It took me one and a half years to fall in love with my daughter. There's no deadline, I know, but I thought I would fall in love with her right away. It was like that for my partner — she fell in love at first sight.
Readers may remember Vera from this post: The United States won't recognize my gay marriage so I guess we'll have to leave.
Because I didn't have a mother, I had unrealistic and naive expectations of motherhood. The beginning was tough. Two loving moms caring for a newborn, each wanting to do their own thing, was frustrating at times. I was plagued with insecurities and an overall sense of maternal ambiguity. My partner was confident and experienced, having been a nanny for many years. Yet being a mother was new to both of us. I looked to her for guidance and at the same time wanted to establish my own role as mother, a mother different than the kind of mother she was.
The path to motherhood started when I went for a check up at the gynecologist. After my appointment as Dr. X was walking me to the door, she said: "Do you want kids?" I said: "Sure, one day." She responded with: "Well, you're going on 32. I've read the most recent research and fertility really starts to dip at 32. What are you waiting for? The Volvo in the garage? The five bedroom house? Your eggs aren't going to wait! I know you have a steady partner of eight years, so just don't wait much longer."
I came home and told my partner what Dr. X had said. For a second, I thought she was going to say, "Oh that Dr. X is crazy! We're not ready for kids! We live in a tiny one bedroom condo!" But no, she said instead: "Let's do it."
A few months later I found myself pregnant. The pregnancy went well; in fact it went so well that it didn't really sink in that I was pregnant until the 40th week, when I was struggling to breathe because of my compressed diaphragm. Two weeks past my due date and an emergency C-section later, we had our little girl. The first thing I thought when I saw her was: Is she normal? Because she looks puffy and slightly deformed. My partner was already cooing all over her and had tears in her eyes.
I was happy that they were bonding, although at times I thought it was at my expense. I took a step back and let my partner take a more active role, I was tired, recovering from my C-section, breastfeeding was not going well, so I accepted that I needed to rest and cut myself some slack.
As the months wore on, a pattern started to emerge. There was no longer any way that I could deny the obvious truth staring me in the face: our daughter preferred her other mom instead of me. At first, I tried to not let this bother me, but it did sting a little. Then it began to sting a lot. I sought therapy and asked all the obvious questions: was it because I didn't have a mother? Is it because we didn't bond early enough? Is it because I am a hesitant, insecure mother? Is this a phase?
No one had the right answers, or maybe there were no right answers. When things got particularly rough I would ask my partner, "What's in it for me? All I do is give and give and get nothing in return!?"
I realized that it wasn't about me anymore; I was putting crazy expectations on this little baby who could not defend herself. All she knew was what was right there in front of her face… our daughter just loved her other mom because she was so much surer of herself, so easy-going and natural with kids, the quintessential emblem of security. She was the exact opposite of me.
Then something happened a few weeks ago, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and accept that this was just how things were. "Try not to fight it," I told myself. "Don't try so hard to make your daughter love you."
I realized that my partner and I weren't in competition with each other — that our daughter loves us both — but I am such a communicative person that I had a difficult time believing this since she cannot communicate her feelings towards me yet. Yes, babies don't talk. I would tell myself: "Look at how she smiles at you when you come home from work, look at how she lifts her arms for you so you will pick her up."
Finally I accepted that it was ok that she sought the security of my partner's lap in times of crisis, it was ok that she wanted her other mom to read her a book instead of me. This wasn't personal, I didn't do anything wrong.
I suppose I was putting a lot of emphasis on the bio mom role. I thought that as soon as my daughter came out of my womb she would smell me and know that I was her mother and she would love me unconditionally. Today I know that falling in love is a process, a very slow and gradual one. How can I just fall in love with a stranger the very first day I met her? How could my daughter feel the same way for me? Sure, she heard my voice while she was in utero, she could discern my smell, but really? Without the day-to-day contact we've shared there's no way for her to get to know me.
Then I started having more fun with her, and noticing the little funny things toddlers do. I wasn't so resentful of my partner anymore, wondering why she was so much better than me at this parenting thing. I became aware and amazed at how our little girl learned to adapt to our individual parenting styles. She is more cautious with me and a little bit wilder with my partner.
That is not necessarily a bad thing. As a matter of fact, I think this is a valuable lesson in reading people. I am also learning a lesson: that we all come into motherhood in different ways. Some of us really want to be mothers, some of us are unsure, some of us know that we don't wish to parent at all.
But what we don't know is how we will react/act when our child is born. We don't know what kind of mothers we will be and what we will feel once we bring that baby home. All we can do is try our best to make it work.