If you spend any time on parenting blogs or social media groups, you’ve probably come across a poster expressing a concern, “what if I don’t love my second child as much as my first?” The unanimous, meant to be the reassuring answer is always, “of course you will!” It’s usually followed up with descriptions of how your heart will grow, love will multiply, you never knew how much love you had to give… But when I asked this question years ago, I wish someone had told me “you might not.”
I’m sharing this vulnerable post because I wish I’d gotten this answer when I was pregnant and just after the birth of my second child. But I didn’t. I felt so alone. I was so ashamed. I knew something was wrong with me, and I was terrified that someone would find out. So I did the exact thing that makes it worse – kept it all to myself and isolated. I share these thoughts now hoping that some mom might hear what they need, like my new-mom past self.
Our first pregnancy and delivery were what everyone hopes for. Not much sickness, never too uncomfortable, everyone was healthy. It was a long, but overall ok, birth, and we went home without incident a short time later. My heart exploded, I never knew I could feel so much love, and I was completely smitten the second I had that baby in my arms. That kept up even once we went home. We knew we wanted at least one more and looked forward to when we might add a second.
Until I found out I was pregnant, that is. I’m a planner, and baby two was completely unplanned. Our oldest was still a baby as well, so instead of excitement, I only felt terror and apprehension. I figured it would get better once the shock wore off. To be perfectly honest, it never did. I didn’t track what size vegetable the baby was or do any cutesy Pinterest-worthy announcement. I just sort of went through the motions. Once we knew the gender and had a name, I thought that would be the turning point. Unfortunately, no. The birth, with that brand new baby in my arms and looking into each other’s eyes? Still no. Mostly I was frustrated that this new baby was going to change everything – the (now) effortless routine with my oldest, our special time together… This baby was going to need my attention all the time, and it seemed impossible.
I’m generally a good person and believed myself to be a pretty good mom, so I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was protective and attentive, nursed a million times a day, walked around the house all night holding the baby so that the brand new toddler didn’t get woken up. We made it to every appointment, I took actual maternity leave and spent time “bonding,” and as far as anyone knew, I was killing the parent thing. But inside, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was awful and obviously scaring this baby who deserved better because WHAT KIND OF MONSTER DOESN’T LOVE THEIR BABY?
I suffered through several weeks of deceit pretending to be the perfect mother before I finally broke down and confessed the worst to my husband. And you know what? I will be forever grateful for his response. He didn’t hate me. He didn’t shame me. He didn’t take the kids and run away, or tell me to get lost. He listened. And asked questions. First and foremost, he made sure I didn’t have any thoughts of harming myself or our child. Thank goodness, that wasn’t the case for me. (PSA: if this *is* you, please talk with someone right away. Postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis are both medical disorders, and your doctor should be able to help.) He reminded me that even though my feelings were a mess, I was still doing everything I needed to take care of our child. The rest we would just take as it came.
I wish I could pinpoint the day it was different, but I honestly have no idea what changed. One day when I was dressing my almost one-year-old, I just knew. I absolutely loved that little kid and realized that I always had. My hormones had been completely out of whack and my feelings were a complicated jumble, but I’d always loved this one. It just looked really different. I did all the things that you do when you love someone, always put them first, even when I hadn’t realized that’s what I was doing. Somehow this baby that I thought I didn’t want had actually completed our family in a way I didn’t even know we needed.
My relationship with both kids is still completely different. My oldest is my mini-me and has always been easier for me to relate to. I’ve never had to work to get it right with that one. The youngest though? A total mystery to me a decent chunk of the time. I’ve had to be intentional and work hard, and it has made our relationship incredible. That kid is 100% worth the effort. Because we didn’t always have that, I ‘m continuously grateful for our relationship today.
I wish I’d talked to someone sooner. I wish I’d talked to more people. I wish I hadn’t gone through so much alone. Looking back, I probably had postpartum anxiety, which I didn’t even know was a thing. It’s possible I could have gotten some help and got out of the funk faster. But here’s what I’d like to go back and tell my past self (and you, if this is you, Mama) – please talk to someone. Anyone. And if they don’t get it, talk to someone else. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a bad person. Pregnancy and birth are complicated, and so are all the parts that come after. We need help. We need support. And every day that you get up and are trying your best is a day that you are showing love to your child.