It took me three births to cry the moment I saw my newborn for the first time. When my first child was born, I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do with him, how to hold him so he’d feel comforted, how to feed him. I did feel an instant connection with Jack, but I didn’t cry.
To be honest, when Archer was born I was still really pissed at the anesthesiologist who screwed up my epidural, which slightly muted the pain of being ripped in half. Like if someone shot you in the leg and then offered you a dose of baby Tylenol. While I was trying to bond with the purple creature on my chest, my doctor decided she didn’t believe the epidural wasn’t effective and started repairing the damaged bits without a local anesthetic, and I screamed and lifted my foot to kick her in the face before she realized maybe I was telling the truth about the botched procedure.
The moment Mary was forced out of my body by the doctor — whose arms disappeared
up to his elbows — and two nurses who jumped on my belly to free her chubby little shoulders which were impossibly stuck, I was overcome with emotion and started to cry. Instead of immediately bonding with her, she gulped down a bunch of amniotic fluid upon exiting and needed some attention before we could formally be introduced.
My daughter was born hungry, and I consider myself a professional breast-feeder after nursing two previous babies, so we were ready to latch right away. Unfortunately, some blood work I’d had done when I arrived at the hospital wasn’t completed and the nurse warned me not to try feeding her until my labs came back clean for HIV, hepatitis, and whatever else is transferred via breast milk. My fresh-from-the-womb baby girl, who should have been exhausted, was fussy and couldn’t get settled on my chest because she was ravenous. After over an hour of waiting, the nurse gave us the go-ahead and she immediately latched like a pro (unlike her temperamental brothers who gave me all kinds of boob-related injuries). As a third time mom, I was finally feeling confident in my parenting skills, my ability to assess a baby’s needs, and my understanding that I really didn’t know anything, but there were lots of great moms I could check in with if I needed help. Without all the anxiety I’d felt before, I was able to relax and really focus on loving her from the start.
I felt an instant connection with each child and an acute awareness that I’d carried them for nine months and grown them from nothing into living breathing human beings. With Jackson, this awareness made my anxiety worse, because the child I created was my responsibility and why can’t I get the latch right and I can’t snuggle him because he’ll want to eat but it really hurts and I can’t give him a pacifier because the internet says it’ll ruin his suckle and he’ll never nurse again. I was more relaxed with Archie, but worried I’d ruined Jack’s life by stealing focus with another baby.
There’s an unofficial milestone at six weeks: if you soldier on and breastfeed until then, at six weeks and one day it’ll start getting easier. With each baby six weeks is really a turning point for me. We’ve got a rhythm, I have a feeling for their personality, we’ve had a few checkups and I know they’re growing and gaining weight, and my hormone funk is starting to clear up. I can spend time just watching my child, holding her just because I want to, and playing with her on the floor during tummy time (which all three of my kids absolutely hated). I’ve had to focus on it this time, purposely letting the housework slide and ordering pizza instead of cooking just so I can spend some time with this new baby. It’ll never be as blissfully simple as it was when I had Jack and he was my focus every day. But I’m trying to spend one-on-one time with each kid to make sure they know they’re special to me.
When my babies get to about four months and they’re smiling, laughing, cooing, and sleeping through the night, I’m suddenly overcome with intense affection. I’ll be looking at my child and the level of love I feel takes my breath away. It’s so strong it’s painful, as I think about all the things I need to protect them from, whether it’s the handsy kid at school drop off who wants to kiss her face, or the bee that wanders too close during our walk that I know I’ll kill with my bare hands if it tries to sting my precious baby. My fears are sometimes crushing, though I love my children more every day. Some days are harder than others, like this past week when Jack discovered the art of lying, but I know if he climbed into my lap I’d get lost in those blue-green eyes, sniff his wild hair and forget how mad I was an hour ago.
A lot of mothers talk about the fierce love they have for their children from the moment they’re plopped on their chest, all cheesy, purple, and screaming. Every parent is different, and every baby can make you feel different emotions. The first can be terrifying, and make you feel completely unprepared and unqualified to take your child home in just forty-eight hours. The second might make you mourn the loss of your one-on-one time with your first. And you might be so relieved to see your third that all you want to do is go home and mother the shit out of her, because for a while you thought you wouldn’t get the chance. Eventually, you’ll be overwhelmed with an all-encompassing love that is so potent it makes your chest ache when you’re away from them, and sometimes when you’re in the same room and they try to tell you they didn’t spit water all over their brother. It was a ghost.