This year has been a whirlwind.
When I say whirlwind, I mean there is still a box of maternity clothes sitting on my bedroom floor that I haven’t managed to find enough time to put away. (And if I’m going to be totally honest, there may be some pregnancy apparel still hiding in my dresser drawers, too.)
Whirlwind as in there are even some newborn clothes hanging in my own closet from those early weeks when the baby needed changing often, and I couldn’t yet climb the stairs following my c-section.
Whirlwind as in when I stop to let my mind focus on the fact that today that baby has lived on this Earth for one full year, I feel I need to catch my breath.
We have been racing through this year. Sprinting towards survival. Carried along by the busyness of each day, filled with all the things it takes to enable more than one tiny human entrusted to your care to make it successfully until the next sleep. Diaper changes. Outfit changes. Meal prep. Instruction. (More instruction.) Discipline. (More discipline.)
Then the forceful current of our daily routine pushed us through time even faster as we dealt with my own health issues for many of those months. Each day’s cherished prize: our heads hitting the pillows.
I cannot believe that last night, I put to bed a baby, and today, in this house, another toddler wakes.
I hadn’t stopped to really let myself think about it until last night. (You know, with the racing through life, and all.) The end of summer blurred into my eldest’s daughter’s birthday and its preparations, suddenly dropping us off to this day. But last night, it hit me. (Trust me, my husband will tell you.) It’s something about laying a child down to sleep, knowing they will have crossed that milestone the next morn of passing through another year that makes the floodgates open. And even more so that first year. I’ve come to realize–having been through two–that first birthdays are more of a celebration for the parents than the child, because you are rejoicing in the fact that you’ve successfully kept alive another soul for an entire 12 months.
Not only have you cared for that little person for all those days and weeks and months in ways that stretched your abilities, you have learned to love another in a way you didn’t know you were capable. An unstoppable, breathing, beating love that flows through your heart and mind, coursing through your veins and out to your actions. A love that everyone tells you will happen, but until you experience it, you can’t completely comprehend.
And after your first child, you wonder how it would be possible to be filled up with the same love again, because you are already pretty convinced your heart in its current state is at capacity.
Now that a year has passed after the birth of my second, let me tell you a secret. The truth is, for me, it hasn’t been the same.
My love for my younger child is different.
Before you think I am a terrible parent, publicly proclaiming my favoring of one child over the other, allow me to explain.
I have already told the story how in the hours before my youngest’s birth, I was an emotional mess, sobbing in triage as my bewildered husband looked on. Not wanting to go through what I was about to experience because I was scared out of my mind. Scared not because of the pain of impending surgery and recovery, but because I knew the depths of what was to come.
This time, I knew about the impossible love. And it was overwhelming.
Earlier this week, grandchild number 13 on my husband’s side joined our family. After he had a short NICU stay, my sister-in-law asked how I was able to stand being separated from my first daughter after her birth, since she also took a turn in the NICU. My answer was partially that I was so drugged, after a long labor followed by emergency c-section, I barely knew what was going on. But mostly the reason was that I had no frame of reference of what to expect as a mother and for me, hadn’t yet experienced that bond between parent and child. Now on the other side of that, knowing what it’s like to hold what you held inside you for 40 weeks, it would be much more challenging to go through something like that again.
And why is that? Well, you know how when you’ve done something once or you’ve been training to do something for a long time, and that moment comes to perform, your body kind of just takes over? That it acts on impulse, moving faster and more confidently than previously thought possible? Similarly, I have learned that once you’ve experienced the love of a child, the next time around, your heart responds accordingly. It knows what to do. It’s been here before.
And because your heart knows what to expect at each new stage, it’s like it fills to overflowing before milestones are even reached. Gone are many of the uncertainties about what’s ahead, replaced by confidence that you know every new development is better than the last. You think newborns are great? Nah, wait till you see them smile. Love those 6-month-old giggles? Wait till a toddler whispers, “I love you, Mommy.”
I felt this love differently because it ran over what are now well-worn paths in this Momma’s heart, deepening the marks left by my first, pushing the boundaries to make room for more. Prayerfully cutting off the selfishness that clogged it before. Helping me better grasp just how My Father loves me and how far He’d go to reach my soul. How He’d send His Son in exchange for it.
Last night, my toddler helped me put the baby to bed. She recited our traditional nighttime story and then asked if she could pray. As I listened to her words and watched as my baby pushed her arm through the slats, spreading her fingers to touch her sister, I could feel the familiar tug as my heart stretched again.
Because now I know the miracle of a child is not only about new life.
It’s about how it transforms yours.
“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” (John 3:16, The Message)