Despite what the movies and birth-story blogs tell us, many mothers don’t feel an instant connection with their babies (whether it’s their first, second or fifth). That’s okay. Today’s Warrior Mom guest post comes from Erica Monzingo of Kewaskum, Wisconsin.
By Erica Monzingo
I got pregnant with my daughter the summer of 2013. I wanted that baby more than anything I had ever wanted in my entire life. When they handed her to me after a grueling labor, I was elated. I will never in my life forget the moment they placed my daughter on my chest because I was instantly madly in love with and in complete awe of her. In the weeks and months following, I spent all of my time snuggling her, kissing her, memorizing her every part and telling her how much I loved her.
All of my adult years, I had been very adamant that I wanted to have 3 children. But then the day I gave birth to my daughter, and the months following when I developed postpartum anxiety and postpartum OCD, I vowed I would never have another child. It saddened me knowing that my daughter would be an only child but I felt that it was the way that it had to be.
When my daughter turned 11 months old, my dad was given a pretty grim outlook on a newly diagnosed cancer. After a few weeks of consideration, my husband and I decided that we should try for a second child. I was now feeling more confident about my ability to go through the process again. And, among other reasons, if I had another child, I wanted that child to be able to meet my dad.
This pregnancy, although far less eventful than the first, was different. My belly grew rapidly but I didn’t feel the same connection that I had felt with my daughter. I shrugged it off to knowing that I was already a mom and didn’t have the fear I had before of maybe never having a baby. Maybe I was too busy with my daughter to take the time to truly cherish my unborn child. Maybe my head was too wrapped up in the thing that was growing in my dad’s body and I didn’t have time to properly focus on the one that was growing inside of mine.
Eventually I started talking to everyone I knew that had more than one child.
“How do you love a second child as much as you love your first?” I asked.
They told me story after story of how that baby was handed to them and it “just happened.” People smiled as they talked about seeing their children interact. No one said otherwise, so I was finally at ease.
When my son was born, I cried as they set him on my chest. I was glad for him to be here. Glad for my pregnancy to be at an end. But unlike when I wrapped myself around my newborn daughter in an instant bond, I felt like my son was a complete stranger. When they brought him to me for feedings, I fed him but I did not marvel at him the way I had at his sister.
My heart did not “just expand” like people had told me it would.
“But HOW do you love the second child just as much as you do the first?!” I’d asked everyone.
“I can’t explain it, you just do!” they had always replied.
But I didn’t.
I clearly remember telling my husband during the first few hours after our son arrived that I was starting to kind of like him but only because he sometimes reminded me of our daughter. My nurse heard me, but she didn’t seem to mind.
My daughter met my son later that day. The first few moments were all smiles and I got a few wonderful photos of those moments. But inside, I was full of panic. And then everything turned bad.
My daughter, who was 19 months, became furious at me. She wanted nothing to do with the baby and now, she wanted nothing to do with me either. She would no longer acknowledge me. I quickly gave away my son to someone else in the room but the damage had been done. I cried myself to sleep that night wishing that I could just go home and be with her. Could the baby stay at the hospital with my husband? Could I go home and be with her?
“I can’t go spend the night at home, right?” I asked the nurse when my husband was out of the room. It was all I wanted.
For the days that followed, my daughter continued to pretend I didn’t exist. She wouldn’t sit by me much less even glance at me when she walked by me. I was devastated. My heart had not magically expanded to make room for my new baby and now my daughter, my best friend, hated me.
The weeks dragged on and eventually my daughter warmed up to me, but it wasn’t like it used to be. I spent countless hours tending to and nursing my son but I did not smother him in constant kisses and I love yous the same way I had with my daughter in the beginning. I loved him, but not in the way I had loved my daughter. He was well cared for because I knew it was my job and he deserved it, but a big part of me was afraid that I had made a mistake.
“What happens when you have a second child?”
You might hate it. Your heart might not magically expand.
Your world may feel like it’s crashing down on you.
I muddled through yet another year of bad postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression, and I can’t tell you exactly when my heart expanded, but it did. It’s different now. I am so madly in love with that little boy. He constantly gets smothered in kisses and I love yous. He loves to press his little cheek up against mine and keep our faces squished together. I soak in every second. When I watch his sister and him play, I feel like my heart is going to burst from too much love.
“How do you find love for your second child?”
Sometimes, in time.