“When you have your first baby, you worry about everything. When you have your second baby… you worry about the first baby.”
I don’t know where I first heard that, but I was pregnant with my second and there was a constant hum about how different everything is with baby number two.
If the cliché of becoming a parent is, “It changes everthing.” The cliché of having a second baby is closer to, “It ain’t nothing but a thang.”
In those early days of life as a mother of two, I remember feeling intensely worried about my first baby. And I definitely worried very little about the new baby. I had done the baby thing already, so no problem, but the sibling adjustment thing was all new.
I can still see myself sitting on the couch nursing my son and watching my daughter play on the floor, looking so sad and lonely, and thinking, “Why is this strange baby keeping me away from my real kid?”
As the first child and grandchild on both sides, my daughter had been getting too much attention and I looked forward to her sharing the (sometimes literal) stage with a sibling. But watching the withdraw of that attention after my son was born was physically painful for me.
The transition from one kid to two was, for me, as big a life-changing event as the change from pregnancy to parenthood. If not bigger. Seriously.
Of course, as with all things parenthood, it depends on what you get. I got a very flexible, social first kid who I could take anywhere and a second who wouldn’t let me sleep and had a special knack for finding knives in unexpected places.
Maybe it would be different if I hadn't struggled with post-partum depression after our second was born. But that's the thing about parenting. Once you’re pregnant, you don’t get to choose much of anything. You don't know what you're gonna get.
It took me longer to bond with my second baby. I caught myself feeling reluctant to focus on him too much, so as not to hurt my daughter’s feelings. Until I realized how important it is for her to see how much we love him, to watch us loving him. How would she learn to love him if we were holding back? And how long would it last anyway, this pretending the new baby doesn’t change anything?
One day I remember, when my son was still new, I was pissed at my husband and not dealing well with my daughter. So I left them at home and went out alone with my son for the first time.
We went to Nordstrom, which was my happy place as a new mom. It may sounds odd, but they have this lovely ladies room (yes, bathroom) with a comfortable changing and nursing room and another room with cozy couches. There are other moms there, too, and everyone is really sweet and friendly, as if it’s in the air when you enter the room. And when you’re hungry, the in-store restaurant is full of older ladies unfazed by screaming babies. An odd oasis, to be sure, but it was mine.
Changing my son’s diaper in that happy bathroom, looking down at him, feeling free for the first time to be openly affectionate with him, without any worry about anyone else, was one of the first times I felt a strong bond with him. I was just his mom, just changing him and looking at him, and he was so easy to love.
Before I joined their ranks, I remember looking at those cool cucumber moms of two and wondering what happens with the second baby that makes everything look easier than it feels for first time moms.
But, starting with pregnancy, it wasn’t easier for me than the first time. There are all sorts of body parts that are a whole lot stronger with a first pregnancy. I had more aches and pains and what are euphemistically called “symptoms” the second time around. Why does no one tell you these things? Or do we not hear it until we’re there?
There are some things that are much easier the second time around—labor, for instance. I actually felt like I knew what I was doing! And I bounced back from the delivery so much faster. Instead of feeling like it was hard just to walk for weeks, I had to stop myself from doing too much after day two. I felt great, but I had been warned to put a lock on those first few weeks. I thought of it as the “Don’t do dishes!” rule. You think you can do anything, but as much as you can, take that time to rest, because whatever help you have immediately after will disappear soon enough.
After the first few weeks of feeling surprisingly good, I began to crash. Parenting, especially parenting two, is cumulatively exhausting. I’ve written before about the Fifth Trimester. The hardest time I’ve ever had with kids was during that time with the second baby.
I often hesitate to say anything about that to moms expecting number two or moms with two kids around those ages. I always start with a “maybe it’s just me…” But when I do confess, other moms have been grateful to hear it. I’ve found that moms who struggle with adjusting to mothering two babies (and many other things) often think it’s just them. When actually, it’s just a hard time. It’s just not discussed.
So… Pregnancy? Harder. Labor? Easier. The first year? Harder!!! And the second year…? It does finally get easier.
I don’t know why, except to say that time is a tricky magician. It changes things when you’re not looking. The first birthday of your last kid is a big parental milestone. Not that anything changes on that exact date. For me, it happened in fits and starts until, one day—one of those good days—I looked around and realized that the crazy hard part was just somehow over.
When I had one baby, watching just one kid more was stressful and required careful strategizing. Now? Need me to watch your two kids along with both of mine on no notice? Bring ‘em over. Easy peasy.
I’m no superstar, but these days, I can do some of those things that make second moms look like they can handle anything. I can change a diaper in pretty much any condition in 30 seconds flat. I can (sometimes) keep them both happy. I can shop with two kids, even at Target. And often do. Even if I do tell my self “This is the last time!” every time, we all seem to make it home somehow.
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