It's week 20-something of my pregnancy and I'm staring at a 3D-sonogram image of my unborn son's head. He looks stern and Slavic, which perhaps isn't surprising when you consider that his mother's ancestors are mainly robust peasants from the fringes of the Russian empire. But strangely his face doesn't resemble anyone — alive or recently dead — he's related to. The friendly sonographer pats my belly and assures me that this is normal. Give the poor chap a chance to put some fat on his skull.
And then he was born. There's the old adage that all new babies look like Winston Churchill, which helps sooth moms and dads whose kids pop out looking more like a jowly, cigar-puffing British prime minister than either of them. In fact, our son turned up looking like everyone's favorite autocrat, Vladimir Putin, earning him his very first nickname: Vlad.
The fact that little Vlad failed to resemble his mother or father in his first few hours was curious but not especially bothersome. But then every day for the next nine weeks we'd stare at him and ask, "Who the hell does he look like?" The answer: No one we've ever known. Certainly not us. Was he switched with another baby in the hospital nursery? The thought actually crossed my mind. So did: "Was I inseminated by aliens — or the current Russian president — in my sleep?"
People who meet him remark on the lack of similarities. "Are you sure he's yours?" an uncomfortable number of friends have asked. His grandparents feel slightly put out, like we decided the family was too unsightly to replicate so we'd secretly bribed a corrupt geneticist to engineer a different kind of face. We had not.
There's a good reason infants are supposed to look like their parents: So you instantly and narcissistically accept them as your own. It's Darwinism in its most basic, lazy form. Without those physical similarities, bonding can be that much harder.
Our son's older sister looked so much like her father in those first few weeks that I fell instantly, crazily in love with her and wondered how it was that some parents take time to connect with their newborns.
But with young Vlad, it was different. I loved him but it wasn't the same gut-wrenching, ferocious love I'd felt before. Could it be that my postpartum hormone cocktail was, for whatever mysterious obstetrical reason, a bit different from last time? Or the fact that I was so anxious about how the angry toddler back home would react to her new sibling? Truthfully, I think large part of it was to do with how he looked. I'd cradle him and look down at his beautiful, perfectly formed head and there was nothing familiar to latch on to. It felt a bit like we'd adopted him.
Two months later, he still looks nothing like his birth family. But I'm happy to report that I'm over it. I love his little alien face — and everything else about him. Ferociously. Plus, I'm excited to find out how much a celebrity doubles agency will pay for a baby Putin.