Updated: Mar 7, 2022
This is dedicated to all those curious about how I personally developed maternal love. Disclaimer: This experience is different for everyone and is not necessarily applicable to all first-time moms. Future dads-to-be might also find something of value to take away from this read.
A foreign little body suddenly invades yours.
That's the best way to describe what was going through my head when I found out I was pregnant.
They say: "You are now eating for two," but theoretically speaking, that's not true. You don't actually have to double the intake of food. It's fairly simple: You eat when you're hungry and stop when you're full. Frankly, I did not feel like a mother when I was pregnant. Of course, I was extra careful with what I was eating; no sushi, no rare steak, no this and no that.
Was this maternal love? I don't know... I was pretty bad at resisting my cravings for sweets!
The urge of wanting everything to be ready before the baby's arrival was felt three months prior to my due date. Many factors played a role: the transition from winter to spring, the Baby Shower, the home renovations, the eventual moving from a condo to a house, the wedding preparations to finalize...
It was March when home renovations began.
It was April when we bought our first baby item: a crib.
It was May when we threw the Baby Shower.
It was June when my hospital suitcase was officially packed and loaded into the car.
It was July, a few days before my due date when we finally finished painting the nursery and assembling all the furniture. The baby room looked functional and cozy at last!
Was all this maternal love? I don't know... perhaps it was more for my own sanity and personal comfort than for the baby. (Come on, let's be honest, the nursery is usually more for the parents, right? 😅 The baby couldn't care less if his room was Pinterest-worthy or not!)
THE DAY OF THE BIRTH
Meeting the baby who shared my body for nine months was... anticlimactic, to say the least. The whole time I was pregnant, I felt nothing, and now that he was finally born, I was expecting myself to finally feel something. I felt everything and nothing at the same time.
You know what it wasn't? It wasn't love at first sight. I just didn't feel like a mom. 🤔
I did not feel like one even when the hospital staff was calling us "mommy" and "daddy". (Yeah, they do that!) "Daddy, come here to cut the umbilical cord" and "Mommy, you can now try giving your breast to the baby."
On paper, we were his biological parents, but that was pretty much it for me. Just a new title. The baby felt more like a duty. After all, I was the one who physically brought him to this world, so yeah, he became my responsibility. Of course I loved him, because I felt obliged to love him, but love is such a big word... Did I feel the love? Meh...😨
Think of it as a situation that may occur to you at your workplace: Your boss keeps telling you that you're getting a promotion, so you spend months preparing for your new role, but then you suddenly get it and you're overwhelmed with your new tasks. Suddenly, everyone starts treating you differently and the worst part is, they expect you to know all the answers to everything. Yeah. That describes early parenthood pretty accurately. The day you accepted that promotion, you accepted a 24/7 job. Even though it came with a job description, it did not come with instructions on how to deal with your emotions.
My emotions, on that day, were all over the place.
I can't speak for Oli, but for me, there wasn't an instant "on" switch for maternal love and you know what? That's totally OK. I needed time to process what was happening in the delivery room. Imagine this: One second, I was pushing through contractions and the next, I was already holding a tiny little stranger in my arms. It's OK if you don't immediately love that loud, wrinkly, red little human.
WHAT ABOUT DADDY?
Contrary to me, it seemed pretty instantaneous for Olivier. Believe it or not, when we first started dating, he told me he didn't want to have kids! Three years ago, I remember him saying:
"The world is already overpopulated and creating another human only brings more problems environmentally," he explained.
Uh-oh... Red flag!
My reply to that was harsh:
"I respect your humanitarian love for the world and this noble lifestyle you want to lead, but I want to have kids of my own one day, so if that's not something you want, then I'm afraid you and I won't last very long as a couple..."
"What do you feel about adoption?" he would ask me.
"Nope," was my answer. "I want to physically push a baby out of my hooha."
Somewhere down the line, our relationship was starting to get serious. And just like that, he changed his mind. HE CHANGED HIS MIND. JUST LIKE THAT.
"If you want children, then I want them too," he said. "I want your happiness."
I was shocked. This must be true love. When a man is willing to let go of his philanthropic values in order to fulfill my wishes of becoming a mother one day... This had to be true love, right?
Yes sir, I was ready to marry him right then and there! 👰
Now that was back then.
Fast-forward to November 2018, it was really happening! We were going to become parents! Somehow, I was able to calmly evaluate my situation:
✔️just turned 26
✔️somewhat financially stable
At this point in my life, why delay the inevitable? I explained this to Oli and I told him:
"Abortion makes me feel guilty and selfish... I don't think I could forgive myself for willingly terminating this pregnancy. Even if this is just a fetus, it's still a life that we created."
He nodded compassionately and said to me:
"Ok, I guess I'm going to be a dad then."
And just like that, he became ready to be a dad. JUST LIKE THAT.
Ironic right? The guy who never thought he wanted to have kids in the first place was suddenly ready. He even felt a strong attachment to the baby during my pregnancy, talking to the belly and all... HE EVEN BOUGHT PSYCHOLOGY BOOKS ABOUT RAISING A CHILD.
Meanwhile, the girl who used to play pretend-mommy with her doll was not ready even upon meeting her own baby.
This just goes to show that in life, your state of mind won't always align with your feelings and expectations. For me, I thought maternal love was always within me and would be instantly felt. But that did not happen, and it tormented me. I guess this was the part I never thought of researching prior to giving birth. I just assumed it would come naturally.
HOW I KNEW
There I was, Day 2 with my little baby. He was cute, and he was mine, but I did not feel a special bond with him, and I was ashamed.
How can it be normal to feel no maternal bond with your own baby?
Something must have been wrong with me! Sure, I felt a million of mixed emotions when I gave birth and saw him for the first time, and sure, tears were pouring down my cheeks like a rain gutter. But that was it. I was watching Oli hold our baby and wondering to myself:
How is he already a perfect parent while I paled in comparison?
This all changed when the baby was admitted to the Children's Hospital. (You can read about Jeremy's birth story by clicking here.)
When he was hopelessly wiggling in the arms of a nurse who was trying to poke him with a needle, I wanted to snatch him away from her.
When he was crying, so vulnerable and fragile in the arms of a doctor, I felt like only I could soothe him.
Those cries... They weren't just normal cries to my ears. I felt like he was crying specifically for me. When I looked at him crying from afar, I realized this:
He knew nothing of this world, but me.
For nine months, he knew nothing but me, the familiarity of my voice, the comfort of my warmth... How could I just sit here and watch him be tortured?
Was this maternal love? Was this FINALLY it?
How do you know what maternal love is if you've never experienced it before?
I now knew the answer.
You feel it.
And that night, his 70th hour of life outside my womb, I finally felt it.
Life is so wondrous and frightening at the same time. You're never truly prepared for these things, but once it happens, it's like magic.
Here's the takeaway: If you're capable of loving yourself, you'll be capable of loving your baby.
PS: The scientific explanation to all this can be resumed with how a love hormone called oxytocin is produced in the mother's brain, which strengthens the maternal bond with her child.
But I still like to call it magic, because it feels like a love that will last forever! 🥰