04/11/2013 10:33 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2013

What I Didn't Expect to Feel After Childbirth

I was born without an innate sense of pacing in relationships. When I was dating, I typically started planning a wedding after the first date. Through a lot of dating (and heartache) I finally learned that I shouldn't start planning a wedding until at least the fourth date.

When I became a mother, I had to learn the hard lessons of "appropriate pacing" all over again.

When my daughter was born, I remember craning my neck so I could catch my first glimpse of her while the doctors put my uterus back into my body. I felt a lot of things: joy, excitement, humility, panic. But even then, in those first few moments, I wondered if I was feeling what I was supposed to be feeling. Honestly, I was sort of scared of her -- her big eyes and her insatiable needs -- and was convinced I should be feeling nothing but love. A tingly, full-body, constant feeling of love from my core to my limbs.

When other feelings intruded, I felt betrayed by my heart. I am supposed to be feeling love. Luckily, my husband, friends, and therapist all assured me that I was allowed and expected to have a full range of emotions. All the time. Every day.

Your relationship with your kids is like any other relationship and the intimacy will build over time is what they told me.

I relaxed. I let my relationship with my daughter proceed at its own pace.

Then, my son was born and the flood of expectations about how I should feel soaked my thoughts. I was afraid that my feelings for him would never "catch up" to the feelings that I had for my daughter. Again, I had to let the pacing of the relationship proceed naturally, trusting that he and I would build a deep groove of love just like I had with his older sister.

Still, sometimes I would wonder if I was feeling what I thought other mothers felt for their children. As busy as I was caring for two little kids, in quiet moments I would wonder if I had the capacity to fully experience the joy and love of my children. Was my pacing right?

Then, one day it happened. We were having a wholly unspectacular lunch together: she had half of my turkey sandwich, and he ate apples dipped in ketchup.

But somewhere in the mundane series of moments it took to feed myself and my children, I felt a surge of love that took my breath away. I felt socked in the gut by how much I love them and it was a full-body experience. I thought "I love them so much," and then my body felt warm as I let that thought become feeling.

That full-body sensation was how I thought I was supposed to feel the moment they were born.

But for me the feeling I felt at lunch is something that had to develop over time. I am capable of feeling this surge of love because we've spent hours getting to know each other and building intimacy. Maybe for some mothers and fathers it happens right away. For me, it's taken a little longer. After all, she's 3.5 and he's 25 months old.

I thought it was something spontaneous that happened at birth and not something I would have to earn through both time and trial. Believing that I should feel this overwhelming love for my kids made about as much sense as picking out flatware for a wedding to a man I had shared exactly one meal with.

But like I said, my innate sense of pacing has always been off.