Friday, 15 June 2012

An Alien Birth

'What did you think when you saw me for the first time?' asks my 9-year-old.

I cough up a cornflake. When my slimed and bloodied first-born was laid on my chest I remember very clearly my reaction: 'Get it off me!' I shrieked to the midwife.

Most women who write of their birth experience describe a transcending bliss. My own mother still melts at the memory of meeting my infant eyes for the first time. I longed for the birth of my baby. I charted her foetal development in a foot-high stack of pregnancy guides. I gazed raptly at the readied cot that would one day contain her. I even gave up lager for six days a week.

But, when the moment arrived, I was terrified by the idea of a separate living entity issuing, sci-fi like, from me. For the first days of her life I fed her and changed her and rocked her with appropriate devotion. I would have leapt from a tower block to keep her from harm. But I could not fully fathom the fact that this self-possessed small person belonged to me.

Two years later when my son was born, I should have been more seasoned. 'God, he's ugly!' I shrilled as they placed a scrawny, scaly, howling scrap of flesh in my arms.

Still now, when I regard my twosome at the school gate, I struggle sometimes to comprehend that they sprang from me. Or that those infant strangers could have metamorphosed into such vivid individuals.

So when my daughter asks me what I thought when I first beheld her, I hesitate. 'It was,' I tell her,' love at first sight.' And hindsight has taught me that that is true.

Am I alone in my unwomanly reaction? Come clean: was your birth moment less ecstatic than it was supposed to be?

36 comments:

  1. No, you're not alone. I thought I'd given birth to an elephant and couldn't contemplate the thought of having my newborn placed directly on me as soon as she'd been greeted by the world. She was wrapped up and weighed before I held her, and then I fell in love.

    CJ x

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  2. LOL this is hilarious. I was two weeks late and my mum's first words were "i hope she's smart because she's not great on the eye" - lovely! xx

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  3. I was too terrified to feel anything. Whereas all the other new mums couldn't wait to get home and start caring for their babies, I was so frightened of making a mistake, so freaked out by the responsibility, I just wanted to stay in the hospital and have THEM look after her. When I did get home, I cried all night. Heartwarming I know!!

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    1. It's extraordinary, isn't it, that you have to pass tests and earn qualifications for almost every responsible job or skill, except childcare. I felt the same.

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  4. The stupidest words ever emanated from my lips when my first baby was born:
    "Oh! It's a baby!" (as opposed to what?.... a puppy?)

    Have you read "Love You Forever" by Robert Munsch?
    My eldest adored it when he was 3 or 4, and promised to come round and look after me when I am an old lady. We used to say the punch line together "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always. As long as I'm living my baby you'll be.".

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    1. That remark only sounds stupid to those who aren't mothers. I know eaxctly what you meant. No, never read Munsch.

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  5. I was so pumped full of morphine by the time they got w out I was high as a kite and muttering about the anaesthetist actually being Tom Petty. All a bit of a haze!

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    1. I suppose most of us aren't thinking straight at that moment. I'm sure if I had been I'd have said something more appropriate!

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  6. Both mine were handed straight to my (now Ex) husband. I was still in and utterly bewildered that my contractions continued after they'd been born. Both times I struggled with 'passing' the placenta and was too tearful to hold either of them. I tried really hard with the second because I hadn't done it on the first but it was, again, out of the question. Then I had a bath and thought about it for a while, which I look back to with much regret, but hey ho - trauma is trauma - despite the perfectly fine and natural deliveries! I love 'em now. I guess one of the advantages of being old is how ones memory fades! ;)

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    1. Sounds as though our lack of immediate euphoria is more normal than one might suppose. Only noone admits it in real life.

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  7. That was meant to read I was still in shock...not that writing about it takes me right back there or anything!

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  8. Hell yeah! I had an emergency c-section and when they placed her all wrapped up on my chest, I felt totally non plussed. How else was I supposed to feel? It was like she didn't belong to me .... it took a couple of days until we bonded.

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    1. Only natural, surely. Noone warns you that the bump will actually turn into a unique individual that you must give your heart to instantaneously.

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  9. I was heavily drugged - good times my friend good times

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    1. Sounds rather more pleasant that unforgiving clarity.

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  10. Another fab post!

    There were unpleasant complications when my son was born. When they finally got him out, I just said "thank God."

    When my daughter was born, they said "it's a girl." I knew that, as two scans had already told me. But I still said, "are you absolutely certain?" I somehow thought I only had boy babies.

    I found the whole bonding thing much easier second time round. The fact that I was conscious this time probably helped.

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    1. I think Thank God is a very appropriate response and shows that although we are almost twins you are much nicer than me!

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  11. Our second born 3 weeks ago came out blue, I mean really purple. So purple that 5 hours later when we left the hospital his face was purple enough for a passing nurse to think there was something wrong with him. I called him my little purple dude for the first 3 days. Hard to fall in love with a baby that looks like that.

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    1. I love your honesty! Congratulations on such a addition to the family. Hope you're getting sleep.

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  12. I had a "welcome to the world, I love you" speech prepared, but with my first, managed only "why's he so tiny? why's he so tiny?" (he was 7lbs 9 oz - perfectly average.) With my second, I was too away with the gas and air fairies to manage anything, except "And it's a...?" which was an attempt to be ironically reprimanding of the midwives who weren't telling me the gender of the baby. (Husband told me afterwards that they had, in fact, told me, but I hadn't taken it in, but I'm guessing they didn't spot my ironic reprimand, so it didn't matter.) And with my third, my words of welcome and love were "she's all grey, why's she all grey? what's wrong with her?"

    I like to think the only way has been up.

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    1. All of those are perfectly acceptable responses that show a suitable interest in your progeny. I'd prefer you to tell me you shrieked in horror!

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  13. I think this post raises an important issue. A friend warned me, before I had my first, that it can take a few hours or days to bond with a baby (maybe weeks, who knows?), so I was prepared for whatever feelings came. But I agree with you, that most women expect a great Hollywood moment of maternal meltdown, and I'm sure feel anxious if that isn't what comes.

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    1. Good point. I think many women, even if they didn't bond straight away, either hide the fact when they recall their birth story or forget about it because until now I've been the only person I know to react so unsuitably. Everyone else declares it was really love at first sight. Which puts huge pressure on new mums who find the whole think unexpecedly traumatic.

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    2. It's just another thing that we add to our mental list of "why I'm inadequate as a mother". I'm wondering if you could try and air the issue more widely. Blog post on BritMums? Article in parenting magazine?

      Let's face it, before modern medicine, most women were probably just relieved to be alive after childbirth, and completely knackered. I think the maternal euphoria might be a 20th century invention, fuelled by Hollywood.

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    3. I did start a discussion thread on Britmums when I posted this, but it didn't catch on!

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    4. Ah, the mythology is still too deep, perhaps.

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  14. I didn't even know that Bob was on my chest as I was busy recovering from the 5 1/2 hours of pushing. My husband kept saying she was beautiful but he admitted afterwards that he didn't really think that!

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    1. To be honest, very few newborns are good-looking!

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  15. Speaking as a man – which is what I usually do, being one – honesty is the only policy with childbirth. Luckily I had primed myself to the fact that the whole business is messy, gory and traumatic, so I refused to hear the siren voices that said seeing a baby born is the most wonderful experience of your life, and stayed firmly at the head end. Even after they're washed and pink, the umbilical cord is still disgusting.

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    1. If I were a man I'd definitely duck the birthing experience. Would have done the same as a woman if I could have, but biology got in the way...

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  16. I think having your first baby is the strangest experience. You spend 9 months picturing this creature (I imagined mine was a boy for 9 months) and then this enormous, swollen, red, puffy baby is place upon you. I was in totaly shock as had emergency c-section so it really was an 'out of body' experience for me! Great post :)

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    1. You're right. I imagined my first born was a boy too. Called her Horace all through.

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  17. When I held my nephew for the firsdt time (he was 6 weeks old) I fell in love intantly. I didn't get to see DD until 18 hours after the birth as I was held in the recovery room to be watched for the night. When I did hold her it took some time to bond. I loved her of course, but I didn't feel that surge of love that I had felt for my first nephew. I don't know why this is, I've often wondered about it.

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    1. Oddly the same happened with my niece. fell for her instantly as soon as I held her when she was hours old. Maybe we have less at stake - it's less of a momentous challenge to our emotions when it's family but not our own baby.

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