The emotion I wasn’t prepared for after the birth of our second child was guilt.
Terror, fear, excitement, elation, sure. But guilt? Inexplicable guilt without having had a skinful the night before?
It started on the way to the hospital for our appointment (planned caesareans are garden party levels of civilised). The creeping sense of mental indigestion about nothing in particular loitered in the background as I made bad small talk with Sophie about there being no traffic at this hour. Anything to avoid discussing her impending Russian doll impression.
Unable to understand wtf was going on I ignored the niggle and cracked on with my day. We both popped on our fancy dress outfits (me a surgeon, Sophie a patient) and within an hour of parking I was sitting behind a plastic curtain chatting to an anesthetist about her daughter’s potential work experience placements while a doctor cut Sophie in half and took another human out of her.
The doctor then thrust the baby boy’s willy in our faces before checking him over and bringing him back for a cuddle. Giant balls, tiny schlong will forever be my first thoughts upon meeting him. Thanks doc.
Sophie clung to him, smiling like a drunk who’s been handed 20 chicken nuggets, and I stood around asking if there’s anything she needed every couple of minutes.
It was when we were back in the ward and I was ploughing through three thousand cotton wool balls trying to clean up Willoughby’s first poo (meconium, smells fine but sticks like tar to a poodle) that the source of the aforementioned guilt started to unveil itself.
As I dipped and dabbed I looked at Willoughby and had a really unpleasant thought: I don’t think I love you enough.
Before we continue I should clarify that I wasn’t looking at Willoughby and feeling nothing. From the instant I saw that giant scrotum I was ready to do everything Bruno Mars was willing to do for that girl that didn’t like him back. (For those who don’t know the song that includes catching a grenade, throwing my head on a blade, jumping in front of a train and taking a bullet straight through my brain).
But in our private solar system, Tig (Number 1) had become the sun around which everything orbits. She was our gravity, our light, our warmth, our source of and reason for life. This will all sound very earnest and OTT to non-parent readers, but I’m afraid children make obsessive bores of us all.
What I was struggling with before, and then after, the birth of Number 2, is the arrival of a second sun. Pop a second sun in our actual solar system and we’ll all be dead in minutes, vapourised, shot into space or drowned by giant waves, I’d imagine. But in this metaphorical two-star system, the impact is a bit more confusing.
Anyway, back to the unpleasant defecation-dabbing epiphany.
The thought that sufficient love hadn’t materialised latched on and spiralled rapidly as I tried to work out if this was actually true. If it is true, does this mean I’m a psychopath? If I’m a psychopath, why am I not a CEO yet? Aren’t all psychopaths CEOs? And if it isn’t true, why am I thinking it? Does this mean I love Tiggy more? Is that terrible? Would it be unfair if I did love W as much as T after three hours? What would T say if she saw me here with another baby, would she be sad? Will I ever love W as much as T? Does Sophie love W as much as T?
Rather than continue torturing myself with questions I couldn’t answer, I decided to play devil’s advocate, assume it was true and focus on one question: Why don’t I love him correctly?
Could aesthetics be the issue? Those of you who have met box-fresh babies will know they are nothing like the sweet smiling newborns movie makers cast. Newborns have no chance of playing the role of a newborn because the infinitely more aesthetically pleasing three- and four-month-olds get all the gigs. It may sound unfair (I was the first to admit the injustice when Freddie Prinze Junior continued to play teenagers in his 30s) but you honestly don’t want a human straight from a nine-month womb bath on camera with their beaten up heads and bloody clothes-pegged stump where their belly button should be. There would be no more sex for anyone.
Even I look back at photos of our first, (pulled out with a plunger) taken during her first few days and shudder. After consideration, I concluded looks were not the issue because I’m not a shallow monster and moved on.
Perhaps it had all been too simple for me?
Sophie had been injected in the spine, paralysed and cut in half like a magician’s assistant. And that, of course, was after the growing and carrying him in her womb plus the El Nino scale post-birth love hormone surge. All I’d done was provide DNA in a fun way nine months ago, drive for 20 minutes and put on some scrubs.
When was I supposed to start feeling the intense love? When the baby was still in Sophie’s womb? Should it start before or after the umbilical cord is cut? What if the baby is mostly out but his foot is still stuck? If one has twins, do you fall in love with them one at a time?
Six months on, I love Willoughby a happily unhealthy amount, our solar system has two equally bright suns, and the guilt has gone. Tig now has her own sun to circumnavigate such is her (patronising) adoration for her little brother.
And I’m ready to answer the headline-posed questions:
Yes it’s ok to love one child more than another.
And yes it’s possible not to, but a lot of people feel early love confusion so don’t worry, you’re not a repressed serial killer.
I don’t know exactly when I stopped feeling uneven love, but I’ve spoken to a lot of people, fathers and mothers, who struggle at the start. The most forthright summation I heard was that new babies are like slugs.They can’t see you for days, they can’t smile for weeks and for a month or two they couldn’t care less who is feeding them. They just headbutt and grunt until a nipple appears, like mini zombies who want milk rather than brains.
But slowly the slug morphs into the most beautiful butterfly you’ve ever seen. And one day you’ll wake up and wonder how you were ever warm enough in a solar system with just one sun.