As I hold you in the darkness, I think of my doula’s words.
“Labor prepares you for motherhood.”
You won’t sleep. Neither soothing nor crying is working. I’m barely powering through. I thought at twelve months you’d be sleeping soundly. We’ve worked on it, and yet, here we are, dancing this tiresome dance again, every few nights for months now.
Those words from all those years ago finally make sense. At the time I thought nothing could compare to the challenge of your sister’s birth, but motherhood is a marathon with hills and valleys. Sometimes the hills are harder than we remember. Sometimes the challenges are cumulative in their weight.
Somehow one year has passed. I spent hours yesterday pouring through the photos. So much has changed in twelve months. You’ve grown, we’ve moved, we’ve started different jobs. And, everything is changing still.
I told a friend the other day I have trouble when I don’t know the answers for the future. I like to look down the road of life and to see what’s coming. Which is silly, really, because some of the best changes have been unseen.
A year ago, at 3PM, I pulled your wiggling body onto my chest and cried the tears of relief and happiness only birth can bring. You brought such unexpected magic. You’ve given me hope for a better future even in some of the world’s darkest days.
Motherhood, much like labor, has its rewards to counterbalance those seemingly insurmountable challenges, and when I remember to stop and appreciate the rhythm of your warm breath against my skin, I’m reminded of life’s glorious power to be all things at once.
I worried, maybe because that’s what moms do. I forgot how my love for her sister intensified with time, a cumulative effect. Instead I looked back on three years and saw all the moments condensed together into one sensation in my heart.
So, the second time around, I expected to feel it all at once. The depth, the overwhelm, the obsession. When I was greeted instead with a familiar warmth, I thought maybe I was missing out on something earth shaking.
I asked everyone with more than one kid whether the bonding was different the second time, whether it was easier to bond with their first. I felt guilty asking. I worried people would think I was suffering from postpartum depression and hadn’t bonded at all, even though, of course, there should be no shame in those struggles. But I didn’t want there to be any confusion. I loved her already, it just didn’t feel the same as I thought it should.
I came up with all kinds of hypotheses. Maybe it was the medicated birth. Perhaps it was my fault for jumping back into work so quickly or not asking for more help so I could lie in bed and stare at her. Or maybe it was just the distractions of trying to take care of so much more with two children.
What I didn’t consider was time. I’d forgotten how I’d spent every afternoon nursing her sister in bed in an effort to bond more. Or how after months of colic, I’d pulled her sister to my chest and wept because some unknown layer of myself had been cracked open and suddenly her screaming was a call to hold her even closer instead of drive me away.
All I’d initially remembered of our bonding the first time was the intensity of those first hours of motherhood, as I’d transformed through the rawness of it all. I expected to sit in our hospital suite and feel it all again in that same life changing way. However, I’d already become a mother this time. My entire being wasn’t altered as it had been with her sister. I mistook this for a difference in bonding, when really it was just a difference in myself. That particular magic only happens once.
Four months in and I finally feel as connected to M as I’d hoped I would in those first moments. I can’t get enough of her wiggles and giggles. She is already quite the talker and wants so badly to run around and play with her sister. I’ve gotten better at sitting still and being with her. The adrenaline has worn off and I’ve relaxed, for the most part, into being a mom of two. Sometimes I’m caught off guard by the enormity of getting to love another baby. Moments of happy disbelief as I realize I get to do it all again. An incredible opportunity. Another daughter to love with all my heart.
I find myself clinging to moments. Her tiny body curled up against mine, her little smile greeting me in the glow of our nightlight. Our stolen time together, our time alone. Glimpses of the laughter to come when her kitty toy grazes her face. The way her eyes light up and her head turns to listen to her sister talk across the room. She’s a relaxed, happy baby.
Parents often lament the passage of time. My feelings are nothing new, but there’s an extra sting to the days flying by when you know you’re holding your last baby. Sure life could surprise us, but I’m fairly certain this is it. Beautiful and fleeting. Only a newborn for a few more weeks.
I worried a little about our bonding in the beginning. Not because there wasn’t love, but because it didn’t feel as earth-shattering as I expected. Now the worry is gone. We just needed time to melt together, to know each other better, to find our rhythm. I dreamed I lost her the other night, and the pain was unbearably sharp but also reassuring in its rawness.
Two months have passed and I’m not sure where they went. They just disappeared. So now I’m holding on even tighter.
E is out with Grandma and M is asleep in her swing. It’s hard to put her down but there’s more to get done these days than there was with her sister. I’m slowly accepting that second children spend a little more time on their own.
The attachment parenting voice in my head says I should hold her against me while I write, but the realist tells me to save the babywearing for when I need it, for when the dishes are piling up or I have to chase her sister. Besides, she’s peacefully asleep over there.
Everything has felt easier this time around, except for the division of attention. M receives a little less than her sister did, and E has to learn to share. A friend reminded me E got to be the only child for almost three years. M will always have to share me. Somehow this makes me feel better when one of the girls has to wait.
There’s definitely more waiting happening around here. Thankfully E’s always happy to see her sister, even if she isn’t always happy to see me. I don’t mind, I’d rather receive the blame for the changes. Still, I’ve shed a few tears, alone in my room, remembering how we slept snuggled against each other until just a few days before her sister arrived. It doesn’t help that she still calls for me in the dark, sometimes screaming, others crying. She wants me to sleep next to her, but I can’t.
Instead, I spend my nights doing the newborn shuffle. Nursing and diapers and little blocks of sleep. M is still working on the difference between night and day. Sometimes she doesn’t settle in for a good stretch of sleep until the wee hours of the morning. The sleep deprivation is finally catching me, the cumulative affect of just four broken hours of sleep a night. Forget napping when the baby naps. I have a big girl running around this house.
That’s the thing, though. To someone who has never had children, it all sounds so challenging. I know because I used to be that person and hear these stories and think, “Oh, God, how will I ever survive that?” But you do, and with a smile on your face, most of the time.
I’m falling more in love with M each day. It wasn’t the same ripped open, crazy, knock you over feeling I had with E, but I’m certain that’s because this time I’d already transformed into a mom. With M, it’s a deep, familiar love, like it’s been there all along and each day I get the joy of rediscovering it a little more. I’d worried I couldn’t possibly love someone as much as E, but now I know you can’t compare the love for your children. It’s different, but no more or less than the other.
One month in, I still can’t believe I’m going on this adventure again. I’m doing my best to fill them both with enough love and attention. I know it’s enough, it’s just an adjustment.
Second pregnancies are different. Time no longer stands still. Best intentions of maternity pictures and quiet meditation take a backseat to jobs, and housework, and taking care of big sissy.
I knew she’d come at 38 weeks, but still it caught me by surprise. I never got to all those things on my list. All that contemplation and connection. Instead, it was Friday night and we went to dinner at a friend’s house and I announced to everyone I was done. Wishful thinking, I thought.
But, sure enough, that night the cramps turned into contractions and I slept as well as I could between each one, hopeful when they were 6 minutes apart but remembering the nights of prodromal labor with her sister. And, just the same, daylight came and they tapered out. Another night, the same. Exhausted but excited. Another day spread out and then a third night, more intense. I could no longer sleep between. I howled into the night, “Bring me my baby,” a voice primal and haunting escaping from my lips.
Alex got up at 3AM to check on me. He must have sensed it was time or heard my wails. We called Grandma and when she arrived the contractions were 3 to 5 minutes apart, strong enough to make me believe maybe we wouldn’t have to wait another night. I cried in the triage room when they admitted me. This was real. Somehow it had all flown by and I was having a baby. A BABY. How was it not real, already?
Bright lights and 30 minutes of fetal monitoring left me twisting back in forth in the hospital bed. “Your baby will be here soon, Mama,” the nurse assured me, her Spanish accent so maternal I wanted to melt into her arms. I needed to get up and move around. I was ready.
As the light began to creep into the sky, I felt my contractions spreading back out. I was too late. I couldn’t do another day and night. I needed my old friend, Pitocin, but now the memory of induced contractions flooded back and I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do it again. I had told myself if this birth was like Eloise’s I would do it differently. Not because I regretted the way I’d done it before, but because I’d already done it.
I asked for an epidural knowing Pitocin was next.
When the doctor came in, he thought I was the surrogate for my dad and my husband, who were with me in the room. We laughed. Exactly the moment comedic relief was needed.
I was more afraid of an epidural than the pain, but I was also so very, very tired. I held my breath and trusted it was an experience I needed. I let myself be less than perfect because perfect in my mind was facing the pain head on. After all, I’d done it the other way before. I should be able to do it again, but maybe that’s exactly why I didn’t. I needed to make time stand still, the super power I’d always wanted as a child. A tiny break before the marathon of newborn parenting.
I may have cried a little as the epidural was administered, but soon my legs were fuzzy and I was able to relax. We’re too hard on ourselves as women, I’ve decided. The midwife who delivered Eloise came on duty and we chatted about my choice. She was so supportive, her curiosity about my experience comforting, as she wanted to hear the difference between an epidural birth and a natural one, having opted to go natural for her one and only childbirth. Knowing she would deliver Miriam was everything I needed. It was the natural balance to my choice.
For the next 7 hours, I rested and visited with family. It was somehow anti-climatic to lie and wait for the baby to arrive, unlike the hours of hard work I put in with Eloise. Still, there was comfort in the ability to let go and just let it happen. I imagined my body opening. I went crazy unable to move my legs. Finally, the epidural started to wear off just as I hit the wall of transition. I wailed and moaned and sent the anesthesiologist running down the hall with needles to fix things. Numb again, I stopped trying to harass my legs back to life and finally accepted my passive state.
When it was time to push, she was out in just three contractions. So much peace in her exit. The midwife had me hold my own legs and the muscle memory of pushing came back easily. No tearing, no pain. Just a baby. As her head emerged, they had me sit up to look. I pulled her onto my own chest. My little act of agency in such a passive state. A gift from my kind midwife, knowing I needed a little more.
A warm, wet baby on my chest. Wiggling and real. My baby. Born on a rainy afternoon in February without screams or profanity, just ease and grace. Tears again. Loving disbelief on my husband’s face. Eloise was the first besides us to meet her. I had thought we’d wait until we went upstairs to recover, but my husband marched her in and I pulled her into bed with me. Another moment I didn’t know I needed. Our little family of four finally complete.
Two girls, my girls. Miriam Grace, the missing piece of our puzzle, teaching me on day one to be present instead of “perfect,” to make time stand still, again, to let her enter the world in peace.