Don't Be Silent or Feel Guilty When Motherhood Doesn't Come Naturally
I came across an article about motherhood recently:
When Katherine Heigl and husband Josh Kelley adopted 10-month-old Naleigh from Korea in 2009, the new mom expected the mother-daughter bond to be strong and immediate. Not so, the actress admits in an interview with German weekly newspaper, Bild am Sonntag. "People are always talking about the strong bond between mother and daughter, this magical connection – but we didn't have that," Heigl says. She described the early days with Naleigh as "the hardest time in my life. ... I fought incredibly hard for my daughter to accept me as mother. Her rejection almost broke my heart."
It is true -- people are always talking... about the great, the magical, the positive, the wonderful and unforgettable when it comes to parenthood. I know now that in a tight circle of good friends, women do admit to all of those not so great, hard and miserable times that I am sure every single parent experiences at some point. But it is still not OK to talk about it openly in public. If I say I was so frustrated with my child that I wanted to pack him in the box and ship him to my parents, people assume I am joking, and I myself am guilty of using the sarcastic voice and a reassuring smile that confirms I don't really mean it. Even when I do.
Katherine Heigl adopted a baby. I assume (possibly incorrectly) that there is a certain level of benevolence about how quick and how strong the bond between the adopted baby and a mother will be. I assume it is expected that it is going to take a while to build a relationship when the baby does not grow inside you for 9 months and does not enter the world ripping your body apart (more or less), thus signing the deal in a bloody ritual. But what if you are, indeed, the mother who births that child?
When I was pregnant, I participated in an online forum for expecting mothers. I was joined by women that conceived at the same time as me and I was also able to see what women in other weeks of their pregnancies had to say. All of them (and there were many) loved their unborn babies beyond anything imaginable. If it wasn't all of them, there was definitely not one who would say that she felt differently. Some of them complained that their pregnancies were hard and they felt sick and miserable. Some had difficult relationships and complicated lives. But any complaint was always followed by the exclamations of how much just placing their hands over their bellies and imagining their babies' faces made everything so much better and worth it. I tend (or tended) to keep things to myself. I can tell you one lesson I learned since becoming pregnant -- I will not keep quiet ever again.
Katherine Heigl says the early days with Naleigh were the hardest times in her life. I say the nine months of pregnancy was the hardest time of my life -- and the first 6 weeks of Kai's life were pure hell. I remember crying almost every night of my pregnancy, telling Peter I simply couldn't go on. Telling him I did not want to go on. I felt sick and nauseous every minute of each day and the sensation took over everything. Those stereotypical pregnancy tales -- shiny hair, great nails, glow, peacefulness -- I had none. I was a walking upset stomach that used up all the energy left to just hang on and get through it. I read a statistic somewhere about the number of women that chose to terminate their pregnancies because they were not able to continue to work and support themselves and I felt for them, because I understood.
The moment when Kai was born surpasses anything I have ever experienced in my life. Whether it's hormones, relief, the pure miracle of a human being coming out of you or a combination of all, I don't know, but that intense of an emotion is (for me) forever locked in that one instant. But once that moment passed... yes, the instinct was there from the beginning. The instinct to protect your child no matter what was ingrained. But the love? The bond? The magical connection Katherine Heigl was told to expect? No, I didn't feel it. I was in a constant presence of a person I didn't know. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what his expectations of me were. I was tired and sore and clueless and this little creature was always demanding something and never giving me any signs of approval. I expected if he was upset and I'd pick him up he'd calm down and he wouldn't. I expected I'd be able to read his cry, mainly because people told me I would. I can only laugh now thinking back to people saying "oh, but you can tell why he is crying, right?" Well, actually, I had no fucking clue. I am pretty sure if I was fed, changed, cuddled and rocked, I'd be fairly happy myself.
I remember telling a friend of mine when Kai was about 2- or 3-months-old: "They tell you you'd love them as nobody else in your life... I love him. But do I love him more than Peter? It's kind of the same." I would study Kai's face that had no resemblance to me whatsoever, the serious look in his face, his non-responsiveness to my kisses and jokes, his analytical stares, his so well timed outbursts of rage and cry and I kept wondering -- how is this kid even mine? See that cat over there? That cat walks around waiting for me to lay down on a couch so it can jump in my lap and purr. The kid? The kid doesn't give a shit if I exist.
Katherine Heigl mentions in the interview she felt as a horrible mother. I will admit I never really felt like a failure. I felt horribly upset with the fact that other women don't speak about this, because I assumed (and I still do) that I am most definitely not the only one who feels this way. I don't think it made me a bad mother. I stuck around after all. I did my best and waited around until Kai finally matured enough to show his love and attention and I can now say clear and loud that the love I feel for him is like nothing else in this world -- and while there are other people I'd die for, he is the only one I'd do so without having to take a second to think about it. He is the sun my life revolves around now and I don't mind all that much. But -- with that said... I am also not going to deny that he is the first person in over a decade that makes me want to scream at him and slam doors at him.
I want those other women who didn't speak up when I was pregnant to know that they are not alone, that they are not weird, broken or bad. I want them to know that there are people for whom parenthood comes naturally. They love it, they revel in it, it is their second nature. And there are people who struggle to keep their head above the water, they wonder, they doubt and in the end, they are not one bit worse of a parent, because they give their best each and every day. I want them to know that Rome was not built in a day, no matter what others might try to tell you. I truly believe that if women speak openly about how they feel, even when they hit the rock bottom of the motherhood, there would be less depression, negativity, self doubt and stigma -- and it would translate to a healthier relationships, all for the baby's and Mom's best interest. So speak up now.
Photo Credit: alvarez-tostado.