This post is part of a series where I talk about the beautiful and occasionally nerve-wracking postpartum season. You might want to read the first post, about the incredible transformation your body goes through, or the second one focusing on the importance of rest, as well!
After I’d had my own first sweet baby, I had experienced the way that love for the baby is pretty much born with the baby. When I was expecting my second little one, I had a good measure of confidence about having enough love for that baby, too. I wasn’t worried about having my heart so full of love for the first that there might not be room for love for the second; I’d learned how our capacity for love grows with each new person we birth. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the difference in the kind of relationship, and I’ll admit that threw me a little bit.
While I’d been mothering my daughter, our relationship had grown. I’d gotten to know her, have history together, and our lives had had time to become deeply intertwined. But when my second was born, and I looked at him with all the love in my heart, it was like loving a little stranger. Quite often, parents will call their first child “baby” until the second one is born, and then they realize: Oh, gosh, our older child isn’t a baby–they’re huge! It felt a little like that between my first two, but in terms of emotional relationship and connection. I hadn’t noticed how my relationship had grown so big with my daughter until I had my son, and then feeling the difference in type of relationship between the two kind of threw me until I processed it a bit.
This all feels very obvious now, but I still like to talk about it juuuuust in case there are other mothers who need the words to help them clarify some of their own emotions. It didn’t take long to start that relationship with my new little boy, of course, and mothering him was a delight and a joy. When I had my third baby, I was a bit more prepared for loving him without having that depth of relationship yet, and it was a little easier.
The other thing I found myself struggling with as I birthed my second was the immense guilt going in every direction: I felt guilty towards my daughter for not giving her the same kind of care and undivided attention that she’d had for those first two years of life, and I felt guilty towards my son for not being able to give him the focused care that his sister had gotten. It was just all kind of a mess.
Thank heavens, I was part of a great mothering group at the time*, and not long after I’d had my second, they hosted a speaker who was a psychologist specializing in family dynamics and birth order. He stood up on that stage and drew a map of relationships that I’m going to do my best to share through this medium, even though it’s best to watch it get drawn, so you can see how things change dynamically with each baby. But just look at these:
- This red dot is you. The circle around it is the relationship you have with yourself. (We all talk to ourselves, and there’s no shame in that.) The separate blue dot is your husband or partner, with his own relationship with himself before you two got together. (Yes, I know what it looks like.)
- That oval around the two of you is your relationship together. Isn’t that lovely and simple?
- Now we’re adding a dot for your first baby. They have a relationship with themselves, (however undeveloped that may be while they’re still growing brain parts), then they have relationships with each parent individually, then there’s the group relationship of all three of you. This is getting a bit more complex, isn’t it? And navigating those relationships changes you as a person–you’ve grown bigger and more capable of dealing with different people and situations and types of relationships. Because of the way these interactions press on us and mold us, we are no longer the same person here that we were in picture #1.
- Now for your second baby. They add their own inner-self relationship, three relationships with other individuals, two triad relationships, and one relationship with the whole new foursome. It’s a lot complex.
If you weren’t the same person between pictures #1 and #3, you certainly aren’t the same person between pictures #3 and #4. You can’t parent those children the same way, because you are different and your family dynamics are alllllll different. And understanding all of this can really help us relax a bit, give everyone some space and grace as we adapt and learn. If you keep in mind the nice little fact that it takes a minimum of six weeks to adjust to any major life transition, that will help even more.
One of my favorite authors, Edith Schaeffer, wrote about how a family is like a mobile hanging over a crib. As it is, it has a nice balance, and usually only moves gently in response to movement in the air. However, if you add another piece to the mobile, it throws off that balance and the mobile will wobble and look like it’s in chaos for a bit. After some time, the wobbles slow down and the mobile settles into a new balance. It’s not going to look the same as before, but the new addition brings its own beauty to the whole. It just takes time to get to that place of calm.
So, as I’m writing this blog series on the fleeting and exhausting postpartum season, I’m hoping this particular segment does a few things for you:
- Allow yourself to not instantly have the same quality of relationship with each baby
- Acknowledge the complexity that you and each member of your family are learning to navigate as you add each new person
- Give yourself and your family time, space, and grace as you settle into a new balance.
And call your doula. She’ll be happy to listen as you process through all of this.
*It’s so important to find your village. There are some really excellent places to start with either MOPS, La Leche League, or Program for Early Parent Support.