“I love other people’s babies.” Ill announce cooing over any small human that appears in front of me. And I do. So much.
When friends have babies they know when I visit them to almost wordlessly pass me the baby. It’s not a discussion. They know that it’s what I’m waiting for. And I try not to ask, I don’t want to swoop in and take someone’s baby out of their arms. But I’m still itching to get my hands on them.
On my first full night away from my second baby – when she was two years old – I went to a party. Someone had brought their baby with them. So I spent the evening hovering and admiring someone else’s baby while gleefully having escaped my own.
It’s Part Of Who I am
Even as a child I always gravitated towards younger children. At big family gatherings I’d be found rounding up and taking care of the toddlers. I started babysitting when I was 17. Then wound up working in childcare – in some form or another – for most of my adult life.
When I was pregnant with my first baby everyone would say to me – “You’ll be fine!” “You’ve got this!” “You already know what you’re doing!”
And I really did! I never knew more about babies than I did when I was a childless childcare worker.
At the time I could get thirteen (13!!!) toddlers to take a nap at the same time, usually on my own, every day. There were definitely some questionable ratios happening in the centre I worked at back then, but it’s okay. I had it handled. I was firm, but loving. Kind, caring, and fun, but at sleep time I meant business and they all (most of the time) went off to sleep for me without a fuss.
And I loved it.
So naturally I expected to love being the mother of babies just as much.
Early Motherhood Was Harder Than I Expected
I think I just didn’t feel like I had the energy to love being the mother of babies. Now my “babies” are seven and ten years old and I keep waiting for that moment that all the sweet older ladies kept talking about when I was deep in the trenches of early parenthood.
You know the one. The warning to “Cherish this time because you’ll miss it when it’s over.”
I know that I’m really only five years out from that really intensive parenting of babies, so maybe that wistful regret that I didn’t love it more will come… but it definitely hasn’t hit me yet.
When people ask me if I’m having another baby – or just straight up tell me that I’m young enough so I should – it’s a visceral response. No. Absolute not. I can’t go back there.
It’s not just the sleep deprivation, but for me early motherhood was a deprivation from who I am as a person. All I could handle being in that time was a mother and I was so absorbed into that role that I just didn’t feel like myself. I could find the space where I started and my babies began. When they were little we were just one big complicated organism.
Which definitely created a powerful and unbreakable bond between us. I honour that intense time that was so important to the tiny humans I have the privilege of raising. But I’m still just so glad it’s over.
I Love Parenting My Children
While I love other people’s babies, I love my children specifically. I’m sure I’m all kinds of biased, but I think my kids are very cool people who I really enjoy spending time with. Not just because I feel deeply bonded to them, or because my life still in many ways revolves around keeping them alive, but because they’re funny and interesting and they seem like genuinely nice people. I don’t just love them – loving them is easy because they’re mine – I also like them. I genuinely like them.
So when I say “I love other people’s babies”, what I mean is I love being able to love someone small and sweet without all the fear, doubt and responsibility of being a parent to a baby. It’s not just the “Because I can hand them back when they cry” (Actually other people’s babies crying doesn’t bother me, and I’m happy to try to settle them for as long as their parent is happy for me to try).
Babies are wonderful little humans – just as long as they’re not mine.
There’s maybe a little more to this for me and why I didn’t love early motherhood. I’ve previously written about my experience with Postnatal Anxiety and also struggling to bond with my first baby, as well as having a traumatic birth. And that I’m sure contributes to all the complicated reasons that mothering babies just wasn’t for me. Which is fine. Because they’re children for so much longer than they’re babies anyway.
So please also seek help if you are feeling overwhelmed, disconnected or unhappy. PANDA.org.au is a great place to start for help with perinatal anxiety and/or depress.