The Lie of Motherhood

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I was talking to a young woman the other day who is expecting her first child.  She sees me as something of an expert since I’ve had one and lived through it to get pregnant again.

41UTViw UdL._SL160_ She asked my opinion about strollers and wipe warmers and bottle sterilizers and such.  I told her the only gadget that I recommended was the Itzbeen Baby Timer because it covered all the bases with a newborn.

Why did I need such a thing, she asked.  So I explained that Moo and I had found that newborns are much like combinations with only 4 numbers on their lock.  These things are:

  1. Feeding
  2. Changing
  3. Sleep
  4. Holding/comfort

and that with this little timer, I knew what I had done last and could try something else if baby wasn’t happy.

“Don’t you just know what the baby will need?”

She has bought into the mystical mothering lie that we all buy.  Mothers are supposed to form a bond with their children so deeply that nothing else is like it.  And that part is true.

99% of the time, I know what Phoebe needs without her telling me – something that’s bitten us in the butt with her speech development – but I digress.  She wasn’t born with me having this knowledge nor was I born with the ability.  No magic wand of motherly pixie dust was sprinkled over me in the surgical suite during my c-section nor did a switch get flipped somewhere and I just KNEW what she needed.

When you are pregnant with or, for those of you adopting, preparing for your child, you think that when that child is placed into your arms for the first time that you will fall instantly in love with this creature. 

This is true for some women, but not all of us. 

We have this picture in our head that our child will look like pictures we’ve seen of ourselves or our spouses as newborns – the truth is very far away.  After all, you aren’t giving birth to a clone of yourself or your husband – you’re birthing a completely new and different person with their own mix from the gene pool.

So, we are handed this creature that we know is our child but doesn’t look like anyone we know.  All babies look vaguely larval to me – the same smooth features, mushed noses and squinty eyes.

This tiny creature is completely reliant upon you but doesn’t really know you that well either, but you smell familiar and your voice is familiar.

So we have this creature, we’re exhausted, our hoo-ha’s hurt or we have an incision, our entire life has just been turned upside down, our family dynamic has just changed, our marriage has just changed, our financial picture just changed.  You name it, it’s changed.

And somehow, we expect to have learned or acquired or been blessed with the magical glow of motherhood.

That, my friends is magical, mystical bullshit.  And I think it’s part of the reason why women have serious trouble with postpartum depression or babies are abused or neglected or why some women have so much trouble adjusting to motherhood. They feel like there’s something wrong or that they are personally missing something or the hormones tell them that the problem is the baby, etc…

Let me tell you this: I’ve talked to more than one woman that didn’t instantly feel that bond with their children.  I felt no huge bond to Phoebe when she was first born either.  But I think the difference is that somehow, either through friends or family or television, we found out or were told that it’s ok.

It’s ok to feel overwhelmed when you have a newborn.  There will come a time when you are exhausted, you haven’t showered in a couple of days, the house is a wreck, all you seem to eat are sandwiches and you have this tiny creature who has needs and you are the number one person on the list who can fulfill them. 

It’s ok to wonder “what the hell have I brought upon myself?” at 3 in the morning when the kid won’t sleep.

I’ve been there and I expect that in a couple of months, I’ll be there again.  But what you learn is that you get through it.  You learn that everything will work out.  One day, you will look down at the baby and the baby will smile – even though you know it’s gas – and you will know that it’s worth it and, in that instance, that’s when bonding is really happening.

I have no scientific back up for any of this, of course, but I do know that the bond of motherhood and the love you feel for that child, your child, is something that you learn and experience every day as your child grows.