It’s been almost a year since my last blog post. Writing has always been a huge passion of mine but I must say over the last few years, I’ve really let big chunks of who I am fall by the wayside. I’m not really upset about that though- I have been working super hard on other things- teaching, doula-work and most of all mothering. It was just after my last post that I found out I was pregnant with my second baby. And with all that other work and a toddler in tow, my desire to write was overwhelmed by my total and complete exhaustion during my pregnancy. But now I’m getting my shit together again and hoping to share something positive through writing once again.
Having my second baby has been such a huge learning curve for me. Her birth itself was wonderful, and a huge relief after an incredibly tiring pregnancy. But I have found these first few months of her life to be the most eye-opening experience. I think perhaps I went into this second round feeling like I knew what it was going to be like. I had expectations of a struggle to parent two children, of being pretty wrecked most of the time but also of the same exhilarating time I’d had with my first little one when she was all shiny and new.
Well, overall it’s been quite different and separate from my first run at parenthood and it’s been all a bit of a shock to the system. Now that I am coming out of that fourth trimester haze and after a recent visit with my psychologist, I’m beginning to feel that from this initial shock, I’ve really learned something.
- Some things are much easier than you think they will be
Everyone told me parenting two would be this huuuuuge challenge. In particular that it would be far more difficult than I could imagine. In particular I had readied myself for ABSOLUTELY NO sleep, no time to eat and no time for my first born. Towards the end of my pregnancy these expectations really started to loom. Despite the fact that I had really really wanted this baby, I started to wonder if I had even done the right thing. Would I be a totally shit parent now to the first one or the second one? Was I even able to cope with the fact that the workload was surely about to double? Would I live on nothing but coffee and wind up in a permanent state of unhappiness and exhaustion? Everything I read and everyone I spoke to seemed to think so. But I think now I’m here- I have to call bullshit on that one. It is hard, I’m not saying it’s not. But it’s also not my life burning to the ground either. I really wish I could give my pregnant self a little shake now and tell her to have a little self-confidence. I’ve done this before, I’ve got this, I know what I’m doing. And the workload did not double after all- there is more to get done, that’s true- but the second has sort of just popped a few more jobs on the multitasking list and I’m just making it work.
- The guilt is always there
With my first baby, I held Mum-guilt relatively at bay most of the time. And frankly, that’s because I could dedicate pretty much all my time and energy to her whenever she needed. And now there’s two little people and I’ve had to split my time. It sometimes makes me so sad that she isn’t my entire world anymore. She loves her little sister and is such a gentle, sweet big sister- but I see her pushing buttons and boundaries in a way she never did before and I know that it’s a direct result of feeling a little neglected by me. And it’s crap because I can’t help that. I know what she needs but I can’t always provide that anymore. When it’s bed time and she just desperately wants and needs to have a chat about her day and a cuddle before sleep and I’ve got a baby yelling for a feed in the next room and all I want to do is watch Masterchef, stuff my face and collapse for the day- instead of responding to her with the kindness I want to provide, sometimes I just go a bit spare. The other night I honestly just blew my top at her (which just further upset her and achieved fucking nothing) and stormed out of her room. And the guilt of telling her off in a moment like that can be ten stories high. I know she’s only being a brat to get some mummy time at the end of the day. Not to mention that I always thought of bribery as a pretty negative way to parent when I had just the one, and now it has become such a staple in our lives because sometimes I just need her to get in the bath or stay in the shopping trolley or get in the car to go to day care so I can get SOMETHING done around the house.
All I can tell myself in those moments is that she is still the love of my life. But I have two loves of my life now (three if you want to factor in the husband) and ultimately it will be good for her to learn to share me. Hell, her sister is never going to be afforded the two years of one-on-one time that she had. So when guilt picks up its fat, ugly head- I just have to feel it and keep getting shit done, knowing I’ll probably do a better job of it tomorrow.
- The world is a terrifying place
God damn, I have never been so aware of the dark corners of planet Earth as I am now I have two. I don’t know why exactly but with my first bub- the world was flowers and rainbows most of the time. I was so happy and the world was all shiny and glorious because I was now a mother, something I had pretty much geared my whole life toward being. But here’s baby number two and now I take the scary shit on the news and apply it to my own life as if there are horrors to be found on every corner. I’ve always struggled with anxiety. That’s just the fact of the matter. And every time I hit a real learning curve in life, I seem to go into a bit of an anxiety spiral really. Something about having two daughters at a time when violence against women is well documented and publicised is just so scary too. I don’t want them to grow up in a world where someone might consider them to be second-class citizens. I don’t want them to need male protectors or to alter their own behaviour just to feel safe. If they happen to have male partners when they grow up, I don’t want to feel nervous about that. I don’t want violence and porn-dominated notions of sexuality to impact on them. Fuck. That. I don’t want them to be unsure if they will inherit a world with the climate to sustain food, water and trivial things like life. And you know, I don’t want them to be like me- feeling like I’m lucky to have avoided all of that stuff- I want it to be a bloody given.
Sometimes I’ll be walking down the street with the pram or looking into their beautiful little faces and I’ll be so stricken with terror that I might not be able to protect them from the world that for a few moments I’m crippled and have to sit down. I can only hope that I am able to help them, teach them and provide them with tools to survive in this mess of a system that still puts girls on the bottom of the deck far too often. I’d lay money on the notion that parents of boys have just as many fears as I do mind you. And oh God, I hope there’s enough scared, loving parents in the world to raise children who will fix shit up in the future.
- Second babies are easier
I’m developing a bit of a theory that when subsequent babies slot into a family, most often they just take a cue from their surroundings and go with what’s already established. Of course, as I said before- it’s most likely the confidence of the second-time parent, doing all the same sorts of jobs all over again that makes the job seem much easier. Nevertheless, I personally have found this second one is a much easier bub than my first was. She sleeps better, she takes to routine better and she’s generally pretty happy to be left with people who aren’t me in a way that little miss first was not into at all. It’s certainly a happy surprise since I was assured by many that since I’d had a good time with my first, this one would be a total monster. It might just be due to the particular expectations I had going into this job- but I feel I’ve been blessed with two fairly relaxed babies and I count my lucky stars for that.
Still, I’m not as panicky about the day-to-day acts of parenting that I was last time. I’m not on edge about screwing her up at this vital stage of her development. I know how to be her Mum and the first one is pretty great by my reckoning. I’ve been learning this gig on my feet for two and a half years and as long as I keep responding to my specific kids as they grow- I can feel happy with what I’ve achieved with my two wonderful children. It’s never going to be perfect, but it can be pretty damn good.
Another fundamental difference is to some degree I don’t give a crap what I ‘should’ be doing. I don’t feel I need to subscribe to a particular model of parenting. And perhaps more importantly, I don’t feel that what anyone else is doing is the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way either. I probably lean a little more towards being a gentle parent but I have learned so much from friends who are more strict and/ or old-school than I am. And you know what- we all have fantastic kids. So this time around, I’m just doing me and that is so much easier than looking for alternatives.
- You don’t totally lose yourself this time around
When I had my first baby everything changed. Suddenly there was this tiny little person who was my whole world. And who I was before I was a mother just went in the bin. Honestly I have a bit of trouble remembering who she was some days. Certainly it’s rare that I recognise her as ME. But between babies I developed a new comfortable persona. I was this new woman who took pleasure in the simple things- a glass of wine, a bubble bath, a quiet night out with the husband. I had built all these new wonderful relationships with other mothers and established a new set of values close to my heart, built from these shared experiences of motherhood. How I viewed my marriage compared to how I did before we became parents was also hugely changed. We were more a team than ever before and there were some huge challenges on the journey to that state of being.
Having a second baby has taken me away somewhat from the new person I had become. That teeny tiny little person needs me to make her my whole world. That means that my self-care, my marriage and my relationships just take a bit of a hit. Not to mention my sleeping hours. So while I might not be the old martini-loving, globe-trotting, boy-crazy, foot-in-mouth having, intense party animal I once was- I don’t really miss her. I miss that chilled out Mumma who enjoyed a night out at the movies with the girls with a glass of champagne on the side. I do feel confident she’ll be back one of these days. I’m just also not about to lose sight of her and it will be a magic day when she reappears.
- Sometimes it’s just work
My psych says my experience of motherhood the first time around was a bit rare in that I really felt pretty confident in my approach to things and I really enjoyed those early days so, so much. But with two- I really have to consciously focus sometimes on the beauty of this time. With my first, I had rose-coloured glasses on with everything, as I basked in wonder at this time of life that I had spent the majority of the time beforehand dreaming about. I was so excited to help her establish a sleep routine, get her breastfeeding exclusively, bath her every other day and read 17 books a day. But now that I’m starting all over again- there’s just so much to get done and sometimes everything that needs to be done becomes a total chore. I’m feeling pressure to get that routine right, I still love breastfeeding but sometimes it is so exhausting to be needed so fully all the time and if I can get through a couple of picture story books a day or bath her now and then, I feel I’ve earned my wine at the end of the day. Not to mention that I’m constantly aware that there’s a steep hill in front of me that requires meeting both a baby AND a toddler’s needs every single day. Don’t get me wrong, I still absolutely love and adore her and her sister. But where there was once a shimmery, golden, Mary-Poppinsesque opportunity with every task, there’s quite a lot of times across the day which are just plain hard work and I’m learning to accept that as we go along.
- Maybe two is enough
If you’d asked me a year ago, or 5 years ago or maybe even 10- I’d have told you that I was going to have 3 babies. I loved the idea of a big (but not too big) family and of giving my children enough siblings so that they would always be able to enjoy a few different relationships at home. Not to mention, my experience in only having one sibling myself had a tendency to be a little isolating for both of us at times. I have so many friends with two siblings who I always felt had their shit together and were always better friends as children than perhaps my sister and I were. But now that they’re both here- I can’t help but feel that maybe the dream has changed a little.
In the first place- would I even be able to live up to my own expectations of my skills as a parent with more children? I totally admire people who can continue being magnificent parents with bigger families, but I just can’t help but wonder if I’m cut out for that. I want to give them both as much of me as I possibly can, I’m already stressed out that I’m not giving each of them enough. And basically- there’s something about splitting my time 3 ways that scares the shit out of me. Coming up next is the overwhelming feeling of completeness that has filled me since the day my tiniest baby was born. Plus of course the thought that shouted inside my head (which I had when she was right at the point of crowning)- “I don’t ever have to do pregnancy again and this is the last time I’ll be pushing a head out of me. Hooray!!” Which totally flooded me with relief and exhilaration.
Lastly, there’s so many logical reasons to stop at two- finances, travel possibilities, not having to buy a bigger car in the long term. Of course I don’t have to make the decision now and I am still quite attached to the idea of 3 theoretically. Still, as someone who has felt so positive about my experiences of birth and has always spouted the perfection of three babies- the notion that two might truly be enough for me has taken me quite by surprise.
- Wishing the time away
You know, I have read so many articles by parents of subsequent children urging first time parents to treasure every moment with their first little baby as the time just hurtles by you and you can never get that back. I appreciate that many first-timers may look back and feel they didn’t hang onto those precious moments fiercely enough. But for me, I savoured every little moment of my first-born’s first few years. I spent hours gazing at her beautiful little face and willing time to slow down as I gave my all to being her mother. With that as my first experience however, and a much bigger workload around the house these days- there are times now when I am just longing for bed time, or for the next time I can have some alone time with just myself or just my partner or just the baby/ the toddler. And this means sometimes I’m just pushing time along if I can. I feel tremendously guilty about that fact. Again, I actively tell myself to relish this time as much as humanly possible- especially since I may never be here again. But when I’m doing bed time on my own and they’re both screaming and I’m just trying to get the fricken nappy pants on my toddler’s squirmy damp little body- the desire for wine o’clock can be pretty powerful. On a less (but still a little) selfish note- I just can’t wait for them to be able to be buddies. The big one loves the little one of course and the little one just gazes at her sister with such adoration. But oh my God, I can’t wait until they can play and interact a little more. Maybe then I’ll be wishing for time to slow back down a little more once again.
- Loving two is as natural as breathing
I was so unsure about this last one- before there were two. It suddenly dawned on me at the end of my pregnancy- how on Earth was I going to love two? Like actually love them to the same degree? Could I continue to love the toddler as much (ie enough to make my whole heart and world explode) while affording the baby the exact same amount of love that their sister had always enjoyed? Well, the answer there is a huge yes. Yep, I’ve had to split my time, I’ve had to get a bit creative with how I handle two at once and still get shit done. But I cannot get enough of either of them. Even when one or both are losing it, working my last nerve or filling me with guilt that I can’t always give 100% of myself to either one of them- I’m just obsessed with them both. They truly are the loves of my life, I am unbelievably lucky for every second I have with them. That much is a fact that has never been difficult or surprising to me once they were in my arms.