(Disclaimer: This was written as I chronicled my pregnancy in 2020.)
I just watched a video of Oprah interviewing Amy Schumer. I loved it because it made me laugh out loud and because I so admire how unabashedly herself Amy is. She came out on stage in sweats, despite her stylist having brought a dress for the interview. She lifted her shirt to show her swollen belly while sharing that IVF had constipated her for nearly a week. She confidently shared her decision to have an elective c-section and to give her baby formula, things that for me had overwhelmed me with shame. She said of course there will always be people that will judge and criticize your choices, but that it’s on you to not be consumed with what others think.
It is clear that Amy is absolutely enamored with her baby, who is nine months old at the time of the interview. In fact, one of the reasons they’re currently going through IVF in the hopes of having another baby is that she and her husband think they love their son so much it’s creepy, and if they don’t have another baby to spread some of their parental love to, their first baby might end up, in her facetious words, “a complete weirdo.”
The interview concludes with Amy sharing her dreams of expanding her family. She says, “I know it’s different for everybody, but I’ve really had a beautiful experience having a baby. It’s been life-changing for me, and, I just really like the guy.”
I’ve listened to that last bit a few times and I cry every time.
On the one hand, as a fellow mother, I understand her love for her child. It is overwhelming and it is surprising, no matter how many times you’ve heard other parents describe their love for their children.
On the other hand, hearing a new mother speak this way about her baby hurts my heart because I did not remotely feel that way when my son was nine months old, or even when he was one or two years old. There wasn’t an exact moment of shift, but it was not until he was about three years old that I started to be resurrected from my postpartum black hole.
I don’t dwell on this anymore, because I have come out and through to the other side. I rarely miss an opportunity now to remind my son how much I love him. It’s so frequent that he sometimes says, “Too much love!” Other times we go back and forth claiming to be the one that loves the other one more, comparing our love to the expanse of the sky, Mother Earth, the solar system, and infinity itself. My favorite is when Ryker extends his arms as wide as he can and says he loves me as much as his arms wrapping around and around the whole world infinity times.
I know that this is what matters, because this is the present, this is the current reality. My best friends who were there for me as I fought through postpartum depression and who have witnessed the shift lovingly joke that I am kind of obsessed with my kid. I never thought I would like to be seen as being obsessed with my kid, but compared to the numbness I was trapped in for the first few years, being obsessed is a relief.
I used to feel bitter and resentful that I never got to experience those early moments. A friend who just had her first baby about a month ago described it as “the most precious time.” I used to be convinced that anyone who described newborn life as wonderful and precious was lying. I would spot a mom with a new baby on the street and wonder how she was hiding her misery so well and think what a disservice she was doing, pretending like she was happy.
I think I needed to think these things to not hate myself.
I now know that early motherhood - rather, motherhood as a whole - is complex and that many things are simultaneously true. A new mother can be head over heels in love with her baby and feel miserably sleep-deprived. She can be relishing in being at home on maternity leave and miss her career. She can go from desperately wanting her baby to just go the f*ck to sleep to in an instant considering waking the baby up for one more cuddle. We all have unique experiences and ultimately there is no right or wrong.
But my experience was painful and scary. I didn’t feel an overwhelming love. I don’t think I ever had that rush of oxytocin. I took on the responsibility of caring for my son because logically I knew I was his mother and that’s what needed to be done. I aimed to do everything perfectly and in his best interest. In those ways, I knew I was a “good” mother. There was no doubt that I would do everything I could to keep him safe and healthy.
I did not, however, feel any joy in any of this. It felt burdensome, it felt like I had ruined my life. And I couldn’t very well be honest with anyone about feeling this way, of course, so I tried to fake it as much as possible, whether it was just with the baby or in the company of others. It took so much energy to pretend. It made me feel torn apart inside to not be real. And the more I squashed my true feelings, the more insistent they became.
I would unexpectedly have outbursts. I remember as clear as day walking into my local coffeeshop when Ryker was a few months old. I was wearing him in the baby carrier and holding our dog Koopa’s leash. I felt a mess inside, but my daily jaunt for coffee was the high point of my day where I could pretend to be “normal.” The barista, simply making small talk, asked, “So whatcha got planned for the day?”
I pulled a face and pointed to the baby and said, “I’m taking care of this guy, you think I have time to do anything else?” When I got home, I promptly recounted the exchange on Facebook, ranting about how being a mother is such hard work and how that barista had asked me such a dumb question.
It took me years to realize I had been talking from my pain.
I have no idea what I will feel like when our second child is born. Will it feel like the most precious time? Will I immediately fall in love with him/her? Will I feel any joy?
What I do know is that even if the answer to all those questions is No, it will be okay. There is no right or wrong experience. I will also know that feeling like that again might be a symptom of postpartum depression. I will get help. I will do my best to accept my Truth rather than run from it. I will trust that the love and joy will come in time and in its own way.
I think if you were to ask my son today whether or not he feels loved by his mama, he would answer, in his grown-up-like tone as if you asked the most obvious question in the world, “Of course she does, what kind of question even is that? She loves me to the moon and back, and back again times infinity.”