Interestingly, my source of mothering wisdom is an elderly Kentuckian farmer named Wendell Berry. In addition to farming, he also is a prolific writer of truths that my soul has known for years but could never satisfyingly communicate. I have finally found a language and a logic that at once cultivates my passionate spirit and settles my anxious mind. I feel so at home with his essays, fiction, and poetry that I often wish he’d adopt me as his spiritual, or perhaps more fittingly, earthly granddaughter.
You see, Berry is entrenched in this physical world in the most beautiful way, and he views the care of the land, its animals, and plants as the most spiritual task a human can put herself into.
Providentially, it was his words I was soaking up in the early postpartum months, holding my newborn baby and freaking the eff out because I didn’t feel motherly love towards her. More specifically, I wanted to give her back. I wanted to undo her. I kept fantasizing about my college days, longing for my semi-damp, cricket-infested apartment, sunny days napping on the lawn instead of going to class, and late night “Scrubs” binges with my best friends. In short, I wanted this needy little rosy thing to go away so I could be free again. I even had the scary “throw the baby” thought one time. I panicked and begged my partner not to go back to work because what if I did actually throw the baby?**
In the middle of this horror, I read an essay by Berry about land and love. In it, with a steadiness and peacefulness I too frequently feel missing from my life, he describes walking his land, eyeing it, learning and knowing it. To truly love something, he says, you have to know it. And to know it, you have to see it.
It’s that simple. What do you do if you don’t love your baby? You keep looking and seeing and watching her. You learn her. You begin to know her. And one day, sitting on the back porch soaking up the last of autumn’s brisk sunshine, I felt a little lurch. She was five months old and I loved her. All that nursing and rocking and diapering and staring and acting like I loved her, my mama heart opened up and I found myself actually loving her.
It was a slow love that has grown over the last almost two years into something fierce and wild and profoundly sweet. Sort of like my girl. Wild and sweet and a pain in the ass but all ours.
I still want to give her back sometimes. People always say they can’t remember their lives before kids, and I both feel that and I don’t. I’m tired enough that the years before baby-land have faded a bit. (I also have the worst memory, so I’m not ruling that out as a contributing factor.) But let me tell you, I vividly remember pre-baby road trips, plane trips, grocery store trips. I remember what lazy rainy Sundays used to look like. And I miss it. Isn’t that how it always goes? You don’t fully appreciate something till it’s gone? I wish I had valued singleness and childlessness more. But maybe the lesson isn’t so much to look back, missing those Happy Golden Days, but to look here. To watch and see and learn and know and love these days.
If you’re like me and you didn’t feel the love right away for whatever reason, breathe. Look at your baby. And keep looking. Get someone else to hold her, make sure you’re eating and resting as much as possible. Brush your teeth from time to time. Get whatever sunshine you can. And keep watching her. Get to know her, even if you kind of hate her at first. And I promise, it comes. It might be slow, or maybe more sudden, but it comes. You are not alone and you will love your baby. Keep watching.
**If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or your baby (or anyone else), call your doctor or midwife. Get help immediately. You are not a bad mother. You are a hurting mother and this is normal and also very scary and you need some support. Asking for help is the best thing for you and your baby.
You can also call the National Parent Helpline at 1-855- 4A PARENT (1-855-427-2736) or contact a mental health professional to seek further help.