In the first 24 hours after my daughter I was born, I looked down at her swollen pink face and knew without a doubt that she was the most beautiful baby ever born. I felt sorry for the other moms on my hospital floor, sure that they must have seen her in the nursery and been jealous. My pity for them was the strongest emotion I felt that day.
There was no fierce momma bear that came out when she came out. I wasn’t scared of her. I was comfortable with babies in general and mine in particular, but that explosion of maternal love I had been told to expect didn’t come.
After an early evening delivery, I hemorrhaged in the middle of the night. I hemorrhaged and hemorrhaged and because my friends had cautioned me that you bleed after giving birth, I didn’t even know something was wrong. I hemorrhaged through the bed. Several times. I hemorrhaged in the bathroom. I hemorrhaged all over the poor medical resident who - after the nurses sounded the alarm - had to use his arm to check that my uterus wasn’t ruptured. Twice. Those were the worst moments of my life. I haven’t written about them much.
After my parents flew in, after the blood transfusions, after we were allowed to go home, I denied that any of that horror in the hospital had a long-term effect on me. Childbirth was meant to be a test of survival and I had done so.
When Pigtail was nearly 10 months old, we were sitting in the circle at baby music class when I had my first overwhelming and well-deep feeling of love for that baby girl. I had loved her before then, in the way that you love your arm or your brother. It’s part of you, you’re genetically predisposed to care about it. I certainly never wanted to harm her. But when other people - her father, my mother - seemed to think she was the best thing that had ever happened in all of the universe, I was secretly confused. I liked her. She was a cute baby. I loved her in a way that was familiar. But it wasn't a roar.
Sitting in our weekly music class, at the end of a summer of moving and home renovations and The Gorilla shooting the third sequel to his franchise of movies, suddenly I looked at that chubby brown-haired blue-eyed baby and I fell off the cliff of love for her.
That was the first time I noticed a layer of fog had lifted. The next few days and weeks went on and I thought, “Oh, I must have been having some postpartum struggles I didn’t even know I was having! Man, I feel better now. I’m all better. Whew!”
My sister cautioned me. She thought from the things I was saying that I wasn’t “all better” just because I was actually feeling something deeply for the first time in nearly a year. I thought she was being a little bit of a killjoy.
She was right, of course. Older sisters often are. A few months later, another layer lifted. Okay, now I’m better. Really. This time it’s real. By then I didn’t even know what “better” meant. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel as a new mother. Tired? Grateful? Confused? I was all of those things all of the time.
Then I got pregnant again.
Our second baby was just as planned as the first one. Even with a rough pregnancy and a scary delivery, we always wanted another child. I was elated on Valentine’s Day - 2 years to the day of our first positive - to discover I was pregnant again, and I knew instinctively it was a boy.
Everything except the hemorrhage happened again. After my son entered the world I felt the layers of fog lift months later than I thought they should. I always thought I was doing better until more time passed. The levels of clarity increased every few months and it was always a surprise to me.
It’s been five years since my first pregnancy and three since my last, and I still don’t know for sure how I’m supposed to feel sometimes. There’s been a lot of life lived in this house. Some days I worry that I’m too numb to my family and other days I drive us all crazy with my sensitivity. From what I gather, that’s pretty normal. I report that hard data from the extensive research of my women friends. Girlfriends are what has gotten me through. Girlfriends and time. Girlfriends and time and sleep. Girlfriends and time and sleep and photographs.
Photographs can capture what you can’t. I wasn’t able to look past myself most of those early days. But the photos tell a different story.
There was a lot of love here.