My first child, Hannah, arrived 6 weeks early, with all the gentleness of a level 3 hurricane. In spite of her small size, she packed a big punch. I found myself saying, “It’s surprising how completely satisfying having one child can be. I can’t see doing this again!” And honestly, I couldn’t. Mostly because ‘doing this again’ would have involved having actual alone time with my husband, and that was in short supply. But also because I was overwhelmed enough already, without contemplating a whole other baby.
And yet, a few short years later, I did do it all again. Although, throughout my 2nd pregnancy I frequently found myself wondering what the heck I was thinking. I’d spent Hannah’s infancy sitting on the couch, breastfeeding and watching daytime TV. But that wasn’t going to fly with a preschooler to take care of. My entire infant parenting repertoire was suddenly useless.
My son Jacob was born when Hannah was exactly 3 1/2. Luckily, he had the good graces to wait until a few days before his due date to make his big appearance. He was even considerate enough to be born while Hannah was at daycare, reducing a lot of the pre-birth scramble. And now, as I celebrate Jacob’s 2nd birthday, I view these happy circumstances as signs of Jacob’s personality.
You see, there is some good news about 2nd babies. They are nearly always easier than 1st babies. Part of this is because, in spite of lacking daytime TV to entertain me, I had more tricks in my parenting tool kit. I didn’t freak out so much about Every. Little. Thing. I had experience to fall back on when the baby did weird things or decided that sleep was his mortal enemy.
But there is more to the story. While it’s true that I felt like a parenting pro when I welcomed Jacob, there was another factor to consider this time. And that factor was wearing an “I’m the Big Sister” T-shirt. Having an ‘easy’ 2nd baby did not magically make my 1st baby easy, too. I was every bit as neurotic about my poor daughter as I ever had been.
The real adjustment in going from 1 child to 2 wasn’t in figuring out how to care for a newborn while also looking after a 3-year-old. It was in figuring out how to be there for my 3-year-old while I spent my days breastfeeding and changing diapers (but not watching daytime TV). There was a lot of sadness in the early days of Jacob’s life when Hannah wanted me to do fun 3-year-old stuff and I couldn’t. I had the baby care down pat, but I was still figuring out preschoolers.
The worst moments were the moments when both children dissolved into tears. And never, not once, did they dissolve into tears over the same thing. When you haven’t slept much in the past 3 weeks you’re not exactly running on a full emotional gas tank yourself. Dealing with 2 other people and their 2 other problems stretches a person pretty thin. And then I’d start to cry, and 3 crying people is just way too many crying people.
Luckily, a friend passed along a pearl of wisdom that saved my skin. She said, “Only one of them will remember this.” It was one of those proverbial light bulb moments for me. I spent a lot of my time focused on Jacob, because he was small and vulnerable. And constantly pooping. But really, he didn’t really need my focused attention. As long as I fed him and cleaned him and held him, he was golden. And I could do pretty much all of those things while playing along with Hannah’s imaginary games.
Being a mother of 2 children is an amazing thing. But it is not all sunshine and roses. I often wonder why I thought I was so busy when I had only 1 child. It is a lot of work to take 2 children to the grocery store with no backup, or to keep a toddler out of the pool at his big sister’s swimming lessons. I like to think it’s all worth it, though. And the truth is, it mostly is. Also, a secret mama-only chocolate stash helps.
Amber is an engineer-turned-at home mom to 5-year-old Hannah and 2-year-old Jacob. She lives in suburban Vancouver with her husband Jon, the kids and her ill-tempered cat. In her free time she gardens, crafts, and dreams about the life she will have when she grows up. You can read about it all in excruciating detail on her blog at Strocel.com.