Family / Parenting

Learning to Love

Baby in NICU

Baby A, Day One

The moment my first son was born into the calm of our home, I fell in love with him. Overwhelming, all encompassing, can’t sleep in-love. I anguished over every little cough or sneeze. His cry sent a wave of nausea through my body. For three years, I would wake two or three minutes before he would, every time.

I expected it to be the same when my twins were born. My partner (who carried all of our children) was so very sick throughout her pregnancy with the twins, I had little time to sit around and fantasize about two babies because I was busy being a mostly-single parent, working-part time and being a nurse to my love. I collected things for the babies and would occasionally hold their empty clothes up to my shoulder, patting where their little backs would go. I dreamed of them, but those dreams lay alongside the rigor of daily life. When M was born nearly four years ago, he was all that took up residence in my brain.

When the twins came five weeks early, I didn’t have time to think about how I felt about them. They were pulled from my love’s body, taken by masked, nameless people to bassinets on the far side of the room. Their feet were slapped, bellies rubbed too hard, flipped around like rag dolls. They were so small at 4 and ½ pounds each. They were put in boxes and wheeled away before we had a chance to share the same air. Before either of us could count their tiny toes or smell their skin, they were gone.

I wasn’t prepared for how loud the NICU was. Constant beeps and alarms, people being buzzed in or out of the unit. Ventilators, C-Paps, Bili-blankets, breast pumps, people. It was almost 24 hours before I got to hold them and by then, they were attached to so many machines via tubes and wires and IVs. It was a logic problem just to pick up my own child. I felt like I had to ask permission to touch my baby. Ask to change her diaper or to hold him. Ask to touch their heads. It felt like they belonged to the hospital and we were merely observers in their lives rather than the caregivers we aspired to be.

What I felt those first few weeks was something other than love, however hard it is to admit that. I felt responsibility and great concern. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. I felt deep affection for my spouse. Longing for closeness with my oldest child. I felt all those things, but I didn’t fall in love with the twins. That sort of love came later, though I cried often wondering if it would.

My love for these new babies didn’t hit me like a truck. It wasn’t obvious. It was slow and steady. It began when we got home and all the people dispersed and we started to get used to being a family of five. It began to build when my oldest would pull back their hats to kiss them on the tops of their heads. It grew when I could pick them up for no reason and smell their skin.

My baby girl is asleep on my chest as I write this, her twin brother is grunting and squirming on the bed beside us. They are almost ten weeks now. The days are long, and sometimes I am not sure how we will make it, but I feel so full of abiding love and affection for all of my children that I have a deep well to draw from when it gets tough. My love for the twins is different than my love for my first-born, though just as deep. I will love each of them differently, though just as fully as the other.

I feel a little vulnerable writing about this, but it is my truth. My hope is that someone might read this and cut themselves some slack. We all a little slack sometimes in order to move to the other side.

Twins Smiling up at Camera

Baby A and Baby N, Day 81 On the other side

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  1. Wonderfully and honestly written. Beautiful children.

  2. Our first was 5 weeks early, and panic definitely bullied love out of the way for a time. I mean, there was love, but it was the kind of love that manifested itself in frantic caregiving and worrying as opposed to quiet moments of overwhelming joy and gratitude for this gift that was our baby. I get it, and I’m sure many others will, too.

  3. I think that “you will fall in love immediately” narrative, while it does apply to some new parents, possibly does more harm than good. We’ll need to come to loving our kids in our own time, our own ways. Thank you for your honesty.

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