Everyone knows what happens the moment you have a baby. You’ve spent nine months thinking about them, nine months picking out names and tiny, idy-bitty baby clothes. Wondering what they look like. Wondering who they will take after. Feeling every little kick with flutters of excitement. You wait, and wait, and wait. Then, all of a sudden they are here, in your arms. You are finally holding that tiny little baby you grew in your tummy and spent what felt like forever dreaming about. They had occupied your every waking thought and at last, here they are. You look down at your baby, his or her big, wide, innocent eyes staring back up at you and you are overcome with love. A love you never even thought possible. You would do anything for them. You would die for them. That’s how it happens. Right?
When my daughter was born this is what I felt: Nothing. Well, not nothing, I distinctly remember feeling dizzy and more than a little bit tender in the nether regions. Sure, I felt protective of her but other than that, not much. And as the days passed that nothing was slowly replaced by something else: guilt. Terrible, terrible guilt. This was my baby, how could I not fall head over heals for her the moment she was born? Because that’s what should have happened, that is what every one tells you will happen. That’s how it happens in every movie I have ever seen, in every book I have ever read. So why didn’t it happen to me? I didn’t dare tell anyone how I was feeling for fear of the mouth-agape oh-my-god-you-monster looks I was sure I would get. And that’s how I felt, I felt liked a monster. A monster that couldn’t even love it’s own child. I began to worry that I might never feel what I was meant to feel for her. What if I never fell in love with her? What then? Would I need psychiatric help? Would she be taken away from me? Would I be turned into the police and locked up forever more?
Looking back on it I think I was in a state of shock for the first six months of her life. I was handed this tiny, fragile little soul and I had no idea what to do with her. Not only that but every time I fed her it felt like thousands of tiny needles were being twisted into my nipples. I felt overwhelmed and alone, despite the tremendous support I had around me. Because in the end it was me she depended on, it was me she needed for everything. And boy, what a daunting responsibility. So daunting In fact, I didn’t feel anything much except fear. It was like God handed me this impossibly fragile and irreplaceable jewel then said to me “Now, whatever you do, don’t screw it up!”.
The thing is, over the coming weeks and months I began to relax a bit and feel more comfortable in my new role as a mother. I realised that she wouldn’t die if she was thirty seconds overdue for a feed. That she wouldn’t need to be rushed to hospital if I accidentally got water in her eye during bath time. That her head wouldn’t implode if I couldn’t stop her from crying (it’s true, they’re heads generally don’t implode). That maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t a horrible mother for not falling in love with her the very second she was born. I don’t know when or how it happened but my feelings towards her started to change. Not all at once but little bit by little bit.
And how do I feel about my daughter now? I look at my daughter now and this is what I feel: Love. An overwhelming love. A love I never even thought possible. I would do anything for her. I would die for her. And you know what? It’s OK that I didn’t feel that right away. Having a baby, especially your first, is intense. It’s the most beautiful and (I won’t lie) sometimes most traumatic thing that will ever happen to you. It’s hard enough as it is without having unrealistic expectations forced upon you. So I didn’t have that One Born Every Minute moment. You know the one? That moment when the sappy, sentimental music starts to play, mum and dad huddle over their newborn baby and tears of joy start flowing into the pool of parental euphoria. But I love my child just as fiercely as the next mother loves her child. So does it really matter that that love wasn’t experienced instantly?