When I was pregnant I asked my sister, who was also expecting, whether she felt that she loved her unborn child. I had seen a lot of posts by pregnant women saying things like ‘How can it be possible to love someone you haven’t met yet?’ and ‘You’ve been inside me for six months, but we’ve known each other forever’. My sister rolled her eyes and agreed that these were ludicrous statements. A month later she uploaded a photo of herself, heavily pregnant, to Facebook. It read ‘Crazy how you love someones much before you’ve even met…’
I know that I expected, prior to falling pregnant, to feel fiercely protective over any unborn child of mine. I would house this growing human being through it’s most formative stage and I could imagine the pride and delight that doing so would give me. Like with most of my expectations around having a baby, that was total nonsense. Likely stemming from my disinterest in having a baby, I felt very little towards the bean in my rapidly expanding tummy. In all honesty, I wished him gone for the first twelve weeks until I finally accepted that he had made my uterus home and wasn’t going anywhere. I remember lying in bed the night before our twelve week scan. I had horrific stomach cramps similar to the worst sort of period cramps that make you writhe and – ironically – roll into the foetus position. I was certain I was having a miscarriage and that the scan the following day would confirm that I had lost the baby. I felt relieved. I might not have been able to face an abortion, but on this occasion nature was doing me a favour. Was I monster, I wondered, to hope that this whole nightmare was going to come to an end with a heavy bleed? Maybe, but I also couldn’t feign emotions I simply didn’t have.
‘You have an energetic, healthy baby’, the technician smiled at us. Turns out, not a miscarriage, but food poisoning from a dodgy Indian takeout. T and I looked at each other and smiled. For the first time since seeing the dreaded blue line, a little bit of excitement crept in. Seeing the blurry images of random body parts flashing up on the screen made Whoopsy suddenly seem so real, so present. At that point I stopped wishing him gone. My welcome to him was begrudging; at no point during the pregnancy did I start feeling delighted that we were in the process of becoming parents.
I didn’t worry. I didn’t worry because everything I read told me that as I held my baby for the first time I would be overcome with emotions and hormones that would instantly bond us. I read many accounts of new mothers talking about feeling ‘high’ and completely invincible after giving birth and falling madly in love with their new child. I clung onto the knowledge that this would happen to me too and from that moment I would consider motherhood the best thing to ever happen to me.
Well, what do you know… another damn lie. Maybe it was the traumatic birth. Maybe it was the fact that I’m a stone cold witch at times. Or maybe it was that my baby, in those first few hours of life, closely resembled a gremlin (if you google ‘gremlin’ you’ll see why I wasn’t overcome with adoration for him). There were no natural highs, no surge of love, no halo of motherhood placed on my head by angels. When the midwife tried to place him on my chest for skin to skin, I cringed at how sticky he was and politely asked for him to be removed. Poor T ended up sitting in a room full of women, topless, with this creature pressed against him looking rather shellshocked and a bit dirty.
People who visited us kept telling me to ‘enjoy my newborn’. I was confused as to what aspect was supposed to be enjoyable. Not only was there no immediate bond between Whoopsy and I, but I also just found the early days of motherhood horrendous. All I wanted was a few hours kip and a (gentle) massage and instead I had this tiny dictator screaming orders at me for hours on end. I tolerated him because infanticide is generally looked down upon but I secretly wondered how I had created such a mini-monster.
For the first six weeks (until what I refer to as my ‘butterfly moment’ – more on that later) I felt like I had an uninvited houseguest in my home. Someone had managed to get a key cut to my apartment and move in, with all their baggage, without my permission. And he wasn’t even a respectful tenant. He drank himself stupid and then pissed himself, held loud parties every night until the early hours, left his crap lying all over the place and interrupted any enjoyable activity I was brave enough to try. I felt like a hostage in my own home, held by a tiny little terrorist whose biggest threat was that he’d tell social services if I didn’t do exactly what he said on demand. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t warm quickly to our visitor. I invited a lot of people round to meet him because I found that I liked him far more when he was crying at somebody else and I had free hands to neck large quantities of wine. I sat through their visits smiling politely as they told me how lucky I was and how sweet he was wondering how he managed to charm everybody but me.
Little by little, I found myself finding ways of acclimatising to the new regime. Baby chores like bath time could be made more fun if I got in the bath with Whoopsy. He seemed to prefer it too – maybe he sensed that I was more likely not to leave him accidentally unattended if I was also in the tub. Sleep could be stolen back from the little thief by leaving his daddy to administer the last night feed and refusing to get out of bed until I felt rested enough. Even crying became more bearable when I stopped thinking of it as shouting and started pretending he was roaring like a dinosaur. And I learnt how to snatch a few hours here and there by throwing him on the neon baby gym (he might have been placid for so long because the hideous neon jungle animals were giving him a brain haemorrhage).
It also helped that he started ‘giving back’. Instead of eyeballing me warily when I changed or dressed him, he started using more socially acceptable communication like smiling or cooing and soon I didn’t feel like he despised me. I went more willingly to his overnight raves (always bringing a bottle or two) and he stopped screaming for help overtime I picked him up. It was like we’d called a truce and decided that, for both of our sanity, we were going to try and become mates.