Birgit Greiner (36, name changed) feels no happiness when she becomes a mother. The child grows up, is cared for, but not loved. Then three years later, with number two, everything is different. Why? She reports about this on FOCUS Online.
For the second time I had given birth to a child. I lay awake all night. Looked at the sky, the clouds and the baby, his tiny fingers, soft curved mouth. How beautiful he was, my son. And how filled my heart. "That’s the meaning" – Suddenly I understood what women mean when they have children and talk like that.
"So that should be the meaning?" Three years earlier, after the birth of my daughter, everything was very different. In the room there were three other mothers with their newborns, all kind of cute. Like Anna. Like every baby somehow.
I just wanted to be left alone
"What does this have to do with me??" I remember this very question. And that I just wanted to be left alone. And if I had them at home, I’m sure I’d have what nature gave a woman: a motherly feeling.
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But there too I waited in vain. I looked at Anna, the tiny fingers, the mouth that made sounds and wanted to drink, and was indescribably disappointed. Anna didn’t trigger any of those reflexes that mothers usually have: holding, carrying, wanting to cuddle. Of course I took care of her. Fed her, changed her, held her. But I did all this "to." To get them fed. To put her to sleep.
Somehow I did everything only with my head
Motherly love is selfless, I always thought. And I thought of women who said they would give their lives for their child. And I imagined how heavy and moved the heart of these women must have been. While I was doing everything with Anna somehow only with my head: pouring the right amount of milk for the porridge into the pot, putting the blanket around her properly, pulling the little cap over her head so that she didn’t get cold.
Of course, one first looks at the circumstances when, like me, one has become pregnant unplanned. I was 22 and in the middle of my training to become a kindergarten teacher. But nine months is a long time, and towards the end I found it really cool: to be a mother young. Also: to move in with Jan, to skilfully transform the small flat in the student dormitory into a place of comfort for a family. Soft furs, nostalgic bassinet.
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How my child first crawled, laughed or teethed – all that is gone
"It will get better when my life is not so one-sided anymore", I consoled myself in the first time with Anna at home. Because that was the plan, after four months of baby break: to finish my education, which still had six months to go, and Jan would take a semester off from her studies.
I started to wean, to give bottles, to familiarize my boyfriend with the procedures. Quite mechanically I remember all those steps that promised freedom, which perhaps explains why they stuck in my mind in the first place. How my child crawled for the first time, how she laughed or teethed – all that is gone.
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Her mere presence annoyed me
Back in the teacher training seminar nothing improved, just as little when I had finished my training and was a full-time mother again. I functioned. But all I really wanted was to get away. And maybe that was one of the reasons why I became a mother again after three years, I sometimes think: that Anna would then be more with daddy. Or with the grandparents. Newborns are exhausting, everyone would understand me. That’s how it was. Only I did not understand. Exhausting? Anton’s crying only made me physically ill, if at all. Really something else has worn me out. That with Anton went so naturally, for which I had to overcome myself with Anna. That her mere presence annoyed me, even though she had such a reserved nature, a quiet gait, a shy look.
When Anna grew up, program points helped me to endure being with her. Cinema, zoo. Being with Anton, on the other hand, just happened. We cooked together. They could doze around for hours and chat. "Mama’s prince, hissed Anna sometimes. How lonely she must have been. The calculation "two children equals more dad for now" had not risen. Jan had started a job as an IT specialist after graduation and was climbing the career ladder, was only there on Sundays, if at all.
Well-behaved, uncomplicated, even at school – that’s Anna
It hurts to hear yourself talking like that in retrospect, because of nothing: "Why don’t you hold the cutlery properly?." Well-behaved, uncomplicated, even at school – that’s how Anna was from today’s perspective. Not one of those snotty, maladjusted Pippi Longstocking girls. And I liked them so much!
On the other hand, when she started shooting back at the age of seven or eight, it became really difficult. "You always stand by Anton, she complained. "You always read to him. And never to me." "You can read for yourself, what a stupid reaction. But I just couldn’t bring myself to go in there again in the evening. I felt how blocked I was, and yet I didn’t manage to get therapeutic help.
Foster parents – I did not say this word
When Anna was nine, the situation came to a dramatic head. I became more and more thin-skinned. The children argued a lot. "I can’t anymore", I heard myself saying into the phone one day. The woman from the youth welfare office seemed relieved when she came, nicely decorated rooms, neatly dressed children. Everything indicated that the problem was temporary, she said.
This allowed me to endure the steps that followed. To tell Anna, "Mom can’t do it alone, but there is someone. You could go there, have a room, then you would have two at home." Foster parents – I didn’t say that word. If I had had even a hint of an idea that the doctor couple had been treating themselves in a fertility clinic for years, I would certainly not have let myself get so involved. I would certainly not have let Anna spend the night there. "We want Anna whole, after only one week the bomb burst. Anna cried. And not only her. It was as if I was having this child for the second time that I didn’t want after all.
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She has become more independent, more and more herself
"Why then not adoption?" I can understand when people ask like that. But not being able to love and giving up hope of ever learning to love are two different things. Thank God. Because now, five years later, there are moments like this: My now 14-year-old daughter is on stage, a performance with the theater club, and my proud mother’s heart gets heavy. And warm when I take them in my arms afterwards. There it is, the feeling I have always been waiting for. It has grown like a tender plant, there was no concrete reason for it, more out of a feeling I think I know why it has relaxed between Anna and me.
She has become more and more independent, school, friends, sports club, has become more and more herself, perhaps one should say better. That puberty turns children into strange beings with unpredictable behavior – what wears other mothers down is good for us. And I suspect that my rebellion was basically a rebellion against the child inside me. Maybe also: the attempt to save Anna. Only now I recognize this in photos: how similar she was to me as a little girl. And again and again there is this sad look in both of our eyes.
To this day, I only feel loved when I’ve accomplished something
My parents lived for the company, and even as a baby I had to work with them every day. Children want to please their parents. Quietly, adapted I was. I am still achievement-oriented today, I feel loved when I have achieved something. And only then.
Does something like that leave a lasting mark if you weren’t accepted as a child? The question is no longer valid. I blame myself. Looking for situations to straighten things out. "You know, with you I didn’t know at first what it was like to be a mother.", I said the other day. And: "I had to learn that first. Then with Anton I could already."
Maybe one day Anna will have a child of her own in her arms
It asks many questions since then. What a baby she had been. According to? Quietly? Bottle child? Or breastfed? I feel there is more that needs to be said sooner or later. Just to show Anna that her memories and feelings are not wrong. "I have had a hard time loving you" – I am afraid to say so. And yet I know: I must. If I really want to: save. In the sense of: preventing my daughter from repeating this fate again. And maybe one day Anna will have a child in her arms and her heart will open, no matter whether it is a girl or similar to her or completely different from her. That can be loved for its own sake.
Four questions for Kay Rurainski, family coach from Stuttgart, Germany
Isn’t something like that against nature: that a child is such a stranger to its own mother as it is to Birgit??
Kay Rurainski: Your children are not your children, said the famous Lebanese philosopher Khalil Gibran. They are born through the womb of the mother, but they already bring a lot of their own into the world with them. What is the relationship of this own to me? This is the question that goes beyond the usually well-functioning instincts of caring and nurturing. I like the nose? I like the smell? Maybe I had certain experiences with a person who looked like me? Sympathy is not something that comes naturally, but develops, countless subjective criteria play a role in it. It is a reality that mothers accept children differently due to their own mental map. But society teaches: motherly love has to function absolutely, is completely unconditional. Such high moral standards are part of the vicious circle that can arise. For those who believe they have to love are more likely to distance themselves inwardly. That in turn increases the guilt and pressure.
What helps against it?
Kay Rurainski: Realizing that mother love is also culturally shaped. There is the ideal of the self-sacrificing mother. On the other hand, it is said that it takes a whole village to raise a child. Not only in the past, the village community was there for the welfare of children. Babies were left to wet nurses without hesitation. I advise mothers to first look at the emotional vacuum as value-free as possible. Acknowledging and admitting your own feelings is a very important step if you don’t want to remain stuck in self-reproach – which only makes the child more frustrated.
Should the offspring actually know what is going on?
Kay Rurainski: If at all, then later, when the relationship has relaxed noticeably. But maybe the question becomes obsolete by an appropriate approach. I am convinced: Birgit would have saved herself a long ordeal if she had sought professional help sooner. As I said: Antipathy always has something to do with myself. What exactly, it is necessary to find out. To consciously work on the relationship in the next step. Fake it till you make it – who acquires certain abilities of healthy communication, lets something grow.
But a child senses it: when niceness is just an act. Or?
Kay Rurainski: Even if: Taking out your own inner mess on the other person is certainly worse than going to a training ground. Fake it till you make it – by the way, a good supporter of this is to write a diary. What I like about the child? With this I do not continue to hold on to not liking, but allow something else to happen. Allow positives. And alone thereby the positive becomes more. I also speak of the "magic" look: what I look at, I get. Whether love will actually result in the end? There is no guarantee. But it is worth the attempt.
As a mother of four, author Elisabeth Hussendorfer considers it a gift that she feels the same way about each of her children, who couldn’t be more different from each other.