What happens when one child is so much more challenging than their sibling? And what is that teaching us about ourselves?
It’s a tough thing to admit – that one child is easier than another. And yet, easy is not always what we’re here for.
There is no greater teacher than our children, and I believe that each child is here to teach us something very unique. Each has their own ‘mission’ – a reason why they are with us in particular. A lesson that we are to learn together.
But when one seems to throw bigger (and harder) lessons at you right from the beginning, how do you heal and find love? And what is the lesson in all of that?
Olivia Horne shares her own story of mamahood, disappointment and finding love.
“I have two daughters. They are my first and my last, and (alongside my husband and my work and a small yet beautifully formed little crew of other people and passions), they are my everything. But it didn’t always feel that way.
G came along first. She changed everything: made me a mama, made us a family. She arrived after a long and traumatic labour that left us both scarred. She is my greatest challenge and my greatest teacher. She has a joyful, compassionate and creative soul, and with it she is fragile, vulnerable and oh so sensitive. And so, in turn, she makes me feel fragile, vulnerable and oh so sensitive. Emotional, reactive, she pushes every raw button in me, jabbing with her tiny fingers at an open wound.
From the start, she struggled to cope with the sensory overstimulation of her new world – everything was too loud, too bright, too fast, too busy. And I struggled to cope with what I have since realised was a mirror to my own overwhelm. And in that mirror, I simply didn’t know how to mother her.
She had turned every single one of my expectations inside out and upside down. And for a long time, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I didn’t know who to blame, or where to direct all my anger and sadness for all the damage and disappointment and regret. How to find the words to describe the cocktail of fear and failure and resentment and claustrophobic indifference that I was feeling.
I now adore this sweet, brilliant girl to the very core of my being, but for the first year, whilst I cared about her welfare and knew we’d be ok, it wasn’t love.
When we decided to try for another baby, I was scared of going through it all again. What if it was the same? What if it was worse? (And what if it was easier and I loved the next baby straight away?) How could I possibly spread my love any thinner? This love that had fought so hard to make its way to the surface and break through the fear.
But we wanted another baby: we needed someone else to complete our family. It was all too intense with one, and I needed to know that there was another way. The problem solver in me was determined to ‘fix’ it, and my heart was determined to heal.
Around the same time I found out I was pregnant with C, my mother fell into a massive depression which left her in a catatonic shutdown for 6 months, needing around-the-clock care. And so, in a blink of an eye, I was mama to my first daughter, managing the care for my own mother and growing a baby. I was exhausted and, despite a wonderfully supportive and present husband, I felt very alone. So when someone described the job of a doula as ‘mothering the mother’, I knew that’s what I was going to need to make it through.
I needed someone to make me realise and honour and address my own needs as well as the baby’s. Someone to help me realise that unless I woke up to my own needs and mothered myself occasionally, I wouldn’t be able to mother my children very well at all.
I prepared for the first doula meeting by gathering all the facts and figures of my first pregnancy and birth and an updated birth ‘plan’. I didn’t use any of it. Instead, I spent 90 minutes talking and crying and wondering how on earth I was going to cope – how I wasn’t coping – without a present, reassuring, maternal hand to hold. And she just listened.
When I’d finished emptying out all my fears and angers and regrets and ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s’, she promised to be that hand for me through this second pregnancy and birth. But much more importantly, she helped me to realise that I could learn, with time, to be that hand for myself too.
My second birth was incredible.
Empowering, thrilling, quick, easy. And most of all, most importantly, deeply healing. And so C was born, and with her, a massive, instant, all-consuming love – a love for both my girls that just keeps on growing. She completed our family, she healed my disappointment, erased my failure. She made it possible for me to trust my body again, to believe in myself, to have a renewed faith in my instincts. My mother recovered in time to greet her fifth grandchild with open arms. And I was so grateful to my new baby girl for all of it.
We were complete – a fierce, feisty little team, learning and loving and teaching each other every step of the way. Each of us bringing different gifts to the table.
I am learning to love them each differently, and learning that that’s ok. Because without struggle, we wouldn’t come to know our strengths.
Without first-time floundering, we wouldn’t later find our comfortable rhythms.
Without chaos, we wouldn’t recognise clarity.
Without stormy skies, we wouldn’t appreciate the sunshine.
And without falling, breaking and aching, we wouldn’t discover our own incredible ability to heal – inside and out, mind and body.
In the end, it all comes down to stillness. As long as I can find pockets of time and space to consider my own needs as well as theirs, then I can be the mother I want to be. The mother they deserve. A fulfilled, rested, nourished, calm, happy mama. But when I forget to prioritise the self-care that brings the stillness, then it all starts to feel too loud, too bright, too fast, too busy. I lose myself, I lose my centre. I lose my safety – and so do they.
Turns out my inner child has exactly the same wants and needs and dreams and fears as my first daughter. Sometimes the truth can be the hardest thing to hear – we turn away and drown it out. But somewhere in the stillness, the truth we’ve been running from can turn out to be just the permission we need. Permission to be imperfect, permission to rest, permission to look inside. The most beautiful and nurturing doorway to freedom. A chance to finally breathe again, to love again, to heal.
And that is how through my story of birth, I have given birth to my own love, fear and healing.”
Olivia Horne is a Happiness Coach and Meditation Mentor for Mums, working around four key principles of Self Care, Support, Simplicity and Smiles, based in West London (UK).