I'll never forget the moment I found out I was expecting a second child. After the longest three minutes of my life (at least the longest three minutes of my life since peeing on a stick two years before), the screen on a digital pregnancy test confirmed what I already suspected. A "3 Weeks" bubble popped up next, signaling that I was almost a month into things. I started shaking. On the verge of a panic attack, the words, "I can't have another baby. I can't have another baby yet," escaped my lips, as a friend who was with me tried to explain that I didn't have to. That I had choices. After days of pros and cons lists, teary discussions with my husband, and even a consultation about my options for termination, I realized that, actually, a second baby was always in my plans. I wanted this, I just hadn't necessarily planned on having two kids under 2 years old.
A three or four-year gap, maybe, so as to rest a little from the infancy stage before doing it all over again. I had hoped that my older daughter would be out of diapers before welcoming another non-potty trained soul into the world. At only 19 months old come my due date, however, she definitely won't be.
Now into my third trimester, the truth is that I routinely find myself feeling just as terrified as I did on that first day. "What are you doing to yourself?" I'll ask. "When will you sleep? When will you get me-time? How will you save money? When will you ever have sex? You're already so overwhelmed!" But then I'll calm down. I'll feel the baby kick, and I'll begin to wonder whether having two under 2 really is all that scary, or whether I've been conditioned to assume it will be thanks to a culture that kind of hates kids.
Sure, much of Western society is permeated by videos of adorable babies eating lemons, adorable babies dropping the F-bomb, or adorable babies dancing like little drunkards, but this doesn't necessarily mean we're all actively encouraged in our choice to have kids — particularly if we're mothers under age 30. After all, babies aren't often synonymous with professional accolade.
In a recent survey conducted by Bustle Trends Group, Bustle's research department, many of the 332 respondents reported feeling so much "anxiety over the prospect of balancing motherhood with their careers that they weren’t sure if they wanted to have kids at all," wrote EJ Dickson. The idea of "having it all" has become laughable because it's so damn impossible, and the end result is often forgoing starting a family in order to focus on having a career.
That the times have changed and women are, for the most part, no longer expected to become wives and moms over professionals or entrepreneurs is a wonderful thing. That those of us who want to have kids — and who go so far as to leave work, or reduce our office hours, or put our careers on hold while we do it — are often made to feel like traitors or fools, not so much.
My first daughter is almost 17 months old now, and in those 17 months, there have been a lot of tears. There have been a lot of moments of feeling like the aforementioned traitor and fool for having her in my 20s, for leaving a full-time job with a lot of potential for growth, or for eschewing the club life in favor of yet another night of diaper changes and Little Baby Bum playlists.
I've berated myself for having a family instead of using the freedoms I'm lucky to have to climb the professional ladder or live a bolder, less traditional life. But the more comfortable I become in my role as "mama," the more I realize that I don't actually feel bad about those things. Or at least, I don't want to feel bad about those things.
When I think of the people who've most fed into any fears I have about having two under 2, the reality is that most of them are child-free.
I will never pretend that having a child hasn't been difficult. I'm lucky to have a strong support network in the form of my partner, his family, and my own, but learning how to (almost) always put someone else's needs before my own hasn't been without its challenges. Constantly having to assess whether I can do anything, or go anywhere, based on my daughter can get draining, fast. The fear that I'll never be able to achieve my career goals, given that women lose about 2 percent of their salaries, per Quartz (not to mention their prestige or appeal), for every year outside of the work force, is ever-present. As the mother of a child who still doesn't sleep through the night, physical exhaustion is also my baseline now.
It's hardly all bad, though. Explosive diapers are bearable, once you've changed enough of them. Being covered in my baby's spit-up is, quite honestly, preferable to being covered in a friend's vomit because they went too hard at the bar. And who's to say sleepless nights spent consoling my teething kid have to be any less rewarding than sleepless nights making out with strangers in rave toilets? As for Saturdays filled with toys, ball pits, and park visits, well, they can be just as fulfilling as those spent at a work brunch with empowering colleagues or alongside my buddies at an art gallery. In transitioning from a metropolitan 20-something to a countryside-dwelling, soon-to-be-mom-of-two, I've swapped some forms of beauty and disorder for others. All of them have been valuable, though.
When I think of the people who've most fed into any fears I have about having two under 2, the reality is that most of them are child-free. Their fears come from what they assume parenthood to be, which is some combination of tiring, sh*t-stained, and hopeless. They calculate how long it's been since I've been on a night out, since I've had a promising job interview, or since I've ditched my leggings in favor of something more sparkly, and they feel sorry for me. They feel scared for how much bleaker my life will look when I'm contending with twice the amount of stressors.
And yes, all of that scares me, too. It scared me when I first found out about baby number two, and it still scares me as I finish setting up nursery space for her. Still, part of me is ready. Part of me can't wait until my eldest gives her new little sister that first kiss on the cheek. Until the two of them are swinging side by side in the park, or fighting over the last fish stick on the table. Until my husband and I inundate them in the first group hug. Until our family feels a little more complete, with the addition of the second child I always wanted.
Will it be difficult? Yes. Will I still find myself crying in the bathroom every so often, too overwhelmed to move? Probably. Will it be worth it? Well, if conversations with my friends and family who actually have had two under 2 are anything to go by, I have no doubt.