Sitting in the glider in the corner of the nursery, I held my baby and sobbed. “He’s 7 weeks old and I still don’t love him,” I cried to my husband. I stared down at his sweet face–this helpless baby who demanded so much of me and, despite all my efforts, I could not give him what he wanted.
I’d always felt like I was meant to be a mother. In high school I had my five future kids’ (ha!) names picked out. Whenever I babysat, I imagined what it would be like to have my own kids someday and took mental notes from each family about what I would and wouldn’t do with my kids (double ha!). So I was completely unprepared when becoming a mother was not the blissful experience I expected it to be.
When I look back at pictures of the old me, pre-kids, during the happiest year of my life, my heart breaks for me. That poor naive girl, glowing with the excitement of fulfilling two of her biggest dreams in life in one year–traveling to Greece and becoming pregnant–had no idea what was about to hit her.
Oh, I loved that baby the moment I pushed him out into this world. He was beautiful and it was unreal. Finally, me, a mom! I held him close and we worked hard at getting him to nurse those first few days, until finally he did.
Three sleepless nights (water breaking in the early am, another night of labor and then the first night with a newborn who just wanted to be held) finally took its toll, though, and the love I felt was quickly replaced by feelings of “What have we done?! What did we get ourselves into?!” The realization that this crying-all-the-time little bundle of sadness was our new normal hit me hard.
When I let my mind go back to that time in my life, I can still feel that constant, heavy sadness that never let go of me. The unrelenting feeling of “what have I done,” wondering how I could go back and take it all away. I was drowning, sinking, and couldn’t bring my head above water.
I had read that for some people loving their baby could take awhile, but what kind of mother didn’t love her baby at 7 weeks? Oh, I cared for him alright, but the strongest feeling I had while looking at him was remorse.
I remember one night when I just needed to get out because I’d been stuck in the house with a screaming baby all day. When Doug got home that evening, he took a turn with the angry baby so I could go for a drive and clear my head. I got in the car and drove and drove, sobbing so heavily that I could barely see. All I could think about was that I had to go back and I didn’t want to. Other times when I was able to get a few minutes for myself were the same. No pedicure, walk outside or trip to the gym could erase that heaviness.
There was no sudden moment when I came out of this, no distinct time I can remember realizing that I did love my baby. All I remember is that somehow it started to get better. I had hoped it would happen when he was three months old like I had heard others say, but it didn’t. Gradually it happened between four and five months. With more smiles and more sleep, everything looked a little brighter.
I feel robbed of the experience I thought I should have. I’ll never stop wishing we could have been those parents who enjoy their tiny newborns even through the sleepless nights. But I am so so glad for those that have the experience I wanted for myself.
So I write this through tears for those who need to hear it. For the so many others of you out there who were blindsided by the hard truth of how parenthood can be. It’s through my keyboard that I’m sending you hugs. You’re not alone, you’re not a bad mother because of these feelings and it does get better. I promise you it gets better. It gets better and it gets beautiful.
It will never be easy. I wish I could promise you that, but parenting is never easy. But there is so much joy waiting for you beyond these hard times and the other hard times that will come. Even if you can’t see the light now, you’ll find it if you keep looking for it. It’s there above the water once you rise up and see it. And what you’ll find when you get there, is something beautiful.
My sweet boy. My smiling, handsome, funny little man who brings me so much joy, oh how I love him so much.
I wrote this essay as part of Glennon Doyle Melton’s Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project. To learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE! Enter for your chance to win your own copy.