My rainbow baby Hazel Jane was born on October 10, just one month after her sister Claire turned three. I’d read everything I could get my hands on about welcoming a second child. Articles with titles like, “How to Prevent Your Oldest From Feeling Replaced With a New Baby” and “What You Should Know Before Becoming a Two-Kid Family.”
I watched an episode of KUTWK where Kim says in anticipation of her second baby, “My mom [Kris Jenner] would always say about having kids: ‘One is like one, and two are like 20.’”
I felt that.
So, I prepped two weeks worth of freezer meals, bought a special gift for the baby to “give” to her older sister, and armed my pantry, car, and diaper bag with bottles of hand sanitizer. I read Snuggle the Baby to Claire no less than 100 times until she was an expert at feeding, diapering, and swaddling the cardboard figure.
But, of course, nothing could have prepared me for how I felt when my second, in her blazing, colicky glory came home from the hospital with a penchant for nursing and a strong distaste for sleep. Here is what I wish someone would have told me about the reality of bringing home a second baby.
You may not love them the same, and that’s OK
One of my worst fears about having a second baby is that I wouldn’t be able to love her like my first.
In hindsight, it wasn’t a misplaced fear. I wrote on my blog about my fears about learning to love another child as much as I loved my first. Even though all of my friends and family insisted that I would “love the baby just as much,” I still worried the connection wouldn’t be the same as my first.
And, you know what? I was right.
It’s not that I didn’t love the new baby. I think love for your child is innate, primal even, born from months of growth, thought, and sacrifice. But I think the problem is that I expected to love her in the way I already loved her sister, who had been the most present figure in my life for three years.
But the love was different. And, 18 months later, it remains different – but not lesser.
I do not love my children the same – just as you wouldn’t love two lovers the same. The expectation to be immediately bonded to your baby can be harmful for a new parent. Once I made this realization, I tried instead to focus my attention on learning to love this new child in the way she needed – not the way my older child did.
Your oldest will need time to adjust, and so will you
Never before had I felt so much rage.
In hindsight, I realize that my postpartum depression takes the form of anger, stemming from a lack of sleep. I was angry at Claire for waking me in the morning when I felt like I had just fallen asleep. I was angry when she threw tantrums in the store while the baby was crying because I expected her, as the older one, to be more mature and responsible. (Ha!)
My expectations for her changed from that of my baby to my toddler. I resented myself for feeling this way, resented her for waking me up, and resented my husband for his seeming obliviousness to the situation. The transition from happy mommy with complete focus was stark and, I’m ashamed to admit, not the way I anticipated from reading all of those articles.
But it improved. Claire learned to read books in her bed when she woke up early. She learned patience with the baby and her crying and with my new timeline. I enrolled her in a preschool so I could sleep during Hazel’s morning naps two glorious mornings per week. Most of all, I learned to say “I’m sorry.” I found healthy ways of coping with my anger.
I did not expect two children to be as exhausting as one, and I found that, as in most things, Kim Kardashian was absolutely right. Two is like 20, and you’ll all need some time to adjust to your new normal.
All the planning in the world won’t be enough
As a quintessential Class A personality, I was ready.
I had the aforementioned stocked freezer, friends on call to help, and a dresser-full of diapers, pre-washed swaddles, and clothes – even “stations” set up throughout the house for Claire to play with while I nursed.
And it was still a shit show.
My weekly trip to Trader Joe’s was cut short after a blowout in the parking lot and a screaming (naked except for a diaper) newborn, bundled tightly in a car seat that I couldn’t safely fit in the tiny cart, so I lugged around with one hand, while dodging my toddler’s child cart hellbent on smashing straight into my ankles. I whipped my new baby across the face with a swaddle while dancing around the living room to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” with Claire. I was late for everything — doctor’s appointments, church, playdates. I forgot my Mom’s birthday.
Maybe you can handle working, a newborn, a toddler, and managing a household. But my main takeaway from the transition to two children is that it is a flying saucer of ping-pong balls hurtling toward your face, and all you can really do is try to catch the important ones and let the others smash into pieces on the ground.
So, I stopped planning playdates. I told my friends I’d be late. I learned to pack a diaper bag the night before I went anywhere loaded with a change of clothes for all three of us. I became adept at browning hamburger with my newborn in a wrap and can sing every song from Sofia the First by heart. I no longer wore a full face of makeup, but I did make time to take a hot shower or a run outside when my husband got home from work.
I carved time out to read instead of scrolling the ‘gram because I found that I missed that more than anything else in this new life. And I learned to accept and even ask for help because even though I regularly helped out friends with new babies, I never actually believed I’d be someone who needed it.
And the baby grew and began sleeping and needed to eat less and less, and my old life began to return. But I can speak from the trenches that it gets better but not before it gets worse – and that doesn’t make you less of a mother or a human. It’s going to be hard, but there are moments of joy. And if you are too absorbed with doing and being everything, you won’t be able to find them.
The best things are hard
My best friends are my sisters. I have learned things from my siblings my parents could not teach me. My mom raised the four of us with so much love, even though she was nearly 6,000 miles away from her own mom in Japan. She speaks about that time with a candor that used to annoy me, but now I understand.
There is a cost to motherhood – a weight that is often unspoken, but as any parent can attest, a real presence. Each child costs us something: a piece of ourselves, our minds, our bodies.
I wish I knew that my heart would expand with a second baby. That our home would become even louder and more joyful. I don’t mean to glorify it. Parenting is no joke. But the best things are hard.
I wish I knew every step of the pregnancy and newborn phase and sleep regressions that I’d be here – typing these words as my two girls play dress up together, giggling as they hold hands and spin in the other room.
I wish I knew that.