Time Heals All
My first daughter was a trick baby, or a magical unicorn as I like to call her. She slept long stretches right off the bat, nursed easily and was generally a sweet and content child.
I knew I could not be so lucky the second time around.
The night we came home from the hospital with my second daughter, she screamed every time we tried to put her in the bassinet. She turned her head from my breast when I tried to nurse to calm her down. No matter what we did, she cried.
My doula expressed concern a few weeks after the birth that I was on the borderline of postpartum depression.
As the weeks passed, we started to learn what would soothe and calm the baby. We eventually learned that she had been hungry much of her early weeks due to an undiagnosed tongue-tie and irritable because of a milk protein intolerance that led to excessive gas.
Once we got a handle on those issues, life became somewhat easier. She was still a more challenging baby. She only wanted me and cried if anyone else tried to hold her, which put a lot of pressure on me to constantly be catering to her without a break.
I was in a very different mental place when I had my second. I was lonelier, more exhausted, less able to devote time to self-care. I had a 20 month old who also demanded my attention. Everything seemed much harder the second time around.
All of these factors contributed to my lack of emotion for her. I struggled to feel anything for this demanding, constantly crying baby. That rush of love and adoration that I felt for my first daughter simply was not there. I thought something was wrong with me. I serviced the baby: made sure she was fed and changed and held, but could not give any more to her.
Curious as to whether my experience was common, I turned to my friends and family on Facebook for their thoughts. Thank you to everyone who shared their stories.
“I struggled in the beginning with loving my second—baby but not because she was harder—but simply because it was hard for me to balance the two. Caring for a 19 month old and newborn was insane!”
“I felt like it was harder for me to ‘get to know’ my third baby. I just had so many other people that needed my attention, so I think it took longer to connect with her then it did for the first 2. Forming a connection can also have a lot to do with the temperament and nature of your baby.”
“I struggled HARD with #2. I struggled with low supply again, she never slept more than 20 min at a time…And there was my perfect first child who I was failing over and over. By contrast, when I had my third I didn’t even try to catch up and had a MUCH easier time!”
“My second is a much easier baby/child than my first, but it didn’t feel that way. In part because—yes, caring for a 20 month old and a newborn is crazy-making in itself. But I also felt incredibly lonely and isolated in this totally different way than I did with my first. I was constantly needed, but didn’t feel like I had a natural support system the second time around.”
“I remember [my husband] saying in the hospital that I wasn’t holding her much. After a few weeks the bond was there. She was not as great of a sleeper but on a day to day basis I think she’s easier than [my first].
“Depends on the parents and children. Some are so easy-going, it doesn’t make a difference what their birth-order is. The one thing that was a given was less time with #2, nothing I could do about that.”
“Took me two years to bond with [my second].”
“All of my friends were obsessed with their kids from day one, thinking their kids are the cutest and best. I just didn’t get that for either. I don’t get how one can be absolutely utterly in love from birth. Love grows for me. It takes time for me.”
“The second time is so much better, baby” – Shalamar
“R was just an easier baby—she was a much better sleeper from day one and she took to breastfeeding right away.”
“I definitely had undiagnosed Postpartum Depression with my first and was shocked how much more I enjoyed my [second] baby instantly. I couldn’t figure out how to relax and enjoy my first and second time around I’m a lot more comfortable.”
“Of course I love both my children equally, though differently. But I do often wonder if when he was younger it was from a sense of obligation—this is your child, of course you love him—than from the pure joy and sense of ease that I felt the second time around.”
“I was a more confident parent the second time around because I knew what I was doing, and I had already survived a challenging 1st baby.”
“My attitude towards the kids was all about the same. It was me who changed. They changed me and my husband for the better.”
“I’m not sure there’s a learning to love your second as much as learning to love and nurture the individual people who you parent.”
Turns out, there are a lot of factors that change how parents feel about their second (or subsequent children). The age difference between children plays a role, as does the personality of each child. Sometimes, it’s the partner who struggles to bond with the new child because he/she is focused on caring for the older child/children.
Bringing home a new baby is an adjustment whether they are your first or your fifth. Your ability to connect with that new baby depends wholly on circumstance and personality. If you do not feel strong emotions towards your baby, do not despair.
Be patient and learn who this new little person in your life is. Sometimes love just takes time to grow.
As my baby approaches her second birthday, she is an entirely different child than that screaming infant, one who is still challenging in some senses (prone to tantrums), but who is just as special to us as her sister. Over time, her personality: funny, sweet, rambunctious, determined and stubborn began to shine through and we got to know her for who she was. As she grew older, my love for her grew. Seeing how much my older daughter loved her and wanted to play with her made me even more attached.
I feel a lot of guilt about how emotionless I was early on. I also feel guilt at how I had to give up time with my older daughter to focus on the baby. But time is the cure for all ills. As the girls grow up, we face new challenges.
I have good moments and bad moments as a parent. What I no longer struggle with is how much I love my girls, even when I lose my patience or feel exasperated. My love for them may have started in different places, but it will continue to grow and evolve, just as they do.