I imagine the feeling of holding your firstborn child is intense for any mom. As someone who struggled with infertility for four long years, it was almost more joy than I could bear. When my tiny son opened his coal-black eyes in that hospital bed and gazed into mine, it was like a rocket ship launching in my chest.
I’d been prepared for dirty diapers, for sleepless nights, for life to suddenly be hard. What I wasn’t expecting was to be so happy none of it mattered. Everything about my son was a miracle: his wizened old-man face! His perfect little poops! The warmth of his body as he slept for hours against my chest. Every moment was magic.
“I can’t imagine ever loving anyone this much,” I thought, and said, and wrote in dozens of mushy Facebook posts during that first year. Then, just a month after my son’s first birthday, I got pregnant again…this time, without even really trying.
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An Inescapable Fear
At first, all I felt was disbelief. How had it been so easy this time, when for years and years it had all been so hard? Then reality struck, and it occurred to me that this pregnancy was going to turn into a real, live baby — a baby who would take me away from the baby I already had. I began to see my time with my toddler in terms of “lasts.” These were his last months as an only child. This was our last vacation as a family of three. These were our last one-on-one meals, playground romps, and sleepy, snuggly bedtimes. Once the baby came, there would always be another person there, demanding my time and attention and love.
“I can’t imagine ever loving anyone this much,” I thought for the millionth time one hot June day as I sat splayed on a bench on the playground, six months pregnant and all belly and sweat glands, watching my sweet son toddle like a duck through the sprinklers.
And suddenly, this simple sentiment wasn’t so simple anymore.
There’s an unspoken agreement about kids and love. It spans all schools of thought, whether you’re an Attachment Parent or a Tiger Mom: you love your kids. And if you have more than one, you love them equally.
Of course, I agreed. And yet, there was this tiny voice in the back of my head that gradually grew to a roar: What if I CAN’T?
It’s not exactly the kind of fear you voice out loud on the Expecting Fall 2019 list-serv. But as my fellow moms-to-be (and moms-to-be-again) worried aloud about C-sections and sleeping arrangements, this was the fear that kept pounding through my mind. How could I ever love another kid as much as I loved the one I already had? And if I couldn’t: didn’t that make me a crappy mom?
As my belly swelled I kept these less-than-nurturing thoughts to myself, letting them fester as I entertained increasingly ludicrous fantasies of sending the new baby to live with adoptive parents who could give him the equal and unconditional love he deserved. It’s not just that I hid my fears from strangers on the Internet. I didn’t tell close friends, family, or even my husband.
Support From a Stranger
Until one day, on vacation at seven months pregnant, I treated myself to a prenatal massage and found myself sobbing on the table. It all came out as my masseuse, a lovely woman with four kids of her own, silently handed me a tissue: I wasn’t ready for another baby. I’d always wanted two, but I didn’t think it would happen this fast. I already loved my son with all my heart. I wasn’t going to have any love left to give.
My masseuse nodded sagely. Then she said something that blew my mind: “I felt that way when I was pregnant with my second, too.”
I gulped down surprise. She said it so casually, like we were talking about epidurals or baby food! This totally forbidden, completely horrible thing that no mom should ever think, let alone say.
“It all goes away the moment you hear your baby’s first cry,” she assured me. “I wish I could bottle up that moment and give it to you right now.”
She couldn’t, of course, but just hearing someone else voice my fear aloud made it less frightening—and made me feel less alone. Maybe I wasn’t a monster for thinking and feeling these things after all. Maybe, even though nobody talks about it, it’s a natural part of having a second kid.
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‘Something Cracked Open in My Chest…’
Two months later, I gave birth to another beautiful, healthy baby boy. As I held his squirmy, sobbing body to my chest, I told him all about the world he’d entered: about how I was his mommy and that man over there was his daddy, about how we’d take him home to meet his big brother who was so wonderful and already loved him so much.
At that moment something cracked open in my chest, and I physically felt my heart expand. I realized I would always have enough love inside me, that my love wasn’t a finite source that could only be spent in one place. Of course I would love my children in different ways. But I would always love each of them like my one and only, no matter how many I had.
I’d spent so much of my pregnancy wondering how I could love another kid as much as I loved my first.
Oh, I thought, planting a million kisses on my second son’s tiny head. This is how.
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