"Not Love at First Sight"

Bonding with my second baby didn't come as easily to me as bonding with the first. But I learned that love moves at its own pace.

Bonding with a second baby isn't always easy

It’s not something I sit and reflect on. In fact, I can’t say I think about it at all, except when I go back in time. Tonight is one of those nights. There we are, lying together on my big bed as we settle in for yet another evening of home videos.

My three sons cuddle against me, soaking up the glow of the TV. They all laugh at the cute, younger versions of themselves.

I like watching them watch themselves. Especially my youngest. He’s snuggled into my lap, murmuring softly. When we both appear on the screen, he nudges me and turns toward me with a wide smile. He is warmed by what we see.

And I look at it through his eyes: a young mother playing with a new baby. Her eyes are as big as her smile, and her voice dances in a sing-song as she jiggles the plump baby in her lap.

My son is pointing gleefully. “Look, Mommy! There’s baby me! And you are so excited because you loved baby me!”

“Yes,” my mouth begins on autopilot. “I loved my little baby!”

But my eyes see something different. They see the truth. A mother who is faking it. Who feels the camera burning a hole through her soul as she makes her face look as happy as she knows she should feel. I see a mother who is looking beyond the new baby in her lap, trying to recapture the perfect happiness she used to know. She knows and loves the other, older baby — he feels like hers. Yet he’s the one who’s been slighted since this new, small stranger has taken over her lap.

What have I done?

Because I know that truth, I’m shocked that it’s not clearly evident on the screen. I’m surprised that everyone around us isn’t pointing and noting that that mother doesn’t really love that baby.

And I didn’t. There. I’ve said it. It was a horrible secret that I lived with at the time. I didn’t really love this child I’d waited so long to hold.

I could barely admit it to myself. Well, I don’t love him as much as I will. The bonding will come. This is probably how I felt about his brother at first, and I just don’t remember.

But the truth was that, for whatever reason, it wasn’t love at first sight with this child. I distinctly remember crying myself to sleep on my first night with him. Staring in his crib and thinking what have I done? How could I have ruined the perfect family bliss we had going on?

Eventually I made peace with myself. I began to feel affection, even love, for him, but still believed the chances were slim that he’d ever hold a candle to his older brother. My terrible secret evolved from “I don’t love this child” to “I love one more than the other.”

Of course I didn’t love my second son as much as I loved his older brother when I first laid eyes on him. At the time, I’d already had 364 days and nights of memories and bonding with my first child. The love between us was firmly established and was getting more intense day by day, whereas my bond with this new baby was just beginning. Why didn’t I see that at the time?

Guilt swallowed me whole. I was surrounded by the loneliness of living a lie. And I went on, treading water, for days. Do I love him now? Weeks. Do I love him more than I did yesterday? Months. Do I love him as much as his brother?

They say a watched pot never boils. And maybe a mother’s heart can’t love under a microscope, either.

I can’t tell you when I began to love him. When I began to feel like he was really mine. Or when I finally felt the strong pull for him that I felt for his brother. I didn’t have an Aha! moment. But, at some point, I realized it was there.

Equal, not same

I remember going to visit my grandmother when I was a child. When I bent over to kiss her goodbye before leaving her house, I would always say, “I love you, Mamaw.” And she would always reply: “I love you, too, honey. I love all of my grandchildren exactly the same.”

And maybe she did. But maybe — she was lying. Because, really, how can you love 10 very different people exactly the same?

When I became the mother of two, I learned that you can’t love two people in the same way. But you can love them the same amount.

Each love is different — begins differently and develops differently. With my first child, I can safely say it was love at first sight. I don’t remember ever feeling like he was a stranger. But when his younger brother came into my arms, one year later, I learned that love can be just as strong, just as powerful, even when it takes the long path to your heart.

And thank goodness I learned this lesson when I did. Because less than a year later, our family would grow again. This time, we were adopting a three-year-old, a little boy who would join our family as the oldest child. I was prepared. I didn’t waste a minute of those first months comparing my feelings for him to those for my other two. I had learned the hard way that this was pointless. Instead, I gave my heart the time it needed to grow the love my son deserved. The love that was just right for him.

Each one of my sons makes me proud in different ways. And they each push my buttons in different ways. And I love them all.

Love goes on

Tonight, I study that baby on the screen. I watch his arms flail about and feel, well, bored. He didn’t do much at that stage of his life.

Then my eyes drift down to the child in my lap. His chocolate eyes, handsome head of hair, and familiar smile. And I am anything but bored. This is the child who diverts me with his daring, off-the-couch gymnastics and his funny stories of his cowboy adventures. He’s the cuddliest, warmest, most sincere three-year-old I have ever met. Every day with him is an adventure. A circus. Front-row seats at the show of my lifetime. Being his mother leaves me exhausted. Entertained. Sweeps me away. But I am never bored.

“Mommy, I love that baby!” my son exclaims, as he points to the smaller version of himself in the video.

“Me too,” I whisper in my son’s ear, gazing not at the infant on the screen but at his three-year-old form. Me too.


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