No one ever told me it takes time before you love a child

Over the weekend Wally turned two-weeks-old which was an important milestone in my mind. It meant that it was no longer possible to look at him and think, “You could still be in the womb right now.” (The midwives had told Caroline they weren’t going to let the pregnancy go past 42 weeks.)

17 days of breathing air have enlivened Wally, but just a little.  He was awake for about five hours yesterday and spent a lot of that time looking around and punching his arms and legs in the air.  His hair is maybe a little more golden than it was when he was born, and he has developed an intoxicating scent in his soft, soft hair.  He’s turned out to be quite a spitter-upper which has us running for towels several times a day.  But beyond that he’s still very fetal.  Last night he got worked up as I was changing his diaper.  His quivering, red-faced cry sounded just the same as the one he’d made as he was rushed onto Caroline’s chest during his first minute of life.

Earlier in the day yesterday I asked Caroline if she loved Wally yet.  It’s a topic we’ve talked about a few times since he was born and the answer is still the same: Not quite yet.  I feel a very deep sense of responsibility towards him and he captivates me, but I wouldn’t say I love Wally—at least not in the way I know I love Jay.  Wally still seems strange and foreign, like a distant traveler come to take a rest in our bed.

When Jay was first born I remember feeling the same sense of distance from him. Caroline and I would look at him lying in his bassinet and think “Where did he come from?”  From the first day he felt like my responsibility, but it took a little while before he started to feel like my son.

These feelings, I think, run counter to the way becoming a parent is portrayed in popular culture.  More typical is the sentiment expressed by a mom who wrote, “Then he was born, and the doctor laid his wet, pink body on my stomach. As I helped him towards my breast, the room seemed to fill up with light and I felt a new burst of energy. I was overwhelmed by the intense love I felt for this nine-pound boy with his squished-up face and bald head.”

The other night Caroline and I had dinner with some friends who’ve been parents for a lot longer than we have.  Like us, their feelings for their children had come about more through a process than a burst of light. After dinner we sat on their front stoop and ate ice cream and asked them how long it had taken them to fall in love with their children.  The mom laughed and said that at birth her second daughter had skin so pale you could see her “blue veins” running across her body.  She estimated it was “two or three months” before she’d fallen in love with her daughter completely.

With Jay I was surprised I didn’t feel this instantaneous love.  When Wally was born I was prepared for the fact that a relationship with a newborn child takes time to develop, just like any relationship does.  But it’s strange to feel much closer to Jay than I do to Wally.  I think of how many times growing up I heard my parents tell me and my three siblings that they loved us all equally.  It seemed to me to be one of the great mysteries of parents that they could feel this tremendous emotion and feel it exactly equally for four different people.  And I’m not quite there with my own two kids.

At the same time, it is exciting to think about how much I love Jay and to know that before too long I’ll feel the same way about Wally.  It’s not everyday that you get to fall in love like this again.

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3 thoughts on “No one ever told me it takes time before you love a child

  1. This is such an awesome post, mostly because I think you do such a good job representing reality. These are feelings I know a lot of parents don’t talk about but feel, and they are normal and healthy. Gabe and I have thought a lot about if we want to have another child. When I had Story, it was love at first sight. But I do fear the feelings about number two. Thanks to you, I don’t have to feel guilty if it takes me awhile to bond. Of course, there isn’t a number two in the works just yet, but you know what I mean.

  2. Yeah, I wish someone had told me that too. I wrote about it a little bit, how hard it was bonding with my second child and how it doesn’t always come instantaneously. I’m glad to hear it’s not only me and now almost three years later I can see how close we’ve become and how much I truly do love him. Thanks!

  3. Pingback: When Should a Father Bond with his Son? | Souvenirs of Fatherhood

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