Sorry (not sorry) for the provocative statement. Perhaps I should have added a caveat, but in the interests of not being ashamed of my motherhood, I’m going there.
It’s such a strange feeling when you don’t have this overwhelming blissful emotion that so many men and women describe. I remember feeling alien and isolated. Everyone had promised me that I would experience a love unlike any other when I had a child. When I didn’t, I was angry. Angry at them, angry at myself – I felt like a robot. Why did I do this if I was going to get nothing out of it? What I wish they had told me was that how you relate to your child in the beginning is different for everyone.
Before I had a baby, I remember polling my friends. “So when Baby X was born, did you feel immediate overwhelming love for him/her?”
Some of my friends gave the expected response – that they felt awash with incredible love for this tiny human being. Some friends described the feelings that they had for their baby as stronger than anything they had ever experienced.
One of them didn’t.
She described it as some tiny human that was suddenly dropped into her life. When I saw her some months later, she told me that those feelings had evaporated and she felt much more of a bond and connection, nay dare I say love? for her baby.
Her experience more closely mirrors my own with some exceptions. Part of the reason that I was unable to connect to my child was because of the postpartum depression. I felt numb. I felt a need to protect the baby, but that was it. Yet when I finally emerged on the other side of depression, I was confused that I didn’t immediately feel this staggering swell of love for my baby. I thought – I feel happy, so why don’t I love my baby?
Some of that was shedding the baggage from depression. Trauma affects everyone differently. It’s not that I blamed my baby for everything I went through – he’s an innocent child who didn’t ask for any of this. But regardless, he was a physical manifestation of one of the worst years of my life. He also represented how much my life had changed. Getting space (time) from the depression helped calm my paranoia about the depression coming back. While I was happy in recovery, I was still anxious that I could slip back into that darkness again. Healing from that trauma finally freed me up to experience bonding and connection with my son.
But also, I’m just not a baby person. I always felt protective over this tiny, defenseless human, but saying the word “love” felt forced. The more interactive and older he gets, the more I sense deeper, more powerful emotions stirring. I always characterize it as dating. It took me a couple of weeks/months to get to know my husband and then fall in love with him. Why would this be any different?
How lovely is it that I’m now falling in love with my son?
It’s a beautiful process – who doesn’t remember how awesome getting to know someone is when you realize that they’re your soulmate? As time passes, without the shackles of depression, these feelings of love just grow and grow. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed about if it takes some time.
I think sometimes there’s the expectation of what a mom is supposed to say…even when suffering through perinatal depression. You hear a lot of “I love my son/daughter, but…”, “It was worth it, but…”. I think the said or unsaid “but” speaks volumes.
Known for my bluntness, perhaps I’m saying an unspoken truth for many women. Or perhaps I’m the only women on the planet who took time to love her baby. Or maybe it’s a minority of women who feel as I did. Or maybe I’m a monster.
But at least I’m an honest monster.