To be a mother. To carry a life inside of you for nine months. To care for it, to nurture it, to watch it grow. How could it be possible to feel absolutely nothing once it’s born? That was my problem though.
Joshua cooed in his crib at that moment. I looked down at him. Why didn’t I feel the way I was supposed to about him? I didn’t hate him, not even a little, but I didn’t love him either. Where was that overwhelming feeling of maternal love and adoration that I was supposed to have? Why wasn’t I connecting to him the way I was supposed to? Why is it that the only thing I felt after his birth was relief?
Chris zoomed past the nursery at that moment. I hurried out to meet him.
“Where are you rushing to?” I asked.
“Work,” he said, frantically tugging his shoes on, “I’m already running late, so I don’t have time for breakfast today.”
I felt my heart sink a little. I knew he had work today, but did he really have to hurry like this? Couldn’t he at least sit and have a cup of coffee with me before he left?
Apparently not. He rushed over and gave me a quick peck on the cheek before dashing out the door. I sighed. This was my other problem. Not only was I having problems connecting with Joshua, but I felt like Chris and I were growing apart too. Maybe both of them were my fault. After all, everyone says you’re not supposed to have a baby to fix a relationship.
Joshua started crying from the nursery. I sighed again and went to go get him. I almost felt bad for him. It wasn’t his fault he was in this situation. No one asks to be born. If I’d stopped to think about it for a moment, I probably wouldn’t have had him, but I was desperate.
Chris and I kept fighting, he seemed to spend more and more time at work. The final straw was when I smelled perfume on one of his work shirts. I tried to rationalize it. Maybe a woman at the office wore too much that day, maybe he got shoved against some girl on the subway, but the fear I felt overshadowed all other thoughts. I couldn’t lose him, I needed him. I had to find a way to make him stay.
It worked. For a while anyway. I was his queen during my pregnancy. He showered me with nothing but love and affection. He did anything I needed him to, he spent as much time as possible at home, and he told me all the time how much he loved me and how excited he was to be a father. But nothing good ever lasts.
We only had Joshua a few weeks ago, and things were quickly going back to the way they were before. Chris was sleeping in, rushing to work, staying late, and I was alone. Only now, I had a baby to take care of too. Some women might have been happy with this, having a distraction from their husband being gone, but to me, it felt like another chore.
Joshua fussed around in my arms. I tried my best to rock him back to sleep, but it only made him fuss more. I could feel the frustration building inside me. Why did I ever think this was a good idea? I had never been a very patient person and my fuse seemed even shorter recently. I wanted to leave him in his crib and curl up in bed with some earplugs, but I couldn’t. I may not have “loved” him, but I did feel an obligation to care for him. He was mine, after all.
I sat on the couch and continued to rock him while he fussed around. I wondered if obligation could be enough. I mean, there had to be other women in this situation. There was no way I was the only woman in the world with an emotional disconnect from her child, right? Maybe they got by on obligation too. The idea that you gave birth to it so it was your duty to raise it properly.
Joshua’s fussing turned into a full tantrum. He began thrashing and crying loudly. I huffed, annoyed. I felt trapped. I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this. I had a couple friends with kids, but they acted all mom-gooey about their kids like they were supposed to. I doubted they’d understand. I definitely couldn’t tell Chris about this. Not loving our child? That would be bad enough, but if he found out I tricked him into having Joshua… God, I wished I’d never gone off the pill.
Joshua kept screaming in my arms. It took all my concentration to keep my pace at a steady rocking motion. Never shake a baby. Never shake a baby. The words played on a loop in my head. How was I going to keep doing this? How long did I really think I could keep up this act before I snapped and someone got hurt?
Not long apparently. Another piercing scream broke through my thoughts. I couldn’t take it anymore. I angrily lifted him up to eye level.
“Shut up! Shut! Up!” I started screaming in his face.
This only seemed to make the crying worse. I was on the verge of tears myself. I was alone in my apartment screaming in a baby’s face. How much more pathetic could I get?
“What the hell do you have to cry about?” I asked him, tears sliding down my cheeks. “Your life is easy. All you have to do is lie there and be a baby, and everyone loves you for it. You never have to work hard for affection, you never have to try to get someone to pay attention to you.
What about me? I barely see my family anymore, all my friends are either mom-crazy or out living their best child-free life, my husband’s never around. If I just left you here and walked away, then someone would still take care of you, but no one’s there to take care of me. What do I have? I have you, and I don’t even want you.”
I wasn’t sure if it was my tone or my tears, but he did stop crying. He reached his little hand out and patted my wet cheek. He made a gentle cooing noise. I let out a dry laugh.
“What? Are you comforting me?” I asked.
He cooed again happily. I rolled my eyes. What a stupid thought. The baby was trying to comfort me. He stuck his fist in his mouth and started to chew on it. He blew raspberries, making a strange, wet bubbly sound. I couldn’t help laughing at it.
“What the hell are you doing, my dude?” I asked him.
He squealed happily again and kicked his feet. I smiled. Somehow, I did feel better. Having someone to vent to, even if it was just a baby, helped more than I thought. Whether he understood or not, whether he could do anything or not, I finally said how I felt out loud. It felt so freeing.
Looking down at him this time, I felt something. It still wasn’t love, but it was more than before. A need. Maybe that would be enough.
Dependency wasn’t much better than obligation, but there was at least more emotion in it, right? Maybe, in time, dependency could turn to happiness. Maybe happiness could turn to love.
“I’m still not sure what to think about you, but we’re stuck with each other,” I said gently. “What do you think, my dude? Start out as friends and see if I can work my way up to being your mom someday?”
He cooed again and rubbed his face against my shirt. Somehow, I felt like I didn’t mind the spitty mess as much as I would have an hour ago. I held him closer and stroked his little tuft of hair.
“Deal,” I muttered.