Before our son was born, my husband and I took the recommended baby health and safety classes. Yet, I didn’t quite feel like one Saturday spent watching birthing videos and practicing CPR had sufficiently prepared me to be a first-time parent.
This hesitancy was later confirmed when my first words to my newborn son were, “What do I do?” In a room of trained professionals, no one answered. I guess they assumed it would be instinctual, that I would eventually figure it out. And, in some ways, I did. But, in others, I was grasping for reassurance that I was doing this motherhood thing right.
There were at least a few days where I felt sure this would be more manageable than I expected. Then, I started breastfeeding. We were both miserable.
He was hungry, and I was sore from spending forty straight minutes wrestling, trying to find the right position that didn’t cause us both pain. At the time, I was the only person I knew who had given birth in the last five years. Many coworkers and cousins could offer advice, but most had long since forgotten the frenzied first months of parenting. I didn’t know who I could ask for advice, so I sought help from the only expert I could think of: Google. I opened my internet browser and relieved my concerns in the empty search box.
How do I know my baby is satiated?
How do I get a successful latch without making my nipple bleed?
How many ounces of alcohol am I allowed to consume before attempting to breastfeed again?
Google led me to videos on how to hold a baby like a football and diagrams of using a nipple shield. None of it worked, but the pressures from nurse practitioners echoed in my ears. I pushed through the pain and torment until I eventually surrendered to the stubbornness that my son and I both struggled to endure. I gave up trying to breastfeed. Instead, I spent up to ninety minutes a day confined to a rocking chair hooked up to suction cups while my baby drank from a bottle being held by someone else.
Just because I was done breastfeeding didn’t mean there weren’t other challenges mounting in front of me, and I frequently relied on Google to relinquish my frustration.
How do I cure diaper rash?
How do I get my baby to sleep in his crib?
How do I get any sleep at all?
It turns out I didn’t need friends, family, or even medical professionals. Google had all the answers I needed, and I finally found solace in those early weeks when I felt overwhelmed in the blur of motherhood.
After two months, having exhausted my available paid leave, I returned to work. I was looking forward to conversing in full sentences with other human beings. Finally being able to go to the bathroom without worrying that my baby had somehow suffocated himself in the sixty seconds I’d been gone. Elated to escape the excruciating monotony of two-hour cycles rotating between pumping, feeding, burping, and napping just long enough for me to take a shower or empty the dishwasher until it was time to start all over again.
However, I was not expecting the welcome interrogation.
Within the first few minutes of obligatory pleasantries, everyone seemed to ask the same questions: “But how are you really? Is it hard? Do you miss him?” Apparently, I was supposed to be showing signs of insufferable separation. As someone who appreciates transparency, I gave them my honest answer: “No.”
They laughed like I was joking. I wasn’t. But their reactions gave me reason enough to pause and reevaluate my response.
Was I supposed to miss him? Was I supposed to be counting down the unbearable minutes until I could see him again? And was something wrong with me if I didn’t?
I found myself caught in a chaotic inquisition, so I turned to my trusted companion once more to quell the increasing insecurity. I opened the internet on my phone and let out a slow breath as Google waited for me to make the next agonizing move.
How long until I love my baby?
The answers were one part sympathy and two parts criticism. There were hotlines I could call for help with postpartum depression, but I had already completed a survey at my doctor’s office that told me I was depressed. I knew this was different than those first two weeks when I imagined grabbing my toothbrush and car keys and checking into a hotel just to avoid the incessant sleeplessness. I didn’t want to leave him. That feeling was gone. This feeling was new, if I could call it a feeling at all, because what I really felt was nothing.
There was unfiltered judgment from anonymous comments and posts between links to support groups or forums built on desperate pleas for encouragement.
Some women accused me of being ungrateful. I was selfish. I was a bad mom who didn’t deserve the gift I’d been given. And I was starting to think they were right.
There was a yellow onesie. It was part of a set of three gifted during one of my many baby showers. While the other onesies in the collection had zoo animals or stripes, this one only had the words “Mommy Loves Me” embroidered in blue across the chest.
Before my son was born, I kept it on top of the pile in his drawer to be worn as soon as he was big enough. But a month into motherhood, I left it abandoned among the pajamas stained with overnight leakage. Every time I looked at that yellow onesie, I felt the shame of its insightful accusation. And I avoided that onesie until a lull in clean laundry forced me to put it on.
Of course, he looked adorable. So I posted a picture on social media for my friends and family to fawn over because that’s what you do when you have a baby. You plaster social media with a constant stream of photos and updates. It didn’t help that other moms seemed to only post about the pure joy they felt the first time they held their newborn baby or how their life had been altered with unimaginable bliss.
“I knew this would be hard for you,” my mother finally admitted. “You don’t like to be needed.” She was right. He needed me more than I wanted to be needed, and I needed some sign from him that it mattered.
Then, one morning, as I opened his bedroom door to start our daily routine, something happened. From the center of his crib, amid the pastel print of dinosaurs, he looked up at me, and he smiled. He no longer held the blank expression of infant apathy. He saw me, and he was glad I was there.
Suddenly, I didn’t mind starting every morning with a pump session that left me sweating and starving. Suddenly, it was worth it to wake up in the middle of the night to change a diaper in the dim light from the adjacent hallway. Suddenly, I could justify every saved search that helped me survive to see this morning.
He smiled. I was his mother, and he knew me, and he missed me, and he loved me. And I smiled back because, in that long-awaited moment, I loved him, too.