I was 22 the first time I saw my son. I got pregnant at twenty-one years old, six months after I got married, thanks to sand volleyball, a bottle of Captain Morgan, and a “we don’t REALLY need a condom” attitude. My pregnancy was not what I had imagined. I didn’t float around going to lunch with my 21-year-old girlfriends and picking out adorable onesies with my body still perfectly preserved, accented by my adorable basketball belly.
What I got was 75 pounds, jowls, an unfortunate case of bacne, and boobs that got so big I was actually afraid that I would smother my new born while he nursed. And those 21-year-old girlfriends I was supposed to be lunching with? Turns out they were happiest still hitting the bar and leaving my married, pregnant bum at home eating Wendy’s french fries and Frostys.
My pregnancy was not what I expected, but I knew the baby would be. I was excited for the overwhelming love I’d read about in all the books, with pictures of the young, pretty, white lady gazing down at her sleeping bundle of joy. I was prepared. From the diaper genie, to the incredibly over priced stroller, I was so set. The pregnancy was, I figured, a fluke accident. I would bounce back to my old 125-pound tight body in what? A month, two months tops, right? I’d be the hip mom still wearing six-inch heels and dressing my infant in adorable tiny clothing, the ultimate accessory.
My labor had to be induced after a particularly long month on bed rest. I was an absolute whale and I think I slept a collective three hours those last four weeks. Nevertheless, I bounced (waddled, whatever) into the hospital with high hopes and really great hair for those post delivery photo ops that I’d undoubtedly have framed around my home. It was baby time! I had passed the hard part and now it was time for my reward!
Twenty-four hours later, still no reward and still not dilated past a five. I remember hearing hushed whispers in the hallway between two doctors, a nurse, and then the unmistakable angry voice of my mother. “You better not be doing this because you’re in a hurry!” I winced and instantly felt sympathy for my doctor, my mother could be terrifying. And I knew what was coming. The four of them walked into my room, giving each other quick, nervous glances, playing a silent game of chicken to see who was going to have to break the news and tell me my fate: cesarean section.
Looking back it was the best thing I could have done. In fact, if I ever had another baby I would schedule that immediately after the test came back positive. But at the time I was exhausted and afraid for my baby and for myself. I also felt like a failure. Why couldn’t I do the thing I was programmed as a woman to be able to do?
I got gowned up and someone put one of those ugly hairnets over my hair that had lost its bounce and curl about fifteen hours before. I lay on a table in a bright, freezing cold room, numb from the shoulders down and staring at a blue curtain above my belly. So much for witnessing the miracle of childbirth. The anesthesiologist insisted on giving me a play-by-play of what was happening on the other side of the curtain and his words matched up with the pulling and shoving I could still kind of feel. In what seemed like only seconds I heard him, the moment I had been waiting for was finally here.
Someone, I don’t even remember who, brought my baby over to my eye level so I could see him for the first time. Finally! I looked at his beautiful face and waited for that feeling that I’d been reading so much about and seen happen to the fake mommies in all the baby movies.
What the hell was wrong with me? Where was the feeling?!
I rapid blinked and looked again. There he was, screaming his little lungs out. Why did he feel like an alien? Was that MY baby? Seriously, what was wrong with me? “Give him a kiss, mom!” One of the doctors had to tell me to kiss my own baby, I was screwing this mom thing up already. And just like that he was gone, whisked away to be cleaned up and foot printed while I got wheeled into a recovery room. The rest of that night is hazy, but I remember trying to get my screaming infant to nurse in front of so many well meaning family and friends, my giant boobs flopping everywhere but in my baby’s mouth.
I waited for the feeling. I was so tired. At some point they all left. I got the baby to eat, kind of. And we both fell into a sleep that lasted six hours, the most I’d had in a row for weeks.
It was a few days before the feeling came. Even typing that just now, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. I loved my son from the second I felt him move inside me for the first time, but that “Oh my god, I love you more than my husband” feeling took me a little while. I don’t know if it was the exhaustion or the anxiety of impending motherhood, or maybe just some combination of hormones working over time that made me need a few days. But I do know that since then I’ve been on the other side, looking into the terrified eyes of a brand new mom in the hospital and seen what I felt that night; terror, guilt, failure, even a little bit let down. I’m here to tell you, Momma, to give yourself a break. You just brought a human being into the world with your body. You did that! The feeling will come. You’re going to be a great mom. And even though you feel like you might break them at first, I promise you won’t. Wait for the feeling. It’s so worth it.