Tackling Parenthood, the Second Time Around
There comes a time in every mum’s life when she decides whether or not to have more children. For many women around the world, having children is not so much of a choice as it is an obligation. Knowing this, I’ve always felt privileged to be born in a time and a place where the decision to have children was wholly mine.
Until recently, I’ve been able to pursue my educational and professional goals without also dealing with the demands of motherhood.
When my husband and I decided that we were ready to have a child, we faced significant challenges. By the time I got pregnant, I had had so many medical procedures that my body was bruised and battered. I was already exhausted. And the pregnancy itself was also difficult – I struggled with crushing morning sickness and other complications. When the time came to finally deliver my baby daughter, I was elated.
The roller coaster continued, however. Although I had been blessed with a beautiful, healthy, baby, she was also incredibly fussy. She suffered terrible colic, and cried all the time. My first year of motherhood was something that I swore to never, ever repeat. How on earth, I wondered, did women do this again and again? And why would they want to?
It wasn’t until I was spending time with my family in Western Kenya for my daughter’s third birthday that my decision to only have one child started to weigh on me. Our family is large, but diffuse. Who would she call “family” once my husband and I were dead? As I reflected on the tough times I had been through in my life, I started to feel tremendous gratitude for having had a sibling to lean on. So, my husband and I decided to try to have another baby.
Getting pregnant again was not without its challenges, but I weathered the storm. I am profoundly happy that I had another child, and I am enjoying motherhood much more the second time around than I did the first time. Here is what I’ve learned along the way about myself, my family, and my ability to navigate life with multiple children:
Pregnancy: Being pregnant was as terrible the second time around as it was the first time.
There are many women for whom pregnancy is a time of joy and wonder. I am not one of those women. The exhaustion and fatigue I experienced with my second pregnancy was compounded by the fact that I already had another little one to chase after. My opportunities for down time were few and far between. I learned early-on to ask for help, to cut out activities that weren’t beneficial to me (watching bad TV shows went out the window immediately) and to manage my time effectively so that I could maximize my opportunities to rest.
Giving Birth: My first daughter was delivered vaginally, but my second daughter had to be delivered by C-section.
I was far too optimistic about my ability to recover and I left the hospital too early and still in a lot of pain. I wanted to get home as soon as possible to help care for my older daughter. (We don’t have any family that lives near us and we don’t have any live-in caregivers.) In retrospect, I should have leaned on my village more to help take care of my older daughter while my husband and I were in the hospital with the baby. We are blessed with a wonderful network of friends, many of whom helped tremendously after my second daughter was born. I realize now that I should have asked for even more help so that I had the time I needed to stay in the hospital and recuperate.
Receiving Guests: When my first daughter was born, we had an endless parade of visitors and well-wishers coming to bring us flowers, gifts, and food.
It was wonderful, because it was a distraction from the sleep deprivation and feelings of isolation that I was dealing with. But, it was also exhausting to receive so many guests. I worried a lot about the cleanliness of my house, looking good, or being a good hostess. The second time around, there was much less fanfare. There wasn’t any novelty around having a baby because we’d already been through it before. People assumed that we knew what we were doing and that we’d ask for help when we needed it. And that’s exactly what we did. On any given day, I pursued my desires selfishly. If I wanted to stay in pajamas all day and nap, I did. If I wanted a quiet house, I sent my older daughter on a play-date. If I wanted to socialize, I strapped the baby to me and went to a wine bar. We never had a formal “meet and greet” party for the baby. We’ve just let friends meet her organically, as a matter of course with the other things we’ve had going. It’s worked just fine.
Nursing: It was much easier to breastfeed my second daughter than it was to breastfeed my first daughter (halleluiah!)
That said, I also spent less time breastfeeding my second daughter than I did my first. After the baby was born, I still wanted to be out doing things with my older daughter. And because it was impractical (and exhausting) to drag my baby around town all day, she got bottle-fed often. I still feel guilty about this and wish I had had more time alone with my baby, but this is the way of things. My husband got to spend time taking care of the baby and bonding with her while I would take my older daughter out for activities. The baby was happy as a clam and loved her Daddy time.
Caregivers: I mentioned earlier that we don’t have live-in caregivers at home.
My older daughter attends a full-time pre-school and the baby a full-time daycare while my husband and I are at work. That said, I want to spend as much quality time with my children as possible when I am not working, so I made a point of hiring a part-time nanny who can also help us with cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This takes a lot of pressure off my schedule and allows me to use more of my time to focus on my children when we are all home. We’ve also expanded our network of babysitters and nannies extensively since giving birth to our second child. We lean on friends a lot more as well. As any working mum knows, sometimes you need a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C to keep your family running.
Organization: This is where my Type A personality really flourished.
Anything that I could plan for, schedule, or organize in advance of giving birth to my second daughter, I did. This approach may not appeal to everyone. Many people like to take life as it comes. For me, it greatly reduced my stress to have very basic life events planned for and organized so that I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about them after the baby was born. For example, I cooked and froze as much food as I could before I gave birth. I unpacked a year’s worth of baby clothing I had in storage, and organized it in a dresser by size so that I wouldn’t have to go hunting for clothing later. I also pre-planned and booked any family travel we needed to do for the following year. I even pre-purchased and wrapped birthday gifts for upcoming birthday parties were invited to. Doing these things in advance not only gave me a sense of satisfaction, it also took the pressure off having to do them later as a sleep-deprived mom of a newborn.
After all the experience we’ve had so far, I will say that our new family of four is still very much a work in progress. I look forward to seeing where life will take us, and hope that I will look back one day and chuckle at the challenges we have waded through. As I reflect on the journey so far, I realize that the number one thing I was worried about before giving birth to my second child was my capacity to love. I love my older daughter fiercely, and I loved the 1:1 Mommy-Daughter relationship we had.
I was worried that I was ruining our lives by introducing another human into the mix. I also worried that there was no way I could love a second child as much as I loved my first. But a wise friend once told me “when you have another child, your heart expands.” Truer words have never been spoken. I love my baby more than I thought was possible.