I know my two daughters better than anyone…even themselves.
I know that my oldest is a typical first-born who likes to make the rules and gets upset when things don’t go precisely her way.
I know that my youngest is more impulsive and “strong-willed”…and admittedly a bit of a bruiser.
I know that my oldest prefers the water hot but the youngest likes it cooler, making for an interesting bath time.
The point here is not to highlight my children’s eccentricities and preferences but rather to explain that I didn’t learn these things overnight. I have lived with these people for six and three years respectively, and it has taken that long to get to know them so intimately.
I don’t believe in love at first sight.
Maybe I’m jaded from all the times I’ve read Romeo & Juliet (PSA: not a love story) when teaching Freshman English, but I don’t think love is something that happens immediately. I mean, I denied that my husband and I were even dating when for months it had been painfully obvious to all of our friends that we were in a serious relationship.
Of course, I loved my children when they were born, but that love has grown deeper and richer the longer I’ve known them. Because I didn’t know them at first.
As I enter into the final weeks of my third pregnancy, I can’t help but reflect on when I became a mother for the first time. It is not an understatement to say that it flipped my world totally upside-down. Intellectually, I knew that things would change, but I had no idea what a mindscrew new motherhood would be.
I had an appointment with a lactation consultant when my eldest daughter was less than a week old. As I walked into the hospital, a friendly grandpa-type asked me what my daughter’s name was. Overcome with sleep deprivation and the reality of being responsible for another human, I mispronounced my daughter’s name. Had this been a friend, I would have laughed (or cried) and quickly corrected my mistake. But since it was a stranger I would never see again, I burned with mortification as he made some comment about “these new-fangled names.” What kind of mother doesn’t even know her own baby’s name?!?
And that was just the beginning. I was bewildered by all of the newness and struggled to find my way. I distinctly remember calling my mom on one of those early days and asking her what I was supposed to do with the baby now that she was clean, fed, and rested.
I didn’t take into account that I would still have hormones raging through my body, and I certainly didn’t advocate enough for some precious time to myself. I kept a running tab of all the things I should have been doing, and it would still be some time before I found some local mom friends to help with the feelings of isolation.
So, when I would see photos on social media of new mothers gushing about how much they loved their precious babies and how motherhood was the best, I couldn’t help but wonder if a) they were lying or if b) I was doing it wrong.
I thought I was a baby person. I used to dote on the offspring of my friends and family, clambering for a chance to hold and snuggle with that new tiny person. Turns out that when it’s not your kid, you can still have a conversation with the other adults in the room and then hand that baby back when s/he starts to fuss.
When you’re all alone with a newborn, you’re all alone.
I was dealing with all of these emotions as I tried to adjust to my new role as a mother and didn’t yet have the capacity to also get acquainted with this new person. My world revolved around this baby, but it sometimes felt like I didn’t know her at all. I didn’t have an answer when some well-meaning person asked what her nap schedule was like or what she’d like for Christmas. I felt like a fraud and wanted to shout, “How the heck should I know? Why don’t you ask her?”
Looking back, I realize that all of these feelings are normal, but they’re feelings that are not discussed enough. I don’t think that I was suffering from true postpartum depression, although the term “baby blues” seems a bit too trivial. (If you do think you might be dealing with PPD, please seek help–start here.)
Eventually, I found my way out of the new baby fog as I got to know this amazing person. But it took time, and it happened without my really realizing it. I learned my daughter’s quirks as her personality emerged, which turned what had been more of a dependent caretaker situation into a true relationship. I figured out that she loved to twirl around in dresses and skirts (although she now thinks she looks “cuter” in shorts). I found out that she likes to eat radishes dipped in ketchup.
And as a result, I was much more laid-back the second time around. It didn’t hurt that I also had a toddler to chase around and (sort of) have a conversation with. Life was so chaotic that I didn’t have time to stress and worry. Experience had taught me that I would eventually get to know my new baby, so I was able to be more patient with the process. There has been much joy in discovering my soon-to-be middle child’s “bag lady chic” style of layering skirts under dresses and the way that she chews on the hem of that skirt or dress when she is tired or hungry or bored.
Now that I am days/weeks away from meeting Baby #3, I’m excited at the prospect of getting to know this new tiny human…no matter how long it takes.