My family and I pull up at the park and happily clamber out of the car. I do so gingerly, still tender from my recent cesarean, while my husband retrieves our toddler and crying newborn from the backseat. Unperturbed by the wails of his baby sister, our toddler is practically bursting with excitement.
“Can we see the fairies yet?” he shrieks for the 1 millionth time since we told him we were coming.
I look ahead at the uphill pathway that leads to a childrens “fairy” garden and I realise with disappointment that I have overestimated my ability to walk this distance so soon after surgery.
“You go ahead with daddy and I’ll wait here for you” I tell him.
“Mummy come too!” He pleads, his eyes filling with tears.
My husband quickly and gently intervenes and distracts him, and soon they are headed off into the garden together, hand in hand. Holding my daughter in my arms I gently sit myself down on a nearby park bench. I strain to listen to my son’s excited chatter but their voices soon fade off into the distance.
I look down at my 3 week old baby and I am filled with shame because, the truth is, I feel inhibited. Right now I wish I could be with my joyous toddler instead of stuck sitting here.
Fast forward to the weekend and we have taken our toddler to the museum for the first time. He runs from exhibit to exhibit, exclaiming with wonder and glee. His face is alight with joy as he jumps up and down pointing and shouting “dinosaurs, dinosaurs!
Again and again he calls to me, arms outstretched “Mummy come with me!”
I try my best to join in the merriment from my isolated vantagepoint in the corner of the room where I sit breastfeeding the baby. But my voice is drowned out by the hum of happy voices bouncing around the auditorium. I scold myself, knowing that I should feel nothing but completely content and grateful to be sitting here feeding my newborn baby. I force a smile on my face and swallow the lump that has lodged in my throat.
Fast forward again and we are now home. I am sitting on the couch breastfeeding the baby (again). My husband and our toddler are chasing, wrestling and tickling each other. Their squeals of laughter fill the house.
As soon as I finish breastfeeding, my husband offers to hold our daughter so that I can join in the fun. But as I turn to my son, I see his face fall. His eyes filled with tears and in a pleading voice he says “No, I want daddy”.
Both my husband and I do our best to convince him that I will play with him now but he remains adamant. With gut wrenching eloquence he insists; he wants his daddy, not mummy.
With the baby back in my arms, I turn my head away to hide the tears that threaten to bubble over. I feel embarrassed by my immature response to this rejection.
In fairness, how can I blame him? He has been asking for me endlessly for the past month but most of his requests have been met with remorseful dismissal. He has pleaded for me at bedtime, but I have been physically unable to lift him into his cot. He has tearfully beseeched me to play with him, but I have been endlessly occupied with breastfeeding the baby.
Repeatedly he has asked for his mummy. But now, it would seem, he has stopped asking.
The truth is that in between cluster breastfeeding and trying to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’, there has barely been any quality time for my toddler and I. And I miss him so much it hurts.
I know that I should be in a bubble of newborn bliss, soaking up every second and overflowing with gratitude. But in all honesty, most of the time I am consumed with thoughts of my firstborn. I spend hours (stuck under my sleeping or breastfeeding baby), scrolling through my phone staring at photos of my eldest child.
For the past 2 and a half years, this little boy and I have been utterly inseparable. I have not just been his primary caregiver but also his playmate, his protector, his best friend. My life has been consumed with meeting his needs and wants, and he has held my complete and undivided attention. Every time he has needed me, I have been there unswervingly, heart and soul. And I wonder, in angst, if I will ever regain the special bond I had with him or, with the birth of my second child, had it slipped away from me forever.
They say that when you have a second baby your love grows exponentially. And while this is absolutely true (my heart was indeed overflowing with love for both my children), this didn’t endow me the ability to equally divide my time and attention. I felt that I was failing to meet the needs of my son, whilst simultaneously failing to be fully emotionally invested with my daughter. The guilt consumed me on all fronts.
I did not anticipate that the feelings of loss towards my toddler would be my primary cause of distress following the birth of my baby. And while I wish I could say that there was something that I did that lessened these feelings, in reality it was just a transitional phase that had to be felt and lived though. What I can say is that with time these feelings did pass.
After a few months the intensity of my baby’s needs lessened and I was better able to divide my time and attention between my two children. My daughter is now old enough that she is able to spend time happily occupied on her playmat or in a bouncer while I play with my son. If anything, the tables have now turned and there are times when she gets completely overlooked in the wake of her elder brothers exuberant play. But most of the time she is content to just watch him in adoration (he is without a doubt her favourite person).
At this moment both my children are asleep (a rare occurrence) but it is my son who wakes first. I can hear him stirring and before long he calls out for me. As I enter his room his face lights up and he holds out his arms to me. Still heavy with sleep he wraps his arms and legs around me and nestles his face into my neck. We cuddle up together in an armchair whispering words of love, tickling each other and quietly reading stories.
And in this moment I am filled with contentment, because my bond with my firstborn is still here, just as strong as ever.
You may also like to read AN OPEN LETTER TO MY HUSBAND; ON THE BIRTH OF OUR SECOND CHILD.
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