On Motherhood: Having a Second Baby - Fears Vs Reality
The Reality of Having a Second Baby
Second Baby Fears Vs Second Baby Realities
Below are the second baby fears I listed in this post, and next to them I try to explain what the reality was like.
I have forgotten what it's really like to have a newborn baby
Yep, I did. Having a newborn baby again after having a toddler and preschooler for most of the last few years was a definite change. I mean even just holding that tiny frame felt like a shock, and like I was about to throw him over my shoulder - he was so light! But this is to be expected. I have not been the parent of a newborn for nearly three years and the crawling, toddler and now talking-back years have all but blurred those earliest months.
I'd also forgotten the physical impact of having a baby on my body. I knew it was hard, but I'd forgotten so many specifics; not being able to sit comfortably for at least a week (and I know I'm lucky it was that quick!), the panic when you go to the toilet, the way you sweat so so much at night when breastfeeding. I was also surprised by some things I didn't think would "hit me" again because I thought old experience would mean I was something of an old hat at it. But no, it turns out that breastfeeding is just as painful in the first few weeks second time round, and those secondary cramps were so uncomfortable as my uterus was shrinking (possibly more painful even), and I was surprised just how much energy giving birth and recovery drained from me and how long it took to feel I had something close to my normal energy levels physically.
There were also things that came back easily to me. How to care for a newborn felt familiar and that made it feel manageable. I carried, changed, nursed and soothed my second son with a confidence that was never present with my first. I had hindsight on my side so I knew that the early evening crying fits would end and although I got ready for bed each night not really knowing what would follow I felt I could trust my instincts in a way I never did first time round. I also quickly remembered how a newborn baby's breathing can change as quickly and randomly as a jazz percussionist and so I didn't panic when his pants became slow sighs, and vice versa. Little did I know just how comforting and confidence-boosting previous experience of parenting would be.
There was also more that I had forgotten and was actually almost delighted to rediscover. Primarily, it was a joy to remember just how incredibly cute newborn babies are (especially when they're yours so you can rightly or wrongly take all the credit). I would stare at my baby for hours and hours and then still struggle to take my eyes off him if someone else came in the room. I found the pouts and twitches of his mouth the most beautiful thing to watch. I fell in love with the way his little fingers opened and closed, often in a sudden rush when a noise startled him. As we made progress with breastfeeding I loved the noises he made suckling, and eventually squeaking in a way that myself, my partner and all who visited us found hilarious. I had forgotten what it was like to fall in love with a newborn baby and being reminded of it was pure joy.
Can I also say that I'd forgotten how fantastic my boobs look once my milk comes in? But oh my, how painful!
But I haven't forgotten everything about giving birth!
I will write up my second son's birth story (although it's really more my story!) soon but I was both right and wrong to fear childbirth again. Yes, it really bloody hurt, again. Yes, it pushed me to mental and physical places I'm certain I don't want to return to (again!), but it also gave me one of the most empowering experiences of my life... again. (You can read my first son's birth story here and here.)
What I hadn't really understood was how much giving birth for the second time (with no serious complications and with a fantastic support team in a modern hospital) was aided by my previous experience. It's a terrible analogy but for me, thanks to relatively few complications each time, giving birth for the first time is like walking into a fire naked. Giving birth the second time is like walking into a fire dressed as a firefighter.
Babies are hard work
YES THEY ARE! But again hindsight had prepared for this and actually I was probably expecting more work than what our second son gives us. When it's just me and him it feels frighteningly easy most of the time, which I'm nervous to admit in case a) it changes and b) you hate me. No, he doesn't sleep through the night (or even close!). Yes, I have to feed him every three hours still (apart from the occasional glorious five hour stretch at night). But I've never known a baby to smile so much and to just respond so sweetly to the cuddles, kisses and love I give him. I will never know if he is like this because I had previous experience and because I approached the newborn weeks so so differently (i.e. holding him all the time, including when he was sleeping) compared to the struggles we had with our first where I felt clueless and as a result didn't just focus on holding and loving my baby, but I am more inclined to just put it down to his very different personality and nature. I think I have at least one moment a day where I tell him he feels like a dream because he really is as rewarding a baby as you could ever imagine. But pleasse don't go thinking he's perfect. He always pukes on me when I have just put a clean top on and he still does poos that go up to his ears.
Will it dilute how good a mother I am?
In the first week of my second baby's life, this was really a big concern and huge preoccupation for me. I felt torn between wanting to hold my new baby boy all the time, but also wanting to be with my eldest constantly to reassure him about this huge change that was happening to him. I felt torn constantly (in more ways than one, ahem!).
Months on I see that, yes, having another child does dilute the time and energy and focus I give my first son (and of course therefore also my second) but it doesn't dilute the kind of mother I am. Sometimes I hear a negative voice tell myself that it does, and this is normally when I'm tired and stressed and feel low, but when I felt those things as just a mother of one, I would also have some nasty internal dialogue about not being a good enough mother so that has been an interesting observation. In other words, I am very good at finding sticks to beat myself with! But in terms of the person I am and the goals and love I have for my children, no, the love I feel for them both and them individually is not diluted at all. If anything my love and resolve as a mother has probably thickened since becoming a mother of two, kinda like a yummy cheese sauce when you give it time and keep stirring it!
I really, really, really like sleep..
Yep, sleep is still the cat's pyjamas (bonus points if you get the movie reference) and of course I'm not getting enough right now! It would have been naive of me to think I would be sleeping as much as I used to. What has surprised me is that while sleep now looks very different for me (I typically wake 2-3 times a night to feed the baby on a good night) I also have to say that it hasn't been a total shitshow.
My second son slept considerably more than my first did in the first few months of life and I approached his day and night sleeps very, very differently. I chose to hold my son on me for nearly all his sleeps until he was about five weeks old. Not only did I know he would sleep better that way even if I didn't, but I also struggled to sleep when he was away from me. There was something biological, innate that told me to hold him close, so that's what I did. After that when I felt more able to sleep separated from him (and likewise) I started to put him down for his naps and he slowly adjusted to sleeping alone and that went well. By three months he was sleeping in his cot next to my bed for all his sleeps. One thing I feel we hit the lottery with was that he adjusted to day and night rhythms VERY quick. I think by week four he was only really waking at night to feed while in the day he would look around a bit more or have slightly shorter sleep stretches. I can't overstate how much that helped as my eldest son also regressed a lot around the same time and so we would also have to manage his wake-ups at night but only once or twice a week did they both wake at exactly the same time!
The four month developmental leap and sleep regression was very rough for us and for about three weeks my baby boy was waking every 1-2 hours at night and not always taking the juicy naps I'd gotten used to. I had a few days where the sleep deprivation was so severe I felt physically sick, nearly fainted a few times, and also experienced a drop in my breastmilk supply. I'm happy to say once the leap was over his sleeping improved at night but I'm still trying to catch up from that episode over a month ago. So while I count all my blessings that sleep has been much less of a problem this time round, I am not naive enough to think that it will always be easy and I will try to do what I can to prepare for more regressions and challenges in the future.
And I like my clean house, washed hair, social life, making home-cooked meals etc.
I'm sort of laughing at myself for writing this. Silly, naive me.
While, yes, many things have slipped or been put on the back burner, these are not the things I miss at all! I have learned through the busy-ness of two kids (see below!) that these are all actually nice-to-haves, not essential things that I need to worry about.
What quickly became more important to me was making sure I carved out quality time with my eldest son, and (slightly less often!) my partner. Hanging out as a family of four is much more important than cleaning or cooking, and I love how passionately I feel that. Contrary to the fears I had (because a tidy and clean space does help me feel good) I don't consider myself a failure if my house is messy. My social life is still non-existent but actually it's time alone that I crave more than catching up with friends (without kids on my lap!). I also had a run of weeks where I only washed my hair once a week, but honestly, that was actually a good thing and now I still only wash it twice a week as I never liked washing it every other day. I did struggle in the beginning when I couldn't make the meals I used to and I struggled with that again when sleep was a problem (and in recent weeks as we've just moved house) but I have found an interesting way to deal with this. I effectively tell my partner that I'm too tired/busy/stretched to cook a big meal and if he says, fine I'll cook then I feel better because I know we're having a decent(ish!) meal and if he says no worries I'll get us some ready meals or we'll get take-away that decision is his so I can get annoyed with him instead of myself if I don't agree. Of all the things I am solely responsible for right now, home-cooked meals and a clean house are not going to be top of the list!
Hello post-natal depression and anxiety, my old friends?
I want to write that I've dodged the bullet this time. I want to say how this time is completely different. I want to say that I'm out of the woods and I no longer need to worry or fear this, but the truth is while at this moment in time I am not struggling with PNA or PND on the same scale I did with my first I have to be honest and say I don't think I am out of the woods yet. Or rather, I can see some trees, and these trees may thicken, or they may disappear and make way for a beach that I can lie and sun myself on. Did that make any sense? Maybe I should ditch the metaphors and just say that it is just too early to say if I will or won't have any similar struggles with anxiety and depression.
While I am confident I don't have either right now, in the last month or so I have felt them be things that are within reach rather than tucked away safely on a high shelf. This is due in a large part to the stress of the house move we have just experienced and also the unexpected lack of sleep a month ago that I'm still trying to catch up on, but it could also be my body still adjusting to new hormone levels and also recently it's been a lot harder for me to do the things that help me with anxiety including exercise, time alone, time resting and spending time doing creative work like writing. I have definitely noticed the last few weeks that at night when I struggle to sleep (a sign in itself!) my thoughts have started to get a little darker and heavier, and so I am keeping a close eye on that. As I said recently to a friend, the one key benefit of having experienced PNA and PND before is that I am very aware of the signs (hyper aware even!) and I am not going to ignore them.
You can read a summary of my experience with post-natal depression and anxiety here.
I hate, hate, hate crying babies (when they're mine)
Yep, crying babies are still very hard, and my hardest days and moments have come when my second baby has been crying more than usual (occasionally along with my 3-year-old too!). Again, I just don't think we parents acknowledge how hard it is to deal with a crying baby (for whatever reason).
Having a baby that doesn't cry anywhere near as much as our first (I mean he cries maybe 30% as much which is massive and a HUGE dose of luck) has only confirmed this. I have tried very hard not to make it the narrative of the last six months but there is no denying that our first son was much harder work as a baby than my second. Babies are just wildly different. In some ways this has soothed me a lot. It has made me realise we were up against a lot with our first and we have found this stage much easier this time round. It has also, of course, made me feel sad because I know it affected my bonding with my firstborn, which also contributed to my anxiety and depression. But all this doesn't mean that our second boy doesn't cry. He does but he just does it a little less than our first, and he's much, much easier to calm. And sometimes when that happens, I hold him and have a little happy cry just because he isn't crying anymore - gosh that's horribly ironic and silly isn't it?
I'm not ready for the busy-ness of it all
There's no denying having two kids makes you more busy. The time I have to myself and only myself went from a decent amount (thanks to childcare and an easier load to share with my partner) to next to none overnight and I did find that very hard, especially after the first five or six weeks of post-partum life when I was craving being something, someone other than Mummy. But rather than try to fight or deny the discomfort I felt I got proactive. I found a babysitter who could come for a few hours in the mornings when my eldest was in daycare and that helped so very much. I also accepted offers of help when I had the two of them on my own so that there were more than just one set of adult hands. I have had no pride about accepting help this time around and when we've been hit by illness or unexpected events that throw our routine out of whack, I call a babysitter, a friend or figure it out with my partner so I am not carrying the burden more than I feel comfortable. It doesn't work out like this every time but it has helped me manage the busyness better than I would have 3-4 years ago. I am also much better at just accepting some of the things I want to do (alone) will have to wait. Sometimes I get really worked up about that but most of the time I know (because I am already armed with the magic that is parenting hindsight) that this time with a baby is fleeting and (because he's been a bit of a dreamy baby) that I will miss it when it's gone. This doesn't quieten all my frustrations about not being able to write all the books I want to write RIGHT NOW but it does help me put it in perspective.
I really want to make myself proud.
The fact I wrote this in my fears list makes me so sad. It suggests that I felt it would be impossible to make myself proud. It also tells me now just how much I really struggled when my first son was born. Becoming a mother for the first time and having a baby was clearly something I felt I'd done so badly that I associated it with not feeling proud of myself and so I assumed having a baby again would provoke the same feelings. Honestly speaking, I haven't had much time to think about if I'm proud of myself or not. I'm INCREDIBLY proud of my second birth but I know a huge part of that is because I got very lucky. Again I suppose I think that because of just how easy my second has been as a baby. The problem with this, therefore, is that I don't give myself much or enough credit because now when I sit down, pause and think about it, I know that there is a lot to be proud of. That doesn't mean the last six months have been perfect - far from it - there are many, many things that I would have done differently, but there is a lot I am definitely proud of.
What I wasn't worried about having a second baby... But should I have been?
I know I can love them both enough (time is a different matter)
I do love them both, desperately. When I'm with them both, I have moments where the love floors me. Interestingly (which I didn't expect) I have moments where I'm on my own with one and the love I have just for them hits me and then I think, wait, I feel like this about another little person? But how!? That's both terrifying and amazing.
And yes, again, spending enough time with them both is hard and because of breastfeeding and his needs being very different it is my eldest son who must adapt more, but it honestly hasn't been as hard as I thought it would be and I have very few days when I feel one has truly "suffered" from a lack of my time and attention.
I have support, and I'm not afraid to ask for it
I am excellent at asking for help now and I have never been more proud of that. And it has made all the difference.
What I'm perhaps still struggling with is when to ask for it. It's so hard to predict at what point a string of bad nights will leave me so exhausted I can't string words together in the right order when I speak, and likewise it's next to impossible to know when one kid - or both! - will become unwell and place new demands on my time and energy. This unpredictability is just part of parenting and while I accept that, I still find it hard to adapt to or maybe prepare for both mentally and logistically.
I am not the only one responsible for this new life
This was such a huge "issue" for me when I had my first son. I felt a huge weight of responsibility for him and as his primary carer (thanks to breastfeeding and my partner going back to work full-time after a few weeks) I felt (somewhat unwillingly almost) very burdened by this responsibility, and yet I also found it very hard to try and confront or change it. This evolved into some very difficult situations in our family where I ended up doing more than I should even when my partner was around because I was more adept, quicker at doing things, and also didn't like to see my partner or baby "struggle". It took me a long time to see that this was a self-fulfilling prophecy as my partner then lost confidence in being alone with the baby, and subsequently did less and/or didn't get more at ease and proficient with tasks. As a result of this my burden felt heavier and a certain amount of silent resentment festered between my partner and I. This did all change, but it took a long time, and we both vowed that we wouldn't let it be the same with our second child.
So... has it been the same?
Honestly, I have fallen into the trap of both being and feeling solely responsible for the baby. Partly this has been due to our divide and conquer approach to surviving the bumpy first few months of life as a family of four; my partner manages the eldest, and I take care of the youngest. And to this end, this has, in general, all worked REALLY well. However, it has had some of the same results as last time; my partner doesn't always know where stuff is for the baby, and so I end up having to "assist" in tasks more than I would like and perhaps we're all still a little hesitant for my partner to be alone with the baby or both kids for more than a few hours so I do feel I can't go out for long or be very far away. Again this isn't helped by breastfeeding and because I'm not in a rush to stop that, it's also just the way it's going to be for a while.
The key difference is that while we have hard days and hard moments, there isn't a festering layer of unspoken grudges. My partner and I know our strengths and weaknesses as parents (and people!) much better and most of the time we navigate them fairly well. Furthermore, I fundamentally KNOW now that I am not the only one responsible for keeping my children alive, and that is a very different and more helpful mindset.
I have the best entertainment system already set up for this new baby
This is only really starting to come into its own, which is not surprising given the baby's age, but I guess I did forget how long it takes for them to really be taken by what other children are doing. This is fine for the baby who now gets to enjoy the free entertainment his brother provides, but it's been a bit rubbish for my eldest son as he hasn't had much return on his hard work and investment as a big bro doing dances and showing of his toys.
Honestly speaking, I also didn't expect my eldest to be stand-offish and for his interest to be such a slow growth. There was also animosity at the beginning, although it was relatively short-lived. But as soon as his little brother began to recognise him and would smile on sight immediately, that has helped give big bro some new motivation to put on new shows for him. And it's in these recent months that we have really enjoyed watching their bond become something separate from our creating. Because of the slow start, it's extra special that this mutual interest is so blatantly love-fueled now.
I know now there is light at the end of the tunnel
Some days I can confidently say I have dodged the tunnel this time completely.
Other days I feel like I am walking down it and nothing will drag me back out - forwards or backwards.
But most of the time I feel like yes, I'm in a tunnel that is a very intense and demanding season of parenting (not helped AT ALL by our house move) but it's not the same tunnel I was in when I found being a mother unbearably hard. Yes, moments are deeply difficult, and there have been many occasions where I couldn't see any light, anywhere, but I'm relieved to say the clouds lift very quickly and when they do, absolutely can see light at the end of the tunnel and while seeing the light but not being able to touch it offers limited help, it's still a comfort because there have been so many times on my parenting journey when I couldn't see light, only more and more and more tunnel, which sucks because I'm a claustrophobic person anyway!
I know that the days are going to be long, but the years short
I understand why I wrote this back then. I know that ultimately it's true. But I'm also a bit annoyed at myself for seeing this as a positive. I feel quite strongly that we shouldn't belittle our struggles as parents and by saying things like "this will all be over before you know it" or "this won't last forever" isn't always completely helpful because when you are really struggling, another second in that hard, hard place is too much and hearing things that in a round-about-way suggest you should cherish everything because it will be over soon only add to the yucky feelings you may feel.
Yes, the days are very long, and yes, these years of raising two pre-school children are going to fly by, and will feel like a drop in the ocean that is my lifetime (I hope!), but right now I don't need any extra guilt or pressure or emotional weight on my shoulders. I am swimming in choppy waters here. Another run of (extra!) bad sleep will deflate my life jacket. A teething baby will make me swallow a lung full of water. And one more tantrum about what's for dinner will almost certainly give my swimming costume a wedgie I can't pull out... What helps more is acknowledging that the days are long and they are hard, but they can be enjoyable to. They don't have to be enjoyable ALL THE TIME, but they can still be some of the best days and years of our life in their own unpredictable, intense and hard way.
It's okay to put my life on hold for a while... (in some ways)
Frances M. Thompson
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