A Newborn Stranger: Caroline’s Story

Caroline shares her story of learning to build a relationship with her infant son. Not every mom experiences a rush of love and connection at the moment of birth. Caroline illustrates beautifully that sometimes it takes time to build a relationship, and that is completely okay!

When I was pregnant, all I wanted was to see his face. If I could just see his face then I knew he would feel real to me, and I was desperate for that. Somehow my drive to look at that little face held more weight for me than everything else I assumed a mother wants from her baby. I thought about it more than holding him, feeding him, kissing and hugging him—all those behaviours you imagine mothers craving to do while carrying their baby for nine months. I think it was my subconscious dying to learn his identity, and I craved for our souls to meet and for the deep connection that I knew would define our relationship. If I could just see his face, my anxiety would dissolve and everything would be all right.

Instead, when I gave birth, it was to a little stranger whose face I didn’t recognize.

In the seconds, hours, and days after my son’s birth, I was shaken and worried when my feelings for him felt purely instinctual. He was my son, but only in a biological sense. I knew absolutely nothing about this gorgeous little creature that somehow belonged to me. I felt crippling shame that I couldn’t truthfully say, even though I desperately loved him, that  I liked him. I didn’t know him, how could I know if I liked him! And what kind of mother doesn’t like her new baby. I felt certain of the answer: a terrible mother.

The shape of my pre-existing anxiety disorder had changed dramatically and was now monstrous and unfamiliar to me. I was running on little else besides panic and instinct. Every day, my mind was filled with horrifying intrusive thoughts that appeared unexpectedly and drowned me in panic. I was absolutely tormented inside my own mind. It was sickening to feel detached from my newborn son and also utterly compelled to protect him from the harm that I was certain was coming for him. These conflicting feelings were tearing me apart, and the anxiety I felt was overwhelming.

When I came out of the darkness and  was able to enjoy my life and my son, I realized something so incredibly obvious. At what other time in your life are you expected to love someone you’ve never met the instant that you meet them—and if you don’t, you are wide open to public ridicule? The answer: never. This is never expected for anyone except for new mothers, most often imposed by mothers themselves. I’ve learned to honour the difficulty of the newborn stage, to feel safe when I say it definitely wasn’t my favourite phase. But my son, despite this understanding, he has always been my favourite. I learned to make that distinction between loving him and not loving the job, which is something I heard at one of my support group meetings and something I’ll never forget. My love for him was never in question.

He isn’t a stranger anymore. He grew into his personality and we connected on a deeply intimate level. He is dexterous and curious, determined and affectionate. He wants me to hold his hand as he eats dinner, if he thinks I’m sad. He plays with his long eyelashes as he’s falling asleep, and his eyes glitter just as he’s about to do something he shouldn’t.

And I don’t just love him like crazy; I now know that there is no one I will like more in my whole life.