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"From the moment I found out I was pregnant, it was different." How my second child healed me.

My eldest son loves hearing the story of his birth. I tell him about the whole experience with some of the graphic details omitted. 

I explain about the horrible pain I was in for hours, then the scary moment when we learned that the cord was wrapped around his neck and we feared we could lose him, and then the absolute relief when after the fastest surgery imaginable they pulled him from me and I saw his bright red bottom and scrotum and heard his loud angry squawks. 

Then I tell him how much I loved him instantly. How I was flooded with a deep, heart expanding love from the moment I first saw that little red butt. 

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I tell him how strange it was that from the moment I met him I felt he had always been there, that I had known him my whole life. But I hadn’t. He was brand new, and I was so excited that I got the live my life with him in it forever.

All of this is true – having my eldest son is probably the peak moment of my life so far. I had never experienced anything like that before, the love that I felt for him blew me away, and I was changed completely from the moment he was born. 

Having my eldest son also heralded the start of the hardest period of my adult life. I struggled for a number of years to accept the change that having a child brought in my life; I also struggled to believe that I was good enough as a mother. 

Everything had changed. 

My friendships were different, my relationship with my husband – which had always been so rock solid – was taken right to the edge; I just didn’t know myself anymore. The most intense feeling I had at this time though was that I was entirely unworthy to be the mother to this glorious, stunning little human. 

Looking back now I can see it was my rigid thinking that created lots of the angst in those early years. I had such fixed ideas of what a good mother did and didn’t do, what my family should look like and be like, and how I should feel and act. And things kept toppling these fixed ideas, and this made me feel like a complete failure.

Firstly, his birth did not go to plan, I had this bizarre idea of what 'real' birth was – vaginal and drug free – and felt that it was my fault when I didn’t and couldn’t give birth this way.

Then I was obsessed with exclusively breastfeeding him, even when he was losing weight and sometimes clearly hungry I thought (and let’s be honest, the culture tells us) that if I wanted to properly bond with him, I would need to exclusively breastfeed. I tried everything until I had to accept that I would need to mix feed, and still the feeling of failure and shame ran deep.

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Next I thought I would be a full-time stay at home mum to him for at least a year, possibly more. But I didn’t like it, neither of us did. From day one my son was an extrovert, and it didn’t work. I felt incredibly guilty – I thought a 'good mother' wouldn’t feel this way.

I could list another 50 things, probably more, that I had fixed ideas about in regards to how I 'should' be after having a child – as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, as a friend, as an employee. And each time real life veered away from the image in my head, I felt I was failing.

It took me a good three years of feeling all of this to finally face it. Outwardly I seemed to be functioning well enough, but internally I was a shell of myself. I was having regular panic attacks, my marriage was struggling because I was so mired in self-hatred, and the absolute worst was my fear that my son didn’t love me – I just didn’t think he could when I felt like such a failure.

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It took lots of therapy, journaling, meditation, walking, and chats with my husband and best friend for me to learn to change my thinking around these things, to stop trying to control everything and accept life and to accept myself. 

But it was the experience having my second son that really healed these feelings and fears in me. 

It took us a long time to make the decision to try for another child, my husband was rightly fearful that having a second baby would crack me and us completely apart.

But from the moment I found out I was pregnant, it was different. My thinking had finally shifted. When I planned how I would give birth this time I didn’t have a fixed notion about what 'good mothers' did, I thought instead about what would be best for me, and my baby and my family.

When I packed my bag for the hospital I included a large tin of newborn formula in my suitcase. I wanted to exclusively breastfeed this time too, but would accept if I couldn’t and be prepared for this eventuality.

And when my husband offered to take the baby for a walk because I clearly needed a break, or my Mum said, "I’ll give him a bottle, you look tired, go and rest", I didn’t feel like I was a failure and that these people (who love me deeply) thought I couldn’t cope. I recognised that I was tired, I needed a rest, and the people who loved me were supporting me to do this.

I can’t regret my first few years as a mother, as Beth Orton sings, 'No regrets, just lessons we haven’t learned yet', and I needed to learn those lessons, albeit in a very difficult, heartbreaking way.

But if there is a mother-to-be reading this who is expecting their first child, I hope you can learn these lessons with your first baby instead of your second. There is no fixed way to be a mother, you are good enough, and you do deserve this. Just do you best, respond to the things life presents, and try to enjoy it as much as you can. 

If you’re struggling, ask for help. And take help when it’s offered – the helpers aren’t offering because they think you’re failing, they’re offering because they want you to succeed.

Feature Image: Getty

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