I was reminded by a friend the other day of something I said to our NCT group when the babies were very small. I have blanked it from my memory, but apparently it went something like this: “I don’t think this baby likes me very much; and to be quite honest, most days I feel the same way about her.” Christ. It’s not the fact I felt this way that I find shocking (I remember it well) but that I said it OUTLOUD to a pack of virtual stranger mummies cooing over their newborns outside a café. Reassuringly, my friend told me she was glad I’d said it, and that it was a nice change from all the “I’m so in love with my baby” chat. Still, note to self: rein it in.
My caesarean made me feel like I was arriving really late where my baby was concerned. She and Ben had been fending for themselves in some other part of the hospital for over four hours by the time I woke up. She’d had a busy time for someone so small – it took 3 doctors 7 attempts to get a cannula in her hand in order to administer the antibiotics for her temperature. I awoke in a panic, knowing I needed to find her and feed her; that was my job.
But in those hours that I lost, Ben seemed to be given a crash course in the basics of caring for a newborn. From that point on, I relied on him for everything and deferred to him for every tiny decision. I felt like I never quite caught up.
He was the one who knew how to assemble the pram (oh how I cried over the damn pram!), how to sterilise the bottles, how to use the wretched sling (anything that requires a 20 minute instruction DVD is surely too complicated?). I am not exaggerating when I say I was pretty much entirely useless during those early days. Apart from the pitiful attempts at breastfeeding (which we all could have done without) I was completely redundant. Never have I felt such terror, such shock, and such utter bewilderment. A friend came to see me in hospital and asked in a jolly way if I felt like I knew the baby already, having carried her all that time. No, I wanted to yell! Of course I don’t bloody know her. She’s just been born! Do you know her?
The sheer enormity of the responsibility of it all weighed heavy on me. I actually couldn’t believe that the hospital had let us leave and take her with us. Were they mad? I kept expecting them to chase us down the corridor and say there’d been a mistake and we had to stay. When you get a dog they send someone round to your house to make sure you have a suitable home and the right sorts of attitudes about dog rearing. Any fool can have a baby.
It was my job to keep her alive and I genuinely didn’t know if I could trust myself to do that. I wanted to protect her little body, and keep her from harm. But everywhere I looked there seemed to be hazards – cars to run her over, stairs to drop her down, wasps to sting her. I only really felt safe when Ben was there, because he could be in charge. I dreaded him going back to work, and the hours and days that stretched ahead of me, alone with the baby.
The truth is I just didn’t much enjoy it to begin with. I didn’t feel like a mum. I felt like a fraud. I thought that at any moment I would be found out and shown up for what I was: floundering and hopeless and desperate.
So it might not come as a surprise when I say I did not experience that bolt from the blue moment when I knew that I loved her. It was not immediate, and it did not come on the first day, or the first week, or even the first month. She did a lot of screaming and I did a lot of crying.
I convinced myself that anyone could have taken better care of her than me; that she didn’t need me, she just needed someone to feed her and change her and hold her a bit. That actually, I was probably doing more harm than good. I can’t tell you how long those feelings lasted. But long enough for our (wonderful) health visitor to come and see me once a week for over two months. She referred me for counselling and I had a couple of sessions with a nice lady who made me feel less mad and like a less shitty mother. (I asked her if she thought I was crazy. She said no, and that seemed to help. It’s nice to be told.)
I suppose in the end we just got to know each other a bit, the baby and me. She cried less and smiled more. And I did the same. I stopped being scared of being alone with her. We became content in each other’s company. More than content; actually happy. And one day I understood with great clarity that it was me she needed, no one else. Because I was her mum. And that I was ok at it.
So I find myself wondering, in these last days before the Tummy Baby arrives and our lives are changed forever, will the act of loving come easier this time around?
The arrival of this tiny person who we don’t know, but who is one of us, who will take us from three to four, will shift our little world on its axis and nothing will ever be quite the same again.
And I hope the answer is yes. For if you take away the fear, the anxiety and the overwhelming shock (there can be nothing so awful as the shock of the first), what’s left is really just a baby. A baby who needs its mum and dad and crazy big sister. So yes, there will be love.