I had a long time to romanticize motherhood.
By the time my husband and I got engaged, we already had the baby bug. After a long engagement, a struggle with fertility issues and the ensuing medical treatments, we welcomed our son into the world nearly five years after I started gazing longingly — and probably creepily — at every baby I saw in the grocery store.
Once I was finally pregnant, what I read in baby books and heard in baby classes reinforced my own fantasies about motherhood: My son would come out of the womb recognizing my voice, remembering the sounds of me singing John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” to him nearly every day while I was pregnant. My newborn son would know I was his mom — one of the two most important people in his world.
Sure, he would cry. But, I thought, the relationship we forged while I carried him for nine months — and the simple fact that I was his mother — would make it easier to soothe him. And right after he was born, my dreams came true: my baby looked deeply into my eyes as I held him, skin to skin. When someone else held him, he turned his head to me if he heard my voice. We were in love: mother and son.
And then, three days after he was born, the inconsolable crying started.
Still in the hospital recovering from a C-section, I took turns with my husband, pacing the hospital room, bouncing and shushing our baby. We fed him, we changed him, we rocked him in the rocking chair. He kept crying.
I sang to him, even “Beautiful Boy.” Nothing was working.
All of a sudden, the crying stopped.
“What did you do?” my husband asked.
Nothing. There was nothing about being in my arms or hearing my voice that made him stop crying. In our shuffle around the hospital room, we happened to pass the bathroom, where a night-light stood out against the darkness of the rest of the room. Seeing the light had made him stop crying.
And that’s when I began to realize that during the first few months of my son’s life, I would not be living out any idealized role of mommy; I was a mad scientist, trying to figure out which baby soothing techniques would make him stop crying: a combination of white noise and bouncing, pretending I was at a wedding and doing The Hustle or taking him outside for some fresh air.
It sounds completely obvious when I say this now, but I had to learn that my son would not simply be comforted by my presence — by the fact I was his mom. A newborn baby, of course, does not understand what a mother is.
My son recognized my voice, but didn’t know that I, along with his father, would take care of him; we would respond to his cries and desperately try to figure out what he needed, even if we couldn’t get it right the first couple of times. My son and I needed to develop a relationship outside of the womb — again, a concept that makes perfect sense to me now, but was lost on me during the anticipation of trying to conceive and the excitement of pregnancy.
It took me awhile to mourn the loss of my previous notions of motherhood and even the loss of the relationship I felt I had with my son during pregnancy. I, frankly, felt rejected by him for several months, especially when he, because of bad gas and general crankiness, went through a five-week phase of screaming bloody murder every time I breastfed him. But it wasn’t that my son didn’t like me; he, like many other babies, just didn’t enjoy life outside the womb during those first few months, missing the warmth, snugness and hum of his former life.
And then one morning, when my son was almost four months old, I was scrambling to put together breakfast for the 15 minutes he would be happy on his play mat before he would need me to hold him. Lying on his belly, he started to roll; this would be only the second time he rolled.
I heard his head loudly clonk the ground as he landed on his back; he didn’t yet have the muscle control to secure a smoother landing. I saw the look of shock on his face before it erupted in tears. I scooped him up off the floor, and he snuggled into me, burying his head into my neck and crying for a few seconds before calming down.
And in this moment, I realized the tide was turning. My son was comforted after that moment of fear not by a cocktail of baby calming methods from the mad scientist, but by me — the woman he had learned to trust and love: his mother.