Loving Baby #2

I wrote this several years ago, for my parenting book that still hasn’t found a publisher. Today, my “baby #2” turns 12 years old. Amy, thank you for all that you’ve taught me over the years, and for proving to me that my heart was capable of a deeper love than I’d ever thought possible.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart.

When I got pregnant with my second child, I was thrilled and excited—at least, that’s what I told everyone at the time. The truth is, my joy at having another baby was clouded by a nagging fear: that I would not, COULD NOT possibly love this new child as much as my first one. Christina was my entire world. She had supplanted my husband as the love of my life, from the moment I felt her move, to the first time I gazed at her beautiful, blotchy little face. I knew immediately that she owned my heart. Once I learned that I was expecting for the second time, I secretly confessed to myself that although I would love the new baby, Christina was my number one, and there was no changing that. It made me wonder how my own mother hid her true feelings from me all of these years: as the youngest of her three children, I realized now that I must surely take a backseat in her affections, even though she had always managed to make me feel loved. She repeatedly claimed that she didn’t love any one of us more than the other, but now those words seemed hollow to me. Once you’ve given over your entire heart to one child, how can you possibly have anything left for another?

The one advantage I could possibly foresee for this new baby was that this time around, I had some solid mothering experience under my belt. I would not be afraid of holding her the wrong way, wouldn’t panic when she ran her first fever, wouldn’t feel the same gnawing doubts that I didn’t know what I was doing. This baby may not have the best of my love, but at least she would reap the benefits of my past experience. That would have to be enough.

Compounding the problem was the overwhelming guilt I started to feel as the birth got closer. Not over my inability to love the new baby, but guilt over the fact that I’d be taking attention away from daughter number one. As my belly grew larger, it became nearly impossible for Christina to climb up into my lap for a cuddle. Towards the end of my pregnancy, she perched precariously on my leg as I tried to read her a storybook. Leaning closer to see the pictures, she inadvertently pressed down on my burgeoning tummy. Its little resident took immediate offense and gave Big Sister a swift kick in the arm. Christina was delighted (“Hey Baby!” she squealed, “Are you saying Hi to me?”), but I was angry. How dare this new upstart infringe upon our last few moments alone together?

The big day arrived. Unlike my first tumultuous birth experience two years prior, this new baby was born, quickly and conveniently, via scheduled C-section. When the doctors said, “It’s a Girl”, my first thought was “a little sister for Christina!” Even at this crucial moment, my mind was consumed with thoughts of my first child, not my second.

Just a few moments later in the Recovery Room, they handed Amy to me for the first time. This was much different from my previous experience, when I didn’t get to hold my first daughter until many hours later. Chris was born more than 2 weeks late, a sturdy 8-pounder with big, brown eyes, olive complexion, and full head of thick, dark hair–she looked just like my own baby pictures. When I first saw her, we had just endured 45 hours of grueling labor together, and our connection was instantaneous. This time, it all happened so fast, I felt oddly detached. Looking down at this new little person, I searched desperately for any similarities that could help me tap into the feelings I had for Christina.

Amy, born 12 days early, was much smaller, with a teeny little head, and wisps of silky fine hair delicately draping her face. I stared in awe at her tiny body, her translucent skin, and her non-existent eyebrows. As she wrapped a wrinkled hand around my finger, I felt a familiar stirring in my chest, but a voice inside my head pushed it away defiantly: “Yes, she’s cute, but she’s not Christina.”

And then, there it was. A small noise, unlike anything I’d ever experienced: a high-pitched, squeaking sound, similar to the squeal emitted by a slowly deflating balloon…and it was coming from my new baby. I had heard babies coo, cry, and even snort, but never before had I encountered one who sighed high notes of pure contentment. In that instant, an incredible rush of emotion blindsided me, and the tears of love and surrender flowed freely. All at once, I felt the long-overdue gratitude for this new life that I was privileged to bring into the world. I looked down at the perfect, squirming infant in my arms, and marveled at my husband’s beautiful blue eyes, now staring back at me from within this tiny, upturned face. I saw that Amy’s lips were petite and pink and stretched into a perfect smile. There was soft, blonde fuzz covering her face that I hadn’t noticed before, and a huge beauty mark hidden just above her left ear. And again, there was that squeal…her precious, unique, adorable squeak of joy.

Somehow, it had actually happened. There was no question now that I loved and cherished this baby with the same all-consuming fierceness that every mother feels for her children—all of her children—regardless of their birth order. I realized that my mother had been telling me the truth all of these years. Having another child doesn’t divide a heart in two: somehow, it makes your heart double in size, with room enough for all.

Looking back, my mistake was in thinking that I’d love them both “the same.” That is impossible. What is possible is to love your children individually and equally, no matter how many you have. Even though they share the same genetic makeup, each child is their very own person. It is this uniqueness that should be celebrated, for it allows them to carve out their own place in the universe, and more importantly, in their parents’ lives.

I love Amy, not because of the ways she is similar to her sister, but because of all the extraordinary ways she is a miracle in her own right.

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