unwavering, instant. But that type of love, like any love-at-first-sight-then-happily-ever-after narrative is fiction. Not something to strive for. In fact, when I think of "instant," I think of instant coffee and instant pudding, which both suck.

It's not important when or how you love someone, only that you do.

Dear Westley,
Will you be my Valentine?
Love, Mommy

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2 comments:

Amanda said...

I don't remember how I found your blog, but I'm glad I did. Thank you for this post. Thank you for putting to words what I never could and helping me finally feel like it's ok. I didn't love my daughter when she was inside of me, did not love her when she was born. I cared for her and took care of her better than anyone else could, but it wasn't until she was a few months old that I suddenly could not peel my eyes off of her and found that I loved her more than anything. It took a while, but I love her and wouldn't trade her for anything in the world.

Again, thank you for this :)

Melissa said...

http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/12/love-at-first-sight/

The one thing I know for sure, is that there is no such thing as normal. Love you.