By kate on May 28th, 2007

I’ve been home full-time with Ruby for just over a week, and in that time our relationship has changed dramatically.
I feel like a mother for the first time.
I’ve been hesitating to discuss this, but I had a lot of trouble bonding with Ruby. It had nothing to do with her (of course), but was a form of post-partum depression that lasted over a year. At the time, I was aware of having mild bouts of more standard depression, where I battled apathy and feeling overwhelmed, but those were manageable and I never felt I needed professional help.
In retrospect, though, I’m realizing that it went much deeper. I somehow lacked the hormones or instincts that allow most parents to bond easily with their children. Sure, I was fond of Ruby after I got used to her presence. Sure, I was intellectually interested in watching her development. Sure, I was proud of all that makes Ruby unique. But there was an emotional distance, which I only see clearly now that it’s gone — now that I know what I should have been feeling all along.
Before I continue, please don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t mean that being a stay-at-home parent is the only valid role, or that working parents aren’t real parents. Not at all! This is based solely on my personal experience with Ruby and I don’t mean to generalize it beyond myself. I probably could have had the same results by taking a week or two off work right now.
What I mean is that one full week of time spent with Ruby was enough to allow our bond to finally set. And it’s not just the time, but the timing — I think the post-partum cloud has finally passed. Not only do I now feel like her mother, but I believe her perspective on me has also changed. We relate to each other differently; she accepts and returns my physical affections better; she looks to me for comfort and support. It’s like she finally understands what I’m here for.
A couple of weeks ago, I watched the movie “Waitress.” [Warning: minor spoiler.] Keri Russell’s character is pregnant throughout most of the movie, but steadfastly ambivalent about the baby. I enjoyed her narrated “letters” to the baby because they felt real to me and were a departure from what one would usually hear in a movie about an expectant mother’s feelings. The baby is born toward the end of the movie. Afterwards, she has that movie moment (I’m sure you’ve seen it) where she holds the baby for the first time and has this amazing moment of revelation and love. She falls head over heels for her baby and says something profound about the adventures they’re going to have together.
I left the movie feeling freshly, painfully cheated. I’d seen and heard about that moment so many times (in movies and real life) that I thought it would happen to me too. It hadn’t happened during pregnancy, and I was counting on the oxytocin rush after birth to do it for me. Seeing the moment happen in “Waitress” reminded me of just how much I missed. This bonding that is so easy for so many was such a struggle for me, and having finally reached that height, I look down and see just how far the distance was.
Some might say that my going back to work was the problem (or made it worse), but I disagree. It was actually what got me going in the right direction. During my three months of maternity leave, even though Ruby was easy and Steve was fully involved, I was often overwhelmed. Going back to work allowed me to miss her for the first time (although it took a couple of months). As bonding slowly began over the months I worked, I missed her a bit more. By the time I left work, I was eager to spend more time with her. But it wasn’t until the past week that we really fell in love.
What made it OK was that I was only dimly aware of what I was missing. I could see, intellectually, that I wasn’t as close to Ruby as I expected, but having never felt that way, I couldn’t compare it to the real thing (until now). Luckily for me, I never doubted that it would happen eventually. Even though I knew I was on a slower path than most people, I believed it would come, and it did.
I have only mentioned this to two people before now. I’m afraid of how people will take it. Will you think I’m a bad mother or bad person? I took care of Ruby the best I could in her first 14 months of life, and I hope I’m the only one who noticed a deficiency. Ruby may be a perfect child, but her mother is far from perfection. But before you judge me too harshly (or reassure me too strongly), don’t forget that I’m now in a much better place. I’m over the moon for my daughter, and it’s very satisfying.
I’m writing about this now because Steve encouraged me to do it. He emphasized (and I agree) that it is important for this kind of experience to be heard, so people know that bonding can sometimes be a long road. I’m still hesitant to post this entry (it’s been days in the making), but if it can help another mother who is wondering what’s wrong with herself, that would be worth a little criticism.
If you’re such a mother, you’re not alone. Feel free to drop me a line if you’d like to share experiences (my email address is in the sidebar).

Filed under: film, parenting, pregnancy
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3 Responses to “Maternal”

  1. megan Says:

    all along, I filed the “falling in love with your child” concept under Pregnancy Propaganda with ideas like “pregnant women glow” and “childless adults are incomplete”. but last month, I did fall in love. at least you had faith it would happen where I thought it was a crock. it is nice when my cynicism is knocked for a loop…

  2. Nicole Says:

    What you talked about wasn’t really a surprise to me, but it was a huge comfort to hear you say in your words what you experienced over the last year. It takes courage to do what you did, and what a great example you have set for Ruby. I think it’s important for people to know that women aren’t perfect, that the experience of motherhood isn’t always perfect. It brings such comfort to me that this topic is finally being talked about in public, and that is empowering the next generation of childbearing women. It’s also making men be more accountable in the family home, and motherhood no longer has its dirty little reality secrets. That the perfection isn’t the stick in which we measure ourselves as mothers or women, that it is in the experience of mothering, in the lessons we learn through mothering. That’s part of why we have children… they are amazing teachers and mirrors in our adult lives.

    It was great to hear you explain what I notice a lot of fathers experience in my years of nannying. Often the dads didn’t fall in love with their babes for many different reasons, but often it wasn’t until the kids were two years old. Yes, the pressure for a woman to be an instant mother is there I guess because we give birth to them and have milk bottles attached to our bodies, but in some cases I can see how we as women might resent our babes for the very thing that is supposed to be a gift. It’s a beautiful discovery you made this week. And I agree, I don’t think it’s because you quit your job, I think it was part of your journey as a mother, and what a gift you both have given each other.

    Enjoy this time together, and may the journey continue to unravel more beautiful moments.

  3. Hello, My Name Is Kate » First Favorite Parent Says:

    […] On the other hand, I thoroughly enjoy the closeness with her. All the hugging and kissing can make me swoony. [Steve hit upon a great metaphor: he said when Ruby hugs me, I’m like a character in a video game who’s hitting some kind of jackpot. The longer the hug goes on, the more points add up (ching ching ching) above my head.] I understand how she feels – she’s my favorite child, after all, so I know what it’s like to prefer someone. Her affection is making a big positive impact in my security and confidence as a mother (which I didn’t always have). […]

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