A Mother’s Expanding Heart

This past summer, my son went cliff diving (…not an activity this worry-prone mother was thrilled about :)). He told me how it felt to be standing at the top of the cliff looking down at the water. He could feel his heart beating fast and adrenaline pumping, making his stomach flutter.  I felt my own stomach flutter as I watched the video of him leaping off the cliff and falling for what seemed like forever into the sea below.


“How did you know it was deep enough?” I asked him.  


His answer was simple.


I trusted the guide who took us there and I watched others jump before me.

His experience reminded me of another event that occurred in our family this month. My son and his wife were expecting their second child and I was lucky enough to be in their home awaiting the beginning of labor (I was there as designated Mimi backup to watch their 2 year-old when they dashed to the hospital – my favorite job!) As we sat talking one evening, my daughter in law asked the iconic about-to-be-a-mom-again question.  


“How can I ever love this second baby as much as I love my first?”


From her serious expression, I could tell she’d been thinking about this for a while.


Now if you are a mother of more than one child, then you know that this is a silly question. But until you actually experience the miracle of the “expanding parental heart”, it can be a real worry.


I remember the exact place I was standing in my driveway, just days away from my second baby’s due date, that I tearfully confessed to my husband that I didn’t think I could love this new baby as much as I loved our 2 year-old son. It wasn’t just a little tear I shed. It was a full blown panicked sob-fest.


What had I got myself into? How could I be so unfeeling to bring a new baby into the world knowing full well that my whole heart, and I mean my WHOLE HEART already belonged to my toddler. What a horrible mother I was.


Thankfully, my husband managed to hide his smile as he tried to comfort me. He did tell me that I was ridiculous and tried to convince me that I had the capacity to love a second child just as I had loved the first. And by the end of our talk, I did feel comforted, but deep inside, I couldn’t really believe it would be the same. It took a huge leap of faith to even get pregnant again and it was a leap of faith to trust that in my heart I would find room to love the new baby just as fiercely and completely as I did my first.


As I listened to my beautiful daughter in law confess her same worry, the thought of my son cliff diving came into my mind.


How do you know that your capacity to love is deep enough to make room for another precious child?


Well, having another baby is very much like standing at the top of the cliff and wondering if the water below is deep enough.


You have to trust the guide that brought you there.


Motherhood and Fatherhood are divine roles. It is not an accident that parents have the ability to love multiple children with the same depth and devotion. God has made it this way. I call it the miracle of the expanded heart. Just when we think we can love no deeper, we do. Just when we think are full with love for one, suddenly, we find that there is more than enough room for another, and others after that. Sometimes its immediate, other times it’s gradual, but no matter the timing, a mother’s heart expands.


Knowing that others have made the leap into the waters of multiple children can serve as a comfort and reassurance that we too can be successful. It is most important to remember that though millions of other parents have welcomed a second child into their family, there is no right way to do it and no timeline that is ideal.


Your second child is a completely independent little person who has his or her own story and journey. Your conception, pregnancy and delivery may be similar to your first child, but probably not. Every time you bring another child home from the hospital, they are joining a different family. It is not supposed to be the same experience.


Bonding is also a process that is as unique as the individual circumstances surrounding each child’s birth.  Some mothers bond instantly with their infant from the moment they realize they are pregnant. Other moms struggle to feel connected emotionally to their baby, not only in pregnancy but also after delivery.


There are several factors that influence how we bond with our babies. Hormones are the biggest player. Oxytocin begins to increase during pregnancy and rises to an all-time high after delivery. Nursing is the greatest stimulator for oxytocin production, but research has shown that even gazing into your newborns eyes can cause an increase in the love and attachment hormone.


Stress is something that can make it more difficult for a mother to bond with her infant. Having a difficult pregnancy due to illness, financial or relationship concerns can make it difficult to feel relaxed and open to the bonding process. How your labor and delivery happened can influence how you bond to your baby, with traumatic deliveries sometimes slowing down the bonding process.


If any of these things have happened to you, you may be worried that you are not blown away with the amazing flood of maternal or paternal connection. Do not worry. There is not just one way to bond with your newborn. There is only YOUR way. It may be instant or it may take a little time.


Many of the mothers I help in my practice worry that they have too many negative feelings when they think of their baby. Maybe they have had a rough pregnancy or a hard delivery. Some of them have infants who are high demand feeders or have colic and the moms feel worn out trying to keep up with their needs. Some moms have a very tender and even painful place in their heart and memory concerning their own moms and their own childhoods. There are so many factors that come into play with a life event of this magnitude. The bottom line is this, your heart is big enough to love this baby and you will connect and bond over time.


Bonding is part biochemistry and part choice.


At Take Care of Mom, our foundation focus is on self-care so that your biochemistry can work at its highest level. Your hormones work well when you your overall health is supported and strong. Getting enough sleep, good nutrition and lots of love and support can help you open your heart more fully to connect with this new little person.


You also have the power to choose your mindset, your expectations and your activities to increase the opportunity to bond well with your baby. (For more ideas on parent/ infant bonding click here.) Sometimes it takes a little focused effort to feel that connection. But with time and care, it will come.


Parenting your baby is a lifelong journey. It’s a myth to think that we have to find room in our heart for a new baby. The truth is that love isn’t about a finite set of resources like a pie that has to be cut into smaller pieces to be able to feed more people. Love is deeper than that, in a way that defies our finite understanding.


Finally, after so much anticipation, our new granddaughter arrived on a beautiful sunny fall morning. In one of the early texts my son sent to the family he exclaimed: “My heart has just ballooned to fit all the new love!! It’s amazing!!”


Once again – the miracle.


So parents, do not fear, you are designed for connection!


Trust your heart and dive headlong into the water. It IS deep enough.


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