My baby was five days old when I realised something was wrong. The caesarean anaesthetic had long worn off, but I was still completely numb. When I looked at my newborn’s little wrinkled face I felt nothing.
“I don’t love my baby,” I said in surprise to the empty shell of a woman looking back at me from the mirror. “What the hell is wrong with me?”
Every time I logged on to Facebook I was bombarded with well-meaning messages. “You must be so happy,” they all said, but I wasn’t. I was prepared for exhaustion. I was prepared for chaos. But nothing had prepared me for not feeling anything.
In the lead up to the birth I’d watched endless videos where a baby slithers out in the grand finale and is held up triumphantly by beaming parents, plastered in blood and tears and smiles. I was so looking forward to that moment, like hitting the peak after a long ride uphill, like the audience going wild at the end of a guitar solo.
I was going to rock at birth. I wasn’t scared of the pain. In my prenatal yoga classes I would proudly announce that I was planning a drug-free homebirth, and roll my eyes at everyone else’s hysteria. But the long-anticipated euphoria somehow passed me by, and I was still waiting on that wave of elation that you supposedly get … It was like I’d been rehearsing a play for the last nine months and then slept through opening night. There was a massive sense of anti-climax.
Don’t get me wrong—I cared about this feeble little creature more than anything in the entire world. I would have given my life for theirs in a heartbeat, and I would have been completely and utterly destroyed for all eternity if anything bad had happened.
My midwife was confident I didn’t have post natal depression, and I was sleeping really well. I just hadn’t fallen head over heels the way I’d been expecting I would, and caring for a child I felt indifferent about was hard work. I remember years ago, gushing over a friend’s new baby and asking her if she was madly in love.
“I don’t know yet,” she’d shrugged. “I’m still getting to know him.”
The thing I’ve learned about parenting is that whenever you think you’re the worst parent that ever lived, and whenever you get brave and admit that ‘something terrible’ to another parent, they almost always meet you with “me too” and a look of relief. A few months later I was standing in a park with a woman I barely knew.