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I Used To Believe In Love At First Sight—Until I Gave Birth

Do you believe in love at first sight?

If you had asked me this question 10 years ago, I probably would have said yes. Why not? Who doesn’t want to believe that love is as simple as just laying eyes on someone? 

Love at first sight is easy and effortless. It strikes you like a lightning bolt, sudden and electrifying. It’s a force that overcomes you, something beyond your control: an emotion that renders you powerless. 

But love at first sight is, ultimately, a lie. 

I don’t believe in love at first sight, a fact that became more evident to me when I gave birth to my daughter. 

When people talk of birth, they often say things like “When the nurse places that baby on your chest for the first time, it’s unlike any love you’ve ever known before.” Love at first sight, at first touch. Like many expectant mothers, I longed for that moment. In my final weeks of pregnancy, I imagined it over and over. I couldn’t wait to meet my baby, to experience that indescribable love. 

After 38 hours of labor, my daughter finally made her dramatic entrance into the world via a vacuum-assisted delivery (during which my epidural ran out), followed by shoulder dystocia on both sides. She came out blue and not breathing, but I was too exhausted, shocked, and in pain to care. The doctor had already begun stitching up my third-degree tear when I finally heard her cry. I was relieved, but had absolutely no desire to see her. I couldn’t bear the thought of having an infant crying in my ear, one that had just ravaged my body and left it for dead.

But alas, the nurses did bring her over to lay on me for a minute, right before they whisked her off to the nursery for more tests. My first thought upon seeing her was: Are you sure that’s my baby? She looked nothing like I thought she would, swollen and pale. My second thought was: Please get her away from me. I was so distraught and in such agony that all I wanted to do was curl into the fetal position, cry, and be left alone. When they did take her away from me (after snapping a few pictures, of course), the immediate reprieve I felt was followed by guilt. Where was the love-at-first-sight feeling? What does this lack of affection say about me as a mother?

I worried that our birth experience would inhibit our bonding. And my worries were not unfounded: I never got that overwhelmed-with-love feeling. Even when the nurses brought her back to my room a few hours later, even when I began breastfeeding, my primary emotions were estrangement and bewilderment and disbelief.

Things got worse when I brought her home. Not only was I uncomfortable, bleeding, and restricted to a soft-foods diet, but I also had this new tiny human who was completely dependent on me for everything. I felt numb—empty. And bamboozled by the fact that my experience of motherhood was nothing like the experience promised to me by family, friends, and the media.

So, no. I don’t believe in love at first sight, because I’ve lived long enough to understand that love is not a feeling. It’s not something that happens to us, like a crashing wave or a rush of desire. We are not victims in love. 

Rather, love—real, true love—is a choice. A conscious decision that we must make over and over again for the rest of our lives.

Maybe this takes out some of the glamor, some of the mystery or the intrigue when it comes to love. After all, making a decision is an ordinary occurrence. It’s not flashy or particularly interesting. Which is why people mistake love for the shiny object; the thing that distracts and lures us away from the slog of real life. 

But love is not the shiny object. No, love is the decision to remain on-course, to not be enticed by the illusion of something better “over there.” It’s the act of showing up and putting one foot in front of the other, even when it feels impossible. 

It’s choosing to remain present for the people that we love, even when all we want to do is escape.  

I love my daughter. I show up for her day after day, even when it takes everything out of me. Even when she makes my nipples bleed from nursing. Even when she screams at me with a beet-red face and crocodile tears that make me cry tears of my own. I continue to meet her needs even when it means neglecting some of my own. I show up for her because I choose to love her, not because I feel “in love” with her. 

Here’s the truth of it: We won’t always feel loving towards the people that we love. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s normal and human. 

But magic happens when we want to love someone and we put in the work. We tend to this little bud of a relationship with patience and persistence. And eventually, love blooms. 

So no, I don’t believe in love at first sight. I don’t believe in love as an emotion. I believe that love grows over time; we create it and build it as we choose to show up over and over again for the people that we have decided to love. Love is intentional. 

We are not powerless in love; love doesn’t sweep us off our feet like the rom coms would have you believe. No, love flourishes in the million tiny chances that we have to say yes in the face of the unknown, the unpleasant, and the unpredictable.