This is my motherhood diary, documenting what life is like as I adjust to becoming a mum of two. I wrote my first motherhood diary in the year following my first son's first year of life. I call him Baby Bird on this blog. He became a big brother to my second son, Baby JJ, in November 2018 and so I have returned to writing weekly updates about what life is like becoming a mother to two young boys. (I wrote about my first son's birth here). You can find all of the first year's diary entries here, and you can start at the beginning of year one here, and year two here.
It should go without saying that there are a lot of differences between my partner and I as parents now and the parents we were when our first son was born.
Firstly, our levels of anxiety, nervousness and general-fish-out-of-water jumpiness are dialed right down. Rightly or wrongly, we don't lie awake watching our second son sleep - listening to his breaths, checking that yes, his chest did indeed move up and then down again. We don't count feeds, or dirty nappies, or the hours he has slept (or not!) like the whole day depends on it being a satisfactory number. We are very good at dwelling on the good things we forgot about life with a small baby - he's so cute, the thrill of those first smiles, the pride of him holding his head up by himself - and we don't bathe him nearly as often, nor do we do tummy time every day like we should be doing. Better than this is the fact that we hardly ever berate ourselves for the things we don't do that we should. As first-time parents, we excelled at this, both admonishing ourselves and each other far too often. "Did you do tummy time with him after that nappy change? Did you even change his nappy in the last hour? Oh I forgot to put nappy cream on... please don't report me to social services!"
I'm comfortable with these differences. I like being less anxious. I like my partner being less anxious. I like that we don't shout at each other as much. I love that we are enjoying this season of parenting a lot more than I ever thought we would. Honestly, I am also okay with our second son being less washed than perhaps he should be. I still want to sniff his cheeks all day long. He still smells so so good to me.
The best difference of all, however, is that I am enjoying these days of a newborn. Yes, me. The mother who had post-natal depression and anxiety. The mother who looked for the Undo button within days of my firstborn being Earth-side. The mother who honestly thought she had made the worst mistake of her life. In fact, as these newborn days come to a close and my son starts to unravel his limbs and look around him more, I feel a sweet sadness that I can't quite describe wash over me. It's like feeling nostalgic for a time that you are still experiencing in real-time.
I talked to my partner about this briefly last night, and I was surprised that he didn't feel the same way. He talked about looking forward to when Baby JJ is older, crawling and then walking, and when he and his big brother can play together. He reminded me how he's not really a big fan of babies, as cute as he thinks our son is.
It's fair to say that nostalgia has never been my partner's forte, and of course, I am looking forward to all these things he talks about too, but this is our last child. This is the last time we will have a small, newborn baby who just stays where he is put, and snuffles and snuggles into us like we're the safest place he could ever be. This is the last time we'll be able to gather one of children up in just one of our arms and hold him for the longest time without getting backache or cramp. Doesn't he see how special and how sad it is that this is close to coming to an end?
I didn't ask him this. In fact, I didn't dwell on it further with my partner, because the conversation quickly moved on to discussing other things, but part of me wanted to physically yank hard on his heartstrings and make him realise that one day in the future he will look back on this time and miss having a newborn baby.
Or maybe he won't...
My partner doesn't look back on Baby Bird's earliest months with anything close to the emotionally-loaded nostalgia that I do. He smiles at the memory of his fat rolls, and he loves watching the videos of their first "conversations", but he doesn't think about those days and weeks as anything other than really bloody hard. I'm sad to say my memories of how the days played out aren't that dissimilar, but while my partner is happy to then hold onto happier memories or other times, I have this need to now treasure these newborn weeks the second time around because - aside from a few blips - I really am enjoying this time. I know it's not true at all but it almost feels like a reward for the struggle we had last time? Doesn't my partner want to enjoy this while it lasts?
Later as I went to bed another realisation hit me. My partner hasn't really "had" a newborn baby this time round. What I mean is that he has been considerably less involved with our second son than he was with our first as a baby. This has partly been for practical and logistical reasons - I take care of the baby, he takes care of the three-year-old - so that our lives can run smoothly and both kids have their needs met. For health reasons, we have been sleeping in separate rooms so he has been free of night wakings and I have been more relaxed when they happen because I know they wake only me up and I know my partner will be rested enough to look after our eldest the following morning. There have been other important things going on that have meant my partner is spending more time away from the baby; we are in the process of buying a new house and so there have been meetings and administration to attend to, all of which is much easier for him to do than me right now. Some days my partner spends little more than an hour with our 9-week-old son, broken up into cuddles in the morning and evening. At weekends we are all together more, but when it comes to feeding, changing, and laying him down for a nap, I am still the one who does it more often than not because I have the right equipment (my breasts!), I am twice as fast at changing nappies, or because the baby is simply more used to my voice singing him to sleep.
Last month I took the baby for his one-month check-up alone and it was only when I was in the waiting room with him and I saw a couple walk in with their own newborn baby that I realised my partner and I went to all of our first son's check-ups together. Again this was as a result of our situation then (he was working from home then so it was easier), but I know that it was also part of that increased anxiety and attentiveness that we gave our first baby boy, and it was all a brand new experience, whereas now we are both a bit guilty of thinking "been there, done that" and these events are more tick-box exercises than things we make a big deal out of.
And so when I said to my partner that this week is his two-month check-up and the first of his vaccinations, I didn't expect him to offer to come. I didn't even think to suggest it. I am more than happy to go alone and I would much rather my partner get on with work he needs to do or he does what he needs to do to help secure this house we've been trying to buy for six months.
But just now, a few hours before the appointment, my phone lit up. It was a message from him saying that he's moved a meeting around so he can also come for the check-up. Where should he meet me?
I am pleased. Maybe also a little relieved as I have been really questioning if he will look back on this time and regret not spending more time with our little boy, our last little boy, as a baby. As I mentioned above, even though I am with him nearly 24/7, I am already feeling nostalgic for this time, even as it happens! Surely he feels something like this...
Then it hits me. My partner is just living in the present. Something he does much better than me, albeit not because he is remotely interested in mindfulness or meditation. At the risk of sounding insulting, he's just a very simple guy who thinks mostly only in the moment, or at the most, a little bit into the future. Yes, I would like him to reflect and remember and feel more. Maybe cry a few happy (or sad!) tears now and again, brought on by that deep bittersweet punch in the emotional gut that only nostalgia can do. But after nine years together, I know you can't change a person's emotional make-up. My partner doesn't get hung up on the past, at least not in a way that he expresses freely. While this may seem strange to me, when I think about how emotional I get for the best memories, when I think about being free of the weight of reliving harder or just heavier times, I am instantly jealous.
I need to take heart from the way he is, and maybe a little inspiration. And let's be honest, two overly sentimental parents wouldn't always be the best combination, especially now at such a special but truly intense time as the dust settles on our new normal and new life as a family of four. And who knows how he will actually feel about this period of time in the future; I strongly suspect he has no clue how he will feel, but I'm quietly confident he will not over-analyse how it was or how he feels about it. I hope that I can therefore remind him one day in the future how it was relatively easy and lovely and calm and special, and that I was very happy - something I didn't honestly think I'd say about life at nine weeks post-partum. And if that doesn't pull hard enough on his heart strings then I will tell him how much I loved him when he came to our boy's two month check and held him close as he cried off the pain of his first vaccinations. And then if that doesn't work, I will stomp on his toes or knee him in the balls so maybe a few token tears are shed....
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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