It was January 2011, and I was in a doublewide room on the third floor of a hospital somewhere between Chinatown and South Street. There was an epic winter storm in New York City that year. It wiped out neighborhoods and transportation, exposing New Yorkers’ great insecurity: stalling. I made it to the hospital then I stalled too. So much so that to get my labor kicking again I was given a drip of Cytotec, shot through the largest vein in my right arm.
Many hours later, when the sun started to come through the windows, my daughter was born. Tugged from me with this flux of fear and grace, a six-pounds-and-seven-ounce version of me arrived. It was all a blind experiment for me, a newly-minted 21-year-old, like walking through a forest of unknown and meeting the new me at the Riverfront.
When the time was right, we planned for a second child. I am one of five, and the idea of expanding our family didn’t seem abnormal. Yet, the entire experience, the planning, birthing, bringing him home, raising him—him—was entirely different.
At first there were small differences, like the yellow (I assumed gender neutral) onesie I dressed him, which meant he was constantly mistaken for a baby girl (they also cited his eyelashes, which passersby assumed were too wispy for a little boy). As he grew older, and toys became our reality, the newfound love of superheroes, the abundance of pink he shared with his older sister, the lack of blue, and the rude and un-welcomed questions about femininity and carving out a space for an ideal masculinity in my house.
Why must there be larger implications when all I am trying to do is raise a healthy and happy child? There was the potty training too. (Not enough vinegar or bleach in the world.) But there are also positive differences—he loves cuddling and rubbing my cheeks, something my daughter has never quite warmed to. It is all so very different from raising my first child, something my friends with multiple children had failed to mention.
But I remember experiencing this different kind of love when I was a child. I remember noticing how my mother’s love for all of my siblings varied, my eldest brother seemingly claiming the most sacred part of her. In my anger, I accused her of favoritism, shining a spotlight on the way she always treated him. It was accusatory and it was true. It wasn’t because she mothered him differently; it was because their relationship was born from a different era. She was 16 at his birth. I knew all of this then, but it didn’t hit me until I brought my own son home. In between the haze and the overflowing cup of duties, why hadn’t anyone mentioned the obvious? It’s impossible to love your children exactly the same way.
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For years, I’ve light-heartedly joked that raising another kid after having had my first was being reminded over and over that I do, in fact, have a right arm. Both of my arms seem the same, have relatively the same functions, and yet, my right arm is different in all these odd and unassuming ways. It’s slightly shorter, has a crossed birthmark on the shoulder, is usually a tad shaky and much stronger than my left. They seem the same, but they’re different, yet I know that they are both there.
With my first child, all of it seemed to stall, every moment paused in a brief history of time as if I would never experience it all again. Now, with my son, they float into one another–the hours, the months, the years. And in this beautiful way, it’s a gift; realizing that time moves on, whether you have two or five kids. That specific lens of first-time motherhood is so unique, and in a way, incomparable. No one child or experience will be the same. The deepest moments of happiness for me has simply been in ridding myself of any expectations I may hold for my two children. Now, when any of my friends tell me they are expecting their second child, I have one piece of advice: To truly be present with the reality—and embrace it because it’s different.