Oh my gosh, he’s got a little pig nose!

This was my first thought when I saw my son, Benjamin, when they lifted him above the curtain that separated my eyes from the surgery that brought him into the world.

My second thought? No! I can’t believe that was my first thought about my baby!

I don’t remember what my first thought was about Micah, Benjamin’s twin brother. I just remember praying that he would breathe—that he would live—as they whisked him away to the NICU with little more than a glance at his fragile, white face, covered by an oxygen mask.

I didn’t get to touch my sons until many hours after my C-section. I cautiously held Benji in my arms, painfully conscious of every wire, tube, and IV in his 4-pound body.
I had been around kids my whole life, even nannying for a year after high school, but holding my own son felt strangely foreign. I kissed his head, expecting soft baby-down, but his stubbly hair felt rough against my lips.

I didn’t want to hurt him so I quickly let the NICU nurse put him back in the isolette.

I couldn’t hold Micah yet. Instead, I gently stroked his foot while he received an emergency blood transfusion.

My husband and I knew the boys would be premature. We were prepared for the NICU.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how detached I felt from my twins after they were born.

Who are you, little ones? I wondered, my eyes searching the faces of my babies, who looked like little old men, their skin clinging close to their tiny, bony bodies. I had carried them for almost nine months but they were complete strangers to me.

Even more mystifying was this question: Who am I?

I didn’t feel like a mother. Real mothers gushed over their newborns, delighting in their babies, marveling in the wonder of love at first sight.

I didn’t feel anything.

After two weeks, the boys came home from the NICU and I plunged my life into caring for them. I was determined to breastfeed; when that didn’t work, I pumped around the clock. My children would have “the best”. After all, isn’t that what “good” mothers did?

My days at home with my preemie twins fell into a robotic pattern of first cry, warm bottles, feed, burp, change diapers, swaddle, pump. Repeat.

I didn’t cuddle my boys or gaze in their eyes, stroking their smooth cheeks and smelling their sweet baby scent. If I let myself indulge in a snuggle with one, I felt guilty for not cuddling the other. So, in the name of fairness, I didn’t waver from my routine: first cry, warm bottles . . . 

Other friends and my sister-in-law gave birth just a few weeks after I did. They posted to Facebook about how they had never felt such love, how their babies filled every corner of their hearts.

I inwardly rolled my eyes, feeling defensive. They’re lying. They’re just trying to make themselves feel better. Motherhood is ROUGH!

But even my husband felt the glow. As the sun set on our evenings as a new family of four, he would whisper, “I love you, little buddy!” into each baby’s ear, nuzzling cheeks with his five o’clock shadow.

What was wrong with me as a woman, as a mother, that I didn’t feel the way I was supposed to feel about my babies?

I took care of my babies to the best of my ability. I did my very best. In my head, I knew I loved them. But the most I felt toward my newborns was “responsible.”
I was infuriatingly jealous of those other moms, of my husband.

But mostly I felt broken, defunct.

The weeks slipped by. One month. Two months. Three months.

Then, a gift.

We were sitting on the couch, doing some eye gazing and one of the sons (I wish I could remember which one!) looked at me and smiled for the first time.

Oh! My heart actually jumped in my chest and tears sprang to my eyes. And at that moment, I felt true warmth toward my baby.

I felt the LOVE I knew was there but had been missing from my heart.

That first smile was a seed that began to grow in my heart and with that seed, I began to realize a shocking, startling truth: not every mother falls in love at first sight.

Maybe some love stories start slowly, growing deeper and truer over time.

Maybe birth is just the beginning.

More than a decade has passed since that first smile and my love story with my twins is still unfolding before my eyes. I still find myself asking, who are you, little ones?

But instead of being paralyzed by fear and uncertainty, this question now fills me with eagerness to know my sons more and more as they grow each day, each year, to adulthood and beyond.

You see, I know who I am now: I am their mother and I will never stop wanting to know them more fully, love them more completely.

Because sometimes you don’t fall in love with your baby at first sight. Sometimes love grows slowly with purpose and strength over a lifetime.

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Brittany Meng

Brittany Meng lives in England with her husband and four sons. She is the author of Unexpected: Learning to love your unpredictable story (2018). Her writing has been featured on ScaryMommy, Coffee+Crumbs, For Every Mom, Her.Menutics and The Mighty.  She is also the creator and editor of Mothering Beyond Expectations and writes about the grit and grace of her everyday life at TheBamBlog.com.