Often I'm asked by my child-free mamas how I felt the instant my baby was born. I can just imagine the visual in their heads as they anticipate my response — flying storks, pooping rainbows, and emoji hearts shooting out of my vagina filling the room with love that even marrying and bedding Prince Harry on a sheepskin rug in his English countryside castle equipped with a 24/7 frozen yogurt station couldn't compete with.
Oh my god, were you like immediately obsessed with her?!
Did your heart explode?!
Was it love at first sight?!
No. No. And no.
Like, I hate to break it to you, but I was tired and high AF after 27 hours of labor and 26 minutes of pushing, while (mind you) throwing up, nursing a fever, and facing a potential hemorrhaging situation. I was so tired and drugged up, in fact, that not only did I decline the first chance to hold my baby but I physically couldn't hold her when the nurse placed her in my arms. In my incoherent state, I requested that the nurse take her from me, fearful that I would drop her (and that's a mom-guilt story for another day).
Gone was the opportunity to gush about our #loveatfirstsight in my first post-labor Instagram story or "welcome to the world" email.
My baby was out of the womb all of 30 seconds and I already failed my first self-imposed mom test.
I wish I could say that after some rest (in two-hour intervals) and a hot shower (that is hard AF to do when your vagina and butt feel like someone took a needle and thread to it — oh wait, they did), I made up for it with love at second sight. But, I didn't. I couldn't fake it either. I remember my husband making not so subtle references to my facial expressions, monotone voice, and general lack of enthusiasm whenever the nurses brought her into our room.
It's not that I wasn't happy. I was. I had a daughter. My daughter. The daughter I talked about for years before her conception, manifested while sitting atop a rock in the Himalayas, named, shopped, and cried for all before she was even born. But, BUT, but, I had always imagined that feeling I'd get when I saw my baby for the first time — that immediate explosion of overwhelming, all-consuming, love at first sight. So when I didn't feel that, I was unsure if I ever would. And that's a painful place for any new mama to be.
I couldn't help but think, I don't know this person. For starters, she was so squishy and little and not what I had imagined in my mind. Where are her dimples? Are her eyes hazel? They better be hazel. She looked so much like a childhood friend of mine that I questioned if the nurses switched babies at birth. Where was my Eloise? The Eloise I concocted in my mind, who seemed to leave little room for the Eloise in my arms.
Once home and in our own space, we had a chance to get to know each other. Turns out you can learn a lot about someone when they're nuzzled on your bare breasts. It was during one of those intimate moments that I was overcome with a sense of gratitude that I've never experienced before. During an early morning feed, I took her up to her room, plopped on her bean bag, fed her in one hand, and pet the dog with the other. After she ate, I just stared at her in awe. This gift, all six pounds, six ounces of her, was all mine (and she was FREE! — minus the $6,500 in medical expenses).
Then there was that time, when baby was about a week old, that my husband and I were checking out of Pier 1 and "Here Comes the Sun" came on overhead. Two years earlier, I had walked down the aisle to that song. This time around, Eloise is our sun. She was the bright spot in what was otherwise a very difficult year — with job losses, heartaches, and general confusion and challenges that accompany life's greatest shifts.
Still, there were times (many times) that I readily handed the baby to Daddy and took my yoga class, ran my mile, drank my wine. And it was the absence of mom guilt for taking "me time" that added insult to my no-love-at-first-sight injury. Like my preconceived notion about meeting Eloise for the first time, I had also anticipated feeling mom guilt at the very thought of leaving my daughter once she was born. Therefore, the lack of it was as confusing and worrisome to me as it was equally helpful in my pursuit of self-care after childbirth.
I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that while many mamas are lucky enough to experience love at first sight, I just wasn't one of them. And by letting go of my preconceived notions and subsequent disappointment of what should have been, I can acknowledge and appreciate all the moments in between. With every milestone she meets — head control (yay!), waving, holding her own f*cking bottle (JOY!), and personality traits that develops (loves hip-hop, hates summer veggies), she is evolving into the Eloise that she is meant to be, and my love only continues to evolve with her.
I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that how I felt the day she was born was not the be-all and end-all to my love.
I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that how I felt the day she was born was not the be-all and end-all to my love. My love for Eloise on July 15 was only a fraction of the love I feel for her today, and the love I feel for her today will only be a fraction of how I feel for her as the years pass us by. I don't know what those years will bring, but I'm coming to terms with the fact that I can't — nor do I want to — tarnish them with more preconceived notions or self-imposed tests.
I'm starting to come to terms with the fact that maybe the problem wasn't that I failed my first mom test but that I had one to begin with. No two women are the same, and it was unfair of me to hold myself to the standards of another woman's birth experience told via her Instagram story or "welcome to the world" email. One woman's love at first sight is another woman's tiny moments that grow and evolve over time. Our pregnancies, our labors, our choices, our stories are our own.
As I continue on this wild f*cking thing called mamahood, I will (try) not measure myself against my fellow mamas or use their stories as a barometer for my own. Rather than compare, I will (try to) support my fellow mama through all of her preconceived notions, self-imposed tests, subsequent disappointments and all.
We both might fail. But at least we will fail together.