My entire pregnancy was spent imagining whether I’ll give birth to a girl or a boy (we wanted to keep the gender a surprise), I also envisioned what he or she would look like, I wanted my baby to have my brown hair and my husband’s deep blue eyes. As an obsessive first-time parent, I made a habit of fondly addressing my growing bulge, I had read the research that talking to your baby is linked to a better emotional bond so I talked and talked, mostly babbled, about everything. As my baby grew bigger, I felt our connection grow deeper. Bumpy, bulgy, nugget, sweet pea, my tummy already had a dozen nicknames; bumpy also had a profile on Netflix and a spot ready next to me on the bed. I longed to meet the life I created inside of me, and it seemed natural that once I would give birth and look down at my child… POOF, instant love!
Such a hope kept me going through 22-hours of labor, things didn’t go as planned. The umbilical cord had wrapped around my baby’s neck, requiring an emergency C section after enduring 22 hours of pain.
I was not at all prepared for the operation, the chaos, being strapped down, the tugging, the cutting, after what felt like an eternity in a daze I heard a cry, the nurse put him on my chest, pale and covered in slime, saying “it’s a boy, congratulations”. I blinked at him, my adrenaline surging, all I felt was a sickening fear that I made a hugeeee mistake, at that moment all I wanted to do was roll away from the operating table and run off somewhere.
In a few hours, the epidural wore off, but something in me stayed frozen. I recovered in the hospital for three days, the days were dedicated to visitors who kept telling me how beautiful my boy was and how much he resembled me. The nights were dedicated to crying, lots of crying: tears were the first thing Zoe and I shared.
We returned home with an expectation that any minute, my maternal instincts would kick in and I would crash into motherhood, hard and fast, and I’d look like the delighted mothers I had seen in TV commercials, movies, parenting magazines, marketing campaigns for everything from diapers rash creams to baby soaps and bottles. But instead, I felt like my old life had vanished. I felt fear.
My son, a mere 7 pounds 3 ounces, was so tiny, but so loud. And with each passing day, he only grew louder. He cried and cried, he screamed in my face and then cried some more, our pediatrician told us that he has colic and crying is completely normal for little babies. I did everything in my power to comfort him but nothing worked. We were told by the doctors that Zoe was a healthy child and would eventually grow out of it. In the meantime, however, I felt betrayed. Why didn’t anyone tell me what life is like for a mom after giving birth? And there… I started to lose my mind
I started to construct a new reality, Zoe cried not because he had colic, he cried because he hated the sight of me. I didn’t attend mother and baby groups because other mothers would find out I was unnatural at being a mom and that I was unworthy of being a mother. I imagined how my husband would feel if I told him I don’t love our son. The feelings of guilt made me sob and rage in equal measures. The health visitor asked how I was, I smiled I laughed and I lied. You see, I tricked them very cleverly.
I should have known I couldn't keep up with the act. After four months, I stayed home feeling like a prisoner, I stopped showering, stopped looking at myself in the mirror, I let my son cry and cry, and I would cry with him. I was a wreck!
My husband took me to the GP, “You have postpartum depression.” she said and then referred me to a support group.
The group consisted of six mothers-six babies, we sympathized with the sleepless night and painful nursing sessions and chapped nipples. We laughed over unexpected spit-up incidents and blowout moments. Having the space to say the unsayable and hear it, made me feel like I was not alone. I looked forward to attending the support group, with a screaming son in the car seat and a long 25 drive from my home, the meetings were a breath of fresh air for me, like vacations on the beach.
Then it happened…
One month after I started going to the support group, Zoe did something he had never done before. He smiled I’d just taken off his clothes to change his nappy, I playfully told him, you have a big round belly, just like your dad.” and he smiled at me. Ah! He smiled! I laughed and repeated the same thing. He smiled again.
With that adorable smile and his giant blue eyes looking at me, I finally felt something. Love? I wasn’t sure. Something changed in me. I felt proud of coming this far, I forgave myself. I found myself capable of feeling a connection to him:
Zoe is one now and he is the center of my universe.
Depression made me doubt my love for him. Not falling in love with my baby right away didn’t make me a bad mom. After all, I’m a human being who went through major life changes, and those changes made me an entirely different person. I was battling physical exhaustion alongside the emotional turmoil of bringing a new life into the world that I had to raise. It was a lot to handle. But, the journey of motherhood recreated me, so much different from the woman I used to be. So much stronger than before but also vulnerable in many ways I never knew I could be.
So here is to every mama, holding on to their babies, having trouble loving them. It is just a passing phase. The connection gets stronger slowly… One snuggle, one feeding, one diaper change at a time.