baby blues, babyhood, motherhood

Motherhood and the myth of love at first sight

I was so excited to become a mother. I had a countdown ticker. I memorized every page of Baby Bargains and Dr. Sears. I read the books, followed the blogs, and hung on to every word of TLC’s Baby Story. That moment of indescribable bliss when the baby was deposited skin-to-skin in your arms? I daydreamed about that moment. I told my doctor how important this was to me. I included it in my birth plan. Let all else fall to the wayside, I said, I was going to have that special moment with my son.

What is it they say about the best laid plans?

Labor lasted twenty-four hours. My son had meconium aspiration so there was no cord cutting of the proud new father and no skin-to-skin contact for the new mother. And then as the doctors ensured his well-being under fluorescent lights nearby, I crashed. My blood pressure plummeted as fast as my fever rose, and despite my pleas to hold my son, I was told I wasn’t strong enough to do so.

It took twelve hours before they let me hold my son. I remember this moment. I waited so long for it and it was finally here. I remember taking in his tiny arms and fingers, and then, the moment shortly after as I watched him in the bassinet next to me swaddled tightly with a blue cap on his head. I waited for the indescribable moment I read about. I felt something. But it was not indescribable. Instead of a jolt of tender emotion, all I felt? Was terror. What had I done? I took a perfectly fine life with a man I loved and added this new person for whom I would now be forever responsible for. After all the monitoring and the ultrasounds and hand-holding by a team of doctors through the pregnancy, in a few days, they were going to send me on my way to do as I deemed fit. But who on earth deemed me fit?

I remember that moment, and the moments that followed when I had a minute to myself from feeding, and changing, and washing. I remember the heavy brick of responsibility pressing into my shoulders threatening to cave in my chest. I looked at my husband, my mother, my brothers, all starry eyed with love for this little one. I felt broken. I did right by him. I fed him, clothed him, took him to his appointments, but the lingering worry remained: Wasn’t the fierce tiger love for your child the most basic animal urge a woman has? Where was mine?

It took four days before I felt hope. When my mother deposited him weeping into my arms to be fed.  I took in his wrinkled little face in my dimly lit bedroom and whispered you don’t like me very much do you? I know newborns don’t social smile, but I can swear to you as I am standing here today, that when I said this to him, he stopped crying as though surprised by my question and his face broke into a large, pure, grin. It took my breath away.

It took seven days before I felt love. Sitting in a dentist waiting room dealing with a root canal that emerged immediately after delivery, I looked up from the outdated magazine in my lap, and suddenly,  I missed my son. I couldn’t get home fast enough. I needed to hold him, not because I wanted to, but because it was a deep physical need and suddenly I felt like a dam surrounding my heart had burst and the love began pouring in. . .

. . . and its never stopped pouring. Not a day goes by. Not one single day, no matter how difficult or mundane, that I don’t look at my son and marvel at this love. It’s a love different from any other love I’ve known. It’s made me stronger, its made me softer. It’s made me grow up, and its brought out my inner-child. I didn’t know it was possible to love anyone quite this much. It’s frightening, its emboldening. And like now, it sometimes turns me into a big mushy mess.

And so its only natural that given how different things are now, that I might look back at those early days and wonder if I imagined it all. I’m almost tempted to recreate a different story, one in which I felt bunnies and sprinkles and rainbows upon meeting my son. But I didn’t. And now that I will be a mother again soon [insh’Allah] to another little one, its so critical I not pretend I had a TLC Baby Story memorable moment. Because I didn’t. Call it baby blues, or sheer exhaustion, I felt nothing I expected to feel and was horrified at the things I did. And while this time around my hormones may lead me down a different, better, path [I sure hope so] I am writing about this to remember it may not be so. And that it will be okay. That as hard as it will feel in that moment, I will get through it.

And I share this here because I know I can’t be the only one who looked into her dearly desired newborn’s eyes and felt emotions other than high-strung-out-love. I share this to say that I hope every mother gets a giddy high from the moment she holds her child, but if she doesn’t, trust that love will come. Maybe not like in the movies. Or A Baby Story. And maybe the challenges won’t be as simple as my baby blues, maybe it will involve PPD or even medication. But it will come. In the meantime be patient with yourself. Be gentle. And if you’re doing the best you can, know this is all that is expected of you. Love will come. And it will be beautiful.

12 thoughts on “Motherhood and the myth of love at first sight”

  1. congratulations on motherhood take two! wish you all the best.

    thank you for sharing your experience.. i recently gave birth to twins, and since then i've been wondering how come no one talks about the challenges and dark side of motherhood!


  2. As you know, my experience with my first born son was very similar, (including 24 hours of labor.) I don't even know if I loved him after a week – maybe it took me longer. I think I've blocked it out because it's painful to remember. I went through the worst depression of my life and was so sleep deprived I don't even know if some moments were reality or hallucinations. It didn't help that the nurses at the hospital forced me to breast feed and it just was not working for me and my son. I felt like his inability to latch on was a rejection of me, and when he did painfully latch on, I resented him for the physical pain it caused.

    For a lot of reasons my second son was a more pleasant experience – I had more experience, knew what I was getting myself into, a labor that was half as long and much easier, and the fact that I didn't even attempt breast feeding – all made the “instant love” thing happen.

    Everyone likes to talk about the “bunnies and sprinkles” as you say – but it doesn't always happen like that, and no one should feel guilty if it doesn't pan out that way.


  3. So glad you shared this Aisha. I blamed the lack of amazing “love” feeling on the fact I had an emergency caesarean section after 36 hours of labour. There is something so unnatural about your child suddenly appearing… I remember the moment so well, I asked my husband who she looked like…. And he said “baby-like” I looked at her and the first thing I thought was… Wow she doesn't look anything like how I imagined she would. And then I closed my eyes and fell asleep. Later in the recovery the midwife tried putting her on the latch and I gave her a look as if to say excuse me? What do you think yore doing? I'm really tired!
    I felt so ashamed I didn't get that crazy love feeling. When I went back to work, every time I saw a lady deliver and. Burst into Tears of joy upon seeing her baby I wiped away a tear for my lack of feeling upon mine. When we went home, I actually said to my mum… “I'm not sure I love her as much as I do my niece” and my mum told me never ever to utter that again. Anyhow…. I can talk about this now because the love come! The crushing hurting taking your breath away kind of love… And yes I love her many magnitudes more than my niece!!!! Everything she says and does blows me away. So yeah… Not everyone gets that amazing moment!


  4. Tracy, thanks for sharing your own experience. It's interesting because with this post, I've gotten some private e-mails relating but I guess its hard to outright admit sometimes those early days are tough and I do understand that. It's not easy and tehre is so much pressure. Expectations on how we should feel should not be one of them.

    Bongi, wow, your words got me all verklempt. It's sad that we feel this way and then we have to hide our feelings. The feelings are not a barometer for our truth, as you and me both see now, we love our kids with more love than we could imagine but sometimes feelings are like the weather and in those early days its a haze of so much going on. Its important that you shared your experience. It's important to be aware that not everyone is a gushy ball of love and that its okay and that it doesn't make anyone a bad mother!


  5. Ah, this POST made me all mushy and weepy! The early days of babyhood–so odd to remember, how long ago from the high precipice of 2-years-old! After my c-section, I just wanted to be done with that hospital-donedonedone! And when my folks arrived in a week or so, I happily left Hen in my mom's arms while I traipsed all over NYC (very recent abdominal surgery? Yeah, what of it? I'm not PREGNANT anymore! Woohoo!) It was after Hen had been here for a few weeks that I actually began to miss him when I had to be away from him for any amount of time. Those first few weeks? Everything is new, strange, scary, and I know my brain just wanted a break from it all–all the physical and hormonal changes, EVERYTHING.

    Such a lovely post. Thank you for writing this.


  6. Such a great post! I didn't do the love at first sight thing either and I always wondered why. (As you did, I fully expected I would)I definitely liked my daughter at first sight, but the love took a while longer. It's so great that you are describing your experience – more people need to know that it doesn't always work that way you it does in the movies and yet no one wants to admit it.


  7. Susan, really?! Wow! I know this is going to sound so dumb but its amazing to know even you, one of the moms I aspire to be more like, had similar feelings once upon a time. Thanks for sharing and expressing this and glad you could relate.

    Anon, you're so right, thanks for sharing your own experience. It's surprising how many people feel other emotions, but how little its discussed. It leaves those of us who feel anything other than a giddy-high at the birth, feeling less than. So unfair, given how difficult birth is, that more don't talk about. I felt like somoene ran over me with a truck, and I was supposed to grin and bounce around and I couldn't figure out why this was so hard. Thanks for sharing your similar experiences!


  8. Thanks for sharing this. I was lucky to have two short births without any complications, so love at first sight was easy to come by. But I find it really important to speak openly about the “darker” moments of motherhood. It often feels quite unacceptable to have anything but pure love and happy feelings for your kids. As unrealistic this is.



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