Becoming a mother for the first time is a transformative, life-changing experience, and there are many ways we honor that rite of passage– baby showers, gift registries, or the patient vigil as we wait for the first twinges of labor and the subsequent joyous announcement of birth. Second-time moms navigate a changing emotional landscape of their own as well, and it often gets lost in the consuming logistics of caring for two young children with competing, immediate needs. But when women are given the space to share their thoughts about their second time as mothers, they share much more than just the “how-to’s” of juggling two kids on one lap. In preparing for the next New to Two Moms group, I began thinking of my own experience with the birth of my 2nd daughter (she ultimately became my middle daughter, but that’s a post of its own!).
For me, some things I knew would be easier. Labor, for one thing. I’d already done it once before, and I had an idea of what to expect. My second baby was born in 7 hours compared to my first in 16. Nursing – I’d nursed my first child for 16 months; it would be fine. And I’d learned that a crying baby is not a suffering baby – something that nearly all new mothers need to learn and truly believe.
There were the logistical challenges that, while anticipated, could test the patience of a saint – a baby who spits up all over her clothes just as the older child is finally ready to step out the front door, or the older child who climbs to the top of the jungle gym and can’t get down, just as you sit down on the park bench to nurse the baby, or the older child who bursts into tears because she can’t draw the perfect pony while, simultaneously, the baby is wailing because she’s cold or hot or hungry or sleepy or whatever. Those moments are part of what I bargained for when adding a child to my family, the tough blips in an afternoon that will one day be funny, and will one day be worth it, for all the reasons why I wanted to give my first child a sibling.
This is what surprised me: my older daughter was not a big girl, the idea I’d been selling her on since I learned I was pregnant. On the first morning of her sister’s life, my older daughter came to the hospital to see meet the baby. She was sweet and gentle with her baby sister, and I was doubtful that she, sitting gangly on my hospital bed beside an hours’ old newborn, had ever really been that small. How did she get so big so fast? She stayed for a short while; we didn’t want to overwhelm her, so when she said she wanted to go home, my husband gathered her things. She looked at me in my hospital gown, looked at the baby in the little crib, and realized that I was not going home with her. She began to cry, asking me to come home. I picked her up, and she folded her little body right into mine, wrapping her legs around my ribs. In my arms, she wasn’t that much bigger than the baby I had just given birth to hours before.
My husband and I had already decided that I would stay in the hospital with the baby on my own at night, wanting to savor the sanctuary that the hospital would provide me, what I imagined as my only time alone with this new baby. But as my 3 year old clung fiercely to my body, her tears wetting my shoulder, I realized that my time alone with my first baby had come to an end. I held her just as tightly, my heart breaking because I didn’t want to say goodbye to her or our special time together.
The transition to two is at once filled with familiarity and surprises. What are the things that surprised you?