Well, not exactly the very beginning, but close enough. I was going to share LB's birth story, but the internet is awash with wonderful, affirming birth stories covering every imaginable type of birth and I don't think ours adds much to what has already been said so eloquently by so many others. Little Bear's birth was long and busy and tiring, but ultimately beautiful. I felt very well prepared for all of the things that labour could (and did) throw at me and Papa Bear and I coped well. What I was not prepared for was the reality of bringing home a baby.
Welcome to the World, Little Bear.
LB and I were released from hospital after three days. She was feeding well, keeping up her birth weight and I was feeling physically and emotionally healthy. Much better, in fact, than I had expected to. NHS hospitals being what they are, it took all day to get the relevant paperwork signed which gave us the go ahead to leave, but we finally walked out of the door at about 7pm. It felt so strange to just be allowed to saunter out of the hospital. There was no fanfare about it, nothing to sign, no one to check that we were actually capable of looking after this foreign little creature. It felt strangely anticlimactic.
That night LB didn't sleep at all. I think she managed about an hour's kip the entire night. Eventually Papa Bear resorted to walking up and down the stairs with her, over and over again, for hours. When she wasn't crying, she was feeding. My nipples were cracked and I was exhausted, but both of us were still pretty upbeat. We were a family and we were all home together. LB had a strong preference for sleeping on one of us and we were both enjoying all the newborn cuddles. We were thrilled by all of the new, exciting things that made up our days – the first time we went out in the car, the first push of the pram, LB's first bath. Those first few days are a bit of a blur now, but I remember being happy and overwhelmed.
The reality really set in when PB went back to work after 2 weeks. I had prepared myself for being bored so had planned lots of baby groups and activities for that first week. LB and I were going to bond and everything was going to be softly lit and lovely. It would be just like at the end of the film Juno where Vanessa is cuddling her new baby on the bed and the room is in a state of gentle disarray as the sunlight streams through the window and she smiles down at her newborn. Needless to say, it was not like that. LB did not want to be lovingly stared at. She did not want to go to baby groups. She certainly did not want any part of softly lit selfies with her mummy which could be smugly uploaded to Facebook. I made it three days at home with her that week before I phoned PB in tears and asked him to come home early because I couldn't cope.
When he arrived, LB was asleep in the living room. I was sitting on the stairs in the dark, scared to do anything that might wake her. With tears streaming down my face I confessed the secret I'd been harbouring. I did not love LB. In fact, I wanted to turn back the clock and pretend I had a headache the night we conceived her. I sobbed that I had always known I would be a terrible mother. That having a baby I couldn't love was the most selfish, awful thing I had ever done. PB did the best thing he could have done. He smiled. He told me that he didn't love LB either, yet. That she was a stranger for now, and despite what you see in films, love at first sight is a rare thing. She was our daughter and we would come to love her in time. He ran me a bath and told me I was doing a great job. I didn't believe him, but the bath did make me feel better.
Looking back on that awful day, I wish I could go back in time and give myself a hug. I wish I had been a bit kinder to myself in LB's first few weeks and recognised that I was doing my best. Little Bear was a healthy, happy, normal baby and I was a normal mother experiencing normal feelings.
Since then, I have been surprised by how many other mums have told me that they felt just the same way and that they also did not feel that initial ‘rush of love’ that everyone talks about. I have had people tell me they wondered whether they were depressed, or whether there was something wrong with them. Not one of these people told me these things until I had mentioned it first. Because people are scared to admit that motherhood is really, really hard. Or that the reality is that in hospital they hand you a blood covered stranger and tell you that you have to keep it forever. I feel very strongly that there should be more discussion about this. I was not depressed. I was not lacking in maternal feeling. I was not abnormal.
With the passage of time, an all- encompassing love for LB has snuck up on me, little by little. She's not a stranger any more. She's a person with her own tastes and desires. She has a personality. She loves me. And I don't feel at all guilty any more for the way I felt about her at the start. If you are reading this at home with a new baby, then please, give yourself what I didn't – a little bit of kindness, and reassurance that your best is good enough.