I was listening to a comedy podcast recently, as I do sometimes to escape my children, when the conversation ironically turned to children.
In this case, the non-parent comedian host enthusiastically imagined what it must be like to meet your child for the first time, that instant you become a parent. They went on to assume that it must be an almost inarticulable, supernatural moment in a person’s life, comparable to nothing.
At this point I waited for the parent-comedian guest to inject a bit of reality into the situation. To set the record straight once and for all. To say something to which I could relate.
Because if you can’t rely on a comedian to tell the gritty, subversive truth then who can you trust?
No one, apparently, because in this case, and time and time again, I find the description of this moment is the same (or some variation thereof):
“I did not know true love until that very moment.”(Presumably with apologies to anyone they had claimed to love before.)
“I knew in that instant that I would die a thousand deaths for that child.” (Needlessly macabre, in my opinion.)
“It was like a black hole opened up in the delivery suite and I had been transported to another dimension where I became a living, but beatific mother-angel whose hair is made of hugs.”
The moments that both my children were born were two of the most significant of my life. But I cannot relate to this effusive and melodramatic sentiment.
When my first was born, I remember hearing him scream for the first time and feeling almost giddy with relief. Pregnancy is basically nine long months of cautionary tales as to what can and will go wrong with the birth of your baby. So when mine came into the world shouting and in full health, I could’ve jumped for joy, were I not numb from the waist down from the spinal block.
I also remember feeling a sort of obligatory, non-negotiable love, but this decision to love him was made long before his actual arrival. I wouldn’t have attempted having a child if I wasn’t prepared to love it unconditionally and so this process started well before his birth, even before his conception.
Finally, I remember being overwhelmed by the biological wonder of it all. Contrary to what my year nine science teacher would have me believe, one cannot fall pregnant simply by thinking about having unprotected sex, and frankly in our case, the birth of our first child felt like the hugely impressive culmination of a very concerted effort. Borderline miraculous, even.
But I do confess, there were definitely no birds singing, harps playing, swirling mists of sparkling fairy-fog or even emoji-esque heart-eyes.
As a result, these proclamations have always made me feel a little alienated. It’s almost like some elaborate, global ruse where the rest of the world feigns wonderment at this particular experience just to pull the wool over my eyes. I suspect the same about cricket, to be honest.
However, the more probable (and less narcissistic) explanation is just that we are all different. And more than that, whilst becoming a parent changes parts of you, I believe your fundamental self is still the same.
If Sex and the City’s Samantha had experienced birth, you can bet she would’ve experienced it in her own Samantha-like way, and not suddenly become all Charlotte about the whole thing.
Personally, I didn’t fall head-over-heels in love with my husband at first sight either. And he took slightly longer than mere minutes to become reliant on me. It was a slow and steady ramping up of emotion over months and then years, which ultimately culminated in the beginning of this process again through our children.
Which is exactly the point. Although the love I felt for my children on the day they were born was somewhat obligatory and decidedly unmagical, I have fallen more deeply in love with them each day since. Which I now realise is my modus operandi – slow and steady wins the race.
Although my heart didn’t explode with cardiovascular manifestations of unearthly adoration, I love those two more and more as time goes by. They are actually the best. With each experience that becomes less like one person facilitating the lives of two others, and more like three people enjoying life together, I edge a little bit more toward what I assume is this giddy elation noted by my fellow new parents. And better yet, I don’t know where it ends. I sincerely hope it doesn’t.