A lot of well-intentioned people told me so much about parenthood when I was pregnant. They told me about the sleepless nights and the spit up, the dirty diapers and the crying, and they told I would feel a love that I had never felt before, that I would take one look at my baby and I would feel “love at first sight.”
When Olivia was born 8 weeks early and I saw her beautiful face; I was instantly paralyzed by fear. Love was not an emotion I would describe for some time after her arrival. After the adrenaline wore off from labor and the commotion of the NICU staff died down all that was left was fear. I was only worried about keeping her safe. All I could do was watch every breath on the monitors and every beat of her heart; praying to God nothing changed. This feeling of fear stuck around for quite some time.
She was able to come home after only 2 weeks and I was VERY cautious of who was around her, who came in our home, who held her, who breathed on her and where we went if we had to leave the house. Every new person or place was something that could get her sick during cold and flu season, something they encouraged us to do our best to avoid for at least 6 months. Shutting out family and friends who we loved was not easy, but to us it was necessary. The fear was keeping us going. It was still all I felt. I was in protection mode and that’s all I could do to keep her safe.
That love at first sight I was told was going to flood in still had not happened. One night I cried myself to sleep; sure something was wrong with me. What kind of mother doesn’t love her child? I prayed for this child, I wanted her more than anything in the world. What is wrong with me that I don’t feel this overwhelming love? I felt ashamed. Thankfully I had a tribe that I trusted; two of whom had just had babies of their own. We opened up to each other; we trusted each other enough to talk about the hard feelings that came with these beautiful babies, and suddenly I wasn’t alone anymore.
Two months later the fear lingered but my shame disappeared. I started to trust this journey; I was honest about my feelings with my therapist and my friends, and I started to open up to the process of falling in love with this new human being that we created. Olivia was starting to stay awake during the day and sleep more at night. Our lives started to settle in some small way.
Almost 3 months after we brought her home she looked at me and smiled. Finally. I will NEVER forget the feeling I got when that happened. Tears instantly burst from my eyes. A feeling came over me like I have never experienced in my life; “this is it” I thought to myself. This is the overwhelming feeling that this little human fills my whole heart. Since then my love for Olivia has grown more than even that day. Each moment we have together, each laugh, each hug, each night where I have to sleep with her because of a nightmare; the love gets stronger and stronger. The fear is still there, and I am not sure that ever goes away. I have so many fears being a parent but the love now outweighs that fear ten-fold.
I share Olivia’s birth story because it is part of our journey; however, I am not sure my feelings would be any different if she was full term. Having a child is such a different experience for everyone and we as mothers need to embrace those experiences. One person’s journey being different than our own does not make our journey wrong; it just makes it different. Looking back now I am not surprised my feelings took longer to develop. Change scares me. My natural reaction is to run for the hills. Love scares me. Vulnerability scares me. I am still on my own journey to embrace the things that make this life messy and beautiful; parenthood is no doubt one of those things.
This journey of motherhood looks different for all of us and I know as a new mom when things don’t happen the way so many others described it can feel wrong. We need to be honest about our experiences and know that we will each have our own journey. Let us carry each other when we need it. Let us support our differences. Let us embrace the struggles. Let us share our stories with empathy and compassion.