05/26/2015 03:15 pm ET Updated May 26, 2016

Love in Its Own Time

Marie Zullo

Before I became a mom, a friend who already had two children of her own told me a secret of motherhood: "You are going to love your children in a way that you have never loved anyone else. It is unlike anything you have ever felt."

She was right. The love I have for my boys is unlike the love I have felt, or do feel, for anyone else. It is deep and primal and, at times, overwhelming. What my friend didn't tell me was that the path to loving my children would not be the same for each of them. That, while the love for each of them would be intense and enduring, it would come in its own time.

When I was pregnant with my first son, the experience was so new and full of wonder. I would talk and read to the little one growing inside of me. The bond between us was developing just as he was developing. I would sing to him so that when it came time for lullabies, he would be lulled to sleep with the comfort of a familiar song

On the day he was born, he was laid on my chest wailing at the top of lungs. I snuggled him and sang as I had every day during the pregnancy. He quieted immediately and settled in my arms. I was in love. I was in love like I never had been before, like I thought I never would be again.

Despite the exhaustion, the new parent anxieties, the upheaval of life as I had known it, I was in a state of bliss. Each sigh, each hand movement, each flutter of his eye was a new revelation. Though it did not seem possible, every day that passed, I became more enamored with my son. He was the new center of my universe.

When my son was 6 months old, I became pregnant with my second child. My husband and I had talked about having more children, but hadn't expected it to happen so quickly. Secretly, I was not sure I was ready to share myself with any other child. I was so deeply enamored with my first.

My second pregnancy went by in a blur. Busy raising my first child, I thought little about the one that was coming. I didn't sing a special song that would be just for me and the new baby. No, my new baby would have to be content with the songs I sang with his older brother. Sometimes, when the baby would kick, I would talk to him and tell him how excited I was for his arrival. The moment wouldn't last long before I had to turn my attention to my older son. I would feel guilty knowing that the apple of my eye would soon have to share my attentions. Would I have enough love and time for both of them?

My second son was born with the cord wrapped around his neck. His eggplant-colored body was silent. His first scream, piercing the ears of all in the room, was a relief, a joy. But, when he was laid in my arms, neither my song or my voice could calm him. He seemed unprepared to be in this world and ready to rail against it. This was not like it had been when his brother was born. We did not share the same deep connection and immediate understanding of each other that his brother and I had. This child was a mystery.

The days that followed my second son's birth were exhausting. Caring for a toddler and a newborn left little time for me to sleep, eat or shower. My new baby rarely slept. When he was not feeding, he was screaming. He'll quiet down soon, the pediatrician said. He'll settle in a few days, my mother promised. But he didn't. I longed for the days when it was only me and my first child. The blissful, joyful days that I would spend staring at my first and adoring everything about him seemed like a memory. A memory that I feared I would never have of my second child.

About three weeks after he was born, in the quiet hours before morning, something changed. Desperate with tiredness, I paced the floor trying fruitlessly to quiet him. I felt myself on the verge of tears. I looked down at my son and his eyes met mine. For a moment, he was silent. In that moment, a feeling of love came rushing over me like the wind from a passing freight train. "I will love you forever," I told my son. "I will always take care of you and protect you. No matter how tired or unsure I am, I will always try my best for you." I was in love as I had only been once before.

Those early days seem distant now. While the deep love that I feel for each of my sons came to me in its own time, it came to stay. Forever.