We were driving back from introducing the baby to Josh's grandmother. At the halfway mark in the hour and a half drive, the baby became unhappy. You can tell that we are new at this, because we stopped. I changed her diaper and snuggled her while Josh went into McDonald's to use the bathroom and get a snack. She got quiet. Then we buckled her back up and got back on the road. By the time we were on the interstate, she was crying again.
I sighed. It was annoying, and there was nothing we could do. The baby was not in any danger. She was just upset because she had been out of the womb for all of five weeks, and the outside world is a terrifying place filled with highways and french fry smell. So I tried to just tune it out. I was reasonably successful.
Josh was noticeably anxious. He was at the wheel, and he kept reaching an arm to the back seat to touch the baby, to let her know that she was not alone. It did not seem to help, and it was affecting his driving. I told him to put his hands on the wheel, and I put an arm back to hold her little hand. My touch was no more comforting than his had been, but at least Josh calmed down. He stopped looking back and fidgeting. Her cries seemed to cause him physical pain. After twenty minutes, she fell asleep.
Later that night, there was more inconsolable crying. It was me.
See, I knew that I was not going to bond immediately with this baby. When we took a birthing class, the teacher had us write down what we were looking forward to and what we were scared of on the whiteboard, then we went down the list and talked about each thing. On the "Looking Forward To" side, someone wrote "bonding with baby." On the "Scared About" side, I wrote "not bonding with baby." When we go to that item, the midwife talked about how brave and honest it was that someone wrote that down. Then she said that if you know that you're not quick to bond with people in general, that you will be fine. I guess the idea was that it happens, and the people who are not prepared for it are the ones who really have a hard time. I can understand that, but that does not mean that it's easy, even if you expect it.
I knew better than to expect angel choirs or whatever people say happens to them when they meet the person that has been growing inside their bodies. I don't doubt that experience happens for some, but nothing in my life has been like that, ever. I guess I expected to feel something at five weeks in.
To me, the baby was like one of those robot babies they give to the eighth graders to scare the condoms onto them. She was basically an input/output device. She cries, I go down a list of things that could be wrong until I find the right one, and she stops. In the car, there was nothing I could do, so I shrugged and didn't worry about it. It did not occur to me to offer her comfort, as I didn't really see her as a person. Her wails meant that it was time to feed her or change her diaper, not that she was upset about being hungry or wet. I interpreted her saying something like "insert milk," not "I'm hungry." She had no "I." Josh felt her pain, I felt annoyed at the noise.
Through some mix of genetics and upbringing, I developed empathy kinda late in life. I've worked really hard on it, but apparently, it did not extend to babies, not even my own. I couldn't see her as a person; she had no personality. At that age, she couldn't even focus her eyes. So we were going to all this trouble for someone that would not even look us in the face. It seemed I was incapable of loving someone who couldn't love me back. I was disappointed that I needed this from her, like my maternal love came with stipulations. I felt so broken.
Josh tried really hard to comfort his sobbing mess of a wife, but he did not understand. I think he got the angel choirs back at the hospital. He told me I would be a great mother, but I wasn't worried about that. Having a child was supposed to be an investment of time, money, and energy with a huge emotional payoff, and I wasn't feeling anything. I could not see what was any different about my relationship to this baby as opposed to any other baby that I was responsible for. Logically, I was pretty sure it would get better, but it sure sucked at the moment.
It did get better. At two months, she started looking at us and smiling a lot. By three months, I was actually enjoying her, rather than mostly not minding her. And now at five months out, I love the little baby. I am still not sure what is different about the parent/child relationship. I am skeptical that anyone really likes babies that little, that really it's just rose-colored hindsight after seeing who they become. But then again, some people get angel choirs.