Carey was one of my very first birth clients. From the moment I met her she exuded kindness and grace and she brought those traits into the labor and delivery room with her. She is gentle and caring and the epitome of what you'd expect a mother to be. But just because someone carries the traits of a good mother doesn't necessarily mean that motherhood will come naturally to them. Here is Carey's story of how she learned that sometimes becoming a mother takes time and that's ok.
When I was pregnant, I could never get enough of two things: strawberries, and birth stories. Luckily, it was summer and strawberries were easy to come by. But no matter how many birth stories I found, I learned eventually that I still hadn’t found the one I needed to read.
I devoured them in books about childbirth, sought them out on my favorite blogs, and even just straight-up Googled them, always hungry for more. In page after page of articles titled “The Story of Benjamin” and “Zelie’s Birth” and “How Cece Was Born”, I immersed myself in the tale as old as time of a mother’s labor and a baby’s first breath.
My favorite part of each one was the moment when the baby was placed in their mother’s arms for the first time. Whether by c-section or vaginal delivery, the journey was over and the joy of new life overwhelmed everything else.
It seemed like every single woman said that experience changed her life. They described feelings of overwhelming, unimaginable love pouring out for their babies in that moment, changing who they were and making them truly a Mother.
I couldn’t wait to meet the little October pumpkin kicking around in my belly. I wanted to have that special moment with him, too. We waited and waited and waited, but he was too cozy to move.
Eventually, my induction was scheduled and we arrived at the hospital, ecstatic that it was finally “baby day!”. Or, so we thought.
Forty-eight hours later, there was still no baby. Demoralized by boredom, discomfort, and disappointment that my dreams of natural childbirth were slipping away, it was a huge relief when I was finally dilated just enough for them to break my water and real contractions began.
Thinking about those hundreds and hundreds of women who had labored before me and lived for me to read about it, I tried to power through contractions that were unlike anything I had imagined. I tried to relax, moan, reposition my body, and use my husband and my doula to help.
Eight hours later, still no baby, and not enough progress. Feeling exhausted and a bit defeated, I accepted an epidural and was immediately thrilled with my decision. I was finally dilating quickly and felt incredibly cozy and relaxed, but I was still really tired and couldn’t sleep.
Four hours later, my dilation had completely stopped. My baby’s heartbeat was starting to drop the tiniest bit, and I knew that even if I were to finish dilating, I had no energy left to push.
My wonderfully sweet doctor made the decision, and I agreed. I only cried a little bit when she told me.
I couldn’t believe how quickly everything happened after that point. It seemed like they were still prepping me for surgery when suddenly, we heard our baby crying and they were showing us his tiny, red, screaming face. I craned my neck from the operating table to watch them clean, weigh, measure, and diaper him, then observed, mesmerized, as my husband pulled him close to his chest for his first kangaroo care.
Finally, it was time for my huge, life-changing, mother-making moment. Stitched up and back in bed, I was ready to hold my baby for the first time; ready to feel more love than I thought was possible.
It didn’t happen.
My little Rory glared up at me with enormous, bright eyes. I stared at him. He was the coolest, cutest, most incredible thing I had ever seen, but I felt numb.
I snuggled him close, shielded his eyes from the bright hospital lights, and tried to nurse him. We settled down in our hospital room for our first night with a new baby and my husband, exhausted, fell asleep quickly. I stayed awake almost all night, trying to process what had happened.
The next day, I typed in a note on my phone that I hadn’t expected a rush of love hormones to appear on Day 2. But they did. I started to feel a little better about having lost my ‘moment’ the night before.
We were released from the hospital and took our baby home. We introduced him to our friends and family and adjusted to being new parents. My scar slowly healed and began to fade.
People would admire my baby and then turn to me, gushing, “Isn’t it just the most incredible feeling of love? Like nothing you’ve ever felt before?”
“Oh, yes!” I would gush back. But it wasn’t.
Despite doing all the ‘right’ parent things and thinking my baby was just about the greatest human around, I still didn’t feel like a mother. I had worked in infant daycare and loved all the babies in my nursery. A couple of months in, Rory felt less like my own son and more like an extra cute daycare baby who just happened to be around 100% of the time. I almost expected his ‘real’ parents to show up, chat about his day, and disappear with him.
I hated that feeling. Why didn’t I feel the overwhelming, unimaginable love that it seemed every other mom had as soon as her child was born? Why didn’t I feel like a completely new person? Would the feeling of not belonging to Rory ever go away?
You hear stories about mothers with such powerful love for their children that they can move with superhuman speed and lift with superhuman strength and give up their own lives to save their babies from harm. I thought about these stories and compared myself to those mothers. I felt like the same selfish, self-preserving person I had always been. If something happened to Rory, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to react in the same way. The baby who lived with me deserved better.
But slowly, things started to change. Rory learned to smile and coo at us. I started to connect with him. We learned how to tell what Rory liked and didn’t like. I nursed him full time. We noticed how much more peacefully Rory slept in bed with us at night. I felt a twinge of pride when it became clear that Rory preferred me to anyone else. Somewhere in these little milestones, I became a mother.
My baby is now five months old and I can say without a doubt that I love him overwhelmingly, unimaginably, and impossibly. I would do anything for my little buggy and I can feel myself growing as a person and as a mom.
I wish I had read somewhere that sometimes, becoming a mother doesn’t happen in a moment. Sometimes it takes a few days or weeks or months of adapting and learning to love your baby.
Babies take time to develop. Now I know that moms do, too.
Carey Helmick is 22 and lives in Virginia with her husband, Kyle, and baby Rory. She likes to cook for loved ones, rummage through thrift stores, and play the ukulele. She also blogs at raisinghelmicks.com and puts cute pictures of her baby on Instagram at @careyhelmick. Please get in touch if you'd like to chat some more!