9/08/2006

All is full of love

There are a few pregnant bloggers about at the moment, many of whom have blogged about the oft-blogged topic of survivor's guilt. I harped on about this myself in the beginning; I didn't feel as if I belonged in the IF camp, but I felt even more of an outsider when grouped with The Pregnants. I was fearful to convey that any guilt I felt arose from my fear of blogging about pregnancy, but not actually about being pregnant. I didn't want to come across as if I'd forgotton my IF roots by blathering on and on about pregnancy as if my Clomid, IUI and IVF cycles never existed. However, I suffered no guilt about the pregnancy itself, as my logic was (and is) that I worked hard for it and it finally happened for me. A note to other pregnant bloggers - that is nothing to feel guilty about.

So I skipped the survivor's guilt in the traditional sense. Now I'm experiencing a new incarnation of this dreaded affliction. My new guilt is two fold - it functions as a form of survivor's guilt, but it also moonlights as maternal guilt. I had a baby that took me 4 years of infertility treatment to meet. I agonised for all this time about how my body was failing me, and how I was failing my husband. I got pregnant, waxed poetic in my mind about how blissfully happy I would be once she arrived, and convinced myself that the lack of maternal instinct I so feared was actually a blinding maternal instinct that was merely latent. Imagine my surprise when the long-awaited baby arrived and the maternal instinct failed to kick in.

Though I have spent a large portion of the past few years of my life ignoring pregnant women and Child Bores, I have picked up that when a baby is born, love is instant. You gaze into your child's eyes and see everything you had ever wished for. This is obviously enhanced greatly within the infertile community, as hell, you went through physical and emotional agony for ages trying to get to this point. When P. was born she was given to me as soon as she came out. I held her on my chest, in complete amazement that this being was here and officially part of our lives. In retrospect, love never entered the equation. I would like to say that I was overwhelmed with adoration for the most perfect baby ever born, but all I noticed was the lack of that feeling.

The Dude was instantly smitten, and sensing that my maternal instinct had yet to kick in, repeatedly said, "Look at her. Just look at her, she's gorgeous", as if this idea would suddenly dawn on me and I'd spout sonnets about the beauty of my baby and my all-consuming love for her. I don't imagine that my hellacious week-long stay in the hospital aided in the bonding between P. and myself. I was frustrated at not being able to feed her, depressed that she was jaundiced for days, and forlorn that this was the start of my new life - a life I suddenly felt as if I didn't want after all.

Once I was home from the hospital, I started attending weekly coffee mornings held by the group of women in my antenatal class. P. was the first of the group to be born and the other women wanted to know all about my experiences. I told them all the factual stuff relating to labour and delivery, but avoided any flowery sentiments regarding my feelings toward P. When people would give me big, cheesy smiles and say, "Don't you just love her to bits?", I had to restrain myself from shrugging my shoulders and saying, "Yeah, she's alright I guess". You get reported for that sort of response in connection to your child, don't you?

Soon other babies were born to the women in my group and each get together was a jumble of women gushing about how much they loved their babies and how they would not hesitate a moment before going through it all again. "She was so worth it", "I fell in love instantly", and "I'd like at least 10 now!" were constant companions in the conversations and it made me feel as if I was a complete freak of maternal nature. I wondered if these women were just saying these things because they were obligated to, or if they genuinely felt that instantaneous bond with their new son or daughter. I couldn't decide if I was envious of them or resentful that this had come so easily to them.

It's unfortunate that you rarely hear that some women don't bond with their child immediately after birth. One of the few instances in which I've heard such feelings expressed was in relation to women with postnatal depression. It doesn't seem to be widely acknowledged that there are women out there not experiencing depression that might take more than 10 seconds to fully bond with their children.

I have never failed to calm P., to hold her and whisper to her that everything will be ok. I tell her that her mama will take care of her and make her feel better. Until recently, I did that out of obligation rather than hopeless adoration of my baby. I went through the motions because I didn't have a choice, and rarely did I feel as if this was my child to love unconditionally and eternally. I've spent much of my mothering time up to now ruing the loss of my previous life, the one I will never.have.again. No independence, no sleeping in, and no spontaneity. Ever.

This is what I wanted, right? A cute, cuddly baby who throws up in my cleavage at least twice a day? Check. I just didn't think I'd look at this baby and not connect with her any more than I would the child of a friend. After I was feeling this way for weeks, I stumbled upon the most fantastic post ever, courtesy of Morphing into Mama. This post has changed my life. I know it sounds dramatic, and I'm sure it is, but shit...how did I not find this earlier? There ARE women like me out there, we're not an urban myth of bad parenting!

MiM questions how it is possible to be in love with someone you have just met. It doesn't usually happen within the context of romantic love, so why is this any different? Yes, this tiny person is a product of you, but that doesn't mean you know who they are and who they will be from birth. For awhile they are just screaming little shitting leeches who occasionally allow you to get some much-needed sleep. There, that's me waxing poetic.

The more traditional of you will be pleased to know that I am slowly coming round. More and more P. is feeling like my own. It's taken nearly 8 weeks to get to this stage, but I'm getting there. I had an epiphany the other day when I was holding P. after a feed which gave me faith that I might actually love my little red-haired punk baby. She had her pacifier in (yes, I am that kind of parent and damn proud of it), looked me directly in the eyes and smiled. It was fleeting, but I've convinced myself that it was meant for me and not as a result of squeezing out a squirty poo or a tiny fart. I may be deluding myself, but I suppose if this is a step toward proper bonding, I'll take it. I'm not Catholic, lapsed or otherwise, so I can only take so much guilt.

25 comments:

Lumi said...

I love you.

I love that you wrote this post.

So many women need to read this post.

You are an amazing woman, and P is very lucky to have you. Your raw honesty and clear view of what can be the most muddled, confusing time in a person's life is heartening.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way - will you answer my fucking emails, already?

:-)

Cheers!
Lumi

Suz said...

Thank you so much for pointing me towards Morphing into Mama. It's nice to know that DH and I aren't the only once who've thought about how much a white newborn from middle-class parents would fetch on the open market....and then grappled with all the guilt of that thought.

Dooneybug said...

Ok, I totally felt the same way for many weeks. I had (am still having?) a huge adjustment with this new life and mourning the previous one. It really does change the more you get to know them and the more their personality starts to emerge.

Thanks for sharing your raw and honest feelings. More woman than are willing to admit have felt the same.

Mollywogger said...

Kudos to you for writing about it, girl. I think there are many women too frightened to admit that they feel the same thing. Admitting that you don't drool all over your new infant in this society is tantamount to offhandedly mentioning to someone, while holding a meat cleaver, that you'd like to kill it. Motherhood is magical, Pru! Magical and miraculous! OH MY GOD I AM SO MAGICALLY MIRACULOUSLY IN LOVE WITH MY NEW BAYBEEEE!

I need some drugs.

statia said...

I love that you go for the hardcore posts.

I worry so much about not being maternal. I come from a line of non maternal mothers. I shouldn't say that my mother wasn't maternal, she was, but only to a point. All my life I've wanted to be a mother and now that there's a distinct possibility that I'm going to be one, I spend my days and nights freaking out about everything and anything.

Will I resent them? Will I love them? Will I abandon them for the internet? I worry that there will be no instinct. I joke about the German because well, it's fucking true.

But it's also really normal to feel that way. I know a lot of people who basically brought their kid home and looked at each other like, "what the fuck do we do now?"

PortLairge said...

Oh Pru, You've hit the nail on the head as usual. I am 36 weeks today and like you I went the infertility route. I have never particularly liked other peoples kids, never gooed and gaaed over babies and I am terrified I won't bond with my baby. I am terrified, terrified I will regret having a baby. I am so relieved to be able to say it. Thank you for always saying what some of us or thinking.

lisa said...

I went through the same thing. I thought after 5 years of IF that all would be sunshine and roses when my daughter was born. I didn't suffer from PPD but I remember telling my husband when she was about 2 weeks old that I was scared at my feelings, or rather lack of feeling, toward her. I did all I had to do for her, obviously, but I was not happy. I wanted my old life back. I thought I'd made a grievous error. I was not happy as a mom, at all.

Now she's 7 months old and everything's changed. I FEEL that love now, all the time. It's been that way for quite awhile. I just needed time to adjust to my new routine, to get to know her and most importantly, get some sleep at night. Seriously, when they sleep through the night it's amazing how one's mood improves.

This is probably a way more common feeling than anyone acknowledges. I wish more people talked about it so we could all avoid the guilt!

Rachel said...

I agree that it's probably a very very common feeling, but most of us live in a society that tells us there's something wrong with us if we're not instantly turned into SuperMommys as soon as the kid takes her first breath.

It certainly wasn't rosebuds and lace on my first contact with Jillian. I was only able to touch her foot with my finger since she was being whisked off to the NICU and I was still strapped down to the operating table. In fact, I was kind of pissed off at her for being breech, thereby robbing me of the whole labor and birth experience I'd been anticipating. And now I don't feel like I can share war stories with other moms because she was a c-section.

Only now, six weeks into this thing called parenthood am I starting to feel what I'm "supposed" to feel. Yes, she screams and does little else except eat and poop and there are times when I just want to toss her out the window, but those times are becoming fewer and farther between. Especially today, when she farted SUPER loud, gave the most contented sigh I've ever heard, and promptly fell asleep.

I just can't hate someone who is so happy about their farts, you know?

Before I get too long-winded, keep in mind that what you feel is perfectly valid. No one has to live your life but you, and anyone who passes judgement on that deserves a serious beating.

DeadBug said...

Ditto.

I knew that I would protect her with my life, that I would do everything I could possibly do to make her happy, but the feeling was one of overpowering responsibility, not overpowering happiness. It felt like love, but love of a very different stripe.

It took a few weeks before I could really fathom her, and fathom our relationship, and I was also going through some depression at the time. I was lucky to have read about the commonness of this feeling before she arrived and tried not to beat myself up about it. Jeff, on the other hand, was immediately and utterly filled with joy and love.

electriclady said...

I love that you wrote this. Way too much energy is expended on convincing us women that what we feel or do is or isn't "natural" or "feminine," or that there is some primal, essential way we are all supposed to behave or feel. And more so than ever on everything surrounding motherhood. (Hello, how many of us have felt totally unfeminine or like failures as women because of our inability to get knocked up?)

Jeannie said...

My son is six months old today. I feel bonded to him, but it was definitely not something that happened instantly, and I sure as heck missed my old life -- and still do.

Thanks for writing this post. I am sure that so many more women feel this way than can admit it. and it helps so much knowing other people felt like I did!

Maya said...

Thank you for your honesty. I think there are many women like you and it makes perfect sense to feel like this after IF. For me, IF made me disconnect from my body out of loathing. I can see how it would be hard to reconnect with it and something that came from it after giving birth.
Also, you did have such a hellacious experience in that damned hospital. It makes sense you are skittish.
I am glad that you are not feeling alone.

Jenn said...

So true. I wanted to give mine back more times then I care to admit.

Nico said...

I think you're totally right that the mothers in your group are saying that they are so in love because that's what they're supposed to say. I think Antony is amazing, adorable, and I love watching him. But can I say that I love him more than I love my husband, which people with kids always say they do? No, I can't. I know my husband, we've spent close to ten years together, I know his ins and outs. This little guy? As you say, just met him. Although by the same token, it would be very hard to choose between the two of them. I definitely feel very protective of Ant, which to me is more what the maternal instinct is all about, rather than a blinding, all consuming love the minute you see your little creature.

Em said...

It took me (and my husband) an good while to really 'get' the fact that Catrin was our baby. For ages we felt like we had stolen someone's baby because all of a sudden, here was this little person who needed us...all the time. I never felt like I didn't want to do things for her or that I didn't love here but it was not the 'I am so in love with my baby', Johnson & Johnson ad. Loved the post.

Panda said...

At 5 months, I can now say that I actually love Spudly, but before now its been more really digging him, or being very responsible for him or just thinking he was damn cute. Now I would throw myself in front of traffic for him and can feel that tugging at the heart like when you fall in love with someone.

I still want to put him out with the recycling most weeks though.

Ova Girl said...

Yes...it was like love had to take a back seat to all the other emotions fighting for headspace.The dominant feeling for me was probably...good god, it's a baby but I was now more aware of my own body as well and struggling with how hard it was to recover from the birth. And yes, C also fell instantly in love and was totally smitten from the beginning.

great post pru!

fisher queen said...

Yeah, I wish more people would be honest about this. I have had a few people whisper to me that it is OK if I don't LOVE the baby right away. They always look around to make sure no one else is there before they say it though.

MiM said...

Pru, I actually read this the day you posted it, but I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I couldn't leave a comment.

First, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us. As you can tell from the comments, your honesty helps not only yourself, but it helps others.

Second, I can't tell you how happy it makes me feel to know that words about my own experience touched you. Even though my kids are older and I feel unbelieveably connected with them now, it still helps me to know I'm not alone in that experience.

This is the reason I continue to write and read the writing of others. In this forum, we can really help each other.

Thank you for such an honest and lovely post.

rockmama-in-waiting said...

Thank you so much for this fabulous post! I admit to a giant fear of this myself- this baby that's taken forever to achieve showing up and me going, "Huh. Is this what I gave up going to smoky bars to hear dirty rock and roll for?"

P is a lucky little girl to have an honest to god thinking, feeling mom.

Queenie said...

Oh yeah, I'm with you. Totally. In fact, I just wrote this post. (Or rather, a much less interesting and well-written version of it). See http://rotten-eggs.blogspot.com/2006/08/attachment-issues.html
I'm so glad I'm not the only one.

elle said...

This was a great great post. This has been how I've been feeling and a big part of why I haven't posted anything. Thanks for writing this!

tania said...

it all gets better once they start smiling and cooing.

and then they turn three years old and they can be really hard to love again.

you are most certainly not alone. I've also always wondered if those people who are gushing and oozing love love love about their newborns are just saying it because they feel they should or if they really feel that way...
(or maybe it's a survival mechanism in the form of denial...)

: )

LawMommy said...

Thank you for writing this post. It's been six years since my son was born, but, I've carried around conflicted feelings for years, about my initial feelings that motherhood had ruined my life and how was I supposed to love that screaming baby?

I'm happy to tell you, that my son, now six, fills my heart with a love so big that I sometimes think it will make my chest explode. I cannot remember at what point I stopped taking care of him out of obligation and started loving him. It took more than 8 weeks for me...maybe 8 months. And as each year passes, I seem to love him more than before.

I'm just glad you had the courage to say these things. I didn't have the courage to say them at the time I needed to say them.

Gretchen
Adopting #2 from Vietnam

hairyfarmerfamily said...

I was in such a colossally fucked-up mental place after Harry was born that I have no idea when it was that the insane worry metamorphed into a bond. But it took a fair old while, I know.
And for weeks to come, between the 2am and 4am howling sessions, I used to demand that hubby take the 'screaming little shitting leech' downstairs and out of my hearing so that I could sleep.

Ahh. Good times, good times...!