During my pregnancy, all 10 months of it, I wasted days — weeks — worrying. I worried about my unborn daughter’s health and then my own. I worried how my partner and I would make it work from a financial standpoint, and I worried what type of mother I'd be. If there was something to worry about, I obsessed over it, and then I moved on to the next worrisome aspect of parenting. But the one thing I worried about most before becoming a new mom each and every day, from the second I heard her heartbeat for the first time to the moment I heard her cry, all the way to the moment I held her tight, was if I would love my baby enough.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want our daughter. I did. My pregnancy was planned. I was ready to be a mom. My husband and I were married five years before we began trying to conceive. We waited until we had thoroughly “enjoyed each other” and our newlywed life before trying. We waited until we had stable jobs. We waited until we were old and wise (whatever that means), but not too old and not too wise, and we waited until we couldn’t fathom waiting any longer. The only thing we didn’t plan for was how quickly it would happen: We started trying to conceive in September and I was pregnant by November. I immediately began writing to "The Bean," as I so lovingly called her. I wrote her openly, candidly, and lovingly. Most importantly, however, I wrote her honestly. And it was in these writings my fears truly came to the surface. It was in these writings I saw my self-doubt:
I didn’t feel what everyone everyone told me I’d feel: a love so thorough and so intense that life before her seemed insignificant and empty.
I kept on writing. I kept on talking to her and singing to her. I cooked with her. I danced with her, and I even ran with her. But no matter what I did — what we did — there was still a strangeness between us; something foreign, something alien, something not quite right. My daughter was a stranger, a complete stranger to me, and while I knew I loved her, I worried: What if I don’t love her enough? What if I don’t just “snap” into super sentimental mommy mode?
And I worried for good reason: Thanks to my postpartum depression and the fact I was completely and utterly overwhelmed, I didn’t feel connected to her. (Sure, I knew she was my daughter, pregnancy and 30-plus hours of labor told me be she was, but I didn’t fall head over heels.) I didn’t feel a sensation so overwhelming that I lost myself in it. I didn’t feel what everyone everyone told me I’d feel: a love so thorough and so intense that life before her seemed insignificant and empty. My heart didn’t burst when she breastfed for the first time or when her weary eyes locked with my even heavier ones. My arms didn’t shake when I held her the first time, and my soul didn’t ascend.
Instead, when Amelia was born, all 7 pounds and 1 ounce of her, I felt relief. She was here. I'd made it. Sure, I loved her, but I didn’t take to motherhood immediately. I didn’t feel the all-consuming love everyone told me I would. What the hell is wrong with me, I thought. It seemed everyone else snuggled their newborns, sniffed their lopsided skulls, fawned over milestones, and shrugged off the sleepless nights without complaint, and I couldn’t wait for my husband to take her from me. I counted down the seconds for the chance to hide in our bathroom and cry.
I was ashamed because I thought the way that I felt made me a sh*tty human being: cold and callous and incapable of love. I thought it made me a bad mom. And, for a moment, I thought I made a terrible mistake. (My daughter deserved better and she got me Me!)
Before Amelia was born I felt like the attachment between mother and baby was supposed to be instantaneous. After all, it's what we're taught. It's "natural" and "instinctual," and the relationship begins to grow the moment a woman learns she’s pregnant. But what if it doesn’t? What if that much‑vaunted bond fails to materialize? What if you and your new companion need a courting period?
When I didn't immediately feel that connection to my baby, I felt like a failure. Because I didn’t automatically assume the roles I was conditioned to think I should, I felt like a bad, crappy, terrible, no-good mom. And because of that shame, I hid from everyone instead of looking for help. I hid my pain, my feelings, my resentment, and I lied about the whole damn thing.
I couldn’t will myself to love my daughter. I couldn’t force the connection, especially when I was sleep deprived and struggling with yet-to-be diagnosed postpartum depression. Soon the space in my soul that was meant for love for her filled with terror and uncertainty. I was full of anger, hatred, regret, and remorse. And instead of turning torward the people who could help me, I turned away from everyone.
It took me 10 months to figure who I was as a new mom out. It took me nearly two years to truly believe it, and for a period, it took my sanity. It almost took my life. With time and help, I realized so what if I wasn’t “head over heels” in love at the hospital. So what if it took me time to connect to my daughter. If I could go back and do it all over again, I'd tell myself to relax. I'd tell myself not to waste days, weeks, and even months worrying about why I didn’t love her as much as my husband or her grandmother or even my friends did. I'd tell myself to stop and breathe, because the bonding would happen and our love would eventually grow. With patience, self-care, and an open heart, my daughter slipped right in there.
Looking back, I wish someone would have told me that it was OK to worry about whether or not I'd love my baby enough, and it was OK if it wasn't love at first sight. I wish someone would told me that it would happen whenever it happened, and that there was no reason to feel guilty or wrong just because it wasn't immediate and overwhelming. More than anything, I wish someone had reassured me that it didn't matter if I loved my baby enough, because I would love her as best as I could. And that was more important.