You Don't Have To Love Babies To Be A Good Mother

by Jamie Sumner
Uber Images / Shutterstock

“Seniors,” I said in my English departmental meeting at school. “I can’t teach anyone younger than a senior.” It was spring, late in the afternoon. You could hear shouts from baseball practice behind the school. If I stood, I could catch glimpses of the lawn, the precise lines of the field with the practice diamonds already covered in red dirt.

It’s that time of year, the downhill slide after spring break when the students begin to check out and we teachers begin to think forward — what classes we will teach, what clubs we will sponsor, what schedule we might have the coming fall. “I’m never going back to freshmen,” I said again, campaigning hard.

After years of 15-year-olds whose voices and maturity levels were still changing, I needed a group with quieter hormones. I needed at least half the class to keep it together every time the nurse in Romeo and Juliet swore by her “maidenhead.” I needed a class with a few more years under their belt.

And then I went and got myself pregnant. Other than being a baby, I had zero experience with babies. I was the youngest in the family. Reading the Baby-Sitters Club series was the closest I got to kids.

My husband was no better. Most of our fellow married friends already had children by the time we rolled into the party, and we were doofs when it came to handling their kids. We were awkward, all elbows and rigid laps. We were inefficient, clumsy feeders of applesauce. We could not read the baby sign language for “more” or “all done.” What was a sippy, and why did this kid keep asking for one? No one ever asked us to babysit.

We had desperately wanted kids by the time we got pregnant, but that didn’t mean we knew everything it would entail. A kindergartener might beg his mom for a puppy, but that doesn’t mean he understands how to operate the pooper-scooper or what “de-worming” means.

We imagined that generic baby, the pink, sweet-smelling rosebud baby. And then we had our son prematurely, not even getting the full nine months to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for the hurricane on the horizon.

Although if you think about it, is anyone really prepared for their first child? Trying to explain sleep deprivation to the uninitiated is like trying to describe the color orange to a blind man or what snow looks like to a parrot in the tropics.

Do you want to know the truth? I did not have that moment. You know, the moment when you first see your child and everything clicks and music swells and life makes sense. His birth was too dramatic, too fraught with peril to savor any of it. A quick kiss on a damp head was all I got before they whisked him off to the NICU.

And then it was weeks before I got to do anything but place a hand on him. There were too many wires and too many beeping machines. I was scared of my son. Scared to mother him. Scared the machines were doing a better job than me.

Infancy was hard. It was the worst of the horror stories that mothers always say they won’t tell you and then do. He was medically fragile. My fear was replaced with competence, but it was rarely playful.

And then something happened: time. Time passed. We moved from counting weeks to months to years, and not so suddenly, I found myself in a groove — a nice, comfortably awesome groove.

I don’t teach at the high school level any more. Instead, I teach my three kids who are all still at ages you can count on one hand. I teach alphabets and numbers and how to say “sorry” and mean it. I gave up Shakespeare for Llama Llama, and I would not go back. I love my kids with my whole heart for all their oddball eccentricities and proclivities.

But I still don’t like babies. You couldn’t mind-meld me back to infancy. Some people are “baby” people. They love the tiny onesies and the baby carriers that lasso the two of you back together like a postnatal suction cup. They love the mewling cries and the milky burps. I’m good. I’m glad we’re past it.

You’re not going to love every minute of the journey, and just because you don’t love the first stage doesn’t mean you won’t love the later ones (minus puberty). It’s okay. You can raise your objections to your spouse in your next interdepartmental meeting. It’s importance to voice your concerns. To make a game plan for survival. To know that now is not forever, and you will sleep again, and you will come into your own and you will learn, like the best of them, in the thick of it. You don’t have to love babies to be a good mother.