Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Pity the eldest child

The relationship between parents and a first child is fraught with anxiety. Fear and love and passion impossibly entwined. While you feel the same love and passion for your second and subsequent child(ren), the fear is diluted, not so ever-ready to leap at you and sink its fangs into your heart.

The first night of Firstborn's life was spent with me hanging out of the hospital bed gazing into her perspex cot, too scared not to look in case she stopped breathing.

The first night of the Small(er) One's life was spent desperately trying to discharge myself so I could go home and get a decent night's sleep (curtains for walls and a ward full of wailing newborns are not conducive to relaxation).

Driving home from the hospital with Firstborn snug in her baby car seat had me cursing and swearing, shouting obscenities at any other driver who dared to come within 10 meters of our vehicle. The world was suddenly jam packed full of danger.

The drive home with the Small(er) One was spent trying to stop Firstborn unstrapping herself from her car seat to "cuggle the baddie" (translation: cuddle the baby).

With Firstborn, walking down the hill to the park meant constant vigilance. I winced if we had to walk past a bus or a lorry - basically anything big that could conceivably mount the pavement without warning and squash us. I kept the hand strap of the pushchair wrapped around my wrist at all times in case someone tried to wrestle it away and run off with my baby. Don't even get me started on dogs, gangs of moody teenagers, anyone who looked even slightly unhinged (and I live in London remember, this is difficult to avoid), building sites, ladders, police cars, anyone on rollerblades, birds, bees, curious children... the list goes on, and on, and on...

When the Small(er) One first arrived, the main (and only) advantage of being so exhausted from looking after two children under the age of two had the lucky effect of numbing my brain so the fear didn't get a look in.

With Firstborn, Alpha Male and I made a number of crazed dashes to the hospital, usually in the middle of the night. We went because Firstborn wouldn't stop screaming. Once, we went because she was being too quiet (by this point we were used to the constant screaming and the silence in contrast seemed ominous). We went when we saw a tiny dot on her back and thought it might be meningitis (it turned out to be a spot). We traipsed to the hospital on the strength of a runny nose, a cough. She just seemed so tiny, so fragile, so sparrow-like, that we were sure she couldn't survive.

With the Small(er) One, any possible symptoms of disease were thoroughly researched in our trusty medical tome prior to dashing off in the car to the emergency unit. It helped that even as a newborn she looked incredibly robust, with a barrel-shaped torso and chunky thighs. Fortunately, she was also a lot calmer - possibly due to the fact that she wasn't constantly being disturbed by her parents undressing her to look for suspicious rashes.

Looking back, it is obvious that I went slightly mad after having Firstborn. The FEAR certainly had me in its grip. And even though nothing bad happened, my brain still ran a series of nightmare scenarios on a constant loop. It was almost as if I was subconsciously preparing for any and every possible scenario, almost as if it was a mental rehearsal to ensure I would know how best to react if the worst did happen.

Although Alpha Male and I are not prone to neurotic freak-outs anymore, our relationship with each child is still flavoured by those very different early experiences. With Firstborn, the relationship is more emotionally intense; she is the colonizer of new territories, the guinea pig for our child raising techniques. She has borne the brunt of our incompetence. All our fears have rested on her tiny shoulders. In contrast, Small(er) One receives Firstborn's well-worn hand-me-downs, the sharp edges worn away by use. We are more confident parents with the Small(er) One, because we have already experienced every new stage. We have the benefit of hindsight and are no longer heading out into uncharted waters.

Pity the eldest child. She may have had us to herself for longer but she had also had more of our attention. And this, in my view, is definitely a mixed blessing.


Shuzluva said...

That's the beauty of having twins first...you're so exhausted from all of the feedings, burpings and diaper changes that you seem relaxed and the children are more relaxed. At 6 months, the twins were on a rigid schedule, slept through the night (and I mean a full 8+ hours, not that 5 hours is a full night crap) and rarely complained. I consider myself lucky. If we decide to have another I'm sure I'll be cursed with the DEVILCHILD!

Surfing Free said...

I know just how you feel. When my eldest cried I thought my heart would break, but I can let number 2 cry for considerably longer. I think I do have stronger feelings for my first ... and that makes me feel guilty sometimes. I'm sure it will even out as they grown.

Yummy London Mummy said...

shuzluva - how lucky are you? Both my girls still enjoy inflicting sleep deprivation torture on us from time to time. Luck of the draw I guess, so rejoice in it!

surfing free - guilt is such a terrible thing, isn't it? But you know, I really think the second one benefits from being left to bellow for longer. And lack of sleep isn't good for anyone sharing a household - child, sibling or parent...