When I was pregnant with my second son, all I worried about was how it would affect my first. I was fairly certain that my second child would mostly be a nuisance – someone who interfered with my relationship with my toddler – and so I hired a nanny, with the plan of having her take care of the baby so that I could be free to spend time with my toddler.
I worried that I wouldn’t love the new baby – not as fiercely as I loved my toddler. “How could I possibly love someone as much as I love my first?” I would ask friends and family members with two or more kids. “Your heart just grows, ” they would say. “It expands. You’ll see.”
I wasn’t convinced.
Meanwhile, my toddler was going through the normal toddler stuff – sleep issues, trouble with transitions, discipline issues – nothing out of the ordinary. But since I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy, I was unable to deal. I let things slide, I relaxed most boundaries and I gave in to nearly every one of his demands. By the time the baby came home with me, my toddler’s behavior had hit the next level of awful.
So there I was, with my very own Wild Thing tromping through the house: screaming through bedtime, deliberately waking the baby, and generally causing havoc. Up until the moment when my toddler would finally pass out in bed, the house felt like a war zone, with my husband, the baby and I under siege. And polar opposite was my sweet, easy, good-natured newborn, all milk-breath sighs and rosebud lips. A gentle sapling trying to weather the stormy stomping of his brother’s antics.
I began to resent the toddler. So much so that I nearly found myself back to having the feelings I had when HE was a newborn. When he was a newborn, I suffered postpartum depression, complete with the irrational thoughts that accompany it, about my baby being evil, or trying to kill me. Luckily, with the help of therapy and medication (and yes, time) that all had passed. So how did I find myself back in that awful place? Was this some strange kind of Second Child Postpartum Depression directed at the firstborn? I also felt a crushing guilt for having let things get this far.
And instead of my heart growing bigger, I felt it shifting some things around. The part that had originally belonged to my toddler had shrunk down and moved over to a little corner, so as to accommodate the enormous portion that my Good Child (the baby) was now occupying.
It is a shocking and terrifying feeling, when the thing that everyone promised would happen doesn’t happen they way they said it would. I was promised some kind of Big Love. A magical love that would expand my heart to envelop both of my children in equal measure. So what was wrong with me, what was so broken in me, that this wasn’t the case at all? That the problem wasn’t an inability to love my newborn, but rather, an inability to love him and my toddler at the same time?
Despite these feelings, I soldiered on, because that is what aBeyond Mom does. I wasn’t feeling the love, not the way I should have, but it didn’t matter. I made sure to have “special alone time” with my toddler, the way I had hoped I would with the help of the nanny. And when my Wild Thing and I were at the park together, or at the carousel, or on a play date, I pined for my baby, the Good Child waiting peacefully for me at home. But over time, as the newborn haze began to fade and I started to get back to my old self, my toddler’s challenges became less challenging.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly when something like this changes, as I picture feelings as little whirlygigs inside a big complicated machine, twisting and turning themselves into just the right positions. So I don’t know when it happened, or if there was one specific thing that changed it all – but one night several months later, I was sitting on our sofa with the baby dozing off in one arm, and my toddler reading quietly in my other. And I felt like, “Yes. My boys. My two boys. I love them so much I could just burst.” Looking back on it all it felt like this: I had been knocked to the ground and buried – unable to fully function – until one day something had cleared the heavy things off of me and I could move freely again and could love fully.
I was finally there. I had that Big Love everyone had been talking about. And it taught me that to be a Beyond Mom, sometimes you have to trust that there are things at work beyond what we think we know. There had been no need for me to panic. No need for guilt and nothing wrong with me to fix. Where I thought my heart had been defective or clogged up in some way, it actually was just moving at its own pace. And I don’t know if I believe that it actually grew, so much as it merely made some room, rearranged things a bit, until everything fell perfectly into place.