August 15, 2013 by Julia
When I got pregnant for the second time, we were surprised, ecstatic, and anxious all over again. We were almost as scared as we’d been during my first pregnancy, only this time it was fear of the known. “What if the baby has colic, or something?” I’d ask Dennis. Later, he’d muse, “I’m not looking forward to the beginning, with the no-sleep part.” And we both suspected Fiona would be a jealous basket case. She’d been attached to me at the hip for three years.
On the upside, she loved babies, and we were THRILLED that she would have a sibling. We decided to share the news with her when I was twenty weeks along, the same morning we’d get the ultrasound revealing the gender of the baby. She was excited, and said not to worry – she’d take care of the baby for me. “Okay!” I said. “I can take naps and eat treats while you watch him!”
It’s possible that, for me, the hardest part of having a second child was being pregnant while caring for my first child. I was never one of those women who loved being pregnant. Of course I loved the anticipation of actually having a baby (and the kicking inside; I LOVE the kicks) – but the physical stuff was miserable. An adorable parasite is draining you. I felt like I needed to vomit for five months, but never could. And the tiredness while trying to keep up with a preschooler…there are no words.
As we got closer to the due date, I also struggled with the whole “Fiona, Mommy has to abandon you to go give birth to another baby, and then stay in the hospital to recover from her c-section for four whole days” part was pretty heart-wrenching – even though I knew this is the way these things are, and kids get over it, and anyway, it’s good for them. Still. Heads and hearts aren’t always in agreement. If I thought about this particular separation from Fiona, tears would leak out of the corners of my eyes. I know from the outside that sounds overdramatic, overly focused on the first child’s well being when nothing should take away from the second child’s arrival into the world. But it is hard to make that adjustment from focusing on one until you absolutely have no choice.
The morning of the scheduled c-section was strange. It was like Christmas morning, with the best possible present about to arrive. The tension in my body was nearly unbearable, though, as Dennis and I sat in the waiting area with Fiona, both sets of grandparents, and my sister Lisa. I mean, I was about to go into surgery while awake. I just wanted to go in and do this thing. NOW. I had to sit calmly with the knowledge that my baby would be pulled out of my own belly and handed to me in approximately an hour. As my sister would say, “No big deal.”
Once we began to prep for surgery, though, it was all good. In fact, the entire birth experience was surreal in its easiness and wonder. I knew what to expect with a c-section. I wasn’t exhausted by labor, dizzied by various drugs. When I got to hold Jack for the first time, I was fully present, and I wasn’t even freaking out. He curled up naked on my chest, and I was so happy. It was one of the purest happies I’d ever felt, in all my days. “The second child is a good one,” my female ob-gyn had said, before the c-section. “I really enjoyed having my second one.” And I felt the truth of it everywhere.
The second child is good because although I’d forgotten some of the details of baby care, I was more at peace with the unpredictability of parenthood. I had gained confidence through my experiences with Fiona. And I knew the possibilities that this precious, reddened baby on my chest held. I’d watched Fiona’s personality and abilities unfold over the years, and I knew that Jack held the seeds for this flowering in himself. And the miracle of bringing a new person into this world, and loving them upon sight, never ever gets old.
(I assume. Maybe we should ask Michelle Duggar.)
There was also the amazement at the fact that our family was different, now. Several days later, the four of us slowly strolled the halls of the maternity ward, Dennis pushing Jack along in his nursery bassinet. We felt the need say the obvious aloud. “We have a boy in our family. There are four of us now. This is…awesome.”
Coming home from the hospital was a bit of an emotional roller coaster. After a family nap, Dennis and I tried to give Fiona extra attention by playing treasure hunt with her. But when Jack woke up and I had to leave the game, she was just so sad, crying, “Is it always going to be like this? Can Mommy ever play again?” Of course we knew it was a moment that would pass, but it overwhelmed all of us, and even Dennis and I were questioning the same things. We could hardly look at each other. Emotions were running deep. We knew Jack’s presence in Fiona’s life was bound to be a good thing, but as both kids wailed, there was a sense of poor girl. She’s got a lot of adjustment in store.
And then there was the day Dennis went back to work, after two weeks of paternity leave. I was outnumbered for the first time, and my stress level went through the roof. Keep in mind, at 3 ½, Fiona was older than a lot of kids are when their sibling is born, which meant I could reason with her, and didn’t have two sets of diapers, etc. So I had it easier than a lot of parents. Still, it was chaotic and exhausting to such a degree that I often had to laugh or cry at the absurdity my life had become. In short, yes – having two kids is more stressful than one. Especially in the beginning, when your newborn is still so needy.
But it’s also less intensely focused, less repetitive, because it is no longer all about one child. I felt busier – like, not a moment to myself – but I also felt some relief from Fiona’s relentless interests and needs that I’d bent myself around, pretzel-like, for 3 ½ years. The second child took the edge off caring for the first child, so to speak. I had no choice but to make Fiona wait sometimes, to let her figure out how to entertain herself (which she’d never been inclined to do), and generally let things go that I’d previously tried to hold together for her. A hungry newborn has to come first.
By the same token, the baby stuff wasn’t as lonely or boring the second time around, because I had a preschooler to keep me company. Fiona was not only someone to talk to, but at times provided a helpful extra pair of eyes on Jack, especially when he got old enough to explore his surroundings. She’d SCREAM if he came within five feet of an electrical outlet or touched a choking hazard of a toy with one chubby finger. She was more worried about him than I was. (She gets it from her dad.)
Each child made me appreciate the other child more. When I tired of one activity, it was already time to switch to the next one. It wasn’t all dolls, all the time, followed by the same snacks and the same TV shows and the same outings. All the Fiona stuff was interspersed with baby stuff, and I liked the contrast. My days at home were hard, but the part of me that wasn’t losing my mind enjoyed the different challenges, felt more engaged and interested.
And I savored Jack’s early months. Instead of constantly looking forward to the next stage of development, I soaked up whichever one he was in. With Fiona, it was all hurry up and hit your next milestone – it’s so fun to see you grow up! And of course we were too busy figuring out our new lives with her to do much savoring, exactly, even as we loved her more than anything. With Jack, I wanted everything to slow down. I felt like a “baby person” for the first time in my life. I loved to just sit and hold him, and found that I was most at peace while napping with him.
So for Dennis and I, having a second child was enthralling, wonderful, even better than we expected. But how has it been for Fiona?
At first, she would swing wildly between adoring the cute little baby and despising him. It was like something out of those funny children’s books that are supposed to help the big sibling adjust. Two of my Facebook status updates from that time:
Just a few of Fiona’s insults to her innocently smiling baby brother: “Jack, you have to leave America. Go to Paris, by yourself.” “You aren’t even 1 year old yet. You’re nothing; you’re zero.” “Jack, you’re flat. You’re a sticker. I’m going to put you in a sticker book and put you away.” When I tell her she can be frustrated with him, but she can’t be mean, she says in a singsong voice, “But Mommy, remember…nobody’s perfect…!” Lord, please don’t let us end up on Jerry Springer’s teen boot camp special in 12 years.
Fiona picked up a harmonica, played a little ditty, and said, “Mommy did you hear that song? It’s called ‘Bad Jack.’” She’s got the market on Little Brother Blues cornered.
There was definitely a period where she was just mean. She never actually hit or kicked him, but she would constantly belittle him, through her words or the way she touched him: a rough brush against him as she left the room, or a tap on the head, or a squeeze of his cheeks. We had many, many talks and time-outs. I explained that even though he couldn’t understand her words, he understood her tone of voice.
And then, as he grew, the meanness just passed. I’m not sure if it’s because Fiona had gotten used to having him around, or because he turned into more of a playmate for her.
Now they’re buddies. It has been so gratifying to watch. And it has made life at home easier in many ways, now that they play together.
Yeah, the mess is worse, and there is more conflict to deal with, and it’s harder to get out the door.
But I absolutely love having two kids. I’ve been challenged and rewarded by it in all of the best ways.