I am constantly comparing the very different personalities of my two sons. They are two years apart and from the time “Segundo” was born, “Primero” made it clear that they were going to mix about as well as oil and water. I don’t really think its so strange that siblings can have such different personalities or outlooks on life, but seeing first hand every day the way that they interact with (and sometimes repel) each other makes me ponder the reason why they are so different.
A close friend, my soul sister, and a mother whom I deeply respect and try to emulate told me about her plans to pursue her doctorate in the field of prenatal and perinatal psychology. This discussion got me thinking about part of what shapes us happens before the time we are officially introduced into this world. And I made the connection that the personalities of my two children were apparent even as early as the day they were born.
That infants in the womb are consciously aware of what is going on around them (around their mother) was not a new idea to me necessarily. I had played music, read and talked to my sons while they were in my tummy. But thinking more deeply and more particularly that the feelings experienced by a pregnant mother can have a profound impact on the fetus in-utero was a bit of a new concept to me. (“Oh, Great!”, I thought at first. “As usual, more for us moms to feel guilty about how we might screw up our kids.”) How had the way I had acted during my pregnancies contributed to these two very different boys I am raising today?
I was drawn to the idea that my different experiences during my first and second pregnancies really shaped the way my children are. As a first time mom, and I think this is true for many women, I was so nervous and intense about the experience of creating life inside me that I rarely took time to allow the wonder and joy of pregnancy to really sink in. I was grateful the second rime when I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. My first pregnancy was all, What’s this? Why do we do that? What if? How do I? Is this normal? Am I doing it right? blah, blah, blah… By the second time around I was like okay, I can do this. And it is amazing!
I often have the opportunity to tell my birth story when giving tours of the birth center, where I work. -”My two boys were both born right here in this tub!” and I always point out that the births themselves were different experiences indeed. Both times I planned a waterbirth.
Having a waterbirth was the best experience I could have hoped for both times around. However during my second birth, I learned what you plan or expect is not what happens during labor (or parenthood for that matter). I envisioned the second time around was going to be much the same as my first, my only hang up was that now I knew what to expect in terms of pain and that scared me. But from the experience of doing it before, I figured out quickly during my second labor that I would be okay if I just “let it flow and did what ever felt good”.
The first time I gave birth I think I resisted, more out of inexperience than fear , staying stuck in the exact same position on my hands and knees. I was in the tub for the two hours I labored at the birth center. It was a more difficult labor than my second. I had the terrible pain of back-labor. I was not willing to do much (it didn’t occur to me?) to experiment with other positions. In fact, it seemed utterly ridiculous to consider moving once I felt the pain exacerbated by trying a different position. So I remained stuck on my hands and knees in the tub for two hours.
My second labor has been described to me by people who were there as a “dance”. I was a labor goddess who flowed and moved almost the whole time. I believed before-hand that the bathtub was the best place to labor, but my body (my baby) knew differently. I had pretty much expected that the birth would be similar to the first. I was more anxious about it beforehand because I knew what kind of pain to expect. But once it started I was in control and bold - moving in and out of the water, with regularity. I squatted. I got on all fours. I did lunges and god-knows-what-else. I impulsively invited my husband to lay down with me and make out as I had read the advice of Ina May Gaskin. Her book, Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth was a big influence on me during my second labor.
Luca, The mountain biking two year old
I realized _and this was my big epiphany_ my sons’ births were really exactly like their personalities today.
The first child, being a more cautious sort. He is rather timid to take action. He has a quietness about him, he is stoic and serious in nature. And then there is the second. He is the (moving) picture of kinetic energy. He cannot sit still if you paid him. He is adventurous beyond his years. Fearless. Unstoppable. Wild Child.
So did their personalities come through me while we were in labor together? Was the way I thought *I* was acting really the result of their intentions? Or did the way I handled each labor differently have an effect on their personalities? Or is this all a coincidence? I like to think that it is the former theory. (Also, I like to think of the babies sitting inside my tummy hands at the controls, space ship style.) I have recently learned that it is the BABY who decides when the process of labor is to begin (by release of hormones) so that may not be so far off.
Perhaps during this extraordinary and spiritual time when two beings are parting ways from their 9 month co-habitation, the seeming passive partner is allowed to speak through the vessel who is carrying him and have a say in how things “go down”. This is not exactly rational but then neither is labor.
I have pondered the differences in my two childrens’ personalities. I wonder what influenced it. Was it the way, as a second time mother, I was more relaxed both during pregnancy and labor since I had been through it before. Or for the fact that for the second child, its not “all about them” like it usually is for the first-born. All of these things, and more factor in to the formula of a person’s personality. Nature vs. Nurture, etc. who knows what is the truth, but its interesting to ponder.
About Wenonah Michallet
Married for 15 years and mother of two boys, age 8 and (almost) 7. Work my day job being "the Glue" at a freestanding birth center. "I support midwives" should be tattooed on my forehead.