Written November 15 and revised today:
I used to have a hard time understanding mother-child attachment in pregnancy. I don’t know if that sounds callous, or exceptionally emotionally dense. But I want to be honest about this. I understood that of course one would have warm feelings toward the fetus and a whole lot of expectations and anticipation about the future baby. And I understood that these emotions would combine into a very strong feeling that one could easily call love. But that didn’t seem like love to me, so I was deeply uncomfortable with maternal declarations of “I loved you before I met you.”
These days I feel differently. Intellectually, I still think it’s odd to profess love for someone who’s so much a mystery, since mostly when we talk about love, we are talking about someone known to us. We love their sense of humor, or their sense of justice, or their turn of phrase or even the way they smell. We love the way we feel when we’re with them. And, vitally, we love those who love us back. None of that is possible with a fetus, at least not to my way of thinking. But, increasingly, there is something. An emotional connection. And it is so unbelievably strong that I’m not sure it matters what we call it.
I’ve been trying to think of ways to explain it, not in the sense of “explaining it away” but trying to come up with an explanation that would make it clearer to my pre-pregnant self.
It has something in common with how I feel for something I actively care for — a plant, my home, even the earth — things I nurture and watch grow. There is a kind of tenderness and fierceness that we call up exclusively for those who are under our care, regardless of whether they can love us back in the way we usually think of being loved. On the other hand… who among us, who loves our home, would not say that our home loves us back? There is reciprocity to this kind of love. We give and we receive, and this develops over time, and so our love increases, regardless of whether the object of our love has agency. There is great strength in this kind of love; for some people it might even be the strongest love, because it’s less complicated than loving a fallible, flawed person.
Similarly, there is the love we feel for what we create. Creators know this feeling well, regardless whether the creation is a painting or a pastry or a suspension bridge. What we make may be motionless, but for us, it has life, it has an existence that is beyond just the materials we used to create it. This goes for sorta-tangible creations as well, like a carefully crafted lifestyle or a fledgling company or a social organization we founded. At its strongest and best, the love we feel for these things is the love we feel for the deepest and most cherished parts of ourselves, because that’s what we put into them when we create them. And yet, though the life we give them is our own, the life they take on is still greater than that: they are of us and they are more than us.
It awes me very much to recognize that even though I don’t yet know Pudding as a person, in a very real sense, we already have a relationship. We are housemates in a house that happens to also be my body. When she moves, I know it. When I move, she knows it. She knows my heartbeat and my voice. We share food and water and oxygen, and from that she learns about the world — about what is good to eat, about the mineral makeup of the environments I move through, and by extension the environments she may someday live in. She goes where I go, and her presence is a companionship of sorts, much more so now that she kicks all the time. I’ve come to anticipate those little flutters and prods [and these days the much bigger undulations and punches!], the way one looks for a familiar cheery face in a crowd. For the past several months I have arranged much of my life for her benefit and protection. And when I look at Erik, or talk to him, or touch him, it’s with the awareness that he is my beloved mate and together we’ve created this life just as we’ve created our own life as a couple, with the best that is in us. Even though Pudding is in my body and not in his, because my body is in his life, Pudding is in it too.
Is this love, what I feel for Pudding? You can call it whatever you like, but the fact is, five and a half months [eight months now!] into her existence, she is already a part of us in a way I never anticipated. There is already something new created. There is already exchange, communication, togetherness. And, sometime in March, assuming she survives her continued stay in my body and the arduous journey out of it, she begins the lifelong process of developing what is already within her: entirely unique, entirely herself, and greater than those who made her.