The Ride of Your Life
How one mom's post-childbirth roller coaster of emotions took her completely by surprise
You know how you're supposed to feel when you give birth. The emotional side of brand-new motherhood is as well-scripted as the birth itself. The typical scenario goes like this:
As the labor pains mount, you feel overwhelmed, frightened, even angry at your husband or an insensitive nurse. These negative feelings are tempered, of course, by your excitement that your child is nearly here. Once the baby is born, bliss takes over. You lie on the delivery table, bloody and drenched in sweat, your newborn in your arms, feeling exhausted, yes, but also relieved, gratified, ecstatic.
And, of course, shell-shocked.
Wait a minute -- shell-shocked? That was my overriding emotion when my first child was born. Labor had lasted a good 36 hours, I'd reacted badly to the Pitocin used to stimulate my contractions, my baby weighed in at an unanticipated nine-and-a-half pounds -- and she was a girl, when my maternal vibes had flashed "boy."
In retrospect, it was probably good that I quickly discovered a cardinal truth about motherhood: The whole thing was beyond my control and full of surprises. But that realization packed its own emotional wallop.
And it kept on walloping, as my feelings took unexpected turns, often at dizzying speed and with switchback intensity. Nursing my daughter, Rory, I was filled with a sense of awe so profound it was tantamount to a mystical experience. Calling my parents to tell them about the birth, I burst into tears, so moved was I at the shift in generations. And dancing desperately across the living room with my husband and our squalling newborn, I felt a not altogether comfortable sense of dependence on him.
Then there were those emotions that I'd literally never known before. Lying down with Rory as we both drifted off to sleep, I felt a oneness with her I hadn't imagined was possible. When she grew colicky, I felt helpless in a way that reached horror-movie depths. Gazing into her eyes for hours at a time, I experienced a peacefulness worthy of the Dalai Lama.
Pamela Redmond Satran is the author of the novel Babes in Captivity.