My best friend and his wife are having their first baby next month.
We talked about how he doesn’t feel anything about “being a father” yet. I felt the same absence of feeling.
Moms and dads react differently to newborn babies, especially the first baby.
There’s the passage from Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina that says it all. I reproduce that passage here for your edification.
The first is about Kittie, from Part 8 Chapter 6, the second is about Levin, from Chapter 18.
Kittie’s motherhood, Chapter 6
And I must run to Mitya. As ill-luck would have it, I haven’t fed him since tea. He’s awake now, and sure to be screaming.” And feeling a rush of milk, she hurried to the nursery.
This was not a mere guess; her connection with the child was still so close, that she could gauge by the flow of her milk his need of food, and knew for certain he was hungry.
She knew he was crying before she reached the nursery. And he was indeed crying. She heard him and hastened. But the faster she went, the louder he screamed. It was a fine healthy scream, hungry and impatient.
“Has he been screaming long, nurse, very long?” said Kitty hurriedly, seating herself on a chair, and preparing to give the baby the breast. “But give me him quickly. Oh, nurse, how tiresome you are! There, tie the cap afterwards, do!”
The baby’s greedy scream was passing into sobs.
“But you can’t manage so, ma’am,” said Agafea Mihalovna, who was almost always to be found in the nursery. “He must be put straight. A-oo! a-oo!” she chanted over him, paying no attention to the mother.
The nurse brought the baby to his mother. Agafea Mihalovna followed him with a face dissolving with tenderness.
“He knows me, he knows me. In God’s faith, Katerina Alexandrovna, ma’am, he knew me!” Agafea Mihalovna cried above the baby’s screams.
But Kitty did not hear her words. Her impatience kept growing, like the baby’s.
Their impatience hindered things for a while. The baby could not get hold of the breast right, and was furious.
At last, after despairing, breathless screaming, and vain sucking, things went right, and mother and child felt simultaneously soothed, and both subsided into calm.
“But poor darling, he’s all in perspiration!” said Kitty in a whisper, touching the baby.
“What makes you think he knows you?” she added, with a sidelong glance at the baby’s eyes, that peered roguishly, as she fancied, from under his cap, at his rhythmically puffing cheeks, and the little red-palmed hand he was waving.
“Impossible! If he knew anyone, he would have known me,” said Kitty, in response to Agafea Mihalovna’s statement, and she smiled.
She smiled because, though she said he could not know her, in her heart she was sure that he knew not merely Agafea Mihalovna, but that he knew and understood everything, and knew and understood a great deal too that no one else knew, and that she, his mother, had learned and come to understand only through him. To Agafea Mihalovna, to the nurse, to his grandfather, to his father even, Mitya was a living being, requiring only material care, but for his mother he had long been a mortal being, with whom there had been a whole series of spiritual relations already.
“When he wakes up, please God, you shall see for yourself. Then when I do like this, he simply beams on me, the darling! Simply beams like a sunny day!” said Agafea Mihalovna.
“Well, well; then we shall see,” whispered Kitty. “But now go away, he’s going to sleep.”
Levin’s Fatherhood, Part 8, Chapter 18:
Kitty was standing with her sleeves tucked up over the baby in the bath. Hearing her husband’s footstep, she turned towards him, summoning him to her with her smile. With one hand she was supporting the fat baby that lay floating and sprawling on its back, while with the other she squeezed the sponge over him.
“Come, look, look!” she said, when her husband came up to her. “Agafea Mihalovna’s right. He knows us!”
Mitya had on that day given unmistakable, incontestable signs of recognizing all his friends.
As soon as Levin approached the bath, the experiment was tried, and it was completely successful. The cook, sent for with this object, bent over the baby. He frowned and shook his head disapprovingly. Kitty bent down to him, he gave her a beaming smile, propped his little hands on the sponge and chirruped, making such a queer little contented sound with his lips, that Kitty and the nurse were not alone in their admiration. Levin, too, was surprised and delighted.
The baby was taken out of the bath, drenched with water, wrapped in towels, dried, and after a piercing scream, handed to his mother.
“Well, I am glad you are beginning to love him,” said Kitty to her husband, when she had settled herself comfortably in her usual place, with the baby at her breast. “I am so glad! It had begun to distress me. You said you had no feeling for him.”
“No; did I say that? I only said I was disappointed.”
“What! disappointed in him?”
“Not disappointed in him, but in my own feeling; I had expected more. I had expected a rush of new delightful emotion to come as a surprise. And then instead of that—disgust, pity…”
She listened attentively, looking at him over the baby, while she put back on her slender fingers the rings she had taken off while giving Mitya his bath.
“And most of all, at there being far more apprehension and pity than pleasure. Today, after that fright during the storm, I understand how I love him.”
Kitty’s smile was radiant.