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Define Blue
“For some, love takes time.”
By Ann Lloyd

Define Blue: For some moms, love takes time

“If the test is positive, a blue color will appear.” It seemed easy enough, especially for someone with a degree in nursing. But that morning at five o’clock, standing with urine in hand, I, for the life of me, could not seem to comprehend even these simple instructions. “Define blue,” I said to myself over and over again, puzzled by the countless shades of possibilities. Yet in only a matter of seconds the Crayola perfect color appeared on the stick: I was paralyzed.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love children. My husband and I had spent months discussing the pros and cons of starting a family. We are mature, educated adults. We hold good jobs and have a lot to offer a child. So why then, on the morning of August 4th, did I run frantically into our bedroom, hysterically waving a small blue stick at my unsuspecting mate? Stretch marks? Maternity clothes? What was I thinking?

I don’t know how I made it through work that day or, quite frankly, how my husband made it through the next nine months. By the end, I had gained forty-five pounds, had three ultrasounds, one stretch mark, and enough Lamaze literature to fill a small room. I attended showers, designed a nursery and tolerated the strangers who patted my belly. Finally, on April 12th at 7:30PM, I delivered a healthy and active baby boy.

Of course, I was thrilled to have delivered a healthy child and even more so to have regained the use of my bladder and the sight of my feet. But my new son looked nothing like I’d expected. For nine months, I had anticipated delivering the perfect Gerber baby, yet somehow this red haired, blue eyed, wrinkled up creature more closely resembled E.T. To be honest, it was far from love at first sight. So much for the elation I had expected to feel.

Afraid to admit my feelings to anyone, my confusion turned to guilt. I felt guilty for wanting to sleep, for crying over what was left of my once athletic body, and for waking up during my first night in the hospital and wondering why I was there. There were other times too; times when the guilt came from forgetting, just for a moment, that I was a mother. Times when I heard my son crying and wondered how the six college students living above us, had gotten a baby. Times when I caught myself wondering whose child was screaming in the grocery store, surprised to find it was my own. And yes, on occasion, there were times, many times, when I secretly waited for his “real” mother to come.

Although there is humor in this story, its message is no joke. The maternity world is filled with articles and advertisements depicting the joy of childbirth and motherhood. Television commercials, sitcoms and movies bombard us with happy images. Adjectives such as “maternal elation,” intense bonding” and “euphoria” are often used to describe the healthy mother’s emotion after a successful delivery. Yet society provides little or no assurance for new mothers who fail to experience this joy.

Medical, midwife, and nursing textbooks cite factors such as pain, delivery length and complications as possible explanations for negative maternal emotions and delayed infant bonding. Yet my delivery was perfectly normal – six hours in length and medication-free. I was not uneducated, unwed or exceptionally young. My pregnancy was planned; our home was ready and the Lamaze bag packed. So why did I experience primarily relief, exhaustion and fear as I held my newborn son? Was I wrong for not feeling happy; for not feeling love? Was I simply too selfish to be a good mother?

Perhaps the experts are concerned, as am I, with the extreme case of a mother who flatly refuses to hold or care for her child. Obstetricians, midwives and nursing staff have become increasingly aware of the dangers of post partum depression and medical intervention is available for those who continue to feel unattached or struggle to care for their infant. But, in my case, I wasn’t depressed; in fact, I took excellent care of my son. I just wasn’t thrilled with the job.

"Children drastically change your life. The joys they bring are second to none, but no woman should be made to feel guilty or to question her competency as a mother, based on her reaction to childbirth."

So where are the articles for women like me? Articles that warn new mothers that maternal/infant bonding may take time? Where are the television commercials that depict a new mother gazing for the first time at her infant with relief, exhaustion and fear? Clearly, these images aren’t the norm and they certainly don’t sell products. But, in not recognizing and accepting the fact that many healthy nurturing mothers do not bond instantly with their infants, we leave these women with no emotional support at a time when they need it most. In retrospect, it took me four years and the birth of my third child to fully recognize the tremendous burden of guilt this phenomenon can have on new parents.

The truth is that it’s okay if you don’t feel the “joy” in childbirth. It’s also okay if you don’t fall instantly in love with the screaming infant they hand you in the delivery room. For some, love takes time. My son came into the world naked and screaming. Then thanks to colic, he proceeded to scream night and day for the next four months. And although my husband and I did our best to exchange “duties,” I remained mentally and physically exhausted long after the delivery. Why then was I expected to be thrilled with this change; to fall instantly love this child? Had the very same child not robbed me of my identity, altered my physique and curtailed my freedom?

Every parent is different, just as every pregnancy, labor and delivery is different. For some this maybe mean a home birth or delivery room full of family and friends; a room overflowing with physical affection and emotion. For others, love takes time; its expression is subtle, private and discrete. But regardless of your style, rest assured that everyone, whether they admit it or not, has had normal feelings of doubt, selfishness, fear and incompetence, both during pregnancy and after delivery. Children drastically change your life. The joys they bring are second to none, but no woman should be made to feel guilty or to question her competency as a mother, based on her reaction to childbirth.

So, regardless of what you feel when the big day arrives, relax and give yourself the gift of time. Because the truth is that instant maternal infant bonding is not a prerequisite for a healthy long-term parent-child relationship.

Ann Lloyd has a PhD in Housing/Family Studies from Virginia Tech. She is a creative non-fiction writer specializing in education, reading, gifted children, parenting, homeschooling, and most recently housing psychology, gender, marriage, and the Prince Charming myth. She is an unschooling veteran and the author of two books: Just ‘Til I Finish This Chapter and Tips and Tricks for Homeschooling Survival. Her work has also been published in a number of homeschooling magazines, including Life Learning Magazine.

 

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