I’ve been pregnant four times in the last six years, and have two living children. Like many other women who have experienced recurrent miscarriages, I have run the gamut of emotions before, during, and after each and every one of those pregnancies. Still, during my most recent, and perhaps happiest pregnancy, two new feelings inserted themselves during that time of waiting: grief and guilt.
In my first trimester I spent plenty of time researching topics related to adding a second baby to our family–from how to keep up with a toddler when you’re battling morning sickness to learning what a baby “sprinkle” was. But no amount of googling kept me from feeling that welcoming a second baby might take something away from our first–our daughter I had fought so long and hard to meet. I couldn’t tame the feelings of guilt and grief that arose as I considered how this new pregnancy might forever change my relationship with my little girl.
Both my husband and I were raised with siblings that we are close with and love dearly. We each experienced our childhoods with sisters in tow and surrounded by cousins, and we cherished those relationships so much that we hoped to provide the same for our own children one day.
Despite this wish, there were moments before our daughter made her way to our arms when I wondered if parenthood–much less parenthood to more than one child–would ever even be possible for us. I was heartbroken when, after weeks of testing, my husband and I were told we were miscarrying for the first time. Less than a year later, we lost another pregnancy, and we were devastated.
When I was pregnant with our daughter, I waited nervously for the other shoe to drop. Thankfully it never did, and as I held her in my arms and kissed her baby curls for the first time, I knew how lucky we were to get this far. As time passed, and my husband and I grew into parenthood through all of the sleepless nights and sweet babyhood milestones, we began to consider the possibility of giving our daughter a sibling once again.
I will never forget the moment I realized I was pregnant with our youngest, and how I actually shook the pregnancy test in happy disbelief, as if to reassure myself that the two pink lines weren’t just a trick of the light. I hastily gift-wrapped a onesie to surprise my husband with, and we laughed and cried when we shared the news with family. Throughout the celebrations that followed, we were cautiously optimistic at first, and then overjoyed as we passed each early milestone.
Feeling like my time (and energy) was running out
As my pregnancy progressed, however, exhaustion and nausea often left me depleted by noon and ready for sleep myself once my toddler’s bedtime rolled around. Though I had envisioned months of bonding with my little girl ahead of the new baby’s arrival, the sheer physicality of pregnancy was taking its toll much earlier than I had anticipated, and by the sixth month I was worried that time was running out.
As I cared for my exhausted pregnant body, reality took hold. I had long wanted more than one child, but hadn’t before stopped to consider how I might feel as the finite resources of time and energy shifted from my first-born to include my newborn. Short of cloning myself, there was no possible way to give as much time to my daughter as I wanted, and that realization made each pregnancy celebration bittersweet.
As a parent who had experienced pregnancy loss not once but twice, I knew how very lucky we were to even have the option of growing our family without navigating problems like secondary infertility, and this knowledge further intensified feelings of guilt. It felt ridiculous to admit, but in pursuing the dream to give our daughter a sibling, I was stealing away dedicated time with her. The more I thought, the more I worried that her future relationship with me would be less, somehow, as I prepared to care for two children.
Let’s normalize the spectrum of emotions throughout pregnancy
I spiraled frantically as only a pregnant person in the thick of their pregnancy “feels” can. I searched for mothers sharing similar stories online, hoping to find reassurance that I was not alone in my worries. I needed to feel seen in a way I didn’t when I looked at my social media feeds–which in large part were flooded with glowing mamas confident in their choices.
I read somewhere that mothers having a second child often feared they wouldn’t love their new baby as much as the first–but that was not my concern. My concern was this: I was certain I would love my new baby as much as my first, and that no matter how many time-saving hacks I might implement, I would only have half the time I did now to spend with my daughter.
Ultimately, I did find a handful of other mothers sharing similar fears which made me feel less alone, but the idea that I would have any negative feelings at all about our decision to grow our family still felt both wrong and taboo all at once. I hesitated to share my feelings with anyone beyond my husband, and the few times I attempted to discuss my fears with friends and family they lovingly dismissed them, pointing out that I was a wonderful mother and would find my way eventually.
The idea that I would have any negative feelings at all about our decision to grow our family still felt both wrong and taboo all at once.
Though I took their words to heart, what I needed in the moment was validation—to know that what I felt was normal, and that it was ok to be conflicted about the future as an expecting mother. Throughout my pregnancies, it often felt there was little space to discuss fears and concerns in productive and meaningful ways, which made it increasingly difficult to normalize my feelings.
I have explored pregnancy, matrescence, and parenthood in my work as a photographer and writer for almost a decade, witnessing dozens of emotional experiences from people with wanted pregnancies—from excitement and joy to uncertainty and sadness.
Like any life event, pregnancy can be many things, experienced in countless ways—from the trivial to the transformational—and we have so much to gain by sharing our experiences kindly and candidly when we’re able.
Pregnancy can be many things, experienced in countless ways—from the trivial to the transformational—and we have so much to gain by sharing our experiences kindly and candidly when we’re able.
Now that time has passed and I’m happily navigating the chaos of daily life as a family of four (plus our geriatric Australian shepherd), I’m so glad I sought out others’ stories when I needed them most. Feeling seen and understood helped me navigate my own experience, and in the end feel a little less alone, which is what I needed most.
Finding new ways to connect with my older child
In these stories and my own evolving experience I found several ways to connect with my daughter before and after the arrival of her little brother. I hope that other expecting parents might find something here to help them through this beautiful (and at times complicated) transition too.
Connecting with my older child during my pregnancy
One of my top priorities throughout my pregnancy was to carve out time with my daughter on a regular basis, though pregnancy being what it is (hello, first, second, and third trimester nausea!) I needed to give myself grace when we missed a day here and there.
My husband took over many daily care tasks that involved lifting (like daycare drop off and bath time) which left me free to connect with our daughter in fun and meaningful ways almost every day. In the end, this made me feel like I was still present for her in the way she needed me most. On days when I felt especially exhausted, we got creative with play, and enjoyed hours of play-doh factory fun, sensory bins, and scavenger hunts where I would wait patiently as she collected items from around the house and proudly delivered them to me.
Later on, we began to talk to her about her baby brother who would soon join us at home. We gave her a sonogram photo to carry around with her and she quickly became excited to talk about all the things we would do as a family when baby brother arrived.
Connecting with my older child during the newborn days
After our son was born, our daughter was my enthusiastic assistant from day one, and loved “helping” by bringing diapers, burp cloths, and other baby items when asked. We tried to go for walks as much as possible, but on days when the weather trapped us inside, we leaned hard on “busy baskets” I had prepared during pregnancy and found hours of fun doodling, crafting and imaginary play.
One of the most important ways I worked to maintain my relationship with my daughter was to follow the cardinal rule laid out by so many parenting experts: “Don’t blame the baby.” It was never “I can’t play with you because I’m feeding the baby,” but rather “I would love to play with you! I’ll be ready in five minutes–can you help get the tea set ready while I finish?” Of course I slipped up from time to time, but I found that that simple change of language worked wonders.
The other mindset change I focused on was concentrating on quality of time over quantity, and set a goal of ten minutes a day of exclusive mommy-and-me time while I was recovering postpartum. Often we far exceeded that (especially on weekends when the whole family was home together), but having that specific goal helped me hand off our son without guilt, and devote attention to our daughter without distractions.
How I feel now
My little boy is now almost seven months old, and as the newborn fog has cleared, so have any lingering worries I had. I know in my heart as I watch my little girl with her new baby brother, and hear her proclaim proudly, “He’s my best friend!”, that growing our family was without a doubt the right decision for us.
Yes, there are still only 24 hours in a day, and I have not been cloned, but instead of taking something away from my daughter I know I’ve given her something truly special. The arrival of our little boy has filled our home with so much joy, a gift just as beautiful as the one we received for the first time, years ago, in his sister.