I am the non-biological mama to all three of my children, but when my partner was pregnant with our first child, I felt very connected to my baby even while she was in utero. My hands, my back, and my stomach felt her kicks and rolls when I rested parts of my body on my partner’s growing belly. I sang and talked to my daughter throughout the entire pregnancy.
Even before meeting my daughter, I was in love. I felt a primal protectiveness. I was ready to set all of my maternal instincts into action. And the first time I held her, I knew I was meant to be her mama. It was easy from our first meeting.
I expected the same amount of simplicity and joy and connection when my twins were born, but motherhood didn’t come naturally the second time around. Unlike with my daughter, it was not love at first sight when my partner delivered our twins, babies two and three.
The second pregnancy was different; the naivety of parenthood had worn off a bit and I was exhausted from chasing a toddler. There was a lot less pining, but I was still excited to become a mama again. I talked to the twins and poked them while they grew in my partner’s belly. I pressed my hands on their feet when they made alien-like gestures as if trying to escape the womb. I nested and attended all the prenatal appointments. Though I was nervous about splitting my attention and love between three children, I thought I was ready to fall in love again. But being ready doesn’t guarantee results.
I absolutely loved my son and second daughter from the moment their screams greeted me in the delivery room, but I didn’t have that overwhelming wave of intoxication come over me the way I did when my first child was born. I was happy, relieved, and proud when they joined our family. But for the first year, I was also distant and frustrated. Loving my children felt like work, not instinct. Taking care of them felt like a chore—feeding them, changing them, and even holding them felt like checking boxes on a list of things to do. I felt incredibly guilty for not having a deeper connection with my babies.
I can give you several guesses why motherhood didn’t come easy the second time around. I could say it was because I already had a child taking away from that early bonding time with the twins. It could have been the fact that they were constantly being breastfed and swaddled to sleep, literally out of my arms for most of the day.
Perhaps I didn’t feel close to my babies because the day we brought them home from the hospital was the same day we moved into a new house. I went from the hospital to the house closing to unpacking boxes while simultaneously caring for a two-year-old and newborn twins. I was overwhelmed and exhausted. I wished I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself.
I was annoyed too. My first child had been so easy. She’d been a good sleeper and eater. My twins were fussy and demanding and there were always two of them so someone was always unhappy. It’s hard to like someone who is so annoying. I loved them, but I didn’t always like them.
My actions were signs of love, but I felt like I was just going through the motions. I changed their diapers. I got up in the night to help with their feedings. I gave baths and washed bottles and breast pump parts. I retrieved pacifiers and washed and folded endless piles of laundry. I kept doing maternal things and willed the maternal emotions and sense of attachment to kick in.
Then one day my daughter smiled at me. It’s so cliché, but my fussiest child, the one who constantly wore a scowl and look of judgment (she still wears these well) gave me the biggest grin, and suddenly, just like that, I was all in. Dimples! She had dimples. Hiding in what seemed like a perpetual state of unhappiness was heart-melting joy. Those indentations in her cheeks didn’t take away from the struggle of motherhood, but they added inspiration. Her sweet grin unlocked the connection I had been trying to access.
The same waves of affection washed over me when my son was sick. He had the coxsackie virus and was miserable. I rocked him in his room, desperate for him to sleep so I could get back to the millions of things I thought I needed to do. In between fits of crying, he finally took his bottle from me. He then settled onto my chest and, before falling asleep, let out the deepest and most pathetic but satisfied sigh. My heart cracked open because I realized I had been the comfort he needed all along.
I struggled to feel close to my children, but I was still a good mother. I wasn’t knocked over until almost a year after their birth, but I still loved my children. My body has never known the internal growth of my children, but my love for them still grew from the inside out. Some of it just took longer to develop, and that’s okay.