It was not love at first sight. I had endured a 14-hour-long labor and two hours of pushing, which almost ended up being an emergency C-section. Needless to say, I was bone-tired and fully spent. The nurses brought her to me, this squirming newborn, squinty-eyed under the harsh, bright lights of the delivery room. I held her close to me, skin to skin, and waited. I waited for the rush of emotion, that all-consuming love at first sight people always talk about. But I felt nothing. Then I started to panic because I felt nothing.
I just stared at my baby, barely able to comprehend what just happened. But as quickly as they brought her to me, they whisked her away to the NICU. The nurses said she needed antibiotics as soon as possible. The doctors were already working on my episiotomy; they had to cut me to safely bring her out into this world. There was no time to bond or get to know my baby. It was nothing at all like I expected. Where was the rush of emotions people told me I would feel? I remember the terror that filled me and thinking that maybe I was not really cut out for this--motherhood and all that it entails.
My first day as a mom, I spent away from my baby. I slept like a log, exhausted from my ordeal in the delivery room. My newborn daughter had to be kept in the NICU so she could be carefully monitored. That night, a nurse brought her to me for rooming-in. The nurse showed me how to hold her in a football hold and swaddle her properly, so she would sleep well and feel safe. I remember feeling scared and inefficient the first time I held her in my arms. I was afraid I would break her or drop her to the floor. I held her, swaddled her clumsily and tried to have her latch on to me to breastfeed her, but she wouldn't have any of it. I remember crying; I was so sure I would starve my newborn daughter to death.
We took her home a few days later. I sat in the backseat of our car beside her infant carrier, not taking my eyes off her during that long drive home. I could not believe they let me take this fragile baby home with me. The first night, we tried to put her in her brand-new crib that I'd painstakingly decorated. But the moment I put her down in the crib, she woke up and cried. So she slept in my arms while I sat on my recliner and watched her sleep. Because I was too anxious to sleep, my husband and I took turns establishing "shifts"; one of us could sleep a few hours, while the other one watched her.
We struggled to find a rhythm in our days. I remember wishing for the umpteenth time that motherhood came with an operating manual -- with detailed operating instructions. All the baby and parenting books in the world could have never prepared me for those intense, first few weeks of my daughter's life. Then there was sense of social isolation, which came from being cooped up in the house, alone with a newborn. The days blurred into each other, melting into sameness. It was tough -- those sleepless nights that left me feeling dead; the long days I managed to sleepwalk through. I wondered why nobody ever warned me about this all-consuming stage of early motherhood.
But despite the pain of childbirth, the endless sleepless nights, the gut-wrenching fear that I didn't know what I was doing, there was also pure unadulterated joy. I felt it when I looked at my daughter sleeping, tiny hands balled into fists. I felt it when her tiny hand clasped over my finger, hanging on for dear life. I felt it when she smiled at me for the first time. I cried along with her as we discovered each other. While my breasts ached with milk and swelled. While she learned how to nurse. While she wouldn't sleep unless cradled in my arms. While I learned how to be a mother to her. While we learned to coexist.
I do not recall the exact moment I fell in love with my daughter. There were no bells ringing and angel choirs singing. There were no fireworks. And I'm fine with that. In life and love, you have to take the pace it goes. You cannot force falling in love, you just become in love. It was like that for me with my daughter. No, it was not love at first sight. It was more like growing in love. It was a gradual falling -- deeply, irrevocably in love.
This blog post is part of a series for HuffPost Love Matters, entitled 'Moment I Fell in Love With My Baby.' To see all the other posts in the series, click here. To contribute, submit your 500 - 800 word blogpost to firstname.lastname@example.org.