You are here

You Can’t Hurry Love

After his son was born, David Gittelman was in no mood to pass out cigars. He had expected to fall in love with his baby as soon as he laid eyes on him; instead, he and his wife, Kathy, felt "uncomfortable...underwhelmed."

Nathan, an unplanned addition to the family, had been conceived only nine months after the birth of the couple's first child, a daughter named Marisa. Even with months to get used to the idea of having a second baby so soon, the Gittelmans still found themselves unsettled about the situation as Nathan's due date approached. "I was heading back to work, I was heading back to having my body back," recalls Kathy. "I felt like the baby was an intruder in my life, and especially in my relationship with my daughter."

To pacify a clingy Marisa, Kathy let the 18-month-old sleep with her. Meanwhile, Nathan bunked with Dad down the hall. David dutifully bathed, changed, and fed him, but, he says, "I felt completely displaced. I was no longer in my room, in my own bed. Of course, my sleep went straight into the toilet. I held Marisa like nothing could ever pry her from my arms. I held Nathan like 'Well, I'm resolved to do this.' "

It's rarely admitted, but plenty of parents initially want to shoot -- or at least shoo away -- the stork. Call it postnatal ambivalence, or PNA. It affects everyone from unwed teenage mothers to fathers in their 40s, from contented couples to those verging on divorce. What often unites them is profound guilt and a fear that their emotions -- or lack thereof -- will scar their children. That, and feeling like pariahs in a culture that preaches "Love thy newborn now!"

David, an advertising executive in Philadelphia, was surprised to find that out when he attended a sales workshop six weeks after Nathan's birth. "One of the first exercises was to go around the room, introduce yourself, and say something that you wouldn't typically say," he says. "I told everyone that I'd just had my second child and that I wasn't that excited about his arrival, and hoped that would change. There was such silence in that room! Everyone looked at me as if I had just announced that I had a new son and had lopped off all his limbs."