baby

"I don't love my baby," I said in surprise. "What the hell is wrong with me?"

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.”

Lincoln castle/cathedral. #babywearing #queersolomum #queerparenting #travelwithbaby

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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.

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“I didn’t love my baby for the first few weeks,” I bravely confided, and then steeled myself for her response.

“I still don’t love my eldest,” she shot back immediately. Her child was nearly seven years old.

“Still?!”

“I’d protect him to the death, but yeah. It was so different with my second. Love at first sight. And I feel so guilty about it, but I can’t help it.”

We sell this idea that all our kids are born equal—that there’s no such thing as a favourite. It’s a dark and shameful thing to admit that while we have a fierce commitment to all our children, we might not feel exactly the same kind of love towards each of them. Another friend of mine, one of those earth-mother-goddess types, surprised me by also agreeing.

“I never thought about it until you told me how you felt, but now I look back and I can see I never quite connected with Poppy. Cedar, it was instant, but not with Poppy. And it made caring for her harder, because, you know, I just didn’t feel that big rush of love.”

When I contacted her to see if I could ask her some questions for this article she refused. “It makes me feel too awful.” And of course this is why no one ever really talks about it. Saying it out loud feels like a heartbreaking betrayal of your child, and breaks an iron-clad parenting taboo.

Listen: Mother of quintuplets Kim Tucci shares her post-natal depression experiences. (Post continues after audio…)

Luckily for me, as my midwife constantly reassured me in those early days, infants can’t tell if you’re faking it or not.

“Their ego is so big they have no sense that there is even an ‘other’ —it’s all about them,” my midwife told me. “So long as you’re giving them attention and eye contact it’s all good.”

She’d warned me the love might not be immediate, but I’d taken no notice.

That won’t be me, I thought smugly. I wanted this baby SO much. I’m a queer solo parent by choice—I’d gone through years of donor searching, fertility treatment, home insemination, IUIs and IVF to get to this point.

“I can never predict which of my clients will fall immediately in love and which ones will have love creep up on them slowly,” she’d said. “Oxytocin, the love hormone, is rife at birth—it practically forces the mother to fall in love. But with a complex birth like an induction or caesarean, using artificial oxytocin can affect what nature intended. Breastfeeding problems and a lack of support also don’t help.”

My birth and the early days of breastfeeding had all been a total nightmare, so maybe that was where things had gone wrong. Or maybe I was just one of those parents who don’t fall in love at first sight.

“True love takes time in all relationships,” she’d said sagely, and thankfully she was right.

By week five my baby had smiled at me for the first time, the world had finally fallen away beneath my feet, and I had been swept up in an enormous wave of fluffy pink love-clouds.

Dr Holly Zwalf is a queer solo parent by choice and she blogs about her parenting journey at thecabbagepatchfib.wordpress.com. She’s a smutty spoken word artist, a cabaret performer, and has a PhD in maternal sexuality. Last year she did a six month road trip around Australia with her newborn baby in a polkadot teardrop camper.

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