There are all kinds of secrets. There are the ones you cultivate jealously in your secret garden, and the smaller ones you reveal to share the burden. And then, there are the big ones: the winter secrets that hurt a little more, which you’d rather leave buried under the frozen soil. The ones you hide because if you didn’t, it would unleash a wave of shame and indignity. The kind that women don’t dare utter for fear of doubting their own worth as a mother. And let’s be frank: motherhood itself comes with its share of guilt and uncertainty.
Becoming a mother, after the fact
For some of us, maternal love doesn’t develop instantly—a discrepancy big enough to make you doubt your talent for being a good mother.
I didn’t want to share this secret, for fear it would become real if I said the words out loud. I was terrified at the idea of not being made for motherhood. The warmth of the little creature lying on my stomach didn’t instantly capture my heart. I didn’t fall in love at first sight. Rather, I felt like I was protecting and feeding my personal legacy, my heritage to the world. There was certainly love, but it was nothing like the love portrayed in diaper and cough syrup commercials.
No, I didn’t feel the need—and certainly not the desire—to watch my baby tenderly while she slept. I felt I was constantly giving without receiving anything in return. That’s tough. And serious. The image of the warm, gentle, and loving mother didn’t fit me; like the dream shoes you so longed for that end up hurting your feet with every step you take. So I kept this secret to myself. I learned to skilfully avoid it when talking with other mothers. I wished that it would slowly vanish and take all the remorse I felt with it.
The law of silence
The guilt you feel is due, in part, to the fact that no one tells you beforehand that it’s natural to develop deeply protective feelings, rather than experience unconditional love. My mother hadn’t warned me. Nobody had admitted to me that I’d first be the keeper of a new family treasure before becoming the warm, comforting mother I aspired to be.
And I didn’t speak up either. This “omertà” kept me from exposing my vulnerability, and made me avoid questioning my choice to start a family. My silence protected me from my own secret, my own shame.
Through the days, however, the animal instinct of protectiveness subsided. There was an affinity I felt with my daughter that was becoming more and more present in our relationship, until the day it happened.
Sitting in her swing, she seemed like she really saw me for the first time. Those little piercing, curious eyes scrutinized the bottoms of mine with interest. It’s at precisely that moment that she smiled for the first time: an arrow straight through my heart, warding off any possible doubt.
That morning, my daughter paid me back a hundredfold for all the effort and compromises I had put in since her birth. That morning, I became a mom.