It’s a fact of nature that, the longer you do something, the better you tend to get at it. This applies to parenting as well. So of course, there are things I’m doing this time around that I didn’t when Zoey was a baby. Or things I’m doing differently. That’s natural and normal. It is perfectly fine to have a few regrets about “not knowing better” with the previous child(ren) and I don’t beat myself up too much about those things.
There is one big difference between Zoey and Eleanor’s childhood, however, that I do feel sadness and guilt about. That is my presence in their lives. Obviously, I’m physically more present now that I am not working, but what I’m most referring to is mental presence. I didn’t realize it at the time – or even for quite awhile afterward – but for the first six months or so after Zoey was born I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For those that have read Zoey’s birth story, I’m sure you can begin to understand a bit of why this happened to me. I would wake up in the middle of the night, soaked with sweat, shaking and crying from nightmares reliving the c-section. I had moments – days actually – where my primary emotion was livid anger toward the anesthesiologist. When I heard the birth stories of other moms I would experience one of two emotions: intense jealousy at their successful vaginal birth or deep despair at their need to have a c-section as well. I couldn’t wrap my head around why anyone would choose to have a c-section without even trying to labor first, or how anyone could feel content with their c-section birth experience afterward.
While I absolutely loved Zoey from the first moment I saw her, emotionally I was not as present as I could or should have been during her first year. I still experienced love and happiness and “oh my baby is soooo cute!!!!” moments, but I also would wake up in the middle of the night and go to her crib expecting to find her dead. Not afraid or worried that she would be, but actually expecting it and feeling completely numb and devoid of emotion about it.
Everything has been different with Eleanor. As I wrote about in her birth story, my primary emotion surrounding Eleanor’s birth was one of intense, overwhelming joy. I have never in my life felt as elated as I did while pushing out my second child. Watching her grow these past ten months, I have been acutely aware of how much happier I have been, how much more patient and engaged with my children, than I was after Zoey was born. I looked at Eleanor the other day and had the shocking realization that I can’t remember what Zoey looked like as a baby. I know her eyes started off as blue and took a long time – more than a year – to turn hazel. I know her hair was darker than Eleanor’s. But I don’t remember, really, what her tiny left hand looked like and felt like, with the two fingers webbed together. I don’t remember how she looked when she first started crawling or the way her “dinosaur speak” sounded when she first found her voice. All these things were less than two years ago and should still be so fresh in my mind but instead are lost in a gray haze of tainted memory. I remember the anger and the fear and the pain vividly. Oh, so vividly. But I can’t remember my baby. I was robbed of Zoey’s babyhood and it is something I can never get back again.
I look at videos and pictures and do my best to remind myself and remember. I try to cherish and commit to memory all the adorableness of Zoey’s toddler years. The funny way she runs – still a toddle. The cute and funny phrases she says. The way her imagination is starting to bloom. I just hope that someday it’s enough. I hope that someday, when she asks me about when she was a baby and gets only vague answers where her sister gets details, that she understands. That she knows its not because of her, it’s not her fault. It is not that I didn’t love her more than life itself. I hope she understands that we were both hurt by the circumstances of her birth but that I fought like hell to try to overcome that hurt so that she would know a mother who had love and patience for her daughter. A mom who has memories of her beautiful girl and the joy of being her mother, rather than memories of pain and anger. I hope she understands.