With my first child it felt meant to be. We tried for years to have children. Actual years.
I was in denial about the years. The months when we thought it might happen. Late periods. Maybe this time?
Then disappointment. Tears. Anxiety. And tests. Guilt. No, there's nothing wrong with you Sir.
My wife: "It must be my fault then." More tears.
Then the best tears. We were pregnant. Our hands shivered. We huddled around the test, prepared for the worst. But no, good news. The best news. Our bodies collapsed. We folded into one another.
I'm not sure I can communicate the sheer relief, but I'll never forget it. On the days where my son pees his pants, stomps his feet, or refuses to eat broccoli I remember that relief. I'll remember the precise moment I discovered he would one day exist.
Everything about my second son was different.
My first son is so handsome. Everyone says so. He looks like my wife and nothing like me. Flawless olive skin. Thick curly hair. Almond eyes. He took his first steps at 10 months and at 4 years old he runs so, so fast. He's impossible to catch and he always want you to chase. He jumps and flips and climbs and tumbles. He wants to be a ninja. He is fearless. He was born beautiful and brave.
Everything about my second son was different.
After two years my wife and I started discussing the possibility of child number two. "Let's start trying," we said, in anticipation of a long, emotional road. But no. Two months after that conversation my wife was pregnant. Fully pregnant. Just like that. Compared to what came before it was almost too easy.
I wanted a girl. I'm happy to admit that. I was disappointed to find out we were having a second boy. I felt that, joked about it, but it was also real. I always imagined having a girl and that almost certainly won't happen now. I mourned for the idea: my little girl stomping through puddles in her gumboots. She has a name, my little girl, but I'll never call her by that name. I'm sad about that.
My second son's birth happened in a flash. Almost a blur. My reaction was pure shock.
Precisely 45 minutes after we arrived at the hospital, I was holding him in my arms. Two hours previous my wife was casually making a chicken curry in our kitchen. We were barely prepared. One minute I was running a bath in the birth centre, the next — in a wave of blood and murk — he emerged face first in the world. My eyes were wide and terrified.
Holy sh*t. Holy sh*t. Holy sh*t . . .
My wife: she was in actual shock. Jerking back and forth, deer in headlights. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. My wife never swears.
You don't really get the same chance to bond with baby number two. You just don't. And in my case number two's arrival resulted in me spending even more time with child number one.
But our second son was healthy — a big boy — and my wife came back to her senses. She recovered quickly. Incredibly quickly in fact. With our first child my wife suffered — we both suspect — from some sort of gentle, undiagnosed post-natal depression. She found it difficult in the beginning. The resentment? Shouldn't I love him more? Motherhood is so incredibly difficult in those first months. It's not what you expect. How do you respond to that?
For number two there were no such issues — immediately my wife found her groove. Son number one is a little tanned Latino, but the second took after me — a pale, pasty Scottish boy. My wife got the little blondy she always dreamed of and was smitten.
This time I was the one who was struggling. For several reasons.
With your first child, you cherish every stage of life. You don't know any better. You don't know what's ahead of you.
You don't know what it'll be like when your child can walk, talk and play. You take everything one step at a time. You appreciate each stage for what it is. With child number two I was wishing the days away. I had one son who could run and jump and laugh and interact with and begged to play with me every second he was awake. This new one just sort of . . . sat there. And fed. And slept. He didn't really need me, or want me around for that matter.
Most fathers, I'm sure, can relate. With the first you are involved in everything. You hold them, cradle them to sleep. You change nappies. You put on that onesie so gingerly. You're learning to be a father for the first time and it's magical. When number two comes the workload gets split. It makes sense for the father to do the majority of work involved with child number one. The child you already adore unconditionally, the child you don't have to breastfeed. The child that doesn't squawk the second he leaves his mother's side.
You don't really get the same chance to bond with baby number two. You just don't. And in my case, number two's arrival resulted in me spending even more time with child number one.
Eighteen months later I'm still struggling with this. The guilt. The overwhelming guilt. Feeling like you have a favourite — it's been difficult to manage. I questioned every second I spent with child number two, the seconds I didn't spend with him.
We don't talk about this. No one talks about this. No one warned me. I was completely unprepared. Everyone assumes you need help when child number one is born, but no one talked to me about the complications of child number two.
It took me a long time to learn to love my second son the way I love my first. It hurts to type those words. It's difficult to read them.
Only now, over a year and a half later, am I truly coming to terms with those feelings. Only now do I feel like I know who my second son is.
Things are much better now. Child number two is growing. He's 18 months old. He's in the process of becoming his own person. I'm in the process of discovering that person.
He's a walking whirlwind. He didn't walk, run or jump as quickly as his athletic big brother – but he jibber jabbers. He's a little genius. He cries when he doesn't get his way but cackles easily. He's endlessly curious, fiddles with toys, desperate to break them and put them back together again. He likes to put things inside other things — which has been bad news for my video game collection. He frowns and pushes, is quick to tell you "NO!" — a little fireball of surface-bubbling emotion.
A little bastard basically.
And I love him now. I really do, although he doesn't always love me back! He still screams for his mother. He still hates my guts. But thankfully, 18 months later, the feeling isn't mutual.