My little man will be turning 1 next week and just like the cliché, I’m wondering where this past year has gone. His cake smash photo shoot is booked, the special day outfit has been pressed and a neat stack of presents are waiting in the cupboard. I am certain that the photos will capture our smiles and laughter, I just hope no one sees how devastated I feel inside.
With a small age gap between him and my daughter, I’ve spent plenty of time looking forward to saying goodbye to regurgitated milk and wrestling with a wriggly baby as I chase down a feral 2-year-old. I can’t wait for him to become a boisterous toddler who will play hide-and-seek with his sister, and name the colours of the cars in the car park. It will not only be a celebration of the first year of his life but also a milestone for the whole family – no trips to A&E, no divorce, win!
I have been thinking a lot recently about why I feel so sad on this joyous day.
When I was pregnant second time around, I received many comments and questions on how I plan to manage my firstborn’s jealousy. I hadn’t thought much about this. I started to panic. My hormones made me cry.
From the day I brought my wrinkly newborn home, I became hyper aware of my eldest’s every reaction. I was conscious to spend plenty of one-on-one time with her, involved her in baby care and gave her lots of praise for being kind to her brother. I tried so very hard to lavish upon her as much attention as she was used to. There were (and still are) fleeting moments of jealous behaviour but overall I’ve been pleased with how well she has taken to a younger sibling. It was not until almost a year later that I realised my heartache has been caused by this exact proud parenting moment. Absolutely true that your heart will grow to love more than one, but unfortunately, the number of hours you have to love them is still the same.
It was easier to leave the baby in the bouncer when my daughter needed help on the potty. Sleepy cuddles were interrupted by loud, tuneless renditions of ‘Old MacDonald’. More times than I can remember, he watched tantrums from his Jumperoo. When I desperately tried to pacify his cries in the night, it was mostly driven by fear of waking up his sister. He spent my maternity leave being jogged in the sling as I ran after the bigger one, or asleep in the car seat in corners of soft play centers, gym classes and nursery runs. When I witnessed my baby’s first steps last month, I was taken aback by the feeling that somehow I have missed out on his journey to get there.
I think back to the first time I hit 36 weeks pregnant, excitedly filling drawers with neatly folded, pristine baby clothes. Compare to the second time around, sorting through those same clothes (now slightly stained and crumpled) and drawing a vague line on what couldn’t be handed down – boys can wear a ‘Daddy’s Little Princess’ T-shirt right?!
It’s not just my husband and I who were inadvertently biased either, my little girl’s birth was marked with hundreds of generous gifts from proud family and friends. For my son, we received a total of four ‘Congratulations’ cards, and two of those happened to be the same!
Of course babies do not arrive into this world with expectations and I highly doubt my second-born will feel any adverse effects from his experience. But I have expectations and falling short of these makes me unhappy. I feel guilty that I haven’t been able to give him as many cuddles as I wanted. Now that he is an overactive toddler, more interested in climbing on the toilet than cuddling, I need to accept that those moments have passed.
I remind myself that this day isn’t about me. It is about my son.
My little boy, I hope you don’t feel hard done by being the second child. I so wish we could have had more private moments to snuggle and bond. I wish I had the luxury of being able to simply watch you sleep. You might feel like you’re always playing catch up, or that you’re second favourite, but have no fear, one day you will see how special your place in the family is.
You entered into this world with an additional person to love you. To adore you. And to forge a special bond with that you won’t have with anyone else. Yes, you will have to share your birthday photo shoot (and most certainly birthday cake) with your sister, but she will share sloppy kisses and hugs in return. She might boss you around sometimes but she will also be fiercely protective.
What you have in a big sister and best friend is going to be worth every squabble, every wait and every tea party you have to attend. Trust me.
Happy birthday baby!