Will a newborn bite into a mother’s love for her firstborn?
By Patti Carmalt-Vener 04/16/2014
I have a precious 2-year-old daughter and am now pregnant with my second child; Bella will be three when the baby is born. I was ecstatic when we first found out we were having another baby, but lately I’ve been feeling apprehensive that our lives will be changing. We already have a great family and maybe we should have just kept the status quo. It may sound ridiculous, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to love another child like I love Bella and that our new baby will feel less loved by me. What if I can’t love them equally?
Bella has truly been my whole life for the past two years and it’s hard for me to imagine giving that same depth of love to her sibling. As my due date gets closer, I not only worry that I’ll be spread too thin trying to make sure both of them get lots of attention, but also that Bella will get jealous, feel neglected and be angry at the baby and at me. I’m not sure why these reluctant feelings are coming up but when issues like this have troubled me on and off in my adult life I’ve gone to counseling and it has been a godsend. I’m starting therapy again to explore this issue and gain more understanding.
It’s not uncommon to experience misgivings, worries and fears when the gigantic life event of a new baby occurs; it’s a normal reaction. First-time parents often fear they won’t be good parents or that they’ll lose their personal freedom as well as intimacy and time for each other. Second-time parents often worry that the existing offspring might suffer, that they won’t be able to love the second child as much as they love their firstborn, and that they won’t have the energy to handle it all competently. While these concerns rarely become permanent realities, I’m glad you’re starting counseling which will give you support and rule out possible depression and anxiety.
It may take an adjustment period, but everything will fall into place. Except for rare circumstances, a mother’s bond occurs shortly after birth, if not immediately. Further, a mother’s heart has the capacity to make room for one more and somehow, invariably, to give as much as needed. It’s not a question of whether you’ll love both children equally but, rather, that you’ll love both totally but sometimes differently because they’ll be different people with different temperaments and personalities. Some days you’ll be closer to one more than the other and vice versa. But if you’re like most mothers who worry simply because they care so much, you’ll love them both fiercely and won’t be able to ever imagine life without either one. You’ll be able to do this for the very same reason you’re now able to love Bella unconditionally.
In order to minimize sibling jealousy, set aside daily special time with Bella alone doing activities that she loves. If Bella is happy, you’ll feel happier and more at peace. Give her an important role in the care of the baby. Talk to her in terms of “your little sister or brother” instead of “Mommy and Daddy’s new baby.” Let her help pick out clothes and toys for the baby as well as help decorate the nursery. Involve her in the baby’s care whenever she’s able and willing. Take lots of pictures of the two of them together, show these to Bella, and place a picture of both of them in each of their rooms.
Despite your best efforts, there may be times when Bella will experience difficult emotions in her life; jealousy will most likely be one of them. Rather than trying to shield her from such feelings, guide and support her to learn how to cope with these feelings and help her realize that she can work through them. In the long run, such lessons will be invaluable to her. Your current concerns will most likely work themselves out, fall into place and each of your children will bring unique gifts to the family, regardless of his or her birth order.
Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her Web site, patticarmalt-vener.com.