Yesterday I read a Facebook post of author, Elizabeth Gilbert. In it she talked about a time she went to a therapist because she didn’t want to have a baby even though she was 30 and married. Rather than joy, she felt dread at the thought of a precious bundle. She was afraid that she was feeling “the wrong feeling.” After all, wasn’t she supposed to want a baby at this point in her life? Her therapist explained that her feeling wasn’t the problem, but her inability to accept it as legitimate was.
She detailed beautifully many examples of people who’ve had the “wrong feeling” given the situation—a woman who felt grief on her wedding day, a lively man who responded to his terminal illness with happiness, a woman who was relieved when her sick father passed away, and the mother who was joyful when her children moved off to college.
I’m familiar with feeling the wrong way, too. When my first son was born, I didn’t care that my husband was in another country. I was happy for the one-on-one time I had with the baby. When I became a stay-at-home mom, everyone talked about the privilege of it, and I hated it. Most recently, my son started pre-k, and I didn’t feel an ounce of sadness. There was also that time I met my second son’s arrival with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
For days, weeks, and months, I felt detached and underwhelmed. I didn’t have motherly love spewing from me. I didn’t feel that instant connection. I knew what I was “supposed” to feel because I had it with my first-born. With him, I followed the nurse down the hall when she simply took him for his hearing test. With my second, I waited and waited for those inclinations to kick in as I passed him easily to the nursery so I could sleep. I wanted to think, “Ah! He’s so cute! He’s so perfect!” But I really felt like one huge shoulder shrug. The feelings themselves weren’t as difficult as my struggle to accept them. I kept saying to my husband in between sobs, “I’m not supposed to feel this way!”
On top of it, I was consumed with worry about how my relationship with my older son would now be affected. I knew it would be forever changed, and although I trusted all would be well, I grieved the loss of our twosome. Undoubtedly, the adjustment to a family of four was hardest on me. I thought about all the women who raved over their new babies on social media and declared their divine love, and all I thought was, “What’s wrong with me?”
I scoured the internet, looking for women who had similar experiences with their second child, and I didn’t find much. Nobody wants to talk about it, let alone write it on the internet, for shame over feeling so wrong. I desperately wanted to know I wasn’t alone and that things would get better, but I was too trapped inside myself to even speak my truth.
With time things did get better. As the months went on, we adjusted more, my hormones leveled out, and our baby’s generosity with his smiles helped. I never did seek help because how I felt wasn’t intense, but dull. I took care of my new son, and nursed him, and showed him affection. I just didn’t feel all that attached. I didn’t need medical help or medication; I just needed emotional support.
I needed to be able to say, “I don’t feel that excited about my new baby” and have someone tell me I wasn’t wrong or crazy or terrible. Luckily, my husband was good at accepting my reality and assuring me that lots of people experience the same feelings and that it would get better. Deep down, I knew he was right. Trust in this got me through. (Oh yeah, and the smiles.)
We need to accept our feelings because regardless of if they are positive or negative, common or not so, they are. When we struggle to do this, we deny our truth and prevent ourselves from doing what we need to do. Some of our feelings require support, but when we feel shame for feeling the “wrong way,” we don’t open up.
When I finally did talk about my experience, I realized so many others felt the same way. It was so comforting.
When we stop beating ourselves up for not feeling the way we “should,” we can face our realities with acceptance and open up to others for understanding and connection. This alone takes some of the struggle out of the experience. We must never ask, “Should I feel this way?” Like Gilbert says, there is not an emotional industry standard. All that matters is how you do, in fact, feel, and not feeling less than for it.
Back in the early days of being a mother of two, I worried I’d be a mom who secretly played favorites. I feared my relationships with both of my sons would be doomed and that I’d be aloof forever. Really, the time following birth, for as beautiful as it is, can also be effed up.
My sons are now 20 months and four. My heart explodes for each of them and in equal proportions. They are both beautiful, sweet, and funny. They’re also both little a-holes. They have similarities but are so uniquely themselves. I’m relieved I love them with equal intensity and share a close and special connection with each.
If there comes a time you don’t feel the way you think you should, you’re not wrong or bad. We’ve all been there—we just don’t talk about it much.
This post was originally published on Stay-at-Home Panda.
About the Author
Amanda is a teacher turned stay-at-home mom to two boys, and wife of a resident doctor in Orlando, FL. When she isn’t playing with trains, doing dishes, or having sword fights, she is writing. Her work has been published by Scary Mommy, Blunt Moms, In the Powder Room, and Mamalode. Learn more about her at Stay-at-Home Panda and follow Amanda on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.