I would be lying if I told you my primary emotion when expecting my little boy, my second child, was anything other than trepidation.
Sure, I was also excited to meet him, happy at the prospect of a little newborn in my arms, and curious about what our family of four would look like. But you see, my first postpartum period and subsequent restructuring of our family unit and, it seemed, my whole identity was a rough one for me. When we started considering another child at two years postpartum, I felt like we had all just found our groove again and were in a comfortable place. There had been times when I never thought that would happen, and I feared a new baby would again unrecognizably shake things up.
Mostly, I worried constantly about how my first born was going to handle the transition.
Lu and I were- are- extremely close. I know many mamas are equally as close with their babes, but we were really two peas in a pod for L’s first 3 years. I adore having a daughter, perceiving her as this sort of beautiful extension of myself. We seemed to be on the same wavelength much of the time and loved our adventures together, just her and I.
More than our bond, L expressed a pretty extreme attachment to me prior to her brother’s arrival. She often even refused to allow my husband to help her get dressed or bathe, and she constantly wanted to be physically close to me. I worried the transition to having to share “her” mama, her safety net and often her whole world, would be, well, traumatic for my passionate little babe. Would she feel abandoned? Would she hate her new helpless sibling for taking my time? Would she hate ME??
Thankfully, at approximately one month postpartum with little boy, I am happy to report our transition from one to two has been quite a bit less scary than I anticipated!
We’ve definitely caught some luck with this transition: it turns out L is a born nurturer and absolutely smitten with her brother! She’s so happy to help (when she’s not in the middle of a Masha and the Bear episode-anyone else have to suffer through that crap??), and independently cares for brother by shushing him when he’s crying, rubbing his tummy, holding his hand in the car, giving him his pacifier, and trying to make him laugh. She’s been minimally jealous and mostly understanding when I have to tend to brother first. I couldn’t be more proud of her transition to big sister, it seems like a role she was always meant to fill!
While I couldn’t have planned for Lu’s perfect acceptance of her brother, there are some things I think have eased our transition:
- I began preparing Lu for a new baby very early. I bought her this book from Amazon, which happened to be the perfect match to our expecting a boy and our lifestyle (the story takes place in a very familiar looking Southern California city, complete with palm trees!). We read her book often and talked about how she could help with baby. We played baby often and I even set up an at-home lesson about how to take care of baby.
- We prepared things for our first child for when baby arrived. I mean this in the way that we prepare some special things for Lu for when baby boy arrived, so she wouldn’t feel immediately abandoned. Some tips I got from other mamas that seemed to help were making sure mama didn’t hold baby when L entered the hospital room and having a gift prepared for her from baby. We also planned some fun stuff for my in-laws to do with her while I was in the hospital and some even more fun things for my husband to do with her after baby came. Which leads me to…
- My husband had paternity leave available. I recognize that this option is not always available for families, but this was absolutely essential to our transition from hospital to home. My husband was home for two weeks, which seems like way too little in the grand scheme of things but which I know is way more than many others get, but I’m not even sure how I would have survived those two weeks without him. My husband was able to take Lucy out for fun outings often, help her at home when I was breastfeeding, or hang out with the kids while I napped. I can only imagine how families would benefit if our country had better parental leave policies!
- I’ve spent one on one time with number one. This can be extremely hard to do, and I’m sure more so the more children you have, but I’ve tried hard to find little pockets of time to spend with just Lu. We’ve had two solo outings with the support of my husband, thankfully, but more importantly I try to spend individual time each day at home with her. This might look like art at the table, or eating our meals together, or taking a bath with her. Something doable while baby sleeps soundly in his lounger.
- I’ve spaced out visits. I know not everyone will have family or friends visiting, but if you do, I would highly recommend spacing visits out. It has given us something to look forward to more consistently, and also spaced out our support so that it didn’t all arrive to overwhelm us in the few hazy weeks of newbornhood. For example, my parents stayed with us about a week after my husband went back to work and my sister is visiting when baby is about 6 weeks old.
- I’ve practiced more self-care and routine: I learned from my first baby that I don’t function well in pajamas all day with no schedule. I’ve made it a point to get us ready in the mornings and follow a loose schedule each day. I frequently try to get out of the house, even just for a moment each day, even just to the playground. Fresh air helps us all. That being said, I will also say…
- I’ve lowered my expectations. While we’ve still managed to keep busy with two kids, I’ve definitely tried to keep my expectations of our days low. A clean house gives me peace of mind, but I’m trying to be forgiving of how much cleaning I can get done and balance that with interactions with the kids, and I try to push that mom guilt away when we spend too much time watching cartoons after a completely exhausting night of little sleep. I’ve also tried to be vocal about what I feel I can and cannot do (or even want to do) as far as plans with other people. Sometimes, an outing just does not sound fun with two children tagging along, and that’s ok! I think it’s amazing how moms are expected to bounce back to real life so soon after giving birth, as if birth never happened. It’s not realistic and, in my opinion, not healthy! I try to follow how we feel each day and adjust my expectations to that.
- Lot’s of GRACE, GRACE, GRACE: Grace looks like many things after welcoming a new baby into your home. It looks like self-forgiveness when an outing doesn’t go as planned or doesn’t happen at all. Grace between spouses when one or both are irritable from lack of sleep. Requesting grace from friends when plans can’t be kept. Grace for the big little sibling who has been thrust into a brand new and strange role (this last one was important to me, to let L feel her feels and not force any sort of response to her brother). Grace toward yourself when you’re not exactly loving it all. This is tough shit, friend. It’s not all going to be beautiful and Instagrammable, and that’s OK.
I have to say that, for me, perhaps adding a babe to our family has been easier than I expected simply because I’ve already experienced the shock of doing so. Kind of like exposure therapy for parenthood. Of course, there are still challenges, like my influx of driven panic and anxiety and general uptick in anxiety from lack of sleep, but I’m not blindside by that loneliness of new motherhood, sudden loss of bodily autonomy, and heaviness of the reality that someone else is completely dependent on you. My comfort with these realities has made this newborn period much more enjoyable than my last, which I am both pleased and saddened about, of course.
If you’re expecting your second baby, I hope you find something useful in this post, and some reassurance that you’ve got this, mama! I honestly can say I didn’t expect to love being a mother to two as much as I do, which has been a pleasant surprise. I often wondered how I would be able to love another babe as much as I loved my first, but it turns out it’s possible ;).
If you have more than one already, what tips helped you adjust to the new addition?