When you become a parent for the SECOND time an interesting thing happens. Everyone around you is like, “Yay! You’re going to have another baby! How exciting!” And then… crickets! There’s an assumption that because you’ve done this thing once before, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be able to do it all again, right? And it will all be so much easier this time around, right? You might even think to yourself, “Sure – no big deal!”
I fell into this trap myself when I was pregnant with my second. The “newness” of it all had been rubbed away. I wasn’t anticipating each little twinge as something new to consider in my baby’s development. I didn’t worry myself with what size or type of fruit my baby most resembled at whatever week gestation I was, because… I WAS TAKING CARE OF A TODDLER!
If you’ve never cared for a toddler full-time, you have NO idea how exhausting this can be. I’m not complaining, I’m just stating facts.
Toddlers are the busiest people on the planet. They are scientists, acrobats, adventurers, runners, contortionists, comedians, dancers, screamers, streakers, wonder watchers, and tyrants – ALL AT THE SAME TIME. But they are trapped in this impossibly tiny package that can’t do any of these things at an even intermediate level just yet, so you have to watch them like a hawk and carry them when all of the attempts at doing all of these things at the same time wears them out. Carrying a toddler is like hauling a wet bag of cement around. Taking care of a toddler is a work out.
Because I was busy and distracted with my first, now a toddler (see above), it shouldn’t have surprised me that I woke up one morning, six months into my second pregnancy and realized, “Holy crap! I’m going to have a baby! In like, three months, I’m going to be the mother of two!”
I freaked out. It wasn’t that I didn’t want this baby. We planned this pregnancy and our two kids would be a beautiful 2/12 years apart (almost to the day!) But that morning, I was definitely NOT feeling ready for a second baby!
The pregnancy had flown by and I was feeling super disconnected. Had I really spent any time thinking about this new little one, or had I mostly been complaining about my all-day sickness (that I had to suck up because I had a toddler) or the fact that I could no longer tie my shoes (and neither could my toddler, thanks) or how tired I was (because I was taking care of my toddler) or how what I really needed was to take a shower but instead I had to clean up (after my toddler! Again, thanks)?
We didn’t do a second baby shower, because that just looks greedy! Besides we had all the baby gear we would ever need. I didn’t need any more “stuff”. But in retrospect, it would have been nice to have a “thing” that was like a shower, but not really. I don’t even know what you’d call it, but something that recognized how brave we were to do this again: the sleepless nights, the cracked nipples, the diapers (x2!!!), the strain on our relationship with one another and with our firstborn while we moved from being a family of three to a family of four. It was a lot and mostly not even discussed because…
If you’ve done it once before, you know what to expect, right?
My partner, who’d been an AMAZING help to me in my first pregnancy, kind of dropped the ball on round two! I remember waking up one morning to tell him he had to call in sick to take care of our two year old.
He asked, “Why? Are you throwing up or something?” I collapsed into tears, covered my head with the covers and wailed, “NOOOOOOO! I just can’t do it all today! I can’t be pregnant AND take care of a toddler! I.Just.Can’t.Do.It…”
My husband peeked under the covers to say, “I’m sorry. I know this sounds weird, but I forgot that this might be hard for you. After watching you give birth, I kind of feel like you can do anything!”
What a nice thing to say! I still made him stay home and take care of our firstborn while I stayed under the covers to have a good cry and feel sorry for myself. Because, even I didn’t get it.
I had placed ridiculously high standards on how easy this second pregnancy, birth and parenting was going to be because I already knew what to expect, I’d been there, done that. But that was my mistake.
When I decided that I was going to handle things “much better” during my 2nd pregnancy (whatever THAT means) I ended up giving the impression to everyone around me, “I’m good. We do NOT need to treat this as a particularly exhausting or challenging time in my life. I can easily move through the world for the next 9 months – just as sick as I was the first time around, just as tired, just as anxious about what the future might look like with two kiddos instead of only one, and all with my two-year-old either on my hip or sitting in my ever-shrinking lap! You don’t need to worry about me, because I’ve done it all before. No big deal!”
My friends, it’s a big deal! Having a baby – whether it’s your first or your tenth? It’s a BIG deal!
The changes that happen to your body are intense and deserve respect. The exhaustion of creating a whole brand new person is real and exacts a toll on our bodies and our minds. While there might not be a lot of firsts with subsequent pregnancies, it still matters that you connect with this little person inside of you in any way that you can, and as often as you’re able to.
When I woke up and realized that I only had three months left and that I had really felt distracted and disconnected for most of the past six months, I went out and found a pregnancy journal.
It was one of those books that you’re supposed to start the minute you find out your pregnant with all kinds of daily writing prompts to help you get from “Whoa! It worked!” to the “Big Day of Birth.” Oops! I just flipped ahead about 180 pages, and started fresh in mid-January hoping to find some time each and every day (for what remained of this pregnancy) to connect and focus on what was about to happen – instead of being caught up in all that was happening.
Second babies are notorious for coming into the world fast and furious (at least if the older sibling was born vaginally and within four years of number two)! And this was definitely true of my second. Without going into too much detail, my first birth was close to 30 hours of back labor and she came out looking up at the stars after close to two hours of pushing! My second shot into the world like a ball from a cannon. We were in the hospital for all of 45 minutes before I pushed 2x and he came flying out into the provider’s hands!
I know that to the uninitiated, this second birth might sound like a dream in comparison to my first! But for those in the know, quick births are great… when they’re over! The intensity of doing all of the same amount of work in such a compressed amount of time, sometimes means that the emotional work of birth doesn’t always have time to be completed before the baby arrives. It takes time to become somebody’s mother, there’s a lot to consider while they’re making their way into the world.
I felt good physically after my second birth. But I felt so much more insecure than I would have thought possible having been a Momma for 2 1//2 years already! I think part of this was because everyone (myself, included) thinks that if you’ve done it once, you’re good.
I had some breastfeeding issues the second time around that weren’t the same as with my first. (DUH – different baby, different issues.) When the lactation consultant was finally brought in, she saw that the baby was latched on correctly and asked how long I had breastfed my first. When I answered, “21 months,” she walked out the door saying, “Oh, you’re going to be great! Call if you have any issues – but I don’t think you will.” I had issues, folks. BIG issues that took a long time to figure out!
The nurses didn’t spend much time talking to us about how to diaper and swaddle the baby – because we’d done it before! But this was a BOY baby with BOY parts – how would we avoid getting peed on? He was also a lot more vocal and not as easy to soothe as his big sister had been, what was up with that?
When we got home, what was necessary became our reality: my husband took care of our toddler, so that I could take care of the newborn.
But last time, there were two adults taking care of the baby and it was really hard then… How was I supposed to do this (mostly) on my own? I also missed getting to be with my (much-easier-to-care-for, or so it seemed now) toddler. This wasn’t what I was expecting…
The 4th Trimester is REAL, ya’all. For each and every baby.
Actually, the 4th Trimester is real for every major life change that happens to a family.
You have to give yourselves – every member of the family – a full three months to adapt to your “New Normal.” Be that moving from a family of three to four, or launching your first off to college and out of the house!
It would be lovely if we had a ritual to mark these 4th Trimesters – where the people you love and care about come together to acknowledge all of the joys and challenges that you’ll be facing as you move through this next iteration of what it means to be a family.
With another one coming into the nest, or another one leaving, we need to stop setting ourselves up by thinking, “Well, we’ve gone through this before, so I’m sure we’re ready.”
You’re never really ready.
And in acknowledging this universal truth, you release the extra pressure put on yourself (and those around you) as you all take the necessary time to figure out how to do this thing – whatever it is.
Because even if you’ve given birth before, breastfed a baby before, changed a diaper before, sent a child to Kindergarten before, helped one of your kids get ready for Prom before, sent one of your almost grown babies off to college before – you haven’t done it with THIS child.
Each of your children is a unique individual and by the time you are doing this thing – whatever it is – with this child, YOU are a different person than you were the first time around with a completely new reality that didn’t exist before now.
I don’t think my idea of “The 4th Trimester Shower!” will catch on. There are those who might think it’s trivial or unnecessary to mark these life events that are not firsts as anything other than “been there, done that” experiences.
But I think if we do, we’re shortchanging ourselves and our children from being able to see with new eyes and feel with new hearts. Our realities of family life are constantly shifting and changing beneath our feet.
Why not honor those realities by taking the time to create a brand new normal for what it’s like to be a part of a family at every age and stage along the journey?
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted on the blog, but as is my way – here’s something you might find funny. But if you don’t, whatever. It’s no big deal.