I reach for my iPhone, snapping a photo to share with Facebook friends, writing this caption: “Have I mentioned that we love this little monkey?”
Liesl and I are both head-over-heels in love with our little girl. But for me, that love started slow.
Being pregnant was wonderful. I floated through the second and third trimesters on a cloud of hormonal well-being. I had a little buddy that I carried around inside me all the time.
But then childbirth happened, and parenting began.
Don’t get me wrong. I thought she was sweet, and beautiful, right from the start. But love? More than an idea—a real feeling? That came more slowly. Here’s why.
- Labor was really, really fast, intense and painful. Our doula and the nurses kept saying, “Just think about your baby. Soon she’ll be here.” And I told them, “I don’t want to think about her right now.” What I meant was, “This baby is HURTING ME. I don’t want to think about her because I’ll be mad at her for HURTING ME. OMG—did I mention that she is HURTING ME?”
- A few days after Willa’s birth, all those lovely pregnancy hormones disappeared. It felt like the floor dropped out from beneath my feet. I remember standing in the shower, sobbing. I remember trying on bras in the dressing room at the nursing boutique, stuffing brochures about postpartum depression into my purse. I remember bursting into tears when the nurse at our first pediatrician appointment turned to me and asked, “How are YOU doing?”
- Breastfeeding was extremely painful. I thought that I would love breastfeeding. After almost four months, it has become the sweet, nurturing, bonding experience I imagined. But it didn’t start that way. You’ve heard the expression, “Toe-curling pain”? Yeah, it hurt that much.
- Sleep deprivation. Willa slept in a bassinet next to our bed, and she was a noisy sleeper. With every peep, I was on high alert. During the day, I was tired all the time.
- More than anything, Willa’s neediness terrified me. Some people love being needed; it makes me feel like I’m drowning.
So what helped? How did I get from there—to here, to this place where Willa’s cuteness, and even her neediness, makes me melt with love?
- Honesty. I told Liesl and her mother (who was staying with us) how I was feeling as soon as I felt the waves of desperation and despair. It wasn’t a secret; it was a problem we would face together.
- Asking, “When does it get better?” Other new parents told me about their struggles, and gave me a time frame for when things would begin to seem more manageable. “Six weeks” was the most common answer. And they were right.
- Family and friends. Liesl’s parents stayed for a while, and Liesl’s sister and brother-in-law came for a long visit; they cooked, cleaned, and took care of the dog. Friends stopped by with bath toys and floor blankets, with lasagna and fresh fruit—and most of all, with conversation.
- Building routines and mastery of basic skills like breastfeeding, diaper changing, and dressing Willa made our new life begin to feel manageable. I began to imagine that we would survive.
- Fresh air and exercise. Whenever it wasn’t raining, and sometimes even when it was, Willa and I went out walking. Our favorite walk, to the hangar and back, gave us the added benefit of seeing people.
- Sleep. When Willa started sleeping for long stretches at night, it made a huge difference. We also moved her from her bassinet to her crib in another room, and that meant I wasn’t waking every time she made a noise.
- Smiles. When Willa learned “social smiles,” it was clear she was communicating with us. Even now, Willa breaks out into a huge smile every time I sing, “You are my sunshine.”
- Photos. Taking photos with my iPhone helped me to focus on how beautiful Willa is, and sharing her photos with friends on Facebook surrounded me with community during an isolating time.
- Liesl. Most important of all, it helped that Liesl has been an amazing, supportive, wonderful co-parent. I’ve loved every moment of watching her falling in love with Willa, and her joy has been contagious.
I love you, Willa Rain. I’m so glad you came to live here with us. Thanks for being patient with your mama. In the years to come, I’ll work hard to be as patient with you.