I've known I was supposed to write this--needed to write it--for a long, long time. Today, finally, I am summoning the courage to share a story from the most vulnerable parts of my heart: the truth about my experience of motherhood.
I’ve never known love at first sight.
When women talk about how they felt when they first saw and held their babies, you hear certain familiar phrases: “head over heels in love”… “instantly smitten with this new little person” … “never knew it was possible to love someone this much” … That’s how I expected it to be. In fact, I never imagined there COULD be any other reaction. But that’s not how I felt when Elijah was born.
The day I gave birth to my son was not the best, most wonderful day of my life. It was the most traumatic. When Elijah was born, I felt more shell-shocked than anything else—not “love at first sight” but “what just happened to me?” I did not feel that tremendous, instantaneous attachment people talk about. And over the days and weeks that followed, I felt crushed by the guilt of not feeling like a mother “should” feel about her child.
The early weeks of motherhood were painful in every way: Physically, because I developed an infection, and because breastfeeding initially felt like some sort of torture device involving pliers and sandpaper. Emotionally, because I was miserable. Were my mothering hormones broken? I wasn’t loving motherhood like I expected to; I didn’t feel bonded to my baby. And socially, because my misery was compounded by a smothering weight of guilt. It was painful not just because I was miserable, but because I felt so very alone.
Eventually I spoke with a handful of women (you know who you are, and I will be forever grateful to you) who reassured me that not everyone has that “love at first sight” experience, and that it was OKAY—common, even—to feel as I did. And over the last year and a half, I’ve discovered that a stunning number of mothers—many more than I expected—have struggled just like me. Unfortunately, most of us don’t talk about it, because even as we feel relieved and validated to find each other, we still have a hard time letting go of the guilt and the shame.
Well-meaning people, including mamas who truly are thriving, are quick to say things to a new mom like, “Isn’t motherhood the greatest?” “Don’t you just love it?” But those kinds of questions don’t leave much room for the honest answer I desperately wanted to give: “Um…no.” If nothing else, I’ve learned to ask open-ended questions to new moms, not “questions” that expect shiny, happy, euphoric-new-mother answers.
I’ve put off writing this for over a year now. No other reason than fear, really. I am afraid to write it because I know I will be judged. There are women who have had that love-at-first-sight experience, who thoroughly enjoy motherhood, who will be appalled at my lack of warm-fuzzies. There are women who have never had children—who haven’t reached that season of life yet, or who struggle with infertility and have suffered through miscarriages—who will resent me for not cherishing my own blessing enough.
But today I am taking a deep breath and saying, so be it. Because there are also women who are scared, women who feel so alone, women who are looking at their babies and saying, “What have I done? How will I survive this?” There are women who are suffering in lonely silence, googling “not in love with my newborn” or “I hate motherhood”—and hating themselves as they type those words. And so I write for them. I write for me.
Part 2: Breaking the Silence
Part 3: A Mother in Process, Clinging to Hope
Part 4: Letter to a Mother