When I was five or six months pregnant with my first baby, my mom let me in on a little secret about parental love. She said, “You might not be in love with your baby until he’s a few months old.”
I was a bit stunned by her admission. Hadn’t she always told me about her enormous, unending love for my sisters and me? Didn’t I already love my unborn child?
But then she continued.
“You’ll love your baby,” she told me, “but it might not be like the perfect, overwhelming love that everyone always talks about, at least not at first. And that’s OK. It’s normal. Those first few months are the hardest. But you’ll get there.”
I’d never heard anyone say anything like this before. I found it a little shocking, yet strangely comforting. And as I pondered how my own parental love might play out once my child was born, my mom added one more kernel of wisdom to the conversation.
“And when you do get there,” she said, “when do you feel that perfect, overwhelming love? That’s when you’ll know how much I love you.”
That’s sweet, I thought. But then I didn’t think much more of it.
When my son was born, I loved him immediately. Yet my mom’s message still rang true: my love for him was like a slow, deep hum. It did not bowl me over. It did not flood my very being. I was recovering from a cesarean section and working through breastfeeding challenges and returning to work at five weeks postpartum and, I soon realized, struggling with postpartum depression.
I had too much flooding my very being.
But right then, staring at my smiling son, I knew that love more deeply and more profoundly than I ever had before.
It wasn’t that I felt indifferent toward my baby, not by any means. I felt protective of him. I felt proud of him. I felt love for him. But I wasn’t yet gobsmacked by the love that everyone always talked about.
Thanks to my mom’s warning, I knew that this was normal.
But then one day, when my son was a few months old, something changed. I was holding him in my arms, and he smiled at me. He’d already been smiling for weeks then, so the smile itself was nothing new. But this time, his eyes connected with mine more deeply. His smile seemed more meaningful. He looked at me as if I were the moon to his planet, or he the moon to mine: as if he were somehow acknowledging all the work and hours we’d spent orbiting each other every day and night since his birth.
That was it. There was the love.
Of course, that huge, parental love had been there all along, growing like a tiny seedling from the moment I'd discovered I was pregnant with this child. But right then, staring at my smiling son, I knew that love more deeply and more profoundly than I ever had before.
And that’s when I recalled my mom’s other piece of parenting wisdom: “That’s when you’ll know how much I love you.”
I was astonished. It was as if my heart had simultaneously broken and become whole again.
I could hardly move or breathe. That someone loved me so much, in this way, with this much joy and imperfection and bliss and desperation.
That someone had loved me this much for as long as I could remember—for as long as my memory stretched back, and even before that.
That this person was my mother.
I was astonished. It was as if my heart had simultaneously broken and become whole again. It was only then that I realized how much my mother had loved me all these years. I was finally realizing how much love I had for my own child.
That I had the privilege to be the giver and the recipient of this love was extraordinary.
At that, I gazed back into my son’s eyes and wondered if he, too, would ever know just how much his mother loved him.
Photograph by: Kristen Oganowski