Baby love: at first sight or a slow burn?

I was separated from my first baby, Julian, for the first hour or two of his life. While I was incredibly curious to see him again — this person whose very existence I had invented now existed in the real world! –  I guess I was also very patient. I don’t remember being overcome with anxiety in the way I would have been six months later if I was hanging out at a hospital and my baby boy was being tended to in a separate room. When we were reunited I was excited to get on with my mothering duties, to attempt nursing, to check out his body parts, and to begin memorizing his face.

If he was laying in the nursery among a heap of other 3-hour old babies, would I recognize him? I didn’t think so.

It struck me in the first few days that I wasn’t head over heels in love. I was proud. I was protective. I wanted to do everything I could for him, but it wasn’t the insta-love feeling I was expecting.

Yesterday, Jennifer commented on the post Stuff Newborn Moms Should Know, “I wish someone told me that I may not bond with my baby right away. I didn’t dislike him, but he just seemed like someone else’s baby at first…”

This resonated with me. I wasn’t worried that we weren’t bonded, and today my big boy couldn’t be more bonded to me, but I did remember thinking on the day following his birth, “Why don’t have have the instinct to kiss this baby? I am his mother!”

When my friend David, a writer and father to twin boys, published this (must-read for expectant dads) essay about feeling a primal protective instinct upon meeting his babies more than affection for them, I saw how many readers were comforted by hearing that someone else did not feel lost in a Hallmark card of joy and beaming emotion.

What his writing made me realize is that I felt something much closer to instant love with my daughter, my second born.

I didn’t take Quantitative Methods of Sociology for nothing — well, maybe I did to satisfy a math requirement — and I quickly identified three differences between meeting my son and meeting my daughter. 1. My son was born via C-section; my daughter born vaginally; 2. My son is a male child; my daughter female; and 3. My son made me a mother; my daughter was born to a woman who already understood what being a mother feels like. And this third reason is where I find my explanation.

I had already experienced parental love, two-and-a-half years worth, when Scarlett was born. It was at times the cavewoman style that David described, but it was also the Hallmark type, and the type that makes parents feel heart-wrenching empathy for all other parents. You know what I’m talking about: every news story about a missing child becomes your child. You have nightmares about Tsunamis just from watching the preview of a movie in which a family gets swept away from one another.

Once you’re in the club, there’s no turning back. You’re a lifer. So let me suggest that loving your own child is like riding a bicycle. Acquire that muscle memory, and it comes easily at each new opportunity.

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