Before my son was born, I had been told to expect a rush of love for him like no other, the moment he was put into my arms. That wasn't quite what happened to me. What I actually felt was stunned by the brutality of childbirth, and more than a little daunted at the prospect of looking after the scrunched up little creature who lay in the bassinette beside my hospital bed. As for that Great Big Surge of Love? Not so much. I mean, I thought he was nice and everything, and I guess I was pretty excited to show him off (somewhere beneath the layers of exhaustion and shock) but the only surges I was feeling were hormonal, and left me lying in the bath, a stranger in my own life all of a sudden, sobbing for what felt like hours. It wasn't post-natal depression, it was simply the rude shock of post-natal life. The sudden unfamiliarity of my home, which had always represented a calm and quiet nest to retreat to, had now been taken over by nappies and breast pads and all sorts of maternal detritus. This loss of everything I took for granted in my adult life was much more overwhelming to me than the love I felt for my baby. I know, I said it, shoot me world - and what a world we live in when it comes to 'views' on mothers. How we should feel, how we should look, how we should react... the expectations are real and they are fired at a new mother like arrows from a bow.
Of course everything settled down in the coming months. It was all very strange and unfamiliar but it became far less daunting as we all meandered our way blindly forwards into a pattern of sorts. But I still felt ripped apart from my old life. I missed it so badly, the comfort and the familiarity, the certainty of a restful weekend after a busy week, the calm oasis of my home and the spontaneous nights out. I was also deeply worried that I didn't love my son the way a mother 'should.' I took great pride in looking after him perfectly, but I was quite happy to palm him off on a family member for a few hours break - I felt, at times, as if I wanted to run away from him and the guilt was tremendous. He was so beautiful with his big eyes and chubby cheeks, but he was suffocating me. All this time I felt a knawing anxiety that I didn't feel the way I should feel about him, and that mothering didn't come naturally to me, that I wasn't a maternal person and it had all been a huge mistake. I really did sometimes think that it had all been a big mistake, to have my beautiful baby in my life, which is about as bad as I think it is possible to feel about anything. I didn't feel worthy of him, or of being his mother.
You get the picture. Anyway, instead of filling you in on the in between, I will skip to the here and now, where the power of hindsight had taught me a few things. Ben is now two and a half. He is my pure joy, the apple of my eye, the reason I get up every day. I love him so much, sometimes I can hardly believe it. Whenever I am not with him I can see his face, it is imprinted on my mind, he is part of me and I carry him everywhere I go, figuratively speaking (and for about 80% of the time, literally too). Those early days, which lasted well over a year, weren't demonstrative of my failure as a mother, or evidence that I was a bad person; they were simply a time when I didn't know my son very well. He has grown into our lives and it has taken time to build that bond. I spent so much time beating myself up over the fact it didn't happen instantly, that I made the first year of parenting extra hard on myself. I was just getting to know him and I was overwhelmed. Yes, I grieved for my life before children, which, the moment he was born, seemed so predictable and comforting and full of freedom, but I can now see that this was natural, one of the many natural reactions a woman will have upon having her first child.
Our lives changed with our son in them, he has made our days rich and full of meaning. We have hideous lows too - never have I felt so worried, so scared, so cross or tired, but neither have I felt so full of joy, so aware of the simple pleasures in life, so full to the brim of love... Never have I felt so alive.
Not for the first time do I think we should all throw the parenting manuals away, stop listening to what society 'says' we should feel, and just go with the flow. Despite the great technological age in which we live, parenting is still a raw and gritty business where Mother Nature is in charge and modern day frills and fancies can only help so far. We all adapt to it differently. It has taken me time to become a mother, it wasn't the lightning bolt of pure love I had been told to expect and once I made peace with that I was free to love my son in my own time, and in my own way. It hasn't been easy, but now I am a confident mother, with a deep and unbreakable bond with my son. He is part of me, but separate from me all at the same time; this is a profound reality that it has taken me time to accept. I have taken some difficult steps to get here and now, finally, I feel prepared and ready to take many more.
"New mothers enter the world of parenting feeling much like Alice in Wonderland. Being a mother is one of the most rewarding jobs on earth and also one of the most challenging. Motherhood is a process. Learn to love the process. It is sometimes difficult to reconcile the fantasy of what you thought motherhood would be like, and what you thought you would be like as a mother, with reality... A good mother learns to love her child as he is and adjusts her mothering to suit her child."
Debra Gilbert Rosenberg