I'm not supposed to say it out loud, I think, but I didn't fall in love with my baby the first moment I saw him.
My labor was hard. My body was wrecked. When he came out, slightly indigo from having a cord wrapped around his neck three times and squawking angrily, I was scared, I was tired (like, deep-down-to-my-bones tired), I was excited, and I was changed. But I was not in love. I didn't hear angel choirs singing in the distance. I didn't feel the rush of emotion that people told me I would. I wasn't even sure I should hold him, because I was shaking and weak.
We went home a few days later, me sitting beside his infant carrier in the backseat of our car, panicked by normal traffic patterns because now I had this baby to keep alive. I began to heal. I held him, swaddled clumsily, while we sat in a navy blue La-Z-Boy recliner my father bought me when I was too pregnant to scramble up into our bed anymore in my ninth month. I cried with this tiny baby every day as we learned together how to do this whole life thing; while my breasts swelled and ached, while he learned to nurse, while his days and nights were flipped, while he wouldn't sleep anywhere but in our arms.
The first few weeks were some of the hardest of my life, fraught with the feeling of never knowing what I was doing and struggling through nights with a screaming, colicky baby. I was still scared, still deep-bone tired, still excited, still changed. I thought that maybe I loved him, but I was so bleary-eyed and fragile that I didn't have the focus to think about it. I just went through the motions: change, feed, sleep, repeat.
But then it happened. When I encounter new moms now -- their eyes sunken and their hair wild and askew -- I tell them to hang on, because it is coming. One day, as I sat with my knees propped up and laid him back against my legs, we locked eyes, and I saw the sides of his mouth twitch. I sat up a little straighter and tried to see if he would do it again, and he did. He smiled. Like, a real smile. On purpose. I felt like maybe I was witnessing a miracle for the first time in my life.
In that moment when those first hesitant pulls at the sides of his mouth opened into a full-blown grin and he gazed into my eyes like I was the miracle in this scenario, that's when I knew I was in love. His whole face transformed, and with it, my heart. The floodgates opened, and I felt like my chest might explode with the fullness. And it made me cry again.
Motherhood, unlike baseball, has a lot of crying in it.
The best part is, it has kept on happening. Every time my babies smile at me -- whether it is that firstborn, who is now almost 13, or my littlest, who just turned 3 -- my heart leaps again, in just the same way, and it is always a miracle. Parenthood is still dang hard; it's scary, and it's exhausting, and it's exciting, and it changes me. But when my kids smile back at me, I heal. The smudges wipe off, the dents fill back in, and what is broken rights itself.
Nothing about giving birth or becoming a mother was like I expected it to be, and that hasn't changed. No matter how long I do it, I never feel like I have mastered the art of parenthood. But one thing I know for sure: no matter what the scenario, if I can hang on until the next smile, I will be OK. That's where the love is. That's the miracle.