The accepted wisdom is that everything is easier with your second baby- the birth, finding a routine, even breastfeeding. But what if bonding is actually harder the second time around?
My second child, Hana, was born unexpectedly early via an emergency c-section. The procedure was rushed, stressful and caused incredible anxiety for me. During our stay in hospital, I felt very detached from her and kept longing for my son, who was at home with his dad.
I never really had an opportunity to say goodbye to him as we rushed to hospital, to spend some special time with him before we turned his world upside down by giving him a sister. I felt guilty for being away from him; the idea of loving another baby as much as him suddenly seemed impossible. Of course I then felt guilty for being so consumed by these feelings that I couldn’t focus on Hana at all. Once home, the difficulty that I experienced with bonding with her continued and I distinctly remember feeling like someone else’s baby was sleeping in my daughter’s cot.
I loved her but wasn’t in love with her, yet. There was a certain magic missing from the first few weeks with Hana that was there the first time around. Everything felt much more mechanical with her. We knew what to expect and when to expect it and perhaps didn’t give each moment its due because of that. As exciting as having a new baby in the house was, I felt as if there was something to be mourned at the same time. The door on the old, one-child way was closed and we were left to find our way, quite blindly, through the “two child family” door.
Hana smiling for the first time at seven weeks was a major turning point for me. It was the first time that I felt connected to her. Over the next three weeks, ou rlove affair began to grow and when that wave of love for her finally arrived, it was as if it was always there. Relieved that I had made it through a very dark time, I was still baffled by the difficulties I’d experienced for the first weeks of Hana’s life. I wanted to know whethe rit was normal for second-time moms t ogo through bonding issues. Fact is, many moms struggle with these feelings the second time around.
“A mom’s birth experience, whether vaginal or caesarean, plays a huge factor in bonding with her baby. Trauma experienced during delivery as well as separation at birth between mom and baby can negatively impact the bonding process,” says Heather Wood, a nurse and midwife in private practice at Thula Baby Centre in Cape Town.
She adds that while second-time moms were less prone to bonding issues, they did struggle more with guilt, which could hinder bonding. “Many moms feel an enormous amount of guilt because they love another child and, because newborns are more time-consuming, these moms will feel guilty for spending more time with the new baby.
“When it comes to your older child, not having all your needs met straight away is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it teaches them how to share and encourages them to develop self-restraint.”
While guilt is a common emotion for moms, she cautions us not to spend too much energy on it. “Guilt is such a destructive emotion that moms spend so much time wallowing in. It is important to acknowledge the guilt, but also to tell yourself that you are doing the best you can. Giving your children the gift of a sibling is an incredible gift even if they cannot fully understand it as yet.”
Make bonding easier
Losing the guilt aids bonding, but how can we achieve this? Heather says a support structure when you have more than one child, and especially when bonding is slower, is key. “Whether the help comes from a nanny, your partner or family member is irrelevant – as long as the mom has someone helping with the load. Spending ample one-on-one time with the new baby will certainly help, but it is also important to get one-on-one time in with the first child.” She adds that a supportive clinic or mommy group would also aid in making a struggling second-time mom feel supported, which would help with bonding.