April 23, 2007

"our way to fall"

There's this blog I read sometimes--the author was trying to get pregnant the same time we were--and she had a post recently about something a friend and I had just been talking about: the odd process of falling in love with your baby.

Now, let me just put this out there, for the record: I had a truly amazing birth experience. It was everything I wanted, and everything that is supposed to promote mother-child bonding. I had no drugs. I pushed Elliot from my body into my own two waiting hands, and without anyone telling me to I pulled him immediately onto my chest and kept him there while he blinked and cried and was introduced to the world. It was very intense. And I felt many things, there, with my new baby on my chest: adrenaline and awe and power. But I wouldn't exactly say that an overflow of "love" was one of those things. More, a sense of...confusion. "This baby?" I thought, "This one is mine? This is my child?"

My friend Michelle has a beautiful quotation on her blog from the poet Rumi, about how when you meet someone you love it feels like you've always known them. The Whitman poem "To a Stranger," which was read at our wedding, works along similar lines. Recognition, I think is very important to love: it's why we love people more the more we know them (this is sort of what Katie talks about in the blog post I mentioned). And when Elliot was first born...I just didn't really recognize him. He didn't really even look like himself, let alone like Brandon or I, and neither did he look like some platonic "my baby" vision I might have had in my mind. He was a small, red, crying thing. I wanted to take care of him, in the way that of course you want to take care of something fragile and new, but I didn't have a wash of love, or a sense of immediate kinship.

What I did have, and I feel lucky in this, is a strong sense of faith. I had a lot of faith that I would come to recognize this little mystery baby I'd pulled to my chest, and that as that process of recognition happened, I would love him deeply and truly and in a way that would make him know that in everything he did he "moved through realms of love," as ee cummings wrote.

I had this faith because I myself am deeply loved by my family, and because I know that love grows, through the experience of care and because of the commitment of time. And I knew I was willing to give those things, wholeheartedly, and from the beginning. It's only now that I can look back at the blur of those first few weeks, when a couple of things went wrong and when we were very exhausted, and see that in my complete zeal to do what was best for Elliot even if it killed me--I was already loving him, even though I didn't feel that in a completely emotional way at the time. I remember one late night in that blur, saying weepily to brandon, "I think I'm really starting to love him." But I was already loving him, just in a visceral, drag yourself out of bed kind of way. In the kind of way that made my body know, without my mind being told, to pull him onto my chest, because he belonged there.

Anyway, this seems worth saying to me because there's a lot of pressure on new parents--new mothers, particularly--to have sort of formulated emotional experiences, and I think it's good to have a lot of people share their experiences so that we all know there are many roads of mothering, but most of them travel to a place we can recognize as a loving relationship. So this is my story. It's made me realize that maybe I'm just not a "love at first sight" kind of girl...but I'm a very loving girl, all the same. I love Elliot so much. I just go around thinking about it--how great he is, and how much I love him--all the time.

Relatedly, last night I was singing to Elliot the song from The King and I, "Getting to know you," which ever since Elliot was born has seemed like a great song about parenting. Last night I was feeling sort of down and tired, and really hoping that I had it in me to do a good job at this whole parenting thing. And a line really jumped out at me from the song:

Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me!

And boy: I realized that I really hope Elliot likes me. I'm sure he will--that's not my point, really--but isn't it funny? one of intense emotional parts of parenting I hadn't really anticipated was this strong sense of wanting my love to be, to some measure, returned. I wouldn't want Elliot to love me the way I love him; that's not his job. But still, I just...really am getting to hope he likes me, as the song says, "Day by day."

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