I was twenty-seven years old and we had just celebrated our two-year wedding anniversary when we found out I was pregnant. It was earlier than we had planned but I was more excited than ever to welcome our baby girl into the family. I read books, decorated the nursery, and sang lullabies to her multiple times a day. I was so ready to be a mom and experience all the wonder and excitement of a new baby.
Two weeks before her due date, she chose to surprise us all and make her way into our world. After many, many hours of labor the doctors decided a c-section would be the best option for us. Which of course wasn’t on my birth plan but, after 35 hours of labor, I just wanted the baby out of me.
Since my epidural wasn’t doing its job I was heavily drugged during surgery and in and out of consciousness. It felt like a scene from a sci-fi movie when you wake up strapped to a table in a white room and have no idea what’s going on. I would occasionally ask, “Where am I? What’s happening?” I would hear the word “baby” thrown around the room and even asked, “Who’s having a baby?” It felt chaotic and confusing, to say the least.
After surgery, I was wheeled back to my room and my husband popped his head in the door and let me know it was time to feed the baby. They brought her in the room to me and immediately my whole body tensed and I felt sick. Nausea came over me and the air around me thickened. I couldn’t breath. Oh my god. What just happened? What did I do? I’m not ready for this. I have to FEED her…as in, keep her ALIVE. Too much – this is too much! Those thoughts consumed me as I took this 8 lb 14 oz baby in my arms and offered her her first meal. Outwardly, I held her close and tried to follow the lactation consultant’s directions to give her the nutrients she needed — inwardly, I wanted to run.
The nurses helped us change diapers, took her to the nursery if I needed rest, and basically oversaw everything while we were there. Three days later, we were discharged and the feelings of panic and anxiety grew tenfold. Because of the surgery, I couldn’t move around too much so my husband did most of the diaper changes (okay, ALL of them) and I was solely a source of food. I felt heavy in my heart. Nothing felt like what I had expected.
I cried off and on for over a week. I felt like a failure as a parent and as a wife. What kind of mother doesn’t feel close to her baby? A few nights later, a friend called to congratulate me on the birth — and I broke down completely. I wept uncontrollably and told her I thought something was wrong with me because I felt nothing for my baby. After reassuring me that this is a completely normal thing for new moms (my first time hearing that), she told me something that had helped her was to look at her baby and name one thing that was special. So, after hanging up the phone, I tried that. I looked into her tiny, sleeping face, but all I saw was a blur. Like someone had smudged out her face in a movie. I couldn’t see her…
Except when she ate. When she nursed and my milk letdown I would get this overwhelming love for her. I would finally see past my pain and she her beauty, and would cry tears of joy and tell her how much she means to me. And I would apologize over and over and over again and pray to God my pain wasn’t creating her own kind of pain. And when she was done eating, all went back to how it was before.
This pattern continued for a while until one day, when she was done eating, there was a little break before the bad feelings came. I actually got to sit and watch her smiling face and enjoy this tiny person we had made.
The gap between feeding and the depression got wider and wider until, eventually, it didn’t exist anymore.
Now, I know each woman is different and, for some, it takes more time and various means to get the help they need (medication, therapy, etc) but what I do know is there’s hope for every single one of us. Babies are the biggest responsibility we’ll ever have and the idea of birthing and raising them is easy enough — maybe we think it will all just come naturally when they get here and we don’t need to prepare. Or perhaps we do everything to prepare for their arrival and then it’s nothing’s like we planned. There’s nothing we can do to fully prepare our mind, soul, and body for what’s about to take place.
I remember bringing her home and thinking, I should tell her I love her. But I don’t KNOW her. I don’t tell just anyone that I love them. So it took time to fall in love with her. But when I did — man, it was fantastic! Love was inevitable.
So, no, I didn’t love my baby the way I wanted to when she was born…or even for a while afterwards. But love did come and replaced of all that pain, anxiety, confusion, and exhaustion with many years of laughter, hugs, kisses, puzzles, and back-to-back episodes of Dora the Explorer.