It took me 18 months to fall in love with my daughter

June 5 | Guest post by Vera

Readers may remember Vera from this post: The United States won't recognize my gay marriage so I guess we'll have to leave.

The three of us. Photo by Love Shack Photo.
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.

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.

  1. Thank you so much for writing this. I'm due in September and already am having to work out fears that our babe will love my husband more than me– this baby is very much planned and wanted and loved already, but I've never been terribly nurturing or maternal, while little kids just flock to him. I think just the reminder to take things as they come and trust that we will work out our parenting styles and confidences, etc. is really helpful. Thanks again!

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  2. Thank you for writing this! This kind of honesty about parenthood is so rare and important.

    So much of our experience of parenthood (and particularly motherhood) is shaped by crazy cultural myths that are nearly impossible to live up to. I totally *liked* my son when he was born, but it took me a little while to love him…. and nearly a year until I felt that he loved me back. (Shockingly, weaning helped that – he sort of took closeness for granted when he was nursing, and now he hugs & cuddles me all the time.) I have also expressed your sentiment about giving with nothing in return nearly verbatim; it's something that a mother isn't "supposed" to feel, but pretty much everyone does. I think my husband felt really similar to you, and is gaining confidence all the time. It's totally a process. We're all getting to know each other in these new roles as Family.

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  3. I struggled with partner-preference too- Not with my child's birth father (he was never the favored one) but with my new partner, who has been helping me raise my son since he was two. Imagine the heart-sink you'd experience at seeing your child come running up to your boyfriend instead of you at the end of a long day! (Especially since my son has autism and typically doesn't respond to Anyone the way he does to me.) We're all moving in together soon, after three years, and I'm still quietly struggling with feeling second-best to a non-birth parent. I KNOW my boyfriend is fun and great with kids, it's why I'm going to marry him! So why is it so hard?

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  4. Echoing Alexandra above, I'm expecting a baby (not until January 2013, so it's damn early), but I have a somewhat-secret-even-to-me feeling that I won't be nearly as good or as loving a parent as my husband will be. Childcare and kid-loving come naturally to him. I like to talk things through and listen to people verbally express themselves — my baby isn't going to be able to talk! Thanks for reminding me! And I don't mean that as a joke! So I guess I'm just gonna need to give this time once the baby is born. And learn to happily accept that it's actually a GOOD thing that my husband is so naturally "maternal" and kid-loving and kid-understanding. Thanks for your article, Vera.

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    • I've learned to accept that I like the toddler phase better than the baby phase and you might be that way too.
      At the end of the day, your baby will know who you are and what you mean to him/her. You will have your strengths and your partner will have his. We'll be good at talking to our kids and listening and our partners will be great at giving hugs and comforting them in times of crisis (or what not) etc.
      We must all be thankful that we have supportive partners who are good with kids! This is actually a good problem to have, although I must say it wasn't easy to deal with.

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    • you might surprise yourself. I wasn't all that maternal or loving of kids (didn't even really know I wanted one, until Potamus showed up on the scene,) and I ABSOLUTELY love it. I love him. More than I ever thought. And for a highly anxious person, I am really amazed at how relaxed I am with the whole motherhood thing. So be open to experiencing whatever happens, but you might be surprised!

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    • just wanted to jump in and say i'm due in jan 2013 too (this is the first time i've gotten to say this, so i couldn't help mention it)

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  5. Thank you for writing this. It's a totaly different perspective for me. I was in love with my kids while pregnany wih them and fell that much further the moment I first saw them. And at 9 and 4 they are still very attached to me. But I feel so bad when my little one ALWAYS prefers me to her dad. She doesn't want him to do anything for her. I can see how it hurts him and it breaks my heart because he is an AMAZING father and she loves him very much, she gets really upset when he leaves for school or work, and adores roughhousing with him. But when it comes to making a snack, bathime, stories, cuddles, cuts, kisses she always comes to me. And in truth it is exhausting. Its hard when your child prefers you to their other parent. Parenting is hard and unique to each parent and each child. But so worth it all. I wish you and your family all the best. And remember NEVER compare yourself to anyone else. You will provide unique experiences, and help round out your little girl :) Relax and enjoy the ride

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    • I agree with you, as the "preferred parent" it is tiring and frustrating. I feel bad for my partner and in the beginning would try to hide or downplay the obvious preference our baby had on me but it became harder over time, now after 18 months there's no hiding it. But not only does it get old to be always the needed mom for hunger, tiredness, falls, diaper changes, midnight awakenings, car seat bucklings, paci giver, baby carrying, playing etc but there is also the feeling of family unit that is somehow broken, like there is a third wheel that doesn't belong, in the baby's mind at least. And I feel bad for all the times she comes running to me but does not do the same for her, at least not unless pushed by me. Anyway, I do believe (and hope) that this is a phase. Who knows maybe one day I won't be the "preferred parent" anymore. I wonder how I will feel then?

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  6. I want to teach my babies sign language ASAP. Part of it is because I feel like with twins it would be useful for my sanity to know who is crying about what, but another part of it is that I know I don't understand babies AT ALL. And my husband is so much better about nonverbal communication than me. And I'm the one who is going to be home all day with them, and I'm afraid that things will all of a sudden get calm when he comes home and knows what's the deal somehow magically while I have been struggling all day.

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing your story. We have a sort-of newborn at home. Samuel was born 3 months early and we spent 95 days in the NICU–he's been home for a month and I struggle each day with the same thoughts. I'm positive he hates me! I get jealous when my husband gets the smiles, especially because I am a stay at home mom…that's a lot of time for smiles, and I get nada!! I haven't fallen in love yet, we had a rough start (Sam and I) and the pregnancy wasn't the way I thought it was going to be. I hope that eventually I fall head over heels in love with my little monster!!

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    • You will, hang in there 😉 I found the first few months incredibly difficult. That too shall pass

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  8. Thank you so much for this story. I have a 2 month year old and when he came out I thought, "I don't know you." I thought I was suppose to recognize him or something. It took about a month for me to fall in love with him and I am learning that that's okay!

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  9. As others have said this is such an honest, important, and brave post. It not only talks openly and honestly about motherhood, debunking the myth that all mothers and blissfully in love with their babies, but also offers a unique perspective on how different experiences of motherhood can impact same-sex couples. I have 18 month old twins and have had a very similar experience, but with a male partner. I am just starting to feel the "in love" feeling I was expecting to have toward my babies, but my husband has from the get-go (and he was expecting not to). I have often felt like some of the difference relates to the myth or cultural ideal of the blissed out, martyr mother who wants nothing but to service and care for her child. I found myself wanting a lot more than that, and craving independence. I struggled with this so much because it felt like it meant I was a bad mother, whereas my husband could have balance in his life, love our babies, and still feel like a good father. I have to imagine, though, that motherhood ideals and how different women experience them could cause a great challenge in a same-sex couple as well as two moms negotiate their different experiences of motherhood and how those tie in to societal expectations. I wonder if being the biological mother you had higher expectations of yourself or were more impacted by those ideals? I think it is so crucial for women to be speaking to each other honestly about motherhood. Thank you for your courage.

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  10. I actually just submitted an article about something similar– the way I fell in love slowly with my daughter instead of that instant bonding that we're "supposed" to have. I was so glad I read a similar description in my La Leche League book before my daughter was born so that I never felt abnormal!

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  11. Read this and the previous post about moving and just want to let you know that I also just moved to Toronto, and it is pretty awesome. I hope you like it here!

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    • Sweet! I hope it's as awesome as we've been told. We've heard great things about Toronto. 😉

  12. It's just a theory, but I heard that often babies may consider mom part of themselves, while family members are the first "other" they recognize. Hence why dads and grandmas get more of the first smiles sometimes – the baby may not smile at you any more than you would smile at your own foot, because he or she thinks you're part of them.

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    • That totally made me go "huh!" aloud. Interesting theory!

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  13. Thank you so much for this post. I'm a Lamaze Educator and am always careful to avoid language that supports mythology that anyone with a vagina is going to be instantly and naturally maternal and anyone with a penis is going to be awkward and mostly useless. These ideas serve no-one. As a lesbian due with our first baby in July, I know my partner and I have had to sift through these myths and our own experiences with our mothers to get comfortable with what our roles might be and how we each bring good things to our child – regardless of biology.

  14. Great post! I think this statement sums up what some of my friends who are mothers have also gone through: "I was plagued with insecurities and an overall sense of maternal ambiguity."

  15. This is fucking beautiful and I love your writing style. Honest, open, ego out for the world to see… You are my hero.

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  16. Wonderful post. I have two kids now and my elder son is two; and I did take a long time to fall in love with him. It was slow and gradual and I always *loved* him, of course, but it's only lately that I feel that fierce maternal love for him that I've heard about. Like you said, I have struggled with not getting verbal feedback from him (he's a late talker and still doesn't call me mommy). I am more insecure as a mother than I ever thought I'd be, and my son is more challenging than I expected too. It's so reassuring to hear that other mothers have taken longer to fall in love with their children.

  17. It took me about a year. Everything I was told would happen… the love at the moment you pee on the stick, the love at the moment you feel movement for the first time, the love at the moment you first see your baby, the pure, blinding, otherworldly love you feel for your newborn… I never felt that. I had a deeply primal instinct to protect her, but I didn't LUUUUUURVE her. I do now, but for the longest time I didn't understand why I couldn't bond with my baby and feel that love.
    I realized after a lot of thought that I unconsciously distanced myself from my pregnancy, birth and baby due to miscarrying my first, unexpected but welcome pregnancy. I was afraid of another miscarriage or losing my newborn to SIDS. It didn't help that she struggled to breastfeed and gain weight, and had terrible colic. I think on some deep unconscious level, I always thought she would die, and I tried to protect myself from that pain.

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    • I think I experienced something similar. I was told I would never conceive and had a high risk pregnancy with twins. Then, just as I was starting to let my guard down and be more open to the fact that my kids were REAL, and going to survive, I got pregnant and miscarried. Thanks for this comment, it really helped me understand what I was feeling. I think this is way more common then we think. Even past losses in our lives can make it hard to bond… for me… I also lost my mom, which didn't help.

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  18. This is fabulous. I really appreciated the part where you note how your little girl is learning how to read people, what an amazing skill.

    So much of my parenting journey so far is about self-acceptance.

  19. thank you for this post. i'm a stepmom of a 5yo girl who already has 2 moms. i often felt guilty for feeling like it was hard to love my stepdaughter. i took a very hands-off approach at first, figuring she already had 2 moms and i didn't want to interfere with that…but as my relationship with her parent progressed, i struggled to feel bonded with her. or rather, it would ebb and flow – i would feel bonded and close to her, then be like, "omg, what am i doing trying to parent?!" it's been 2 and a half years and i love her very much but still feel conflicted about parenting some times. due to our lives, i have spent a lot of time taking care of her while my partner was working or studying. that's created another dynamic, where the little one is more cuddly and closer to me than her parent (my partner was not the biomom, but was the first person to hold her when she was born). i feel bad because i know my partner wishes her daughter was more affectionate with her. sometimes i think this may have more to do with the fact that i am more femme (like her biomom) and she's just in a stage where she identifies with me more than my partner (who is butch – or "boy-girl" as the little one says). struggles or not, i know that this little girl sees me as her parent, not a stepmom, and that she loves me more than i can fathom. and i consider myself damn lucky for that.

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