Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Transparent Moment--When being a mom doesn't come naturally

This is a guest post from fellow blogger, Jess. Jess is mommy to Charlie (3 1/2) and Lillian (17 mo). 

When I read or hear the birth stories of other first-time moms, I sometimes sense a subtle pang of envy. Not because of the birth itself—my own first experience with childbirth was wonderfully positive—but because of their response to that squirmy, screaming, ooey-gooey baby blob placed on their belly. 

I have always adored children and always knew I wanted several of my own. I started babysitting in fifth grade. I loved spending my time with kids, even into high school and college. When my husband and I actually talked about having a baby—or, as we liked to say, “We’re just no longer preventing having a baby”—I was thrilled. We knew other couples who had young children, and it was a joy to see these families interact. We were eager to have our own brood, our own little family community.

Being pregnant was my new favorite thing. Minus the leg cramps in the middle of the night, I loved everything about pregnancy. It felt right to be heading into this new life stage. I anticipated feelings of completeness and fulfillment and joy upon the birth of our first child. I assumed that my husband and I would fall naturally into our new roles as parents.

Throughout labor, much to my surprise, I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the reward at the end—I just wanted it to be over! And when the doctor placed my baby boy, my baby Charlie, on my stomach, all I could do was thank God that the pain was gone. When I held my baby and nursed him for the first time, I didn’t experience that feeling I had anticipated deep in my gut that I would do anything for that child. I didn’t feel a heart-bursting, breath-catching love for him. Those moments after his birth felt so matter-of-fact: “Yes, we have a baby now. Yes, it’s a boy. Yes, we’re parents.” 

The first two days of Charlie’s life were wonderful. He slept a lot, nursing was going smoothly, my parents were in town and absolutely in love with him, and we had a steady swarm of visitors to support us and adore him. Then my parents left. And Charlie turned a corner. For the next year of his life, daytime sleep was not his preferred activity. 

Mothering, I found, was not a natural instinct of mine. I sought advice and answers from books and friends, clinging to their words of wisdom, desperate for instruction on how to make sense of my new life. I didn’t feel confident, or even capable, in caring for my baby. I was in awe of him, for sure, but I didn’t feel overly affectionate or protective. Nothing deep down in me was acknowledging, This is my son.

On day two of Charlie’s life, a nurse came to our home to prick his little heel. (We lived in Canada at the time, where some of these tests and procedures aren’t done immediately at the hospital.) Charlie was wailing, and my mom, nearly in hysterics, was about to punch that nurse in the face for hurting her grandson. I sat there on the couch, wondering about my lack of emotion. 

On day eight, Charlie was circumcised. My husband and I took him to the doctor’s office, where finally, I became aware of a motherly instinct I didn’t know I had—I was ready to fight for my boy! The nurse directed us to the exam room, and with tears streaming down my cheeks, I held Charlie’s tiny hand as the doctor did the deed, but I wanted nothing more than to unstrap my baby from that plastic molded tray and cuddle him and whisper into his ear that everything would be okay. 

That day was a turning point for me, though mothering didn’t suddenly become easier. I still didn’t trust my gut instinct on how to care for Charlie, because I couldn’t even sense it. I was certain I didn’t have it in me. But at least I had an experience to look back on—a day I could point to and say, “See? I do have an instinct to protect and care for this baby. I’ll do anything for him. Because he’s my son.”

But still, parenting didn’t feel at all natural. Mothering—more specifically, being motherly—took work. While other parents gushed about spending time with their kids (even in their free time, it’s all they wanted to do!), my husband and I longed for the pre-baby days when we could leave the house at a moment’s notice. While other moms discerned between their baby’s cries and knew exactly when Baby was tired and when Baby was hungry, I felt completely at sea. Charlie cried often, and I usually felt like I was guessing as to how to meet his needs. When he was about two months old, my sister-in-law came to visit. We had just started letting Charlie cry to fall asleep, and I was miserable. It wasn’t working, and the words from the parenting books were mocking me with each passing nonexistent naptime. One particular afternoon, I laid my baby in his bed for a nap. He screamed and screamed and screamed in our tiny little apartment, but I insisted that he stay there. He needed a nap! Finally my dear sister-in-law couldn’t take it anymore, and she quietly asked if she could go pick him up. I let her, while I shut myself in the bathroom and cried my eyes out. I didn’t feel competent; I felt like giving up.

Somewhere along the way—thank you, God—I realized that I had become aware of my son’s needs and that I knew him. But I didn’t arrive at that place quickly or easily. I grew into my role of “mom,” and I’m still growing, almost four years later. Most days I struggle to put my kids’ needs before my own desire to clean house or send a few emails. Putting myself first is what comes naturally. But I’m becoming more and more convicted of the fact that I didn’t quit working full-time so that I could be a stay-at-home housekeeper. My job right now is to be mommy to my children, and that often involves doing things I just don’t feel like doing. And when they have needs that must be met, it involves trusting my instinct to meet those needs. I know them; I love them. And I’ll do anything for them, because they’re my kids.

Thank you for sharing your heart Jess. 

Readers: Leave Jess some comment love :) It takes a brave mommy to share her vulnerable heart so transparently. 


  1. Thank you for sharing Jess. It's funny because when I look at you and see you with Charlie and Lilly-bean, you exude "mother". Even in the early days with C, motherhood looked good on you. Maybe it was forced but it did seem to come naturally even if you were struggling on the inside. You are a role model of a wife and mother to me. But it's also nice to hear that you have those selfish moments because I can assure you that all mothers do whether they admit it or not. Helps me to feel a little less guilty when I am having a selfish moment, or hour, or day. Thank you so much for sharing Jess, you are an amazing and strong woman.

  2. I'm also jealous that you actually have a DESIRE to clean the house....

  3. Thanks for sharing Jess! I think many moms can relate to you. I can't remember feeling that deep rush of emotions when my daughter was born. And I was an emotional basket case for the first few weeks. But somewhere between the late night feedings and tears, we made a connection. I remember telling someone it wasn't a new feeling or "mom instinct" people talked about. It was more I'm doing exactly what I need to do for my daughter and that is that. And then it grew from there :) Thanks again for your great post!

  4. Jess, thank you for sharing your heart. It makes me miss you guys a lot. I would have enjoyed continuing on this parenting journey with you.

    I connect with many of your feelings. Motherhood is hard and has been the best thing for me. I can't imagine, now, who I would be without having become the mother of Austin, Haley and Aidan.

  5. Thanks for sharing... I had lots of emotions when I had my girls, I wish I had known I was not alone in my feelings.

  6. Jess, my experience with my daughter (only child so far, 1 year old now) was exactly the same. I had watched so many "Baby Stories" on TLC and pictured having the same gushing/crying moment when they laid her on me and then loving her every day from there out. It was not like that at all. When she was out I was like, "Okay, that was weird" and then I quickly found that I was not enjoying being a mom and she was a constant burden to me. The first few months were so hard. I knew I loved her but I didn't like her. I resented my loss of freedom, the inability to get anything done, the loss of energy and desire to do the easiest tasks. She was a crier and a "poor" napper during the day. I was so envious of my friend's babies who slept 2 hour naps twice a day and laid there contently on their playmats or in their bouncer happy to watch the world around them.

    Your story is my story and I know there are many more of us out there. Moms are afraid to admit their real feelings because they don't want people to judge them and think they are uncaring humans. It's too bad. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Thank you, everyone, for your thoughtful and, well, transparent comments. I honestly didn't expect to hear many responses of "that was my experience too!" May we ALL continue to grow and deepen in our roles as moms, falling more and more in love (even in "like"!) with our kids.

  8. It took me 2 days to really bond with my son. He came out screaming and didn't stop. All I could think was "what have we done!?" But by the third day we started to click. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Jess, I couldn't agree with this statement more "Putting myself first is what comes naturally. But I’m becoming more and more convicted of the fact that I didn’t quit working full-time so that I could be a stay-at-home housekeeper." Thanks for your honestly. I have (and still am at times) there.