After more than two days of labor, my daughter, our first child, was born. She was tiny–six pounds and three ounces. She was healthy and perfectly formed, even scored a 10 on the Apgar test! Yet when they handed her to me–clean and swaddled and quiet–I turned to my husband and said, “Well. Having a child seemed like a good idea.”
Because, despite what they tell you in fairy tales, love—of all kinds—is not always at first sight. And few things in life are what you are told to expect.
Here is what I envisioned: I would be a mother. I would immediately fall in love with my child. And together, we would dance off into the sunset, mother and child in harmony.
Here is what happened: I held her and I was afraid. I didn’t know how to nurse a child. I had never diapered such a small baby. I certainly did not want to be responsible for bathing her. I feared dropping her or drowning her or not being able to soothe her. And I especially worried about awakening her and having to spend a whole night getting her back to sleep. I lived in a state of anxiety, waiting for when I would next have to spring into action, thus extending my state of supreme exhaustion.
Weeks passed. Wherever I went I was asked: “How is it? Don’t you just love her? Isn’t motherhood remarkable?” And like a robot, pushed in the direction in which I imagined I should go, I nodded my assent. But inside my head my voice was different. I asked, “How can you love someone you don’t even know?”
And certainly, I did not know her.
Yes, dear reader, the story does have a happy ending. I fell in love. Madly. Completely. To the depth of my sleep-deprived soul. The spark was ignited when she smiled her first smile and I realized that Yes! There is a person inside that bald head. She was watching me and communicating with me and finally, connecting with me.
In the end, I learned something from that first, fear filled, six-week stint in the motherhood wilderness. I learned that so much of life is understood in shorthand and rarely can any major life event be summed up in a single pure emotion.
While it’s true that motherhood opened my soul to a whole new type of love, it also introduced me to a new kind of fear and doubt. And since all of motherhood has been, to quote Charles Dickens, the best of times and the worst of times, that first introduction, when she was placed in my arms and my emotions ran in all kinds of confusing directions, set the stage for the future.
Life and the milestone events that comprise it are not clean or clear or predictable. Once upon a time and happily ever after are the words of sanitized, Disneyfied fairy tales—and reality is far from that. It is messy and complicated. And even if you are told to expect to feel euphoria, you may, at least initially or just periodically, feel angst instead. It’s true when they’re born. It’s true when they begin school. It’s true when they leave home.
That first meeting, between mother and child, may simply be a lesson for all that lies ahead.