I didn’t enjoy pregnancy and as much as the 39 weeks felt like 39 years, when it was time to meet my son, I wasn’t ready. I wanted to tell them. I wanted to scream that I needed more time. That the 39 weeks hadn’t been long enough. It felt like it was happening too fast. But what kind of mother didn’t want to meet her baby? What did that say about me? I had imagined myself being so excited to meet him. And yet I felt the complete opposite.
After 3.5 hours of pushing, the nurses put him on my chest and my first thought was “what do I do with this?” I was relieved he seemed fine and that the labor part was over, but I didn’t feel anything else. And that numbness scared me. Everything I said or did with him felt forced and awkward. I had heard so many stories of mothers falling in love with their babies at first sight. I remember being so moved by those stories and imagining it happening to me. And yet when it was my turn I didn’t feel it. Instead I was tired, anxious and sore. What kind of mother didn’t feel a bond with her baby right away? What kind of mother was eager to put her baby down after nursing him?
I don’t remember feeling anything other than anxiety and panic. There are hardly any pictures of me holding him in the hospital. I remember focusing on documenting feedings and wet/soiled diapers for the nurses and didn’t really have the time or energy for pictures. And it felt almost disingenuous to document the moment as anything other than going through the motions. Throughout the years I’ve regretted it tremendously, feeling like a bad mother for not cherishing those first moments enough.
I remember waking up one day when my son was a few months old and tearfully asking my husband if he remembered whether I had held him in the hospital. Yes, of course, he reassured me. But I wasn’t so sure, and I didn’t have the photographic evidence to prove it. I remember thinking that our connection would never be quite as strong because I hadn’t bonded with him immediately and hadn’t held him as much as other mothers held their newborns. At this point, we had already developed a strong bond. I was obsessed with kissing his cheeks and snuggling him after feedings and yet I still felt like I had done irreparable damage to our relationship.
I had this notion that good mothers’ bond with their newborns right away and that everything would fall into place after that and so when I didn’t feel what I thought I would, I convinced myself that nothing would ever be right between us. As if becoming a mother is supposed to feel a certain way and anything outside of that is wrong. As if we don’t all experience things differently. As if we don’t all have the right to feel however we feel without judging ourselves or feeling judged by others.
Truth is there isn’t just one way to experience early motherhood. And whether a mother bonds with her baby right away or whether it takes her a while to get there doesn’t define the kind of mother she is or will be. I know that now.