I don't remember what my first thought was about Micah, Benjamin's twin brother. I just remember praying that he would live as they whisked him away to the NICU without even letting me kiss his fragile, white face.
I didn't get to touch my sons until many hours after my c-section. I gingerly held Benji in my arms, painfully conscious of every wire, tube, and IV in his tiny 4 pound body. Cuddling was impossible.
I kissed his head. His stubby hair felt rough against my lips.
Holding him felt strangely foreign. And I didn't want to hurt him so I quickly let the NICU nurse put him back in the isolate.
With Micah, I gently stroked his foot as he received an emergency blood transfusion. I didn't get to hold him until the next day.
My husband and I were prepared for the NICU. We knew the boys would be premature, would have to stay in the hospital for a while.
What I wasn't prepared for was how detached I felt from my twins after they were born.
Who are you, little ones? I wondered, my eyes searching the faces of my babies, who looked more little little old men than chubby newborns.
Who am I?
This was the thought I couldn't wrap my mind around. I didn't feel like a mother. Mothers gushed over their newborns, exclaiming delight, rapture, love at first sight!
I didn't feel anything.
After two weeks, the boys came home from the NICU in all their 4 pound glory and I plunged my life into caring for them. I was determined to breastfeed; when that didn't work (at first) I pumped around the clock. My children would have "the best." After all, isn't that what "good" mothers do?
My days at home with my preemie twins fell into a predictable, robotic pattern: First cry Warming bottles Feeding Burping Changing diapers Swaddling Back-to-crib Pumping Washing bottles and pump parts
I didn't cuddle my babies or gaze in their eyes, stroking smooth cheeks and smelling necks. If I let myself indulge in a snuggle with one, I felt guilty for not cuddling the other. So, in the name of fairness, I didn't waver from my routine: First cry, warming bottles….
Other friends and my sister-in-law gave birth just a few weeks after I did. They posted on Facebook about how they had never felt such a love, how the baby filled every corner of their heart.
I inwardly rolled my eyes. They are lying. They are just trying to make themselves feel better. Motherhood is ROUGH!
But really, I was jealous of them. What was wrong with me as a woman, as a mother, that I didn't feel the way I was supposed to feel about my babies?
I definitely felt maternal. I took care of them to the best of my ability. I did my very best. I loved them, I really did! But the most I felt toward my newborns was "responsible."
Mostly I just felt broken, defunct.
The weeks slipped by. One month. Two months.
Then, a gift.
We were sitting on the couch, doing some eye gazing and one of the boys (I wish I could remember which one!) looked at me and smiled for the first time.
Oh! My heart actually jumped in my chest and tears sprang to my eyes. And in this moment, I felt true warmth toward my baby.
I felt the LOVE I knew was there but had been missing emotionally.
That smile was a seed that began to grow in my heart and I began to realize a shocking, startling truth:
Perhaps not every mother "falls in love at first sight" with her baby. Perhaps, maybe…some love stories start out slowly, growing deeper and truer over an entire lifetime.
Birth is just the beginning.
My twins are now six and a half years old. They are active, wild, funny, affectionate little boys. Every day when I pick them up from Kindergarten, they run like crazy maniacs across the street and fling their arms around my waist, yelling "MOMMY!" at the top of their lungs.
And my heart feels that same warm glow that began six precious years ago.
I still stare at them sometimes ("Mom…why are you looking at me? Stop!") and think:
Who are you, little one?
And instead of being filled with fear and uncertainty, this question fills me with eagerness to get to know my sons more and more as they grow each day, each year to adulthood.
I will never stop wanting to know them more completely, love them more throughly.
Because sometimes you don't fall in love with your baby at first sight . Sometimes love grows slowly with purpose and strength over a lifetime.