I have been writing this post for a long time, in my head. In the shower, mostly, because there just hasn't been time to sit down at the computer before now, and sometimes during the small, dark hours of the night while I nurse the hungry miracle in my arms and try to keep my head from nodding forward onto my chest. I have been struggling to come to terms with the great, weighty bundle of hormone-laden emotions that settled like wet cement over my head and shoulders the night Harry was born.
They are not all bad emotions. Not even close. There is wonder, all over again, despite the chaos. The second child misses out on all those months of pregnancy during which you stop and think "Oh my goodness, there is something alive in me!" because most of the time you are too busy running around after the first child to even remember you are pregnant. (Seriously, more than once I stopped in the street and thought "Gee my stomach is upset" before I remembered I was pregnant and that was the baby kicking.) But when you push and sweat and strain and sob and laugh that child into Planet Earth and life itself, and you hold him on your chest and he looks you smack bang in the eyes with his own big blue eyes that are so much like his father's, well, there is no emotion other than WOW. Wow, which is shorthand for love and pride and wonder.
But strange to say there is grief as well, and guilt over the grief.
Let's visit Day Two of Harry's little life. The perfume of hothouse lilies is heavy in the air of our hospital room and as my perfect boy sleeps blissfully, peacefully, arms above his head and tiny fingers curled into tiny little fists, I hold my still-swollen belly and sob. I am grieving the loss of my other baby, my baby girl who, it seemed, got big the instant Harry was born. I mourn the loss of our special little twosome, that exclusive team we built and nurtured between ourselves during the past 18 months. We will never be this tight little unit again, me and Madeleine, and already I miss her.
The next morning when Madeleine comes to visit us in the hospital, she positively bounces through the door, gloriously resilient. All my fears of her being jealous of her little brother, or anxious and confused at the absence of her mother, dissipate. Madeleine's internal world is healthy and well, while mine spirals into sadness and guilt.
Guilt because of course the emotion of grief is phenomenally unfair on Harry. Harry was wanted, longed for, dreamed of, and is and will be joyously celebrated. He is so quiet, sleeping beside me in that lonely hospital room. Unaware, thankfully, that his mother is quietly weeping into her pillow.
About a month before Harry was born my friend Ingrid sent me a cartoon of a mother with a hoard of little children around her legs. Another woman asked, "How do you divide your love among so many?" And the mother replied "I don't divide my love, it multiplies." I held on to that concept. How beautiful it was! Love, multiplied! And it did a lot to allay the fears I had secretly nurtured: "How will it ever be possible to love anyone as much as I love Madeleine?"
The night Harry was born I learned the truth of that cartoon. MY CHILD. MY OWN LITTLE MAN. Instantly, my love doubled. Just like that. It was so easy to love him, with his little old man Grandpa Smurf face and his snub nose and the way he loved nothing more to snuggle right under my chin.
Back to me in the hospital the next day. I'm physically depleted. I'm drenched in hormones. I'm in love with my new son. I'm grieving the loss of one-on-one time with Madeleine. I'm feeling guilty about the grief I have over Madeleine, on behalf of Harry, who deserves not only my love but my joy. So there is grief causing guilt and guilt feeding grief. There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza. It's exhausting! The nurses call it Day Three Blues. In my case, it lasted about three weeks.
A few days after we get home from hospital, Mr B minds Harry for an hour while Madeleine and I go up to a cafe by ourselves for a drink and a little bit of cake. It's a bit of a big deal. We brush our hair and I put on lip gloss. She cuddles on my lap and we share a vanilla slice, and I simply cannot stop smelling the top of her head and kissing her. We laugh, take selfies, sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. That hour is a tonic. When we return home I am in tears again, but they are happy tears, and I gather my boy into my arms and smell the too-delicious top of his head and kiss him, too.
The December days steamroll into Christmas and New Year and guests in our home every day and nights of nursing and hiccups and back-patting and floor-pacing, and somewhere, amid the yawns and tears and presents and feasts, Madeleine and I inch our way back to our very special us while Harry and I begin to build our own unique and beautiful us.
Then one summer's afternoon, Madeleine toddles over to a sleeping Harry and rests her cheek on his, smiling. And just like that, we are the family I had always wanted to be. We are the "love multiplied" family. Turns out we always had been.
The hormones remain. The sleep deprivation continues. I still have no idea how to keep both of my children happy in practical terms, especially at meal and bath times. But that will come, with time. And in that moment as Madeleine holds her little brother gently in her arms, my grief and guilt melt away.