In the US we plan our first birth with an intensity that doesn’t allow us to consider that it may not go the way we think it will. In the birth class when they talk about the C-sections or the NICU, we run to the bathroom to pee, believing “that won’t happen to us, we don’t need to pay attention to this part.”
After you have your first baby you are aware of how birth rarely goes the way you hoped, imagined or planned it would. This by itself does not mean you have difficult emotions around your first birth but for some it does. Whether you had to have an epidural when you wanted to go all natural, have a C-section when you imagined vaginal or you and your baby had complications in labor or birth that led to medical interventions, the birth of a first baby can become more complicated by the birth of a second – especially if the second one goes better than the first. This can take many moms (and dads) by surprise!
Many women share ‘I feel bad for my first baby. She didn’t get to have a normal start. It’s not fair that she missed out on all the easiness that my new baby has’ or ‘It would have been so different….everything would have been so different if we could have….snuggled right away, bonded, breastfed, taken him home with us, slept better, had more help, knew I would be so depressed, had more time off from work.’
Any disappointments, losses, or trauma that occurred at the time your first baby was born are revisited through a new lens, when your second baby is easier. So, what do you do with this unexpected emotion? How do you allow yourself to enjoy the ease and joy of this new little one for all the wonderfulness he or she brings and offers without letting the old, differently new, grief feelings interfere in your right to joy and happiness?
There are no easy answers to this question. It’s possible that you have some trauma responses to the experiences of your first and that those are being re-triggered considering your new baby’s arrival. When this happens, the following steps can be a great start to getting the support you may need.
Acknowledge that you’re having these feelings.
Its not unusual at all to have complicated feelings related to your first, more difficult birth while at the same time trying to enjoy the ease of your new baby. You are not unusual, weird, or ungrateful. You are real! It’s ok to feel whatever emotion comes up and to give it its due space in your mind and life.
Name your feelings for what they are – sadness, grief, regret, trauma.
When you name your feelings, you honor them. This alone can help your nervous system settle a bit, resulting in a calmer you (and therefore a calmer family). Dr. Daniel Siegel (author of the Whole Brain Child) teaches us “Name it to Tame it.” If youre feeling sad say “I’m sad.” If your re-experiencing traumatic feelings that perhaps you haven’t felt since your first was little, name them as familiar and uncomfortable. If youre feeling regret and guilt because ‘It should have been different last time’ own that – it should have been…. Even though it wasn’t. Don’t push the feelings away. Name them. As uncomfortable as this maybe you have a right to your feelings and to give them names
Tell trusted people how you feel
Tell people how you feel! Difficult feelings can lead to difficult lives and you don’t have to do this alone. Its hard to say, “I can’t fully enjoy my new, wonderful baby because I’m stuck on feelings about my first and I’m comparing everything.” When you say this out loud, if the person you say it to responds with a cliché, move one. Find someone who will listen without judgement, hug you without words, and inform you that you are seen and loved no matter what. If you don’t have a person like this in your life or you need more people like this, move on to the next step.
Seek professional support
Find a therapist who specializes in trauma and if possible, a therapist who specializes in birth trauma. Your experience is very common, and you deserve validation, support and help. It is possible to heal from the difficult and traumatic experiences you had with your first, more complicated baby’s arrival. A trauma therapist will understand how your new ‘easy’ baby is triggering the reflections and feelings you are having about your first. Seek help! You and your baby deserve it.