After a long (41 weeks before being induced) and difficult (5 months of bed rest accompanied by giant horse pills that did not have to be ingested orally, if you know what I mean) pregnancy, I gave birth to my son on April 21st, 2017.
I am not a good or easy patient. Ask my husband. He was wonderful after I was confined to a seated position. He did everything. But the minute his back was turned, I would spring into action – unload the dishwasher, do a quick load of laundry, cook something for myself. I’m also a complainer. I was bored. I was uncomfortable. My ribs hurt. My back hurt. Etc. All of my complaints, I read, could be alleviated with exercise. But I couldn’t exercise.
It’ll all be worth it, everyone said. The minute you hold your little baby, your little boy, in your arms, it’ll all make sense. It’ll be love at first sight…
A little more about me: I’ve always been mildly uncomfortable around children, especially babies. I love the ones in my life – my nephews and godchildren, but please don’t send me a picture of your neighbors’ new baby. I do not care. To quote Will Farrell in his short stint on The Office, “That baby could be the star of a TV show called ‘Babies I Don’t Care About”.
I’ve also always been pretty ambivalent about having children. My husband really wanted kids. I just kept saying, both out loud and to myself “Maybe in the next year or so…”. It was an accident, of course, that I found myself pregnant when I did. I had been so careful for so long and it seemed impossible that we would conceive, without actively trying, the second I let my guard down.
All that being said, I was dubious about all the “Love at first sight” anecdotes I was being fed. But all the blogs said so. All the articles touted it. “Love at first sight” “It’ll all be worth it” All the pain and nausea and discomfort were supposed to just dissipate when I finally held my little one…
Guess what. It did not.
As difficult as my pregnancy was and as concerned as we were about going into preterm labor, my little guy ended up being a week late, and I’m convinced, if we hadn’t opted to be induced, he would have stayed put even longer. I was still only 1 cm dilated and carrying him up high in my ribs when I checked into the hospital that Thursday night.
My labor and delivery were also pretty difficult. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m just a wimp. I don’t know. I have nothing to which to compare it. All my friends told me once they got their epidurals, it was a piece of cake. That was not the case with me. I had multiple epidurals, but by the time I finally gave birth to my son, after laboring for 15 hours, I could feel most everything. My baby was snuggled into the right side of my belly, and even though he was crowned for about 3 hours or so, I could not push him out on my own because of his position. Eventually, I yelled at my doctor to “Just get him the F*<$ out!” Which she did, with a vacuum, after realizing I was telling the truth when I said I could not push any longer.
“Look, mom! Look how beautiful he is! Look at all that hair!” came the chorus of exclamations when he was finally out and laying on my belly. I gripped my oxygen mask to my face and stared at the ceiling, trying to put my world back together again. “I can’t,” I said, “I just need a minute.” They gave me what seemed like exactly a minute before putting him in my arms where I held him uncomfortably while trying to fight off a tearful panic attack. I held him for what I felt was a sufficient amount of time before “generously” offering him to my husband, who happily took him and nuzzled him and stared lovingly into his face.
That night was also pretty hard. Breastfeeding did not come naturally to us. He had trouble latching. I had trouble making him latch. It was painful and uncomfortable and awkward. I was so exhausted but he wanted
to stay at my breast. Every time I’d try to put him in the bedside crib, he’d start squalling. Meanwhile, I was nodding off and jerking awake, in terror that I would fall asleep with him in my arms and drop him or roll on him. My husband awoke to find me in tears. “I want to call and have him brought to the nursery. I’m so tired” I cracked out. My husband took him from me and rocked him so I could sleep for a couple of hours before I resentfully awoke to try to feed him again.
The next few days, both at the hospital and at home, were a blur of pain, awkward feeding attempts, and sleeplessness. Despite my exhaustion, I was grateful for the constant stream of visitors who dropped in to meet the new addition. There was never a shortage of arms to dump him into the second he was done eating, for that was the only time I held him – long enough to feed him and then transport him to the nearest friend or relative who was happily waiting their turn to cuddle and love him.
Then, about day 4 at home, I was clumsily attempting to change his diaper (At this point, I had only changed him one other time – when my husband had stepped out of the hospital room for a minute and a nurse had just recently left and there was no one else to do it) when my mom, who was staying with us, came in to help me. I immediately made room at the changing table to let her take over completely. As I turned my back to the process, the baby let out a piercing raptor-like shriek. I turned back around and laughed with my mom about how vocal he was and he quieted down. I started to turn away again and he let out the same loud shriek. So I turned back to him and again he quieted. My mom marveled “Mandy, he doesn’t like when you walk away from him.” That couldn’t be true, could it? Surely, he was too small to have that kind of reaction to my presence or absence. So we tested it. I turned my back or walked away multiple times. And, sure enough, each time he would let out his little baby pterodactyl shriek.
Later that night, my husband and mom both went to bed early, mom handing the baby over to me as she left. I sat in my living room, with him in my arms, anxiously awaiting the upcoming feeding, in a mild panic that I had been left alone with him. As I stared down at him, I thought about his funny little shriek earlier that day and how he was making that sound for me. How my absence had elicited such an angry little sound from him. And then I thought about all the times I had shoved him off on someone, anyone, else, how his little unseeing face would turn toward the direction of my voice no matter who’s arms he was in. How my voice must have been the only constant that he heard during those months that I carried him, after his little ears developed. How he was this little guy in this new cold world filled with big shapes, and strange sounds and the one sound he knew was almost always at a distance, always out of reach. And my heart broke into a million pieces.
“I’m sorry” I whispered into his soft little cheek, “I’ll do better. I promise.” And I let go of all the resentment I was still holding onto from all those months of discomfort and my anger over the difficulty of my labor. I realized that that was what was causing my unease, lack of confidence, and, I’m just going to admit it, unlove. I did not yet love my own baby. Until that moment, when my heart was broken by him.
The next day I begin to seek out more positive interactions with my son, instead just the painful, awkward interactions we had been having. I held him now, while he was awake and staring at me, after feeding him, instead of just dumping him into the closest available hands. I started changing his diapers instead of pushing it off on my mom and husband. I started talking to him while he was in my arms and staring up at me. I took pictures of him with my phone when he was being cute instead of just waiting for someone else to send me pictures of him.
Here it was. This was bonding. This was how I started falling in love with my son.
I still feel a little guilty that it took me almost 5 days to love my own baby. After all, it wasn’t his fault my pregnancy sucked and my delivery was horrible and breastfeeding was uncomfortable, but I couldn’t help feeling resentful toward him. It took an actual effort on my part to move past that resentment. We didn’t have that magical “love at first sight” moment touted by all the blogs.
As I share my story with my friends who have children, I find that I am not as alone in this as those blogs and articles made me feel. It’s not always love at first sight. Childbirth is hard. It is physically and emotionally traumatizing. Sometimes, we find it difficult to push past that pain to the other emotions underneath. That’s okay. That pain is as valid an emotion as any of the fluffy feel good stuff we are “suppose” to be feeling. We’ll get there eventually. Eventually, love will push through, and be just as wonderful as it would have been if it had shown up “at first sight”.