When Emily became pregnant with her second child, she and her husband were thrilled. They had planned and achieved a three-year age difference between their older daughter, Jennifer, and the new baby. They felt this would give them enough time to fully experience Jennifer's babyhood before having a second child. Emily's pregnancy was progressing normally and all their family and friends were excited. It took Emily quite by surprise then, when she suddenly started to feel sad about the pregnancy. As much as she wanted the baby, she knew that once the baby was born, her relationship with Jennifer would change forever. In fact, she sometimes found herself crying when she thought about having to give up the special intimacy she and Jennifer shared. Along with the sadness, Emily felt guilty that her feelings about having the baby were so mixed.
To Emily and to all you other parents out there who have experienced this feeling, relax! This is a perfectly normal reaction, not only for mothers but for fathers as well. As parents, we pour our hearts and souls into our first children. We adore them, devote all our available time to them, comfort them and study them. We develop an intense and wonderful bond with them. So much so, in fact, that we can't imagine our lives being any different. So when there's another baby on the way, we may be ready in some ways, but emotionally it is a very big adjustment for us. We spend so much time worrying about how to prepare our first child for the baby, that we forget to prepare ourselves!
Here are some suggestions on how to cope with these mixed-up feelings:
• First of all, DON'T feel guilty. You are feeling sad about having to give up something you have treasured and you need time to get used to it.
• It may feel, right now, that you couldn't possible love another baby as much as you love your first child, but you will see that a parent's love is endless. No matter how many children you have, you will have more than enough love to go around. But practically speaking, your first child is here and the new baby isn't yet. So it makes sense that your feelings for your first child are stronger right now and you need to acknowledge this reality to yourself without feeling bad about it.
• Talk to your partner and friends, particularly those who have had more than one child. You will be surprised to find out that you are not the only person to have experienced these confusing feelings. And it is comforting to know that you are not alone.
• Start to think of ways in which you can maintain the special relationship you have with your first child. For example with some planning between you and your partner, you won't have to give up the bathtime, reading, and bedtime rituals which are often some the most special times between parents and children. While this may become more complicated as the baby gets older, with some flexibility you will be able to feel good about giving everyone (including yourself) what he needs.
• Don't forget that although you may feel sad about giving up the special bond felt between a parent and an only child, you are replacing it with something equally wonderful. You will feel the love, hugs and snuggles of two children who adore and need you. And your life will become richer for it.
Understanding some of the confusing feelings you may be having will help you to manage the emotional swings associated with pregnancy. Then, after the new baby is born, you will find that the way in which you parent your children is enriched because you will better understand your feelings towards your children and your ways of responding to them. Be sure that you will love your new baby just as much as you love your first child, even if the love is not to be exactly the same.