I love being a mother. I love everything about it. I love being pregnant, I love bringing that life into the world, and I love the work of caring for, raising, and educating my children. But when I found out I was pregnant with Henry, for the first time, I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t upset about it, really, but I definitely wasn’t happy, and that bothered me.
I was 42, going on 43, and I already had a baby girl, conceived and born after a five year, childless gap that represented the worst years of our marriage. Evie was like balm for our wounded souls. She was our love resurrected and personified, and I adored her. We were pretty much inseparable, Evie and I, and I loved that. I loved her and I loved being with her, and somehow, I felt complete. But then I found out I was pregnant again, and it seemed like an intrusion.
I also knew that the full weight of caring for this new baby, like the others, would fall squarely on me, and I was getting tired. Between the teens and the baby, I had no time for myself, and it seemed like the middle children were slipping away from me, too, and I was burned out and stressed to the max. I didn’t feel like I had anything else to give, but more was being asked of me.
When Henry was finally born into the world, he was born hungry, demanding milk before I had milk to give him. He cried almost constantly those first two days, and then he nursed like it was going out of style. It wasn’t uncommon for him to want to nurse again twenty minutes after he’d finished his last meal. For the first weeks, months, really, I got nothing done, and even the shortest trips were a challenge. I would nurse him right before we left, but by the time I loaded him in the car and drove into town, my twenty minutes would be up, and I’d have to nurse him again. I’d have to hurry up through the grocery store, because I only had another fifteen minutes to get back to the car, so I could nurse him once more before I drove home. Let’s not even mention the diaper changes. Or the constant spitting up. It was all so exasperating and exhausting. I was always at the end of my rope, always struggling, and always a little bit afraid because I didn’t love my baby.
“Lord,” I prayed, “love is an action, isn’t it? I care for him with tenderness and diligence, and I don’t begrudge him that. That counts for something, doesn’t it? If I go through the motions of loving him long enough, will I feel the affection? Will I fall in love with him?” I felt like a failure because of that. I mean, what kind of a mother doesn’t love her child?
I remember the day that I was first happy to see him. He was two and a half months old, and I just about melted with relief. It wasn’t like a switch had just suddenly been flipped on, but it was a start, and in the following months, my affection for him grew and grew. I take the same pleasure in him now that I ever enjoyed with my other babies. I look forward to his naps like any normal mother who needs a break, but I’m happy to see him when he wakes, and at night, he lays in my arms, warm and relaxed, and I admire the sweep of lashes on his round cheek and the fat hand resting on my chest, and I am content. I fall asleep almost every night, intentionally, with his soft hair tickling my nose.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to write this; I’m still not sure, actually. I don’t want Henry to read this someday and think there was something lacking in him, that he wasn’t wanted, because that wouldn’t be true. He was and continues to be a delightful baby, and the lack was all in me, and is still in me, if there is any discord left between us. But maybe some other mother is struggling with a pregnancy she’s not sure about, or a baby she hasn’t fallen in love with, and maybe she thinks there is something wrong with her or that she is a terrible person for feeling ambivalent about her child. I want her to know that she isn’t a terrible person, and that it’s going to be okay, that the feelings of love can and do grow out of the work of love. Just keep the faith.