The first time I was completely alone with my son was sort of like finally settling down with a new Christmas toy you've wanted for months, but have no idea how to actually use. Oh, and the instructions are missing. It was thrilling, disappointing, joyous, and frustrating all at once. I didn't really know what I was doing, but I was still happy to be doing it. I asked other moms to describe the first time they were alone with their baby and, predictably, there was a similar amount of contradiction, confusion, desperation, and happiness.
The feelings I had when I was left alone with my second child for the first time, however, were so profoundly and curiously different. Most of the anxiety I'd felt the first time around was gone, probably because I knew what I was in for. While the joy was still there, though, it was a very different joy. It was the joy of someone who knew the kind of happiness motherhood and children can bring. It was a quieter, but more intently focused excitement. If my first child was like getting a new but mysterious Christmas gift, my second was like being presented with my favorite meal and my favorite restaurant. I knew how amazing it was going to be, and I couldn't wait to dive in.
I appreciated the opportunity to be able to hear other mother's discuss their experiences. For one, I always appreciate hearing other mother's experiences, but it was interesting and also reaffirming to recognize so much of the full gamut of my own emotions in their answers.
"I loved it. I craved alone time with my son in the days after we got home from the hospital and everyone was coming and wanting to hold the baby. Don't get me wrong, it was hard and an adjustment, but it was also kind of great."
"I cried and cried and cried! My husband went to work, my mom went back home, and I felt so lonely. We got into a great groove together, but that first day was tough!"
Sheer peace and happiness.
"I'll never forget the moment my husband went home to 'shower and get a few things,' leaving me alone with my twin girls for the first time. I had just had a c-section and they were sleeping. I thought it would be fine, but then they wanted to eat and they both started crying at the same time. I was absolutely terrified. I called him, he didn't answer, and I didn't want to look like a fool and call the nurse. I remember thinking. 'These were my babies! I should be able to do this. What is wrong with me?!' So, I did what every normal new mom does: I cried with them and then just made it work the best I could. I remember taking this picture, so proud of myself for figuring out how to feed them both at once — by myself — for the very first time."
"Even as a pediatric nurse, when I was alone with my baby for the first time I was thinking, 'OMG I can't believe they let me have him! Now what?' Babies are a big responsibility and I couldn't believe that he was mine — that I was solely responsible and that I wouldn't have to turn him back over to someone else at some point."
Pure terror, probably.
"My husband went back to work after a week. When he left, I looked at my daughter and said, 'Lets go.' I nursed her, packed her into her car seat, drove over to Target, got her into her stroller, walked the perimeter of the store, and left without looking at a single item. I just felt the need to prove to myself that I could handle it."
"[I was] spoiled because my husband works from home. I think he went out to a business dinner for a couple of hours at three weeks or so and my anxiety was through the roof until I realized I could snuggle my sleeping baby and watch bad TV with no guilt. Then it was glorious!"
"Extremely natural, but I was lucky because she was such a good baby. If my second, very fussy baby with colic had been born first I would have no confidence probably to this day."
"I will never forget looking down at her and so many emotions running through me. I was so scared and she was so tiny. How in the world would someone just hand her over to me and send her home?"
"I remember it so well. I had a c-section so my mom stayed for a bit and my husband worked half days for awhile. It was probably two-and-a-half weeks after my son was born; everyone was gone and I decided to go to buy a nursing tank top and to Whole Foods for food for dinner. I showered. I put on makeup. I got us both dressed and out the door and then, when we got to Whole Foods, I couldn't get the damn snap-and-go stroller open.
I stood in the parking lot fighting with it for like 15 minutes. I was crying. I called my husband. The f*cking wheels had turned and were sort of locking the stroller shut. All I had to do was turn them so it could open but I was so upset and my son was crying and I just couldn't figure it out! I ended up putting it back in the car and going home. My husband for sure thought I was crazy later that night as he showed me how to turn the wheels and then ordered us take-out for dinner."
"I was really confident until I was giving him a bath and he slipped under the water. It was only for a minute but I sobbed for hours and was convinced I was a terrible mother until my husband got home and assured me that it wasn't a big deal or going to do lasting damage."
"The horrible, guilty, sinking feeling that I had made a huge mistake and I didn't love her even a little bit. I could brush that away when other people were there and I was distracted and pressured to be happy, but once I was alone there was no ignoring it. It's staring you in the face. Now I can't imagine life without her. She's my everything. But I still feel terrible that our connection wasn't instantaneous. I find I constantly go back and forth between thinking there's something wrong with me and the idea that women who say they're in love right away are lying to themselves or at least not realizing that they're faking it until it's real."
[Writer's note: There's a very broad range of totally normal, "Elizabeth." There's nothing wrong with anyone and no one is lying; everyone is different!]
"Fear, sadness, guilt, anxiety, joy, hope: I could go on but I think you get the idea. I hate to use the word conflicted to describe how I felt because it often has such a negative connotation, but my emotions ran the gamut for sure. My daughter was born at 41+ weeks and had what doctors believe to be an embolic stroke in utero during labor. I had an emergency cesarean and she had to be resuscitated when they took her out. I was unconscious. I didn't see her for more than a few minutes until almost a week later after I had recovered from a spinal headache that kept me prone for a few days. She was in the NICU at Boston Children's for almost a month, where she had the best of the best in terms of nurses, doctors, and specialists caring for her around the clock.
When we finally brought her home, it was as if we had been "parents" for a month but hadn't really parented much! I knew what I was supposed to do and that I was capable of doing it, but the overwhelming feeling that I had let her down and not done enough for her during the first month of her life made it very hard to enjoy the first few days home with her because all I could think about was that being a good parent now wasn't enough to make up for what I saw as my prior failings. I think that true love for her, deeper than anything, is what kept me going and brought me out of the dark places I could have gone and instead showed me how fantastic being with her really was and could be."
"[I'm a theater person] and I can only compare it to finishing up a production that's taken all your time. Pregnancy is rehearsals, birth is the show, and when the birth is over you're left with the fact that what you've done is out in the world in some way forever. Being alone with my baby in the hospital was like that. It was such a satisfying and proud moment for me."