I was happily scrawling through Instagram one night when a picture of a mother posing with a newborn baby stopped me in my tracks. I’d never met the mother, but I’d been following her account for a while and I was eagerly awaiting her baby news. And here it was; a smiling woman in a hospital bed, posing with a scrunched-up newborn (and, let’s be honest, they are all a bit scrunched up at first) and the words underneath: “I loved him from the very second we met eyes. I never knew love existed like this. Blessed.”
There was no doubt that it was a lovely photo and sweet words. But I can never read comments like that without thinking back to my own birth experiences – and the truth is, I just didn’t feel the same way. Delighted, yes. Relieved, yes. Protective, yes. But filled with instant and unconditional love? Just not yet.
It took a while with my first baby to feel a rush of motherly love. The kind of love that you read about everyone experiencing. When I imagined the moment of meeting my baby, I expected to lock eyes with him and feel my heart swell with these overpowering feelings.
Nobody warned me that it doesn’t always happen the very second a newborn is placed on your chest. I didn’t even have a chance to wonder if anything was wrong; I was so overcome with having this new little baby to cuddle that it didn’t even occur to me the feeling wasn’t there yet.
Despite the lack of this epic, otherworldly rush of love, our bond grew quickly. He was taken away to the nursery to be changed every morning and my heart pined until he got back. I was in too much pain to even stand up and change a nappy and I felt overwhelmed by news that there was a small hole in his heart; it turned out to be nothing to worry about, but seeing him wheeled away to see a cardiologist with my husband in tow made my heart jump right into my mouth. I definitely felt like his mother. I definitely knew he was mine. But still I didn’t experience this amazing epiphany. Once we were home, I enjoyed being his mummy. I loved showing him off. I enjoyed hanging out with him at home or going on adventures to pick up groceries at the mall. I started to wonder if it was all a myth; this sudden rush of newborn love – a lie fed to mums-to-be to keep their spirits up through encounters with haemorrhoids, varicose veins, and middle-of-the-night grabs in the dark for bottles of Gaviscon.
But while discussing birth stories with friends over extra strong triple-shot lattes, I learnt that some of them did feel this amazing rush of love as their eyes locked. It did happen for them, they said. It was amazing, they gushed.
I realised they had no reason to lie to me. Some of us felt it – and some didn’t. Gazing down at my sleeping newborn in his pram, I wondered why I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. Then at four weeks old, something happened.
He’d been gurning like an old man for a while, but suddenly my delicious newborn baby cracked it – he could smile! It might have been aimed at the cabinet by the TV, but he could definitely, definitely smile! I grabbed my camera and ran back to him, cooing away like a loon above his face. And that’s when it happened – he looked at me and broke into the biggest, most beautiful smile. Tears filled my eyes and the love rushed around my body at 3,000 miles per hour – and I knew that I’d finally experienced it; the amazing rush of maternal love I’d been waiting for.
I had loved him throughout it all, of course – but doubting my own feelings without something to affirm it, I needed that moment.
With my second baby, I was more relaxed. I think the bond grew quicker, but I still wasn’t treated to the instant rush of love when he was placed on my chest. This time, however, I was content in the knowledge that I didn’t need that moment to be a good mother.
And two years on, I genuinely couldn’t love either of my boys more. I wish somebody had warned me that you don’t always feel an instant rush of love when a newborn is placed on your chest. And I wish somebody had told me that it really doesn’t matter at all.