Everyone said, “Having two is hard, but when your second is born you’ll love them both more than you ever imagined you could.”
For me, it just wasn’t true.
When my second daughter was born, I was smitten. It was the love they had always talked about. With my first child, I had third-degree tears, constipation, and the crazy emotional detachment that clings to me when I’m confronted with a situation I’m not familiar with. I just didn’t feel it at first. For those first few weeks, I worked to keep my reactionless newborn alive, all the while trying to coax validation out of her. “I change you, I feed you, I tore myself open to get you here, and I still just don’t feel it.”
Slowly, but surely, it changed. When my firstborn started smiling, a little seed of attachment was planted. Over time, it grew stronger out of the service I gave her. It wasn’t about getting, it was about giving. I was a mom now, life was a little more normal, I started to feel it. It was me and her. We were buddies. She knew how to make me laugh, and we would cuddle and share snacks on the couch, read books, play outside. Life was good.
When the second was born, all I wanted to do was snuggle my new human. “I’m in mom-mode — look at me! I feel the immediate attachment! This is what they were talking about!” Then the firstborn came to visit us in the hospital. She was more interested in the buttons on the bed than this baby girl, and I was more interested in the baby girl than I was in her.
It was the same when we got back home. Looking back on it now, I chalk it up to a medium dosage of postpartum depression. But it still breaks my heart to admit, with every time my first child hit her little defenseless sister, every time she tantrummed, every time tears streamed down her face, making it all red and blotchy, with her snot-faucet nose, I loved her a little bit less.
Until one day I just lost it. After bottling up so much negative energy toward my toddler mini-me, I declared to my husband through tears and a blotchy red face of my own, “I just don’t love her! I don’t feel love for her, what is WRONG with me what the HECK IS WRONG WITH ME?!”
Heaven forbid my firstborn ever reads this. Heaven forbid she thinks that is how the story ends.
Through the help of an understanding mom and husband, I groped my way back toward the love I once had for her. Each day was a battle to see through the fog of disappointment and self-loathing — and to act on the love I wanted to have. It might have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I realized that, unlike your spouse, you don’t get to choose your children. But you can CHOOSE them — choose to put them first, choose to love, choose to act as if eternity is your goal, so that the days and the months can be small even when they seem so gut-wrenchingly immense.
I learned to love her once, and then I did it again. And I am so proud of that. It gives me strength.
So though the days are hard and the nights are long, I can say that I do love both my children more than I ever imagined. It wasn’t easy, and maybe there will be more mountains to climb. But it’s where I am, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.