My first memory of Bella is the moment she was put on to my chest shortly after being born. It was a feeling of complete and utter shock. In every reasonable sense of course, I knew I was pregnant, but until that moment came, I didn’t really KNOW I was going to have a baby. Part of me had expected it all to be a joke, for a midwife to announce “Oh we made a mistake, there’s no baby in there!” But when a slippery, purple lump was plonked on my chest, that’s the moment I knew. It was the beginning of a journey I was totally unprepared for.
My first child was nothing short of wonder and awe personified. A catalogue of every breath, every movement, every tiny little milestone. Hours lost in her eyes. Sleep lost to ‘just checking’ that she was still breathing. That constant cloud of fear that something awful would happen to her and being thankful every day that nothing did. I spent seven years of Bella’s life suffocated with love for her. I did not know how fiercely the heart was capable of loving until I became her mummy and I felt safe in the knowledge that this was a unique and special feeling that would never be repeated.
Then, seven years after becoming a mother for the first time, I was back there again, staring at the word “PREGNANT” on a white stick.
One word, a million thoughts.
Having wanted a second baby for so long, I had seen this moment many times in my head and had longed for all those wonderful emotions I felt when I first became pregnant with Bella, but not once did I foresee the overwhelming, nauseating emotion that came through strongest and defeated all the others…
I felt guilty.
I felt guilty because I was about to shake up our family. Guilty because Bella would no longer be my baby. Guilty because I felt that Bella should have been ‘enough’ for me. I felt guilty because my life as I knew it had changed forever.
I felt guilty. And I felt guilty for feeling guilty.
Fast-forward eight weeks or so and my husband, Bella and I are sitting in a restaurant. This is when we are going to tell Bella that she is going to have a baby brother or sister. My husband is on edge and I am a nervous wreck. I hand Bella a card and she studies the front cover “Congratulations on being a big sister” she reads with suspicion, before opening the card – an 11 week scan photo pops out. “What’s this?” she asks with wide eyes, those blue eyes I know so well. Then as she reads aloud the next bit, “Lots of love the baby in mummy’s tummy” the penny drops. And so does her face. And she doesn’t say a whole lot for several minutes.
Months go by, my tummy gets bigger and bigger. Bella asks me a lot of questions about the baby (sometimes a little too many questions) and helps me get things ready. She wants to know how she can help once the baby is here and how things are going to change. I feel I prepare her adequately. I explain that babies take up a lot of time and are very demanding but that I will still be her mummy and we will still do the same things we do. I tell her that I love her. I tell her a lot. In fact, I tell her a little too much. I am petrified that she will think that I am in some way ‘replacing’ her and my instinct to protect her emotional well-being is so ingrained in my existence that I down-play the enormity of what is about to happen.
And anyway, I am not going to love this baby as much as I love Bella. No way. And it does not matter that everyone who has already had two or more children says you love all your children the same, because they must be lying. I mean, how can I possibly love someone I don’t even know yet as much as I love the child I have brought up for the last seven years? How? It makes no logical sense to me. I am sure I will love the baby in some way, but it wont be the same way I love Bella. How could it be? I know everything about Bella. I know every single fleck of amber in her eyes, I could draw the line of freckles from her neck down to her chest, I would recognise her chin dimple in any line-up. I know she gets embarrassed easily, I totally get her sense of humour and I have laughed with her countless times. I have been there through every change in her life, and I have felt every pain she has ever felt. Nothing will compare to that love.
And then, one morning in November, Hennie was born.
And I fell in love all over again.
I know now that as a mum (cliché alert!) your love does not divide… it grows . Where all this extra love came from I have no idea, but it’s pretty wonderful.
After Hennie was born, Bella suddenly changed in my eyes. She was no longer a baby, she was an independent, capable and sensible young girl who still needed her mummy- but not in the way I previously thought she did. She grew up overnight. The love I have for her is different now, not less or weaker, just different. I don’t love her like a baby, I love her for being the child she is. I love her for being Bella.
And as for Hennie, all the worries and anxieties I harbored during my pregnancy simply melted away the minute I laid eyes on her. She has enriched my life in ways I never thought were possible. It is true what they say, and I can testify as a mother of two that I love my second just as much as I love my first. My second daughter has found her own little place in my heart and I honestly cannot imagine my life without her.