I've always wanted more than one child. And for more than a year after I had my son, I never questioned that assertion. But around the time my son was entering the "toddler" stage, I started to wonder. "This is pretty nice," I thought. "Do I want to change this?" My original "plan" won out, though, and I became pregnant shortly after my son's second birthday. Still, the lingering doubt remained and I was nervous about a lot of things. When it came to having a second baby, there were so many things I wish I would have known baby number two arrived. It would have saved me a lot of stress... and more than one unpleasant discovery.
Of course every family is different and what I've found to be true may not be the case for everyone. But based on a lot of the conversations I've had with other parents, the vast majority of the worries moms have about bringing a new baby home to their more established baby is for nothing. Or it's not for nothing, but it's something that blows over pretty quickly.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I wouldn't describe myself as a nervous wreck, but I would describe myself as someone who regularly sobbed because she was going to ruin her baby boy's life by having a second child.
So, if I had a time machine, I would make past-me aware of all of the following:
Parenting "Rules" Are Already Outdated
I had my children fairly close together — two years and nine months, to be more precise — so you'd think I was fairly up to date on all the things you were supposed to do and not do. False. Even in those two years, stuff had already changed, including how you were supposed to swaddle a baby. Guys! I feel like I just got the hang of how to do it properly and now it's time to learn a new technique. Goddamnit!
Teamwork Parenting Strategies Would Have To Change
Parents with only one child (and I speak as a former one) take their numbers advantage for granted. You don't realize how much of your parenting strategy (especially when you're out) relies on the fact that there are two adults tending to one child.
Once you have two? Well, that's over. The best you can hope for is an even match, which is tough. And heaven help you when you're flying solo with both kids. My husband and I would have to work out new techniques when it came to managing and coordinating the little ones. We've fallen into a nice groove, but on the rare occasions when we only have one child in our immediate care we're amazed that there was ever a time when it was always that way... and, frankly, how much easier it is. Not easy, but easier.
My First Child Wouldn't Get Crazy Jealous
I was convinced I was going to have a green-eyed monster on my hands once my daughter was born. When I was pregnant, there was no discussing "the baby" with my son. He'd ignore you completely and if you pushed it he would scowl and say "no sister" and shut down. And while some families absolutely do experience sibling jealousy, we didn't. It's like he'd gotten it all out of his system before she was born. When he showed up at the hospital he looked at her and said, "Aww. She's so cute!" Then he showed her his cars (which is a sure sign that my son likes you).
While it's a happy outcome, knowing that he wouldn't go berserk in his infant sister beforehand would have saved me a lot of anxiety when I was pregnant.
Recovery Is *Always* Important
My first child was a C-section and my second was a vaginal delivery. One of the (several) reasons I really wanted to give birth "the old fashioned way" was recovery time. While routine, a C-section is abdominal surgery and takes weeks to recover from. A vaginal delivery, I was told, was far less extensive.
But I think in my mind I conflated "easier recovery" to "no need for recovery" and, well, that was dumb. I know it should be a given that pushing a 9 pound human out of your lady-flower would necessitate some R&R afterwards, but I didn't realize just how much. Yes, I was more mobile than I was after my C-section, but I was also in more pain (did I mention my baby was nine pounds?) and I didn't have particularly strong drugs to help me through the process, like I did after my C-section.
It would have been helpful to have someone take me by the shoulders and say, "Listen, it's going to be better overall, but in some ways it's going to be worse and, for real, you're going to have to relax for a bit."
I Would Not Be Able To Keep Up With My Toddler
I genuinely felt terrible that I'd had the audacity to have a second child. I felt I was being terribly unfair to my first child because he didn't ask for this. So I was determined that nothing was going to change for him at all. I was going to play just as I always had and be just as attentive to every single one of his wants and needs and even more attentive to all his childish whims because he deserved them after all I'd done to change his little baby life.
But that's just not possible. Like I said, I was recovering from birthing a second human and toddlers are demanding and fast and so heavy compared to an infant (even a big one). Try though I may (and I did) it wasn't going to happen.
Mom Guilt Is For Suckers
Look, I get it: your first child has been the sun around which your world revolved for however long you had them. And they're still going to be part of the center of your world, your center is just a bit larger and includes a sibling now. That is absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. You're not neglecting them by having more than one person you love in your life.
People sort of told me about this before I had my daughter, but I really would have appreciated someone saying, "No, really. Feel your feelings and then get the f*ck over them because they aren't rooted in any version of reality and they're only serving to make you feel crappy. Your kid is fine."
All Babies Are Different
My son is what you might call "extra." From day one he was demanding and sensitive and high energy and needed so much of both me and his father. So, needless to say, we spent 38 weeks girding our loins for Round Two with our daughter... who turned out to be the most zen baby ever.
This isn't to say that parenting an infant is ever easy, but my daughter was so much less challenging than her brother. Maybe it was a combination of us having a better handle on the whole "raising a child" thing along with her personality, but her personality definitely played a part.
Add 15 Minutes Minimum To Any Departure
Because if you think getting one child out of the house is a challenge, just imagine how much worse it is with a second one. Again, it only stands to reason, but I hadn't taken it into consideration and was completely blindsided.
Your Personal Standards Will Change
Which isn't to say that your life is going to descend into chaos or that you're going to become a trash-covered slob (I mean... maybe, maybe not, because I don't know your life) but what's important and what needs to be done is going to be necessarily different. As in all things, you're going to be finding a new normal. So maybe you vacuum less or you decide, "You know what, arguing with my toddler about just how many peas they've eaten is not my hill to die on because I also have to have the time and energy to feed this little one 700 times a day."
Any Rest Will Take Concerted Effort
When my son was born, physical rest came pretty easily. I mean, I was trapped under my infant all day, so there was a lot of sitting around as a matter of course. But when there's a toddler around? Well, they DGAF that you just pushed out their sibling. Rest is not the de facto state for a second child. Instead, it's something that will require intent and planning.
I wouldn't acknowledge that at first (thanks a lot, mom guilt) and, as a result, I had a longer and more difficult recovery. After about a week of seeing how difficult things were for me physically, my husband and I decided to continue to send my son to daycare during the first month of my maternity leave. It was the best move for all of us and I wish I could have just planned on that from the get-go.
I Would Love My Second Just As Much
I knew I was going to love my child, to be suer, but I always figured "OK, but, like, not quite as much, right?"
Nope. Just as much.
I Wasn't Going To Ruin My Family Dynamic
I was extremely nervous about having a second child and the idea that I wasn't just quitting while I was ahead. We worked well as a family of three. What if we didn't work well with four?
In a sense I guess I did ruin the family dynamic. I tossed the old dynamic and created a new one... and it's so much better. Because the love and fun that was there with just of three of us remained, just the way we did things was different.
I Wasn't Going To Ruin My First Child's Life
HE'S READING HER CALVIN AND HOBBES, YOU GUYS!
I wish I could time travel with this image (or one of a million others like it) and show it to pregnant me. "No, really, he's going to be amazing, and so is she."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.