After the rollercoaster ride of my pregnancy with Jessica and her first year undergoing several open heart surgeries, it was a huge relief when all appeared well on scan with Sophie. I was looking forward to a normal pregnancy, a normal family life, being able to enjoy my newborn baby without the fear that I would never get to take her home.
My pregnancy with Sophie was very much planned and wanted. Like many mums expecting their second child though, I had moments of worrying about how I would adjust to two children and whether I would love my second child as much as my first. “Don’t worry,” everyone said, “of course, you will.” The rush of love would come when my second child arrived; I would love them as much as my first from the word go – of course I would. Their words reassured me. I never expected that I would struggle to bond with my second baby.
Sophie’s birth was everything I hoped it would be. At home, in the water, with Jessica able to greet her sister within minutes of Sophie’s arrival. I was thrilled to have another girl and yes, there was that initial rush of love. Admittedly, not as intense as the rush of love I’d had for Jessica. There wasn’t the same overwhelming joy, the huge rush of emotions. But then Sophie was healthy. With Jessica, there had been the fear that I wouldn’t even get to hold my live, breathing child in my arms, plus the knowledge that she needed risky open-heart surgery. Was it any wonder that my rush of emotions was so much more intense with Jessica’s arrival?
The first shock though was just how difficult breastfeeding second time around was. I had assumed that having breastfed Jessica for seventeen months, that Sophie would latch perfectly and all would be smooth sailing. I wasn’t prepared for the sore, cracked bleeding nipples and the relentlessness of cluster feeding. The pain on latching her made me dread each feed. It was ten long days before feeding finally started to become comfortable. Thankfully hubby was around during that time so I could focus on getting breastfeeding established with Sophie and not have to worry about too much else. And then he went back to work, with the long hours that working in the events industry comes with. I was on my own with the girls, trying to juggle the demands that come with being a mum of two.
During the day it was a struggle to give Jessica the attention I wanted to whilst trying to meet Sophie’s needs. I missed the time I used to have to sit and play or do crafts with Jessica. Doing bedtime by myself was hard. Sophie would start her cluster feeding at around Jessica’s bedtime. I missed being able to sit with Jessica on my lap, reading stories together. Now I was just putting her to bed and sitting by her cot, endlessly feeding Sophie whilst waiting for Jessica to go to sleep. Naturally, Jessica was clingier too, wanting me to stay with her until she’d fallen asleep.
Sophie would often wake up at around 11.30pm for a feed but then be wide awake until long into the early hours of the morning. I still vividly recall walking the streets in my pyjamas at 4am with Sophie in a sling, both of us crying, as I tried desperately to lull her to sleep. That night she was awake from 11.30pm until 7.15am. I got 15 minutes sleep before Jessica woke for the day. The word exhaustion didn’t even come close to describing the bone-numbing tiredness I felt.
With exhaustion came resentment. I resented Sophie for taking my time away from Jessica, for the change that her arrival had brought. Whilst I knew deep down that I did love her, I didn’t feel it. I would sit up feeding her in the night, sobbing and feeling guilty. I had a beautiful, healthy baby. She had been planned and wanted, yet now I was struggling to love her. I felt like the world’s worst mother.
In the day, I would put on a brave face. I would pretend everything was perfect, that of course I adored my two beautiful girls. And indeed there were moments when it did feel like a reality. But in the night I would sit and cry, convinced I was a bad person. I was convinced that God would take Jessica away from me because I loved her more than her sister. I was a terrible mother who didn’t deserve to be blessed with two beautiful children.
If only I tried a little harder, it would get better. Tomorrow would be a better day. Perhaps tomorrow I would do the right things and be a better mother. I was too scared to talk to anyone about my feelings. Talking about it would make it real. I didn’t want anyone else to know what an awful mother I was. Scared of being judged, or worse yet, that my children might be taken away from me.
I know now that I had postnatal depression and my struggle to bond with my second baby was part of this. Despite hubby trying to convince me to speak to someone, it took me a long ten months before I finally sought help. I was lucky that my GP was incredibly understanding as was my health visitor. Nobody told me I was a bad mother. They listened, offered support, offered help. I started having counselling via telephone. My health visitor also came regularly for “support visits” giving me a chance to talk about my worries.
Slowly, but surely things improved. I can honestly say now that I love Sophie every bit as much as her sister. My love for her is very different though – she is a different child after all. I did not have the same intense experience with her babyhood as I did with Jessica in terms of health concerns.
I wish someone had said to me though in those early days that they had felt a similar way. All I heard were stories of mothers that seemed to bond instantly with second and subsequent babies. It made me feel a failure for not feeling the same way. I wish I had realised that seeking help did not mean I had failed as a mother. That I wasn’t a horrible person and I didn’t have to struggle on alone. Perhaps I would have sought help sooner had I known.
Sophie was over a year old before I felt able to be honest about my struggle to bond with my second baby, particularly with other mums that I encounter in real-life. I’ve hesitated over sharing my story. But then I remember how alone I felt. By staying silent, I reinforce the stigma that surrounds postnatal depression.
One of the things that helped me hugely in the days before I finally sought help was discovering #PNDHour on Twitter. #PDNHour provides an online space for parents who have also experienced postnatal depression or postpartum psychosis to talk and share experiences. I finally realised I was not alone and that I needed help, that my struggles were not going to go away if only I ‘just tried harder’.
Joining in the #PNDHour chat session each Wednesday from 8-9pm helped me hugely. #PNDHour was started by Rosey, a mum of three who blogs about her experiences of pre- and postnatal depression in order to raise awareness and help provide support. You can find her blog here and more about #PNDHour on the video below:
If you’re reading this and having a similar struggle, I just want to say that it is okay. You will get there. That love will come. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow – but it will come. Please don’t feel like you’re a bad mum, or that you’ve failed. You’re not and you haven’t. Parenthood is incredibly hard work at times and everyone needs support. Please don’t struggle on like I did. There is so much support and help available out there. You are not alone and things can, and will, get better.