I was amazed the way I felt instantly like I would do anything for my son.
We were totally in love with her from the moment we laid eyes on her.
These are the typical words I heard from parents when they described the first moments with their first child. Earth shattering love, new feelings washing over them, and sitting in my hospital bed holding our wee firstborn son in my arms during the first hours of his life, I slowly realized I had no idea what these people were talking about.
I was not sitting on a cloud of love, I wasn’t surrounded by it, no lovey emotions were flooding me on the inside. I did not at all feel like giving up anything I hadn’t already given up for him. A small part of me was still confused as to how this wrinkled, pink piece of flesh was actually a permanent part of my life now even though I could sense that something big had taken place in my life.
Crazy joy filled me – I was ecstatic, bouncing off the walls kind of happy, which I blame on post-birth hormones and how proud I was of myself for giving birth with no pain relief. I was so “high,” I couldn’t sleep at all for most of the first day, content to just look at my son and jabber on and on to Husband about how I couldn’t believe how well the birth had been and how adorable our son was.
I was like an athlete who won a race, and the event I had trained for was done.
But love? The feelings? Not so much.
I remember sharing this part with a group of people who all looked shocked and uncomfortable after hearing the words, and it so baffled me because I felt and feel no guilt or shame about this, I accepted my emotions and moved on. I am so glad I did not judge myself in the beginning for not feeling much toward my son, I made the choice to simply enjoy him without making myself feel anything I didn’t.
Whatever you call your baby, his secret middle name is always the same – Needy. They only have needs, as my midwife liked to say. And in the beginning, Mommy is usually the one who meets most of the major needs. So day and night, I pulled him close and nursed him, I rocked him to sleep, woke up with him at night, changed nappies (and more nappies), washed his clothes, talked to him, read him books, sang to him.
It was physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausting work, and in the beginning, it is relentless work. It. Does. Not. Stop. Ever. Even in the moments of quiet, my brain would still be spinning, What does he need? When will the next wake up be? (And Little Boy was a fairly easy baby – no idea why – I never had to deal with prolonged crying, and he slept for decent stretches at night.)
I didn’t have the feelings of love, but almost every moment of my day I was doing the work of love, and the more I did the work of love, the more the feelings of love began to seep into me, a steady trickle gave way to a flowing stream that gave way to a tidal wave of emotion.
It wasn’t a specific moment, the moment when I knew I loved him and would do anything for him, but all I know is that it is a process that continues. It still has not stopped. With each season and stage of his life and all the challenges that come with it (and they are tougher today than two years ago), there is a fuller, richer, more complete love for him. Each challenging moment, every situation that demands all of my patience, kindness and understanding is the chisel on my heart that carves out a wider space for him in my life.
The work of love feeds the emotion of love. The harder the work, the stronger the love.
Friend, how are you feeling toward your baby, your children? Are you feeling guilty for a lack of a certain emotion? Please don’t. Keep doing your work, keep fighting to be present with your children, to wipe that nose one more time, to hold a tantruming child again, to work through another bedtime drama. Your emotions will follow.
*I do feel like it would be irresponsible of me to not add one caveat at the end of this – negative emotions toward our children (resentment, bitterness, even hatred) should be watched very, very carefully and thoughts about wanting to harm babies and children – however irrational we might think it is – should be a red flag for all of us. There is no shame in these emotions, friend, it’s part of post partum depression, perhaps part of a dysfunctional family cycle you experienced yourself or maybe it’s an issue you will have to work through. If you feel this way toward your babies or kids, please, please, please immediately pick up your phone and call your husband and a friend you trust, talk to them about it, get it out there, find someone who can look after your children for a few hours a week or even more regularly, and then find a good therapist whom you can talk to about it as well. Change is always possible when we engage with the process.
(New to this series? Start here and follow the links to each day’s post.)