All my life I’ve wanted to be a mom. All my life people have told me what a great mom I’d make someday, and I’d shrug and laugh and secretly agree. So it surprised me to find that when I was pregnant I didn’t really connect with my unborn child. Even though I was incredibly happy and thankful to be experiencing pregnancy, I never really let myself believe I was having a healthy, normal baby.
After seeing how creepy she looked in the ultrasounds, I subconsciously geared myself up for having an ugly, possibly even deformed child, if I ended up even having a baby at all. Even walking into the hospital in full-blown labor I still didn’t entirely allow myself to believe that I would be walking back out with a baby. It was sort of an extreme “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” scenario.
When my daughter was born and her slimy, squirmy little body was placed on my chest, I felt actual surprise at her existence. It was as if the nine-plus months I’d spent growing her had been a very realistic dream that I’d just woken up from, only to be handed a baby after all. She felt like a stranger, albeit an adorable stranger that I very much wanted to get to know. But I wasn’t immediately swept away in blissful raptures of love. I even got the impression that the nurse who came in to bathe her was a little judgmental because I was ravenous and way more interested in eating my hospital dinner than participating in my daughter’s first bath. And during that first night, I didn’t stay up and lean adoringly over her bassinet, watching her to make sure she was breathing. I just wanted to sleep, and I may have even felt some mild resentment towards the nurses who kept waking me up to make me feed the baby.
In complete honesty, I didn’t really feel like her mom yet. Whenever I dreamed about her over the course of the next few weeks — stressful dreams about forgetting her in the car or not being able to feed her — I was always very distraught but in the dreams I wasn’t her mom.
It surprised me that motherhood — a role I had dreamed of and pictured myself in for years — wasn’t fitting me like a glove right away.
As time went on, our acquaintance grew. Every day was a new day of baby troubleshooting. According to “The Happiest Baby on the Block” — my favorite read during pregnancy (I read it twice) — my baby would feel calmed in a swaddle and adore the side/stomach position. She hated both. Every time we tried to cradle her or hold her facing towards us, you know, like a baby — she writhed around and squealed like an angry piglet. According to every parenting book and article in the world, nothing is more soothing to a baby than skin-to-skin contact, yet whenever I tried it with my baby, she would cry and push her head as far away from me as possible. The books said my heartbeat would be soothing to her but my baby didn’t care about my heartbeat and she hated the warmth of my body.
I should have had some idea, after how she’d acted in the womb. Always stretching so far it seemed like she was trying to escape. I had secretly wondered if it was possible for a fetus to break a pelvis or a rib, and I’d even had recurring dreams that parts of her burst out through my stomach. But, I thought surely once she was in my arms we’d have a connection.
My husband and I wondered “why isn’t she like other babies?” Our “recently searched” tabs on Google held an increasingly ridiculous list of desperate questions: “Why newborn miserable unless nursing?” “Newborn never naps?” “Baby won’t look me in the eye?” “Baby hates me?”
It didn’t help when well-meaning people gushed over her, saying things like, “Enjoy those newborn snuggles! I miss those magical days!” And then would refuse to believe me when I informed them that the snuggles were nonexistent. It seemed like everyone I talked to had all sorts of well-meaning advice that didn’t fit my daughter.
The image of the soft, sweet newborn, curled up contentedly on her mother’s chest — it had been false advertising, and I felt a little ripped off. Sure, I wouldn’t have traded my daughter for the cuddliest baby in the world, but it did hurt a little to see my expensive, beautiful baby wrap — my one extravagant pregnant purchase that I’d been so excited to use — lying discarded in a corner of the nursery because my baby had some sort of inexplicable personal bubble.
And the first time I tried saying “I love you,” to my unaffectionate infant, she gave me this sarcastic look that I couldn’t help but interpret as, “You love me? Please, you don’t even KNOW me!” It’s probably hard to imagine a look could say all that, but she was a very expressive infant.
I don’t remember a specific “moment” when I suddenly felt like a mom. It was more like a slow becoming, pieced together by little parts of each day. When she would cry while someone else held her, then stop crying when I took her back. The first time she put her hand up to my face on purpose, and giggled when I kissed it. The way she looks to me for assurance when someone new speaks to her. I sometimes feel as though I am still becoming her mom, a little bit more every day. I guess some moms are made, not born.
As time goes on, and I’ve gotten to know her quirks, it has dawned on me that part of the reason my baby was more difficult than I expected was because of the false confidence I had gained from my research during pregnancy. It didn’t take long for what I had perceived as difficulties in her personality to become some of my favorite things about her. She might be restless and distractible, but it’s only because she is intelligent and wants to see the world around her. She is overly sensitive, but that allows her to pick up on the love in small gestures like stroking her hair or singing to her. She might not love being held in certain positions, but she lights up like a mosquito in a nudist colony when I walk into the room.
I gave up on what a book said I should be doing and decided to work around her specific needs. I stopped trying to babywear until she was old enough to face out like she wanted. I gave up on skin-to-skin contact. I stopped swaddling her arms so she could flail to her heart’s content.
Six months later, even though she changes every day, my daughter is not a stranger anymore. I can just look at her and know what she needs, and feel it like it is my own emotion. I go with my own instincts for my child. It’s not a bad idea to try and prepare, but there is no “what to expect” when you are expecting, because every baby is an individual. When people try to tell me what I should be doing differently with my child, I very politely slap them and say, no thank you. Because no one knows her like I do, and no one knows what she needs like I do, because I am her mother.
I remember a time, close to my fourteenth birthday, that my mom was driving me home from a party where I had received all these wonderful gifts, and I was holding the Lord of the Rings soundtrack CDs in my hands (I know, what a nerd), and I just remember having this sense of complete satisfaction, as though I now owned everything I had ever and would ever want in life. Strangely, Howard Shore’s film score didn’t ultimately satisfy all of my life’s longings and it didn’t take long for that contented feeling to disappear. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the very same day that I found something new to want. But I’ve always remembered how good that moment felt.
Something I didn’t expect about becoming a mom is feeling that same strong sense of satisfaction, but never having it fade. I have my baby, what else could I possibly want? Every day I look at my daughter’s beautiful face and I have a sense of absolute fulfillment.
If I could go back in time to visit my pregnant self, I would slap the “What To Expect” book out of my hand and tell myself to expect nothing. She’s completely different than I expected. Being a mom is completely different than I expected.
But it’s so much better.