I remember being in the hospital, having just given birth to my fourth child. Howard was there too, I think the new little guy was tucked into the crook of Howard’s arm. This sort of scene is often accompanied by glowing descriptions of the wonder of life and how all of the stress is worth it, rhapsodies on the miracle of birth. That was certainly how the story of my first birth went. We were in a glow every time we looked at her, even when we felt exhausted or stressed. My second and third births also had a measure of glow, but not to the extent of that first one. The fourth birth was different. I remember feeling exhausted and somewhat in despair. I wanted to feel glowing and happy. I knew that I would love this new little person with all my heart. I was already doing everything to keep him safe and cared for, but it did not feel glowing on that day. We were too exhausted from Howard’s stressful work schedule, from four days of stop-and-go labor, from sleeping poorly in a hospital room, from knowing that birth is only the beginning of all the caretaking. I knew that tiny miracle represented weeks and months of insufficient sleep. It was hard to feel happy about that when I was feeling so worn out.
My mother came for all of my births. After my first birth she took care of me as I learned how to care for a newborn. For the rest, she took care of my older kids, plying them with stories and games while I did most of the infant care. Each time she stayed for about a week, which was just enough time for me to want to be in charge again. That fourth time she stayed for two and when she left I still wasn’t quite ready to manage it all.
In hindsight I’m pretty sure I had low level postpartum depression after that fourth birth. I didn’t recognize it because I’d not experienced it with the others. I remember holding my son and telling him he needed to hurry up and learn how to smile at me, because I needed some sort of a reward. He did smile a few weeks later and I emerged from fatigue and difficulty.
Ten years have passed and the pictures of my newborn son make me feel all mushy and happy, just as the pictures of my other three children do. The fact that I did not feel glowing and euphoric in the hours following his birth, or that I struggled for weeks afterward, does not matter. Sometimes love arrives in a rush, sometimes it seeps in unnoticed and fills the spaces. Either way, what matters is the constant nurturing and building of a relationship. My baby boy is now ten years old. The things I’ve done to build a relationship with him these past six months matters far more than whether I chose to bottle feed or if I had to take breaks from his fussing when he was two weeks old.
There are thousands of ways to do things wrong as a parent, but there are also thousands of second and third chances. I am grateful for this every day.
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