Shock and Awe- My daughter’s first year was so hard for me.

One day I was Me, and the next I was Mom-Me. First came all the pain and all thescreaming (my own), and then a tiny human being was placed on my chest.

When I held my daughter, I was in awe. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I was scared that I might break her, but also fascinated by her tiny-ness. Her feet were the best part. I couldn’t believe how cute they were! That was a strange thought for me, because I had always disliked feet!

But I was scared. I kept saying, “Oh my God,” over and over again. I didn’t know what to think. I wondered what was wrong with me. Don’t all mothers fall in love and bond with their babies even before they are born, and then after the birth, it’s love at first sight, and all that mushy crap? Not me. All I knew was I had a huge 18-year contract in front of me that I had no clue how to handle.

My own childhood had not made me feel loved, and I was extremely worried about whether I could do better with my own daughter. How could I be responsible for taking care of and loving another person, when I still felt so un-taken care of, and so unloved? How would I manage? I didn’t know if I could.

A Case of Brain Strain

The beginning was very hard, mentally and physically. The first three months sucked. Actually, the entire first year sucked, but those three long months of trying to nurse (I had to give up on breastfeeding) and adjust to motherhood really sucked big time!

I thought the “norm” was being surrounded by love and people who care and take care of you and talk you through your fears and anxieties. But I had so little support. I felt like I was in a foreign country without a clue about the language. My mother and I were distant, and even though I lived with Jaiya’s father, he wasn’t much of a help. I had a serious case of Brain Strain.

The physical stress was obvious. Besides the weight gain, I felt weak. After the birth, it took me forever to get out of bed. I put Jaiya’s crib in my room to make it easier, but I couldn’t move around properly for several months. My body just wouldn’t cooperate.

Crying and Screaming

Well, the emotional stress was pretty obvious, too. I screamed at my boyfriend when I was frustrated, and I was frustrated a lot. I felt like John was barely present, even though he was there the whole time, so I screamed about that.

I screamed because I was in pain, screamed because I couldn’t figure out how to breastfeed or pump. I screamed because I was tired, hungry, hot, cold, and mostly because Jaiya just would not stop crying (so it seemed).

I barely had time to think. I just felt like I was on a mission and I had to keep going no matter what. I thought, “I am a slave to a crying machine. When do I get to feel that happiness about my newborn that everyone raves about?”

Anger, Fear, Stress

In angry moments I thought, “Why did I get myself into this?” I have always felt like I have a black cloud over my head, and at first, becoming a mother only made that cloud darker. I don’t think there was anything that was not difficult. I don’t think there was a moment I did not feel helpless or totally overwhelmed! It was such a blurry time of fears and stress.

Then I would start thinking about stories I’d heard of mothers wanting to kill themselves or their child. I couldn’t imagine that, but I could understand a less harmful reaction—wanting to abandon the child, or just ignore the child completely. I went over and over it in my mind thinking, “I do not want to do that to my child, so I will do whatever it takes.”

I just knew that I had to be this baby’s mother. I could not stand the thought of giving up. I told myself I would do whatever I had to, and suffer all the while, but never abandon her. Still, I had some uncomfortable feelings that I still can’t explain today.

No Room for Love

The stress I felt at first left no room for me to love my child. Not to mention, I had no idea what love was! My misery hung over my head for quite a long time.

I am not sure when a feeling of love for my daughter developed. My love for her snuck up on me. I don’t remember making a connection. In fact, I still worry that we are not connected, and that makes me feel scared and sad.

But I knew deep down inside I was a sweet person. I always had a soft spot for babies. I wanted to love and be loved. I wanted to have sweet moments. I wanted to have a special place in my daughter’s mind, body and soul.

Finding My Soft Spot

Our bond grew in little ways. Jaiya seemed calmer when I sang. I thought, “That’s real love,” because I can’t sing to save my life! It’s a horrible thing to hear! When she seemed agitated or restless, I would try singing and she seemed to quiet down to listen to me.

It was a sweet feeling. I felt like I mattered and I was making a difference. I was relieving some of her pain (or whatever she felt that made her cry).

I also decided to train myself to say “I love you.” Love was never spoken of when I was growing up. Those words were the first I learned of this new foreign language of motherhood.

Saying ‘I Love You’

I remember the first time: pajamas on, Jaiya flat on her back in the crib, lights low, baby lullabies in the background, a quick kiss, and I’m just staring because I still can’t believe there’s a baby in my apartment!

All the while I’m thinking, “I have to say it. I just have to. I have to start now before it’s too late. It will be harder the longer I wait.” I played it over and over in my head before spitting the words out like they were a bad taste in my mouth: “Luvya!” Quick and quiet.

It was frustrating to say I love you to a person who just cries, eats, and poops. I had no idea how little give-back there would be! But I said it every night. I found that the more I said it, the more I meant it.

Then I tried it in sign language. I would point to my eyes for “I,” then cross my arms like an X over my chest for “Love,” then tickle her belly for “You.” As I got more comfortable, I started to say the entire sentence: “I love you.”

I even started singing her the Barney song, “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family.” Finally, I made up my own song, “Mama and Daddy love Jaiya,” which she loved.

Building a Bond

For months, I didn’t find anything particularly fascinating about this crying, eating, poop machine! She just existed and belonged to me. But as she grew, I loved being there to witness all her “firsts”—even her first time sucking on her own toes was amazing! I would get excited as she smiled and turned over and tried new foods. Then I watched her learning to walk and talk.

You read about all that stuff in books, but there’s nothing like seeing it live and in color. Soon my daughter was playful and would laugh! I loved watching her reach each of the developmental milestones. My favorite time was when she learned to build with blocks. I thought she was a genius.

As Jaiya got older, she developed more of a personality, and I began to feel a strong love for her. I even started to think she is the most fascinating person on the planet. I was amazed at everything she did, as if no one had ever done those things before.

But my stress and feelings of isolation were strong too. When I felt I had no one to share my feelings with, my excitement turned to loneliness. The Brain Strain led the minutes, hours and days to run together in a blur. Just recently, though, I looked back and remembered how wonderful all of those little moments really were.

More Confident as a Mother

Now Jaiya is 2 ½ and I am still struggling with being a mother. These days, I don’t feel as scared. I feel more confident. I have had plenty of time to adjust.

More and more I find Jaiya amazing. She has tantrums like any normal 2-year-old, but she is also smart, thoughtful, considerate, helpful, positive, happy, and eager to learn. She’s like me when it comes to cleanliness. She always remembers to wash her hands, or put things back in their place.

And she loves people…I have no idea where she got that from! Her father and I might be considered homebodies.

She loves to read and draw. She loves watching movies (I don’t know if it’s normal for her age to be able to sit through an entire movie, and with such concentration!) I love spending time with her. We take walks, go to the library, go to the park, color, read books—all that fun stuff!

The Right Ingredients

My sweet child has even taught me to say things like, “I am happy to see you” when we haven’t seen each other for a few hours, and “Sweet dreams” when I tuck her in.

I haven’t learned everything about being a parent, and I still have a black cloud that hangs over my head on many days, but I think I’m doing a good job with Jaiya. I have the right ingredients: love, routine, and a touch of discipline. It seems to be working so far.

I’m still not sure what I’m doing right or wrong. At the end of the day, I go over in my head what could have gone better, what I should have said or done, and so on. But then I get real and tell myself, “I’m wasting too much time on ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ instead of living in the moment. I have to enjoy what I do have, or the moments are gone.”