I did not love my baby the first time I set eyes on her. The first time I saw her, the main impression I had was, “Whose baby is that?” My husband and I both said the same thought out loud: “She doesn’t look like either of us.” Yen actually went so far as to say she had wide eyes like a girl who had always secretly freaked him out, because her eyes were “so far apart they made him think of a bug.” (No one likes to admit they have thoughts like that, but there you are.) We giggled and said that this was karma.
They brought my baby out (“they” – the doctors, the midwives and the other 15 people who seemed to be bustling around the operating theatre) and she was wide eyed and observant. like a little alien who has first set foot on planet Earth and is busy taking it all in. She was too small to have the human emotions and too new – so instead her face was just all darting eyes. They carried her to a table where they did the Apgar test and my husband proudly told me that she got nine out of ten – already a high achiever ;-). I craned my neck to look at her – I was immobile on the operating table, and desperately trying to keep my wits about me. I was groggy from the spinal block and my blood pressure had plummeted the moment they took the placenta out – I had an emergency cesarian due to pre-eclampsia, and one of the nurses told me cheerily if I had been standing up, I would have passed out. “But we don’t worry about that.”
Then they put my baby on my chest. I couldn’t move my left arm as it was tied up with all sorts of tubes, so my baby kept rolling forward on my chest towards my chin, making it a constant balancing act using my neck muscles to keep her in a place where I could actually see her. Her eyes were still darting – she must have been on an adrenalin high. She was not crying – she did that once, obligingly, when they did the Apgar. She was just soaking it all in – the bright lights of the operating theatre a stark contrast to the womb, no doubt.
I waited for the rush of love, but the main thing I felt was stunned. And desperately drowsy (the low blood pressure again) but unable to sleep – the first of many days where sleep would be impossible (another story, another post).
A friend had told me not to expect to fall in love with my baby instantly. She said she had never got the rush of hormones that other women described. “It was more like, I now have a baby. All right. I also have a dog.” Another friend had the following experience: ” I think it took me about a month to love my baby. Until then I did not really see him yet as a separate person. He was still an extension of me.”
I did not love my baby. But in the first weeks, I sometimes I felt a deep, physical anxiety if she was not in contact with me. They checked my blood pressure the morning after the birth, and it was still pre-hypertensive, but after an hour of having my baby on my chest, skin to skin, it was back to normal.
When we came home, I needed to sometimes at least wheel her bassinet into the same room as me before I could feel complete and calm. I think she was feeling the same anxiety, in those first few days when my baby, like all babies, cried inconsolably at night and I just needed to hold her to let her know she was OK.
I knew I was not supposed to pick her up too much, in order to let her sleep and get her into good habits from the start. But it is nice to hold your baby, and not just when they are crying or when they are feeding. So I sometimes sneak a cuddle-sleep in the afternoons, and I cuddle her for a while before putting her to bed, and I don’t fret so much about keeping her awake the entire time of her feed – it’s nice to just snuggle a bit. Once I fell asleep and my Kindle fell on her face, causing a minor uproar. But it is nice to watch her sleeping patterns, and become familiar with them. It makes me less worried when she is sleeping in the next room, as I now have a sense of what all those noises mean.
I started to love my baby after about four weeks. Before that I had been desperately protective of her and anxious about her safety; maybe that was already love. But love didn’t come in a gush, a flood of positive emotion. Maybe it was the cesarian so I didn’t get those hormones people talk about; maybe I had to recover from the shock of having a baby before I could feel anything other than desperately tired and scared. Or maybe that’s just how it works for some women. I didn’t love my husband at first sight, either; but I find that with each passing year, and each shared experience, I love him even more when I thought I already loved him completely.
I love my baby now. Love, for me, is a journey. My love gets deeper, broader; I become more trusting, more frighteningly vulnerable as time passes. I love my baby now, and for me that means that I will keep going along the path with her.