Three days after my water broke, 20 hours after entering the hospital, an hour after reaching full dilation, and approximately 45 seconds after the doctor threatened to give me an episiotomy if I didn’t get my baby out THIS PUSH, there she was: pink, shiny, crying, and beautiful.
And a stranger.
Among all the “you’ll seeeeees” that pregnant women hear, the positive predictions can be just as powerful and just as wrong. Everyone talks about that moment when they first lay eyes on their babies, when they felt this huge rush of love, when they knew they would give their life for this child in an instant, when their life hits this pinnacle of pinnacles. My moment wasn’t exactly like that, and it was fine (and normal) too.
The midwife lifted my baby up, kinky purple cord still attached to her belly, and put her on my chest. I felt joy, relief, and even awe… deep, huge awe that this was a real baby, that this was MY baby, that here she was and she had a face screwed up with emotion and dismay, little grasping hands, lips, sticky blond hair. That suddenly this abstract idea in my belly had turned into a real little person. That I was her mother.
What I didn’t feel for my baby at that moment, or even necessarily in the first few days after her birth, was that rush of love. I felt more like a bride at an arranged marriage. I knew that the baby in my arms would be hugely important in the rest of my life, but right now, we had just met. I introduced her to my boob. She was a fan, albeit, at that moment, a rather clumsy and overwhelmed one, not sure whether to wail or suck. I was amazed by the tensile strength of her blotchy little arm as it walloped me, by her tapered fingers that ended with long oval fingernails, as if she had received a meticulous pre-wedding manicure.
I don’t remember if I said, “Hello,” but I know I thought it. Hi, baby. Apparently, I’m your mother. It’s really great to meet you.
I actually only realized that I didn’t fall in love-at-first-sight with my baby months later, when I was feeling that kind of love that made my heart feel like it might burst. Then I realized that the wonder I felt at first seeing my daughter wasn’t necessarily the love that everyone talks about as if it, too, springs full-fledged from the womb. For me–maybe for other people, too?–this love developed and deepened as the days went past. I could feel the roots of this love working their way into me as I kissed her padded cheeks (doing so felt necessary, somehow), as I watched her suck on my boob with a brow knitted with concentration.
Now I almost can’t handle thinking about how much I love my daughter, because the feeling is so huge and overwhelming. But in the days after my daughter was born, I think the soup of hormones actually made this love attach itself to my husband–I had never loved him more intensely than in those first days when we came home from the hospital as a family, as I watched him hold our sleeping daughter on his chest, as I watched him, too, fall gradually in love with our child. (I didn’t fall in love with him at first sight, either–that love, too, crept up on me until he felt as natural and essential to me as breath.)
Had you asked me, of course, I would have said I loved my daughter long before she was born, and probably I did. The emotions I felt when I was misdiagnosed with miscarriage, and then when we found my perfect daughter at 10 weeks, were real. As I felt her elbow and kick at the sides of my womb, I ran my hands over my belly, savoring our secret bond. When I envisioned my baby (while dutifully listening to Hypnobabies tracks), though, I always pictured her looking like my sister did as a newborn: a dense mop of dark hair, pale and wiry. My daughter was born with thin wisps of blond hair. Maybe that, more than anything else, alerted me to the fact that in the womb I had fallen in love with my own expectations, but now I was meeting an actual separate person. I couldn’t stop staring at her over the next few days not because I loved her, yet, but because I wanted to get to know her so badly.
Now, for nine months, I’ve lived with her, cried with her, laughed with her, pooped with her, and for nine months my bed is, well, hers. Like Golde from Fiddler on the Roof, for me love developed with the days and weeks after that moment when I, nervous and shy, first met my daughter. I never felt like anything was wrong with my connection to my baby, though if I hadn’t read a very similar description of slow-growing bonding in the La Leche League book The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, I might have been worried; that story about instant full-grown love is pervasive.
Knowing, now, that I love my daughter–well, it doesn’t change a thing. It’s not like our relationship flipped from hell to joy as this love caught me by surprise with its immensity.
But after nine long months, it’s nice to know.