8.02.2012

Projecting, loving, missing and mothering

Part of my postpartum experience, mixed in with all the joy and exhaustion of getting to know our vibrant newborn son, has been a profound ache in my heart for my daughter. Every time she bikes away with Daddy while I carry the baby inside to nurse, or tries to snuggle up with me to read while my arms balance a new baby and his accoutrements, I feel like crying. After two weeks of this feeling, I'm starting to conclude that it's a mix of re-experiencing my own transition, in which I gained a sibling at age 9 after a lengthy, insular only-childhood, and a sadness for myself as a mom, and it's really impacting my perspective on large families.

"I want to stay home with the baby," she said this morning before school, stroking the baby's face and holding his hands. "He's my little friend. I love him. I'm going to miss him." Not the words of a traumatized child resenting her sibling. My husband said recently, illuminating the difference between her childhood and mine, "she won't even mourn the loss of the way things were - she's too young. By the time she turns 4 she won't even remember not having him with us."

Not once, in fact, has she said anything remotely hostile or resentful of "Little Him," as she calls him. She wants nothing more than to hold him every morning as soon as she wakes up, and the pleasure appears to be completely mutual - his eyes light up when she wraps her arms around him, and she has a delightful ability to calm him anytime, day or night. But she has missed time with just me. And to an even greater degree than I ever imagined, I've missed time with her. Not just the routine mothering time, like yesterday, when we chatted in Starbucks while the baby slept, had a playdate with the neighbors, and then I had to put her on timeout twice after an epic tantrum. But I miss the time of total fixation on just her - reading to her, imagining her education, prioritizing everything I ever want to teach her, leaving my job so I can travel with her - total, complete bonding, in which my cells and her cells become intermingled once again. My whole life, I dreamed of someday having a daughter, and here she is. Many times I'd heard women describe a feeling of "completeness" upon falling in love, but I never felt that...until I had my little blond bear, and became a mother. When I fell in love, I felt happy, good and grateful, but when I became a mom, I felt deeply satisfied.

It's ironic and confusing that becoming a mom again should in any way disrupt that feeling. And I find myself falling in love yet again, with our beautiful little man, who is a good baby, and just a delight. But it's harder to fixate on my closeness with him, and it's impossible to fixate on her, because they are both there, and the overall feeling leaves me both satisfied and a little bereft.

It's an excellent argument for me against having a third child, and I wonder how people with three, four or five children do it. Do they find some way to suppress the feelings of loss when they have the new baby? Find a way to connect deeply with all of them? Do they never achieve the stunning connection in the first place? Even though I used to want three children, I can't imagine making our little guy a middle child and losing time with him, too. It sounds like more than I want to take on. What I really want to do is create a life that allows us to travel and explore the world with them, and get to know the children, ourselves and each other better in new and interesting ways. It makes me really excited.

It's a good thing my husband and I are the deciders, though. As I cuddled in my daughter's bed this morning while she woke up and held the baby, she said, "Mama, I'd like to just know what it's like, and what it FEELS like, to have a little sister." "So, you want me and Daddy to make a another new baby just so you can have a little sister in addition to this little guy?" "Yeah," she said, and giggled at my incredulity. "I dunno, girl...I think one baby is enough for us," I said. "No mama! Two babies!" said my little girl.