As I scroll through my newsfeed on Facebook, it seems like all my friends are having babies these days. I click “Like” on a hospital picture of a newborn baby being cradled by the beaming new mama while proud papa wraps his arms tightly around his wife and child. The couple looks lovingly into the eyes of their brand new baby. They seem so happy. The caption reads something like “Love at first sight . . . ” I feel a pang of guilt and quickly move on to the next post.
I always ache inside when I see posts like that. Probably because the birth of my son felt nothing like that perfectly posed photo. And the caption that would most accurately describe what I felt after delivering my almost nine pound baby boy would read something like “Exhausted, confused, and completely overwhelmed.”
In fact, I don’t ever recall that “love at first sight” feeling at all. What I do remember is the utter exhaustion I felt immediately following the birth of my son. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed as I clumsily held my baby to my chest for skin-to-skin time. I remember feeling awkward and uncoordinated when the nurse helped me latch my baby to my breast. I remember the weight of my eyelids as I desperately tried to stay alert for all the nurse’s instructions.
Besides the total exhaustion I felt, I had trouble bonding with my son and that left me feeling an enormous amount of guilt and shame. I remember looking at my baby boy during one of those painful nursing sessions. I expected to feel a deep mother-son bond but instead I felt like I was looking into the eyes of a total stranger. A baby stranger who was literally sucking my nipples raw.
Who was this baby? Was he really mine? Had I really just pushed this little human out of my body?
What is wrong with me? I thought I was supposed to feel an all-consuming love for my child. Where’s that “love at first sight” feeling?
The feelings of uncertainty and overwhelming guilt continued long after we left the hospital. The first night at home with our baby boy was anything but blissful. I remember sitting in the nursery, holding him to my chest and rocking him. For two hours straight, I rocked my newborn as my heart pounded inside my chest and echoed in my ears. I was paralyzed with fear that he would die from SIDS if I let him sleep in his crib.
Nothing came easy for me as a new mom. Breastfeeding was absolute torture until the night my husband made a 2 a.m. Walmart run to buy what would be my saving grace: nipple shields! I still remember the happy tears that flooded my eyes when I finally could withstand my baby’s strong latch without writhing in pain. I remember how quickly it soothed him to finally get a good feeding from me.
For weeks, I felt like I was my baby’s food supply and nothing more. I remember feeling jealous of family and friends when they would come to visit and hold the baby. I was jealous of their reactions to him. They all seemed to have the “love at first sight” glow that I never felt when holding him. I had trouble feeling love for this little human who turned my world upside down.
I still remember one of my many breaking points, this one at four weeks postpartum. I had just finished a midnight feeding, but as soon as I placed my sleeping son in his crib, he woke up crying to be held again. I remember the exhaustion I felt as I crumbled to my knees on the nursery floor, crying uncontrollably. My desperate cries woke my husband. He came to the nursery to find his son scream-crying in the crib and his wife curled up on the floor, sobbing just as loudly.
Today, almost eighteen months later, I look back at the first year of my son’s life and I’m amazed I survived it all. The sleepless nights, teething and sleep regressions. The insecurity I felt constantly as a new mom and battling postpartum depression for months before realizing I needed to seek professional help. Nothing prepares you for the life-changing sacrifices you experience as a parent.
Just as true, nothing prepares you for the joys you will experience as you watch your infant grow into a toddler. For me, toddlerhood has been my sweet spot as a new mom. I love watching my baby boy learn new things and make new discoveries about the world around him.
I love hearing him babble as he uses the cutest little index finger to point to things as he “talks”. I love when he says “mama” and wraps his little arms around me for a big bear hug. I love giggling with him as we chase each other in a game of tag. I love helping him build tall towers with his blocks and watching as he gets just as much enjoyment from knocking it down. I love when his chubby little hands reach up to touch my face when I’m reading to him. I love his wet, slobbery kisses. And I absolutely love that he sleeps through the night.
I may not have felt that “love at first sight” feeling when I held my son for the first time, but thank goodness, motherhood isn’t measured by emotions. And it certainly isn’t measured only by the day he was born or even the first year of his life. Just as a baby grows and matures into the different stages of childhood, a mother grows and matures throughout parenthood.
This deep-rooted love I feel now for my son was well worth the wait. It was worth every early morning feeding and sleepless night. It was even worth battling and overcoming the darkest depression I’ve ever experienced in my life. This love I have for my baby boy has been tried and tested, and through it all, it has been proven true.