Guest Post by: Rachel Crum
My husband and I were recently watching Parenthood, one of the later seasons, where Crosby goes through a bit of a crisis wondering why he doesn't feel a "connection" with his newborn daughter. He keeps waiting for that huge semi-truck of love to come slamming into him and he's jealous of the way his wife seems to feel towards the tiny, crying, never sleeping baby now haunting their house.
Watching this made me think about how I felt those first weeks as a new mom. The last couple of months before my daughter was born, people kept asking me, "Are you SO excited to meet your baby?!" And I remember thinking, "Well...kind of." I couldn't wait to see her face for the first time, to hold the child kicking inside of me in my arms. At the same time, I didn't know what to think. I knew I loved my baby, but I felt like someone standing waiting for a mail-order bride to exit a ship. I felt like I was waiting for a stranger-- a stranger who would be a part of my life for the rest of my life. I felt nervous, I felt scared, I worried about how our life was going to change, I worried if I would know what to do. I wanted to see my daughter, but I honestly didn't know anything about her, and I didn't have a relationship with her to reassure me, so I felt more scared and apprehensive than I had before my husband and I got married.
I thought, and hoped all of this would change as soon as I saw my baby for the first time. I thought maybe that truck of love really would hit me and I would never look back. But as much as I cried when they held her up for the first time, as amazed as I was to look at her sweet face, a face I never could have conjured up in my imagination, as much as I loved her, I was so scared. All of my love felt like fear.
I was terrified for her well-being, terrified when she was crying, terrified when the nurses took her away, terrified I didn't know how to feed her and was she eating and how long was it going to hurt like that?! I was terrified because I didn't know how to get her to sleep, or how to swaddle her blankets the right way so they actually stayed tight, and I was terrified to hold her and burp her and change her diaper and bathe her and dress her and be left with her. She was so tiny and helpless! There was a huge burden weighing on me to be the one responsible for the life of this new human. Everything was so new to me. All my years of babysitting felt like they had done nothing to prepare me for this. As I looked at the tiny baby in my arms, I felt love, in some form, and an overwhelming amount of fear.
I'll never forget telling my husband I didn't understand all the happy, lovey-dovey newborn posts my friends put on Facebook. I was too exhausted and painfully sore and hormonal and panicky and overwhelmed to post things about I couldn't believe how much I loved my new baby and I couldn't imagine life without her and I loved being her mama. I could remember life without her, and it had been a good life where I actually slept, and my breasts weren't about to fall off my body, and I wasn't covered in puke but terrified to shower. And I had always thought I would love being a mom, but I had pictured lazy days at the park, and reading my favorite children's stories, and baking muffins and playing play-dough together, not crying while breastfeeding, or being up at 2 in the morning because we had no idea how to get her to go back to sleep, or looking at the tiny person in my arms and wishing so badly she could knew me or could show some sort of affection.
I had a lot of moms tell me, "It gets easier," especially around three months mark they said, but I just remember thinking, "How?! How does this get easier?" The advice felt so vague and, at the time, everything felt so hard. But, I'm thankful to say, it really did get easier. It got easier because I gave up breastfeeding (because of several physical problems), which finally allowed me to feel like I could go out in public. It got easier because my daughter finally started sleeping at night, and even though she would still wake up to eat a couple of times, she didn't stay awake and went right back to sleep. It got easier because she also started napping longer than 40 min, and she stopped puking the contents of her stomach all over me every 10 min (well....eventually). It got easier because I figured out when and how quickly to take a shower and get dinner prepped. It got easier because I became slightly more confident, like being three months into a new job. Even if I didn't know the answer, at least I knew things to try, and the ways to do them.
And if you were to ask me when I felt that swell of love, that bursting, been-run-over-by-a-truck feeling, I would tell you, like Elizabeth says in Pride and Prejudice, "It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began." As the fear that characterized my early love slowly subsided, something else inched its way open. It came in all the little moments: my daughter curled up on my chest, asleep, as I kissed her downy little head, hanging out on the bed with sun streaming in the window as I read her Harry Potter, her first smiles, reaching out her arms in recognition towards me, her first laugh. She was three months old before we first heard her laugh, but when she did I realized everyone was right. It really does get easier.
It took me a while to understand that when I had a baby, I entered into a relationship with my child, and it was ok that it unfolded slowly. I loved her from the beginning, but it was a new, hesitant, fearful love--for a tiny stranger. Just like any relationship, time is the key. As I spent every day feeding, caring, comforting, and playing with my baby, my love for her deepened. I began to know her facial expressions, her likes and dislikes, how to hold her and get her to sleep. I began to know HER, and knowing her, I loved her. Now there are times where I put her down to sleep, shut the door, and walk out a little teary, because I didn't know you could love someone so much. I didn't know.