I didn’t love my son when he was born. I didn’t love him by the evening of that first day either, or by the end of the week, or indeed for a good few months. He was a planned baby, a much-wanted baby, a settled, healthy, ‘good’ baby. But I didn’t love him.
This hadn’t happened to my best friend. Soon after she gave birth to her twin boys, three months before I was due to deliver my own first child, she called me where I was living in Scotland and spoke about the experience in terms both awed and exultant. I can still remember her words: “And then I just felt this giant wave of love overpower me, and I couldn’t stop looking from one to the other, drinking them in. They were so perfect that I thought my heart would burst.” Greedily, I gulped down the details, caressing my own bump as I listened. My friend spoke with the fervour of the converted, a king tide of emotion sweeping through her voice. When I hung up the phone I suspect I was trembling, infected with the anticipation of the epiphany to come.
Only it didn’t. When my son was handed to me straight from my body all I wanted was for someone to take him away again as quickly as they could. Even later, in Recovery, when we’d both been cleaned up and had had a chance to draw breath I can’t say I felt much for him. Curiosity, certainly, but only the garden-variety type. I think I would have been just as interested in viewing the placenta, or maybe even a jar of my own gallstones.
To be fair, there were mitigating circumstances. My labour had been long and tiring, ending in an emergency C-section after three trials of forceps and two of Ventouse. Though I didn’t know it as I awkwardly cradled my newborn son in that recovery bed, an artery in my uterus hadn’t been properly cauterised after the surgery and was slowly filling the organ with blood. Two hours later it would haemorrhage through the wound, landing me back in theatre and then onto a baker’s dozen of blood transfusions. When I came to a day or so later my son had been transferred to the Children’s Hospital on the other side of Edinburgh, his twisted bowel having been diagnosed while I was anaesthetised.
We were reunited three days after his birth. I was glad to have him back, but only because I felt guilty that my sister, who had travelled from Australia to meet her first nephew, was spending all her time racing between hospitals to check we were both alright. Now, at least, she could stay in the one spot. And she was transfixed by the boy, blown away by him, as was my husband. I remember watching the two of them leaning over his crib in hospital, foreheads almost touching but oblivious to the fact, so engrossed were they in this scrap with whom they shared blood. I remember watching them, and feeling bemused. He wasn’t that interesting.