Reflections on a First Birthday — My, How We’ve Grown

This Saturday, my sweet W will celebrate her first birthday. Ok, no, not really. We’ll celebrate her first birthday; she’ll sort of cluelessly enjoy the fact that she’s being handed a cupcake.

It goes without saying that she’s grown and changed so much in the last 365 days. Seriously. It goes without saying. So I’m not going to say it.

Instead, I want to talk about someone else who’s grown and changed in countless ways this last year — me.

A year ago Saturday, my OB plopped a tiny, squirming, mewling, squishy baby onto my chest. I stared deep into her beautiful, soulful eyes, and thought to myself, “Holy shit.* I’m a mother. Whose idea was THAT?” Which, admittedly, is not what I’d envisioned myself thinking at that particular moment.

*Yes, I swore. If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning, you’ll remember I once wrote a post about how I’d never swear on SquintMom, because I wanted it to be a “Gentle Space” where people could come and know in advance that they weren’t going to read anything that could ruin a good mood. Screw it. This blog is as much for me as it is for everyone else, and sometimes, moms need to swear. This is another way in which I’ve changed in the last year; I recognize that now.

Anyway…not what I’d envisioned myself thinking. No, during pregnancy (when my brain was filled with fluffy bunnies and butterflies and all the other sorts of gooey, lovey things that a preggo brain, hopped up on preggo hormones, is filled with), I envisioned myself locking eyes with my newborn and falling deeply, perfectly in love. I imagined I’d immediately feel a sense of “motherishness,” and that I’d, from that moment on, be transformed (in ways more profound than the integrity of my lady parts). I imagined I’d be willing to die for my baby. You know, like that Maureen Hawkins quote goes: “…before you were born, I loved you. Before you were an hour old, I would give my life for you.”

Bullshit. That did not happen for me. Did it happen for you? That’s nice. No, really. I’m happy for you. But it doesn’t make you a better mother than me. Here’s the thing, though…at the time, I thought it did.

I thought, lying there in my hospital bed, holding my newborn W, that there was something wrong with me, because I couldn’t honestly say that I LOVED her, or that I’d DIE for her. Sure, I felt strong and instinctive things toward her. I cried harder than she when they did that PKU heel-stick thing. I wanted to punch the nurse who (I felt) took an excessive amount of blood for her bilirubin re-test. But love? How could I LOVE someone I didn’t know? How could I LOVE someone I’d only just met? How could I LOVE someone who, up until hours ago, had been nothing but an idea, an image on the sonogram, an occasional squirming sensation in my belly.

I realize there are those mothers for whom love comes strong and early. Who truly do love their babies before they’re born. I don’t doubt that. I just wish I hadn’t expected to be one of them. I wish I’d known then what I know now, which is that love comes to some like a hurricane, fast and furious. Forceful, and certain. For some, love blows open the doors to the heart, and storms in. For others, love creeps on silent feet, curls into a corner of the heart, and settles down. It’s not as dramatic, but it’s just as real.

I wondered many times, in those first weeks, whether there was something missing in me. I wondered whether I was “meant” to be a mother. It felt so hard. She wouldn’t sleep unless she was in my arms. She cried All. The. Time. I fumbled through diaper changes, needed step-by-step pictogram instructions to swaddle her, and worried her bobbly head would fall off if I didn’t hold it just so. She couldn’t latch, so we had to use a nipple shield to nurse. My breasts — which had been, shall we say, “fun size” — swelled to beyond Playboy proportions. I looked like a badly drawn pornographic cartoon character. I didn’t recognize myself. I didn’t recognize my life. I felt like someone had made a terrible mistake, trusting me — ME! What were you thinking!! — with this beautiful, helpless human.

Somehow, slowly, things changed. She and I got to know each other. Nursing became easier (though sleep never has, but we’ll get there). My arms learned to cradle her, and my hands learned to diaper her. The muscle memories of these actions became so ingrained that I could perform them in my sleep. I grew accustomed to my new body, and came to appreciate what it could do. Also, at some point — and looking back, I don’t even know when, exactly — I fell in love. Love crept into my heart on silent paws, and now it fills me.

I’ve also realized that “becoming a mother” isn’t something that happens one night on a beach with a six-pack of beer, nor is it something that happens in a delivery room. It happens day-by-day, month-by-month, even year-by-year. Because yes, I’m good at changing diapers now, and I can tell the difference between a “hungry” whine and a “tired” whine, but I am as clueless about the year ahead of me — the first year of her toddlerhood — as I was about the year of her infancy. I’m FANTASTIC at mothering an infant now. Too bad for me, I don’t have one anymore! So off I go to keep becoming a mother.

But here’s the thing, and this makes all the difference. Back then, in the delivery room, I had the expectation that I should “become a mother” instantaneously. That I should feel love right away, have an instinctive sense of what to do. And I judged myself harshly when things didn’t happen that way. Now? I’m perfectly accepting of my cluelessness. I know I’ll screw up, and go to bed at night thinking, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better.” But I also know I’ll figure out how to mother a toddler eventually. Heck, I know I’ll become FANTASTIC at it. Eventually. Like, by the time she’s ready for preschool.

 

How did your first year of motherhood change you?

 

 

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Megyn @ Minimalist Mommi
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 16:13:41

    I love you for writing this! I didn’t feel that way at all after having Noah. Heck, he’s 3.5, and I still feel like he’s not really mine. However, with Keegan (almost 2), the bond was pretty immediate. I think for me, it had to do a lot with the way I birthed (hospital birth w/ meds & home birth w/out) and the mindset about the child (neither were planned). I’m so happy to hear that you’ve found that connection. As for toddlerhood, it’s challenging, but SO much more fun than infancy! You can do it…and it won’t take until preschool for you to become an expert 🙂

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Feb 16, 2012 @ 17:02:36

      Thanks for the words of encouragement!! Already, I can see that toddlerhood is going to be a wild, awesome ride. She’s SO COOL now!

      Reply

  2. GradBaby
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 20:13:22

    This describes my process very well – my boy was born “naturally” with a wonderful 17-hr labor and I immediately really liked and cared for my baby but he was so alien to me (like, literally, I was shocked by his cute alien eyes staring up at me). Even the heel pricks didn’t bother me. He had fairly significant jaundice (enough that we had at home bili lights) but I knew everything would be fine so I didn’t get worked up. It does reflect my pretty chill style of parenting, but sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t get more worked up about things. My love has grown into a calm, beautiful love but it has yet to get fierce. There are moments when I need so snuggle my boy (and we bedshare and breastfeed which I adore!), but overall I’m still surprised by my chill-ness.

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Feb 18, 2012 @ 14:50:12

      I think “chillness” is a good thing! There’s always time to get worked up if you find you need to…

      Reply

  3. Cytherea
    Feb 17, 2012 @ 04:26:38

    Thank you so much for posting this. I’m 41wks along today and, obviously, due any day now… and your post here has addressed a number of the worries that had been lurking in the back of my mind and heart. So… Thank you. I don’t know if it was your goal to write something so reassuring and helpful, but if so… you succeeded admirably.

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Feb 18, 2012 @ 14:51:56

      Congrats on your forthcoming baby! I am so glad to hear that you found this post reassuring. It was my goal to share my experiences, but also to help moms realize that there are all kinds of ways to love. I think mothering is too often treated like a competitive sport, as though there is a “right way” and are “winners.” This is not so.

      Best of luck to you as your family grows, and I hope you’ll keep reading!

      Reply

  4. Ariane
    Feb 20, 2012 @ 18:41:48

    I feel you! Totally! I remember noticing at the 5-week mark, “Oh hey, I think I love my baby now.” I remember making one of my friends laugh really hard when she said something about if there was the proverbial bullet and I could only save my baby OR my husband, what would I do, and I began with, “Well, I’ve known my husband longer…” 🙂

    Reply

  5. Jem
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 19:16:49

    I love that you wrote a disclaimer for the word ‘shit’. I hope you never read my blog 😉

    I can’t even begin to describe how motherhood has changed me. Emotionally, physically, sexually (TMI?!). It has helped me grow, mature, let go of long term issues, become more patient and understanding, helped me figure out what is important to me in my life… lots of changes.

    The figuring out the toddler thing? I don’t know. I don’t get it most days, I feel like I’m doing it wrong/could have done X Y Z better. But I do know that despite that? I’m having a LOT of fun trying. 🙂

    Reply

    • SquintMom
      Feb 21, 2012 @ 23:35:04

      I’ve had a very limited peek of toddlerhood so far, but I like what I see. Sure, she can be a little pain in the behind…but she’s so much more fun than she was as an infant!!

      Reply

  6. Ashley @ C is for Cockerham
    Feb 21, 2012 @ 23:54:24

    I too am seeing a glimpse into toddlerhood, and like what I see. My love is growing each day, and I’m OK with the fact that I’m not obsessed with my baby or blabbering about him constantly on FB or even my blog. I find a moment or two each day when I think, “Gosh, he is SO beautiful, and I am SO in love.” Then there are other times when I’m really happy that someone else is changing his diaper and feeding him while I read mommy blo…errrr, I mean work. Now that I’ve stopped judging myself, I’m OK with all of these things. My how we’ve all grown!

    Happy belated first bday, W!

    Reply

  7. Vania
    Apr 22, 2012 @ 05:32:31

    I really enjoyed what you wrote, it was incredibly reassuring and helpful. I’m an about-to be mom and sometimes ( or many times) wonder about the way I am actually going to feel when I get to have the baby in my arms.Everybody seems to asume that I will fell in love automatically and from that moment on, I won’t be able to imagine my life without the little one. Sure that I’m incredibly happy to be pregnant and I fantasize a lot about several things regarding the baby, however some other times I can not help to think how strange it will be to suddenly be with a little person all the time. Of course, these are the kind of thoughts one doesn’t exactly share with friends or relatives.I’m sure my mom, sister and even my husband would give me a very judgmental look. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Reply

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