When I had my first baby, my doctor told me it had been a storybook delivery. All things considered, the entire pregnancy was as good as it gets. I got pregnant right away, carried the baby without complication, and my only pregnancy symptoms were bigger boobs, thicker hair and glowing skin. I even felt well enough to walk myself from the delivery room to my recovery room.
Then, the baby blues hit, and it felt like the clock struck midnight and my fairytale turned into a pumpkin.
When I think about those early days, my memories are faded in color, and the scenes are heavily back-lit with specks of dust floating in the light. I can’t imagine how it feels to suffer from severe postpartum depression or anxiety because the out-of-body experience of the baby blues is strange enough. I felt intermittently weepy and irritable and not particularly in love with my baby.
When a friend came to visit shortly after I had my daughter, she asked how it felt to be a new mom. I said, “Well, if someone knocked on the door and told me I could give her back, I wouldn’t do it.” Her eyes widened, and, nodding slowly, she said, “Um, that’s good, Becky.”
At the time, I thought my answer had been quite positive, but looking back, I see how “meh” I really sounded, like I had already contemplated what I’d do and that I was proud of my decision to keep her.
Maybe I had, and maybe I was, but not really, truly. With the haze of the baby blues clouding my senses, my affection for her was dulled, but my rational mind was still poking through, keeping me tethered to my old self. I could cry at the slightest provocation, but my inner voice was there, holding steady, saying, “This is so silly. Why are you doing this?”
So while my emotions were unpredictable, I never felt hopeless or totally out of control, as in the more serious forms of postpartum depression. I just felt, meh.
It all started soon after delivery. I lay in the hospital bed, watching my newborn get weighed, measured, and cleaned, wondering, “What the hell just happened to me?” I was driven to protect and nourish her from the start, but I didn’t feel the intimacy that I associate with loving someone. I needed time to process what I’d been through, and I needed to know her better to fall in love with her. I did, each day a little more than the last.
But at first, I was exhausted and dazed and unbelieving that she was finally here. My husband and I shared the same sense of awe as we held her, studied each detail of her face and enjoyed the funny faces and noises that only newborns make, but he instantly fell deeply in love with her. Her face, a little replica of his own, bonded him to her faster than I expected, and this was actually a relief. It gave me the space I needed to love her more slowly.
It was different with my second baby, my son, but it still wasn’t love at first sight. My deep affection for him met new obstacles that I didn’t anticipate. I was excited to get a Do Over with him, to know more this time around and to enjoy the experience of the early days. I didn’t take into account, though, how much our toddler would impact the dynamic of this newborn phase.
Instead of enjoying every moment, I felt frustrated by the helplessness of this little baby. I had 16 months to fall in love with my daughter, to learn her personality, to understand her ways of communicating, and now I had to figure it out all over again with this new little guy. My longing to get through the newborn stage so that I could really know my baby and have some semblance of a schedule in my life took me by surprise.
Then, somehow, it all clicked – for each baby. The fog lifted, and they were no longer new and different but just a part of our lives.
When I think about those early days, I don’t feel bad for loving them more slowly than my husband did or other mothers might love their own babies. The baby blues are normal, and those fuzzy first moments can’t predict who we’ll be as a mother in the long run.
I still find myself loving them a little more each day. As I fall asleep, the minor annoyances of the day fade, upstaged by the adorable, funny, and impressive things that they did. The colors of my thoughts are vibrant now. The scenes in my mind are like crystal. The hazy days of the baby blues are gone, and in its place is the clarity of everlasting love.