This is an old post but I thought I’d revive it for Mother’s Day. In case you couldn’t guess, I don’t have any kids.
WHAT WAS I THINKING? (a work of fiction)
When I woke up post-delivery in the maternity ward, and a nurse came in to present me with my baby, my first thought was, “Really? Is that it? All of that for this?” I asked the nurse if she was sure it was the right baby. She laughed a little – nervously – and assured me that this was, in fact, my baby, then left me alone, a somewhat concerned look on her face.
I hadn’t made a very good first impression with the hospital staff. There had been a bit of a scene in the delivery room. But I’m sure that I’m not the first mother in labor to scream out, “Just cut me open and get this damn thing out. Alive or dead. I don’t care. Just put me out of my misery.” Well, maybe I was the only one. But I’m sure I was just expressing – loudly – very loudly – what other mothers were thinking at the time.
Anyway, once I had recovered from that trauma and was sitting up in bed, I held the baby and stared at it for a few minutes. Nothing. No love. No maternal feelings. Just indifference. I wanted it out of my way so that I could order lunch. Finally I put the baby down, got out of bed and snuck out of my room. I turned at the door for one last look. “This can’t be mine,” I thought. I crept down the hall to that baby viewing room to see what else was on offer.
I was hoping that upon seeing my real baby all of the hormonal juices would start flowing and I’d know right away that there had been some sort of mix up. Didn’t happen. There were five or six babies lying in bassinets. Some looked a little better than mine. Some worse. But none evoked any kind of response. I scurried back to my room before anyone could tell that I’d left my baby all alone. They tend to frown upon that sort of thing – leaving babies unattended – as I would eventually learn.
The baby was right where I left it. Making some little noises which I did not find adorable. “Well,” I thought. “I’m stuck with it.” The nurse came back in to ask if I was planning on breast feeding. I shot her a dirty look like she’d just asked me if I’d like another epidural. “Why don’t I take the baby so you can get some rest?” she suggested. I couldn’t hand it over fast enough.
Maybe it’s just a matter of time, I thought. However, days went by with no change in my attitude. No emotions – besides feeling more than a little let down. This was so anti-climactic. All that build up for what? Talk about overrated.
I shared some of my thoughts with a few choice friends. I approached the subject cautiously, not divulging all of my misgivings, just expressing it as a sort of mild disillusionment. The response was always the same. “You’re just suffering from post-partum depression. It will pass.” The problem was, I didn’t feel depressed. Just annoyed. And it didn’t pass.
It didn’t help that my husband J.J. showed no more enthusiasm than I did. He basically just ignored the baby. Sometimes he would grudgingly hold it for a minute while I was trying to do something, but generally his attitude was like that of a parent who has given their child a pet for Christmas. “You wanted it. Now you take care of it.” I don’t remember either J.J. or I wanting a child. But we must have. Right?
Sometimes I could talk J.J. into watching the kid so I could run out to the store without having some sort of awkward encumbrance strapped to my body in some very unflattering manner. Inevitably I’d leave the store having remembered everything except baby food or diapers or any of the other baby necessities on my list. I’d get half way home, then turn around and go back and, more times than not, I’d get distracted by something like the surprisingly large selection of gum and I’d forget the baby items again. Possibly it was intentional. Staring at rows of chewing gum was more enjoyable than dealing with a helpless, mute human – 24/7.
It was worse when I took the baby with me somewhere in the car. You would think that after all the strapping in and fussing over belts, buckles, etc., I wouldn’t forget that the baby was there. But I can’t tell you how many times I arrived home and absentmindedly left it in the carseat. It usually only took a few minutes before I suddenly realized why I was feeling so relaxed and contented. “Shit, I left the baby in the car again.” My first impulse was always to leave it there for awhile, but I’d mange to resist that thought. Got to be a responsible adult after all.
One time I did leave the baby in the car for almost an hour – by accident of course. A neighbor knocked on the door to let me know that I’d left an infant strapped into the back seat. I tried to look horrified. “Oh, my God!” I screamed as I ran out the door. What I really wanted to say was, “If you’re so fucking concerned, why don’t you take it?”
Maybe someone will take it. What does one have to do to have her child removed by the authorities? I started drinking heavily.
I had thought that I might enjoy the extra attention. It had been kind of fun being the pregnant woman whom people indulged and strangers started conversations with. But I eventually got tired of having to stop the stroller while people oohed and aahed and asked the same questions – over and over again. “What’s its name? How old is it?” I always had to stop and think of the answer to that last one. Let’s see – how long ago was it that my life came to an abrupt end? Sometimes I also forgot its name. Occasionally I just made one up on the spot to avoid the embarrassment.
I started buying mother’s magazines to see if I could get inspired. Maybe if I thought of this as a hobby I’d take more of an interest. “It just takes a while to get into the rhythm of it all,” my friend Veronica said to me one day. She’d said the same thing about yoga. I persisted in that case. She was wrong. And I knew better than to believe her this time.
I tried to think of something good that had come out of this whole experience. The paid time off from work was nice. Or would have been, if I could have used it to go on a vacation. I thought about asking my mother-in-law to take the baby for the remainder of my maternity leave so that J.J. and I (or better yet – just I) could go to Mexico. Veronica said I absolutely could NOT do that. “The public never forgave Princess Di for leaving her newborn to go skiing. Plus, look at what turds her kids turned out to be.”
The latter argument was wasted on me. I didn’t care if my kid grew up to be a turd. I didn’t care if it grew up to be anything. Truth be told. I didn’t care if it grew up at all.
Oh, well. I’d look terrible in a bathing suit right now anyway. I thought about ordering one of those personalized tee shirts “I went through 9 months of pregnancy and 10 hours of labor and all I got was this flabby body.”
I started hanging out with other mothers. Those are the only friends you’re allowed when you’ve got a newborn. These women were SO BORING. All they ever talked about was all of the amazing things their kids were doing. Amazing? I don’t think so. Were they writing piano sonatas? No. Turning over on their sides unassisted, or forcing their cunning little lips into a vague semblance of a smile was more like it. God help me!
These other mothers would say thing like, “I can’t wait until she can walk.” or “Won’t it be fun when he’s talking.” For myself – I can’t wait until it’s old enough to send off to boarding school.
And – it will be pretty great when it can support me in my old age. Sort of like a long term IRA. Except there are no guarantees. Better make it a really good boarding school.