The other day I was talking with my mom about the different relationships and connections I have with Lily and Maggie. I’m not sure how it came up, but it’s something I think about a lot. I’ve heard and read countless stories from women who had expected to feel an instant connection with their babies when they were born, and were disappointed/frustrated/distraught when they didn’t. Sure, most of them loved their babies, but it wasn’t this immediate overwhelming, all-consuming love like they had never felt before and had been conditioned to expect. But what almost all of these women shared is that, eventually, they did feel this. It happened gradually, over the course of weeks and months. And what most of them also found was that with their second and subsequent babies, the connection was more immediate.
For me, the opposite happened. I’m not sure what’s harder: being a first-time mom and trying to find some way to bond with a baby you thought you were meant to love immensely right away and just don’t, or being a second-time mom who felt this connection with her first, who was scared her entire second pregnancy how this new baby would impact her relationship with her older child and if she would have the same time and devotion available for her second…and then having those concerns come to fruition.
I love Maggie just as much as I love Lily. In the past six months my favorite day was the day I took off from work, but sent Lily to school. I got to spend the entire day with just Maggie. We played in the basement and went to Target, and it was the best day ever. I had never spent so much time alone with Maggie, and it was just so awe-inspiring to see what a little person she was becoming independently of me. The love I have for the two of them is just so different. When I started explaining to my mom how I just felt this really deep connection with Lily I expected her to kind of observe the relationship from the outside but instead she shocked me with her response. “Oh, no,” she said, “it’s like she shares a part of your psyche.” Wow. I had never been able to put that into words, but that is exactly what it is.
Many first time moms spend a lot of time floundering. They’re new moms, and they have to meet the needs of this baby who won’t sleep or can’t be soothed. There is a lot of “what does this baby want?” And to make it worse, many moms suffer from postpartum depression, anxiety, or the baby blues. This is the reality. This is most moms.
When I had Lily, the moment she was handed to me it was like I was suddenly complete. I looked at her and I knew her and I understood her. As the days and weeks went on, this only became more apparent and it’s still so to this day. I’ve always known exactly what she wants or needs. I can interpret her emotions and address them, unless it’s a disciplinary thing, but I still usually know why she’s hitting me or running away–we’re just still trying to figure out how to get her to do a better behavior. Like, obviously she wants to run through the clothing racks at Target or run outside fully dressed into a torrential downpour or eat half a cake with her hands when no one is watching because of the same reasons I’d want to. But when she’s feeling emotional, I can deal with it. I know the instant she wakes up in the morning or from a nap how she needs to be handled/dealt with. I can sense when she just needs to play or read alone, and when it’s been long enough and any moment she’s going to act out because she wants some attention.
But it goes even deeper than that. Maybe I’m the only adult who still feels this way, but do you ever feel like wearing a certain pair of socks or underwear, like from the moment you wake up? Well I do, and that’s happened ever since I can remember. But now, I’ll wake up with a feeling of what Lily wants that day, before she’s even woken up. Other times, and I’ve posted this before, I’ll wake up wanting muffins or pancakes and then she’ll ask for the exact thing I want. I posted once about this conversation she and I had in the car one night that started out with her asking, “Mama, do you feel like the moon?” And I was like, hell yeah I feel like the moon. We want the same foods, want to listen to music or have quiet at the same times, have the same sort of sensory preferences. She does this thing where she just spaces out, and at preschool they’ve mentioned this and the fact that she kind of plays alone a lot. But I get it, and I like this about her. I’ve always loved being around her and enjoy her companionship.
That’s why it might come as a surprise that having this connection makes things really difficult. Because I can anticipate and interpret her needs, and because she has such volatile emotional reactions, it’s easier for me to tell people what to do with her, or to just do it myself. I’ve had countless discussions with other people watching her about how it’s okay for them to do things differently but most of the time I just feel like, if I know what she wants, why should you both struggle to figure it out?
When Maggie came out, I really wasn’t ready. I thought I had another two weeks to both spend home with Lily, and to take the time to acknowledge being pregnant. There just isn’t the same air of excitement and anticipation around second and subsequent pregnancies as there is around your first. Your second and third and fourth won’t be your first baby or the first grandchild or great-grandchild. Because you already know, you won’t be waiting to see what the first kicks feel like, and people won’t constantly be asking to feel your belly. I carried so much guilt while pregnant with Maggie because of this. Then she came before I had those two weeks to be away from work and think about being pregnant and what she was going to be like. When they placed her on my chest I kind of felt like “Oh, okay, hello.” There wasn’t the overwhelming rush of emotions I had experienced with her sister. It didn’t come right then, and it didn’t come a few days from then.
Maggie was so different from Lily from the start. She slept so much, and didn’t have a voracious appetite. Then she went through her witching hour phase and I had no idea what to do with her. On top of understanding Lily, she had also been a really easy baby. I couldn’t soothe Maggie, and neither could anyone else. But the difference was that because I didn’t know how, I could let other people try. Lily was an open book, but Maggie I had to figure out. Since she was born, I’ve constantly been trying to read her and she’s always surprising me. Eventually one day, like all the moms I read about, I realized I felt that overwhelming love–just in a completely different way than with Lily. Maggie is so feisty and determined, and she rests her head on my shoulder in this way when I get home from work. She is the sweetest little peanut, and we’re all always remarking how stinking cute she is. She’s much fussier than Lily, but it’s less stressful for me because I know that someone else may be able to help her more than me. And I love figuring her out. One of the most striking things is that when I look at her, I’m looking at a different person. With Lily, it was like looking in a mirror at myself. Strangers used to stop me in public and sarcastically remark, “Well she doesn’t look anything like you, does she.” Now I know what it’s like to have a baby who doesn’t look like you, and who doesn’t share a part of your psyche. While I was fortunate not to suffer from the baby blues or anxiety either time, now I can understand what it’s like for the first time moms who are tired and floundering. I at least had a happy, healthy 2.5 year old to remind me that I did okay the first time around.
One of my favorite things is watching Maggie climb up the stairs. She books across the dining room or living room so fast her body kind of goes up and down on either side and she’ll sometimes shriek and look over her shoulder to make sure you know she’s doing something naughty. Then she gets to the stairs and the look of determination on her face is like nothing I’ve ever seen. When she gets to the top she usually races into Lily’s room and climbs onto her bed which is hilarious to watch. She has such a tiny little body and she grunts and breaths and heaves herself up and is then so proud of herself.
So don’t worry if you don’t feel an attachment to your baby or if you’re having trouble bonding. You’ll get there. You’ll love them, and then you’ll love them differently than the next.