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I remember it being eerily quiet in the hospital room. After twelve hours of hard labor I was exhausted but too anxious to sleep.
My daughter had arrived only a few hours earlier, at just after 3 a.m. In the period leading up to her birth, the room had been full of activity. Monitors beeped, nurses came in and out, my husband counted down from ten hundreds of times, I screamed, the doctor shouted to push.
And then she was here. She was quiet for a few seconds until a small wail rose out of her tiny chest and seemed to find its way straight to my heartstrings, twining around them so tightly I started to cry, too.
My devoted family, bleary eyed from the lateness of the hour and the emotion of the event, came in to congratulate us and coo over the tiny stranger, swaddled tightly against her suddenly wide-open world.
When they left, the nurse turned off the lights and told me to rest. My husband was soon asleep in his makeshift bed by the window, completely spent from the intensity of her birth. After all the activity, it was just me, wide awake in the darkened hospital room, staring intently at the bundle in the bassinet nearby.
I kept my eyes on her for hours, intensely watching for the blanket to almost imperceptibly rise and fall, a reassuring indication that all was well.
But all wasn’t well. In fact, I was sure something was terribly wrong, not with the baby but with me. It wasn’t something that would show up on the monitors or vital signs, though. It was a feeling from deep inside me that radiated so strongly out of my body that I started to shake with the intensity of it. Fear.
I had expected an instant connection with this new life. After all, isn’t that what I had read in all those birthing books I had studied so diligently? Isn’t that what all my friends and family had told me? “You’ll love her right away. The connection is immediate.” But for me it was anything but. This new life was an outsider, an alien. I was gripped by a sense of dread, a deep foreboding.
“You must be a terrible person to feel this way,” I told myself. Only someone who was fundamentally broken inside could look at that little face and feel anything but joy and love. Yet her arrival had sent shockwaves through my system, everything I had expected crumbled and only apprehension was left to fill the void.
I barely touched her that first day in the hospital, afraid that I might hurt her in some way. I’d never changed a diaper or really even held a baby before she arrived and now a little life was in my care. The responsibility was overwhelming. Did they really let you take this helpless being home just like that? Shouldn’t there be some kind of competency test you needed to pass?
But no test was required, just a car seat and the will to leave the hospital. One was much easier to procure than the other.
Those first few days seemed desolate and lonely, although family and friends and my dutiful husband constantly surrounded me. Sensing my inner turmoil they offered reassurance: “You have the baby blues, your hormones are out of whack. Give it a few days and you’ll be back to your old self.” When days passed and I still felt hopeless and withdrawn, I was certain that I must not be fit for motherhood. My confidence and sense of self, already weakened, buckled almost to the breaking point.
I’m not really sure what got me through those darkest hours. I think it was a tiny spark of hope, a quiet inner faith that everything would be okay, plus the safety net of family.
More days passed. I changed diapers. I nursed. I became familiar with the wee hours of the morning and with them the silence of the house, the soft brush of her tiny fingers against my skin. Then came moments, the first time our eyes met, her first smile, the first gurgling laugh, that shone bright like a lighthouse across a black, stormy sea. That small spark of hope began to grow.
I changed more diapers, I learned how to sooth her crying. We went on walks together and saw the world. My confidence increased, slowly at first and then faster.
I saw her through her first cold. I rocked her to sleep. I bathed her and sang to her. It was in this way, through small daily actions, that love grew between us. It wasn’t instant, but it was deep and strong and forever. I came to realize that my fear was not something to be ashamed of, but rather an indicator of just how much I cared for this little person. I was afraid of hurting her, of messing up, of not being the best person I could be for her.
My fear motivated me, it made me strong, and in the end it has made me a better mother.
Garen is a freelance journalist, mom and art lover from Seattle.