I was 30 when I had my first daughter; ecstatic, euphoric, and energetic. I felt youthful, optimistic and hopeful. And despite the rainy weather on that November afternoon, the clouds parted and the sun shone down upon that hospital room as if to illuminate us as the poster family for the ideal birth scenario. I recall my midwife commenting that I had the perfect physical body for having babies (whatever that meant). But from first contraction to epidural free delivery, it was from what I could tell, “textbook” and with that, as good as it got.
Being a mother to my baby was almost as easy. Sure, the breast feeding was painful and took some time to master. Yes, I was often unsure and insecure in my new role. And of course, I was mind-numbingly tired. But I understood my daughter. And I think she understood me. Who we were as individuals seemed to be pretty simpatico. And to this day, even as she’s in the midst of her teen years, we still are.
I was almost 36 when I had my second daughter. Fresh off the heels of a miscarriage that wrecked my emotions and my hormonal balance, I was weary, worried and drained. I felt a lot wiser (there’s a good side and bad side to being wise) and a lot older than I did 5 years prior. And despite being so excited and eager to have another baby, I suffered debilitating pre-partum depression which meant the whole world seemed cloudy even in the midst of such a joyful occasion. The birthing process followed suit and despite it being the warm, sunny month of June, the night was long, the birth excruciating, and the curve balls (and blood clots) my body threw following the delivery were a lot to bear. For weeks, which turned into months, I lived—we lived—in a fog.
Being a mother to my second baby was nothing like what I had experienced with my first. The only thing that felt easy this time around was the breast feeding, of all ironies. Everything else was a challenge. I could blame my depression—because it certainly didn’t help—but the reality was I just didn’t understand my second daughter. I guess because I was expecting everything to be a little more like deja vu than wtf, it made her first years very challenging. It broke my heart knowing that I just didn’t get her. I didn’t feel like I knew what she needed or why. I didn’t feel like I knew what to do for her. It was defeating and exhausting.
As the haze slowly began to lift and I started to become more like myself again—the not depressed version of me—I realized that I had to start adapting to this different kid and really make an effort to better understand her. She was not like her sister and she was not like me. It left me with—for lack of a better metaphor—a clean, blank slate where I could in a sense, begin again. Mind you, that was nearly 2 years in. It took me that long to come to grips with the fact that I had to be a different mother to this child than I was with my other child. Light bulb moment. Finally.
Fast forward many years later (my oldest is 15 and my youngest is 9) and I can say that on so many levels, I have been two totally different mothers to my girls. Not to be overly dramatic, I mean of course my core beliefs, values, and ground rules are the same across the board, but the truth is that learning my second child meant learning how to mother in a totally new and different way. It took me a while to even entertain that concept but now that I have, and I can recall what it’s taken us to get where we are today and I will never underestimate the importance, the power, the benefits, and the beauty of redefining ourselves as people and more specifically, as parents, when circumstances call. We owe it to ourselves and we owe it to our children to evolve and adapt to all the things that life might throw at us; differences, depression, and/or demands. We can’t be the same parent to our children, just as they can’t be the same child as their sibling. Everyone needs a clean slate. We all deserve a fresh start.
During the midst of the most emotional and likely critical time of this epiphany (right before it started getting good) I told a similar account of my daughter’s births and first few months of life to a life-coach, of sorts. How she responded has forever been etched in my mind and on my heart; “You have no right to judge either one of your daughter’s births as being positive or negative. Those are sacred events that happen as they are supposed to happen and they happen for reasons you might never understand.” I cried. I knew she was onto something really important. And I cried some more.
I’ve tried to carry her words with me as I’ve moved forward as a woman and as a mother. Each birth was unique, as each year has been unique, as each of my children is unique and will experience their own unique life. This is the gift. Through it all, I reiterate the words of one wise father and “I try to become the best parent I can be.” Emphasis on become.