Before I was pregnant, I knew how much I wanted to be pregnant. I had always wanted to be pregnant. From the time I was about 16, I was envious of pregnant women I saw walking around in public. Being pregnant! How lucky. What I never thought much about was the baby part. I knew this was an error, but I couldn’t help myself. I sometimes thought of myself like those twenty-something year old brides, consumed with the wedding but not a thought about the lifetime of marriage. This is analogous, because there is nothing quite as life-long as becoming a parent. So, my biggest fear was that I was going to absolutely love being pregnant, but not be able to love the baby.
I love sleep. I love time to myself. I do not like to be touched much. I get cranky when other people eat a food item that I want. Maybe I am selfish, too selfish to be a parent, I would sometimes think. I would see these other parents with their kids hanging all over them, sharing what was on their plate (often the best thing! The thing with cheese!), laughing about how when you become a parent, you never sleep again, and I would think, I can’t do that. I won’t be able to do that. I am going to get pregnant, and it’s all going to be fine, and then the baby will come and my life will be over. And because of it, I will resent the baby. Or hate the baby. Or just not love the baby. I was pretty confident I would not love the baby.
I have been a parent before, yes, but the kids are bigger. I can explain my boundaries to them, and while they might not understand them all the time, they do their best to respect them. I am still me, you see. Who does not like to be touched much and who wants you to knock before you come in the room. And who wants the cheesey thing for myself.
Recently, one of my besties posted on facebook about how harmful it is to bombard new parents or parents-to-be with negative messages about how life as you know it is over when you have a baby, and you will never sleep again, and all the trite things we tell each other about how horrible new parenthood is. I guess I didn’t realize how much I had internalized all of that, because this fear loomed larger and larger as my belly grew larger and larger. I was not excited to have the baby. When people asked me this, in a small-talk kind of way, it was like a punch in the gut. Haha no. I don’t really want to have the baby, thanks for asking. It can stay inside, thankyouverymuch. I love those little kicks and flutters, but not so much what’s about to come after.
I didn’t tell anyone about this. Not my wife, not my therapist, not my new mom friends. It seemed too big and too dark and too scary to admit it to anyone. What kind of pregnant woman thinks she is not going to love her baby? Especially after taking nearly a year to get pregnant in the first place.
And then he was born. I have really, legitimately, never slept again (although many parents do by now). Some small guy is already grabbing at my food with his grabby little grab hands. I am almost never alone, and when I am, there is a corner of my brain, an edge of my heart that is elsewhere, where he is, following him, a little distracted. Even when I’m supposed to be sleeping, there is sometimes a 23 pound weight on my chest and/or shoulder, cutting off the circulation to my arm and giving me chronic back pain, or at a minimum, I have one ear on the monitor for his eh-eh-eh that comes before the cry. Breastfeeding was painful and hard at first. I once cried in the night, while he tried to nurse, and woke my wife up just to yell at her for having the nerve to sleep when SOME OF US were trying to BREASTFEED OVER HERE. All of this is true.
And I have been filled with the most awe-inspiring, heart-exploding love for the last seven and a half months. It is more than I can even put into words. Sometimes I want to cry because my heart is breaking into a million pieces because it has just exploded from so much love.
I don’t give two shits about the food. I love having him hanging off of me like some kind of little primate. I don’t even notice all the ways he touches me, unless he has cut the inside of my nose with one of his sharp little claws or has pulled my shirt down in public. I am pretty fucking tired, yes, but I already know from experience that this actually will get better at some point, and frankly, I have amazed myself with my ability to cope with sleep deprivation. I love nursing, and if I didn’t, I would stop by now.
I even love my wife more, because if my heart explodes from watching that little baby try to pull himself up to standing but failing because his fat little foot is stuck on his blanket, my heart doesn’t stand a CHANCE against the woman I love more than life itself untangling that foot and laughing with him as he gets it right for the first time.
So yeah, I would say it’s pretty damaging to tell new parents or parents-to-be how awful parenthood is. I could have spent that last month of my pregnancy excited instead of afraid. I probably would still have been a little afraid, but more in the sense of how is this 9 pound ball of baby getting outside of me without ripping a hole in some vital organ, and less in the sense of what if I can’t love him because he takes too much of me and parenthood is horrible.
So I am here, from the other side, to tell you. I am still me, and I am still a pretty selfish person. But parenthood is not horrible. Parenthood is the best thing that ever happened to me.