Being a new mom was a real shock to my system. I read Maria Guido‘s piece suggesting you remain childless if you’re on the fence about procreation and nodded at her every word. After motherhood cold-cocked me, I wasn’t sure I could get back in the ring again. But nature had a different plan for us.
Our second baby arrived 23 months after the first. Once again motherhood blew me away, but this time in a good way. Having two kids is far better than I could have imagined. The differences in the experience of being a mother for a second time started in pregnancy. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was “easier” because creating life is never easy. It wrecks havoc on your back and your bladder. As your belly grows, so does the insomnia.
But this time around, I was easier on myself. Having been through it before, I could maintain a better perspective. Too busy running after another child to worry about every little thing, the second time around was less stressful overall. I ate more cold cut sandwiches and didn’t waste a single minute feeling guilty for not playing Mozart to the baby in utero. I’m sorry to admit that my second pregnancy lasted the entire 40 weeks, but this time I knew with certainty when I was in “real” labor. After she was born, I didn’t leave the hospital wishing one of the nurses would come home and help me figure out what the heck I was doing.
After gestation, the newborn phase was a breeze the second time around. I realized I had made the transition into new motherhood so much more complicated than necessary. By the time my first was born, I had spent nine months wholly focused on preparing for this child. I furiously researched baby gear, sleep issues, and nursing tips beginning the day the pregnancy test revealed two bright lines. With all that knowledge floating in my head, there was a whole lot of thinking, observing, probing, and questioning after he was born. Should he be looking so cross-eyed at this age? Do you think he is still hungry? Would you say that rash is bumpy or splotchy?
With the second child, I spend a lot more time doing rather than anticipating. Inconsequential issues were realized only in hindsight. Hey, when did she stop doing that weird thing with her mouth? I didn’t rush to a reference book or doctor’s office for every minor concern and instead I learned to trust my instincts without letting everyone else weigh in first.
Of course you still have to do all the work required of having an infant – the late night feedings, the overflowing laundry, the soothing. None of that gets easier, but it is far less daunting. This time I was prepared for the relentless 60-minute breastfeeding sessions (it’s two hours from the time you start), the sleepless nights, and the endless diapers. I knew when to roughly expect each phase to pass. Even the really bad days didn’t quite feel as long.
Then the newborn phase is over and you can steal quiet moments to really appreciate your infant.
I can’t tell you the exact day my daughter shared her first real smile, but I can recall the vision of her toothy grins just as vividly as with my first born. In fact, I have so many more memories of her milestones, not because they are memorialized in a book (they aren’t), but because I wasn’t waiting for them – I was simply present enough to notice them.
I was more relaxed about her growth, allowing it to unfold on her timetable rather than checking What To Expect The First Year at the beginning of every month and taking note as to all the things she should be able to do in the next 30 days. And you know what? She essentially followed the same schedule as my son. Can you imagine? She learned to crawl by eight months old without my rigorous schedule of daily tummy time.
It’s not just about muddling through the second time. In some ways, I was smarter and more confident than I was as a first-time mommy. That first diaper blowout that leaks so far up their back you find poop in their baby fine hair? Child’s play! With an extra outfit on me at all times, I could deal with that mess blindfolded when it happened to my second kid. On the occasions I was caught off guard without every possible emergency provision, I shrugged it off. A postpartum maxi pad left in my purse from the hospital doubled as a diaper in a pinch. I wiped bottoms with napkins from Starbucks on more than one occasion. Having set foot in the “terrible twos,” nothing a newborn could throw at me would catch me off guard.
Even at the volatile age of two, my son did not act out when his baby sister arrived ( I was fortunate). My daughter was so low maintenance that he barely suffered any loss of attention. Instead, he adored this little girl from the moment she was born. They shared glimpses of love and affection – a kiss in the swing, a hug on the couch – as baby and toddler, and I cherished my two children’s brief interactions.
But somewhere along the way, those small moments got longer and more frequent until the most amazing thing happened – I realized they are tried and true best friends. It is awwww-inspiring to see them embrace at school pick-up, like they were reuniting after days apart rather than just three hours. It is hysterical to hear them locked in the bathroom while my son tries to teach his sister about going in the potty. It is a proud moment when I hear them negotiate time with their favorite toys without my help. Overhearing their conversations and catching their sibling gestures could melt my heart any given winter day.
After my second child is born, I spent the first year patting myself on the back for getting the hang of this motherhood thing — and then I realized having two not only makes me a better mother, it makes them fortunate to have one another.
If you are on the fence about having the second, I say it is a no-brainer. Once you’ve paid the price of entry, you might as well go for it again. The struggles are the same but the benefits are tenfold.