When M was born, my first emotion was not love. It was relief. Relief that he was born safely. And then, when I held him close to me in my arms, the emotion I felt was not love. It should have been. But it was not.
It was another emotion that had no place in the moment when I should have been welcoming my second born son into the world.
It was fear.
I was full of fear suddenly BECAUSE my heart did not swell full of love the way it should have.
Looking back now, it makes some sort of sense. The pain of S’s terrible birth and that fleeting moment when he was so close to being held in my arms, when he did not cry and was limp and blue, before the alarm button rang and the room filled with people and my husband, my strong, unflappable husband was suddenly pressed against my side crying and praying.
That moment could never fade. It’s etched within me. The moment I should have been the happiest ever in my life – a mother, finally! But instead I was crushed, devastated, guilty.
Guilty because for days I believed that his birth injury was my fault. My fault for not pushing hard enough. For not knowing he was in trouble. For not protecting him. For not bringing him safely into the world. My first child.
I didn’t keep that guilt. I learnt the medical explanation for what had happened. Listened to the doctors, googled long into the night. And realised it wasn’t my fault. But still, the memory is there.
And of course, to be giving birth again, it was natural that I should have been taken back to that place.
So instead of joy, jubilation, LOVE LOVE LOVE, what I felt was relief and then the fear.
And I’ve realised since then, that between these two emotions there was another emotion, the emotion which led to the fear. It was a kind of vindication. Vindication that I COULD do it after all, I could bring a child into the world safely, healthily. This emotion was so different from the relief. The relief suggested I was happy my son was safe. The vindication turned the attention away from my son for the briefest of moments and back to ME. It was about ME and suddenly not about him.
And so then, that moment of bonding that should have happened the moment I held him. It didn’t.
And then I felt the fear.
The instant that I felt fear that I wasn’t filling with love the way I should have couldn’t be taken away once it had happened.
I should have probably sought some counselling.
But I didn’t. I was sure that we would bond, we would connect the way a mother and child should.
And we did.
But it took time.
And I suppose naturally enough, what replaced the fear was more guilt. Guilt that I had let my son’s birth be overshadowed. That I had let him down by not being able to immediately open my heart to him.
Since then, the guilt I’ve felt over M has taken many forms.
For all the days that he’s had to be dragged along to appointments and therapy sessions for his older brother. Or just as bad, the guilt for the many, many days that I left him at home with his dad or Aunty J for the same reason.
For how much I couldn’t help him deal with his terrible eczema when he was a baby (surely I could have done more?).
For the lack of opportunities he’s had to play with other kids his own age. No playgroup, very few play dates. No gymbaroo or baby yoga or water awareness or Hi de ho music classes that I’d managed to fit in with his brother in addition to all his therapy.
For the lack of quality time we spent together.
Even when S moved on to kinder and we had more time, I was pregnant. I was tired. We didn’t go to the park. We went home so I could lie on the couch. He watched TV. Far too much TV.
Sure, we did things together as a family. Lots of things. But for M and I alone or focused on his wants or needs, I am filled with guilt. Terrible, terrible guilt.
And then of course baby A arrived. And suddenly M was a middle child. I was a middle child. I stumbled through childhood complaining that ‘it wasn’t fair’.
I should have made the ultimate effort to give M more time last year. BUT a new baby is demanding. And it was S’s last year before school. We were so busy. So very busy. And suddenly the year was over.
And now as 2011 begins I am filled with more guilt.
He’s lurching towards his fourth birthday in March.
And only now am I taking the time to focus on helping him toilet train.
Only now can I really recognise (or at least admit) how delayed his speech is, how limited his social skills are, how many things he should be able to do but can’t (or won’t).
And to fear that we might find ourselves at some point in the near future labelling what we’ve always called his ‘high spirited’ behaviour, his quirky traits, his unique personality as something more concrete, more clinical.
I don’t fear another diagnosis.
We’ve gone far enough down the path with S to know that having a child with some form of a disability isn’t the end of the world. For sure, it’s a new world (though spare me the sappy Holland version), but it’s bearable and it’s as full of highs and lows as any other parenting experience.
No, what I fear is the guilt of M getting a diagnosis and me thinking that I should have known and I should have had it recognised long ago. Of finding out that I could have done, SHOULD have done earlier to help him.
So, I’ve opened myself up here. I needed to get all this out.
I’ll be sure to delete this post before he’s old enough to read it.
We’re seeing a developmental paed (S’s wonderful paed in fact) in the next few months and we’ll take it from there.
And I have vowed, as my most important New Year’s resolution ever, that my beautiful second born son will never again be second fiddle. That I will rise above the challenges of him being a sibling to a child with a disability and with all my heart and soul and love, so much love that these days I can barely hold it in without smothering him with kisses all the time, I will ensure that he gets all the love, affection, attention and TIME that he needs from me.
And I hope with that, the guilt will finally be banished forever.