10 or so years ago, I challenged my mom to go skydiving. (I promise there’s a point to this.) We road tripped, windows down, music blaring, to some place whose name I’d seen on bumper stickers, … Three safety classes and 1 signature authorizing filmed documentation of our bad decisions later, we tethered ourselves to our instructors. (Mine was a 6’3” Aussie with flowing locks of spun gold the abs of a… yeah…) Thirty minutes later, I was soaring at 75 miles per hour through a glorious Midwestern summer sky, followed by 5 minutes of serene silence. It was exhilarating! Amazing! Life affirming! Or that’s what I told everyone. Had I been totally honest with myself and those who asked, I’d have admitted the soaring was more of an ass-over-elbows kind of chaos and I spent ½ of the free-fall FREAKING OUT because I was sure I was going to drown. For the love of Sophie the Giraffe, I forgot to pull the rip cord! It was ONLY because of assistance from my own personal God of Thunder that I landed safely. The funny thing was that once I was on the ground, I forgot the terror. I survived! I was exhilarated! I was ready to go again!
So I did. A few months later, Crocodile Thor once again by my side. (And somehow even MORE gorgeous, sigh…) Only this time it felt, well, different. SO MUCH ANXIETY. My whole mind focused on that feeling of drowning… and my incompetence… and the rip cord… and what if I didn’t love it this time? 15 minutes is a long time when you think you’re going to die… Even worse? It didn’t feel as special. Other people certainly weren’t as excited about my plans as they’d been the first time I took the leap. When the time came jump, I was TERRIFIED. (Spoiler alert: I forgot the rip cord this time too. I survived.)
That, my friends, is pretty much EXACTLY my experience with becoming a first, and then second time mom. Not knowing what you don’t know is possibly the only real break first time parents get. However, once you know what’s coming? Really know? It would be crazy to NOT be terrified. Like jumping out of a plane, there’s no going back once the process of 2.0 is in motion. So here are a few tips to help you survive the terror and enjoy the ride.
DO Let Go of the Guilt:
We’ll just go ahead and get right into the heavy stuff. OK? You’re not quite as excited as with your first pregnancy, right? Not feeling as bonded or connected this time? Are you afraid you are going to damage your relationship with 1.0? And the big one: you’re sure there’s no way you could possibly love another child like you love your current little one.
Hey! Look at you! You’re COMPLETELY NORMAL. All moms worry. It’s what we do! Sometimes it’s warranted. But for all of the above? It’s not.
It’s ok to have some sadness about giving up something special with 1.0. 1.0 is here and the new baby isn’t yet. It makes sense that your feelings for your 1.0 are stronger right now. You might be thinking that you couldn’t possibly ever love another child as much as you love your first. But you can. And you will. I don’t have any way of proving that, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it. But the big message I have for you is this: It’s ok to feel this way. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom (a bad mom wouldn’t worry, right?) So cut yourself a break. Feel and dwell away, just don’t feel bad about it.
DON’T Give 1.0 a Chance to Form Resentment or Regression Nostalgia
The best advice I received from mom friends who explored this second baby business before me was to keep things as normal as possible for 1.0. Kids, especially those under 5, thrive on routine. (Don’t believe me? Try giving your toddler the blue spoon instead of the red one at dinner tomorrow. Let me know how that works for you.)
Don’t forget that when you provide for your child’s needs, you are showing them love. It’s their love language. So when your first sees you doing things for the baby, they’re going to want in on that action. It’s not unusual for your big kid to suddenly start feeling nostalgic. (Isn’t that a much nicer term than regression?) She might want to climb back into the swing, ask for diapers, return to the crib, demand a bottle or to nurse, and say things like “I’m the baby!”
Avoid a lot of this drama by not upheaving their world any more than is necessary. The last 90 days of pregnancy and first 90 days of new baby is not the time for potty training, weaning, moving to a big-kid bed, giving up their room, or changing spots at the dinner table. Life happens, I know. So if you do find yourself in a spot where you have to implement some changes, make sure you never say it’s “for the baby.” Say “For my big kid!” instead.
DON’T Expect 2.0 to be a Clone of 1.0
So your first slept through the night at 6 weeks? Your second might go to college still soliciting a 2am bottle. 1.0 walked at 14 months? 2.0 will be posting parkour videos to YouTube by his 9th month. My first loved her swaddle, didn’t take a paci, preferred bottle to breast and cried every night from 6-8 unless we were driving and playing LMFAO songs at volume level insanity. My second preferred pajamas, laughed pretty much from birth, had no use for a bottle, hated the car and much prefers the Beatles to modern hip-hop. My third only cares about my boobs. He’ll go with the flow as long as he’s attached to my chest. They are who they are. And who are they? Strange, fickle little creatures is who.
So take everything you expect and throw it out the window. This one is different. But don’t panic! You’re different too! Which brings us to:
DO Trust Yourself, Your Skills and Own Expertise
Now that you’ve made it through baby boot camp with a kiddo and sanity intact, you totally have a handle on this baby thing. You execute car seat-to-crib transitions without waking the baby while carrying groceries and folding a stroller. You change diapers one handed and blind-folded while reciting Moo Baa La La La from memory. Ferber’s got nothing on your bedtime routine. What to Expect is writing a new chapter on your puree-making mastery. And Dr. Murther Firkin’ Sears texts you photos captioned, “Need your help. What’s this rash?” If the gift to first time parenting is that you don’t know what you don’t know, then the grand prize for the second time around is that not only do you know, you have that shit DOWN. Gone is the worry that you’re going to break the baby. What you lost in guilt during pregnancy, is returned in spades when the baby comes and you can actually enjoy yourself without being terrified. YOU are a no ordinary mommy. YOU are a baby-care ninja.
DO Set Yourself Up for Success
I used to think that old people bitching about new math were talking about long division. But now that I am an old person who bitches about new math, I know better. I raise my fist to them and cheer the cry of my people. The survivors. Those of us who have made it through the first year of being a parent of two. Masters of arithmetic who know there are no lucky economy of scale breaks here. Because when you calculate the mental and physical effort required to keep children alive, 1 + 1 ≠ 2. Two is more than twice the work. Two, when one is under 5 and the other is an infant, is more like baby + cracked out herd of goats. Remember how I said that you were now a ninja? Well, that comes in handy because minus the sleep torture a newborn brings, you probably aren’t going to notice much that there’s a baby in the house. Because: 1.0.
Thankfully, with experience comes wisdom. All those things you wish you would have done with 1.0 go back on your to-do list. All the things you’re glad you did go on that list too. Make some freezer meals. Get the laundry done. Buy tucks pads, sitz bottles, ice packs, breast pads, ice cream and a Netflix subscription. Whatever it is you do, do it now.
Call in the reserves. Do everything you can to schedule help for the first 2-3
years months weeks. You are going to need time to heal and settle. You can’t do that with a rabid spider monkey toddler/preschooler asking to watch UmiZoomi at 5 am or trying to turn the baby into a princess using Elmer’s Glue and pink glitter. (It happened. I’m not quite ready to laugh about it yet.) Grandparents are perfect 1.0 distractors and baby-occupiers. But they aren’t the only people to call for help. Neighbors, friends, church ladies, play-group moms, the nice mustached man with puppies who drives the windowless white van… dig deep and wide for that help. Let someone clean your house even if it’s your mother in law. Let them put the dishes away in the wrong place. Let them take the baby so you can spend 30 quality minutes with your shower 1.0. Let them make vegan Paleo gluten-free garlic fritters for all you care. Just LET THEM HELP.
Bonus tips: 1) If people show up and act like guests instead of like normal, helpful humans, put them to work. You can ask pretty much anyone to do pretty much anything if you add, “For the baby” to the end of your request. 2) It’s totally acceptable to give a solid throat-punch to anyone who tells you sleep when the baby sleeps, and then remove them from the tribe.
DO Let Your Older Child Take Ownership of Their New Baby
When WTFather and I found out The Professor was on his way, we were excited to let Birdy in on it. We didn’t tell her WE were having a baby. We told her SHE was getting a baby. She was totally into it right from the start. Our plan had some faults, however. The biggest one being that we totally underestimated how long 6 months feels to a preschooler. But don’t fret! She let us know. And know. And know… Six months in preschool time equals approximately 4 million is he here yets + 20 pounds of crafts made for the baby + 3 months of being pregnant herself (with a big sister, of course,) +183 announcements to strangers that mommy “has a penis inside her, it’s not daddy’s penis, it’s The Professors penis,” + 45 days of mimicking morning sickness by spiting in the toilet, holding up her hand and announcing “I ok!” In layman’s terms: a really effing long time. I don’t regret getting her excited about her baby. I regret telling her 6 months in advance. If I go for a 4.0, I won’t tell the kids until about 3 months out.
Introducing 1.0 to 2.0 can be tricky. Based on my own experience and an unscientific polling of 4 or 5 women with whom I shared the line for this morning’s coffee, the easiest way to do this is on neutral turf. We chose the hospital. I had the nurses remove The Professor before Birdy arrived. She was excited to meet her new brother, of course, but her REAL concern was for mommy. So I held her on my lap. She pushed buttons. We read books. It was great. She relaxed once she trusted I was ok. Once she settled, the nurses brought in The Professor. She touched him and kissed him and held him (with assistance, of course.) We celebrated his birthday by sharing a cupcake and exchanging small gifts. (A baby doll for her, a 6 pack of Pacifico for him. Don’t judge. I didn’t share with the baby.) Then I called the nurses to remove him from the room. We said our goodbyes and she skipped off to grandma’s house. My daughter never for a moment felt like she’d been replaced. We avoided the hurt feelings that surely would have occurred had we been forced to explain why she had to leave but The Professor got to stay. We did the same when Whammy arrived. I wouldn’t change a thing about the process if we jumped again.
1.0 is going to be obsessed with his new toy baby. He’s going to want to love him and kiss him and show him all of his stuff. That’s ok. Let him. Because: puppies.
Ever see puppies playing? They get a little rough. One yelps. Everything stops. They go back at it. Siblings are essentially puppies. Let 1.0 touch and play with the baby without interfering. You want them to develop positive feelings about interacting with their new sibling. They become fearful and resentful fast if all they hear is “Be careful! Don’t hurt the baby!” It took all my willpower sometimes to not jump in when I thought Birdy was surely going to break The Professor, (even more so when it became 2 against 1.) But babies are durable. If The Professor was unhappy, he’d cry. And I could say, “He’s crying because he doesn’t like you standing on his head like that.” Which makes way more sense to a kid than OMG YOU’RE GOING TO CAUSE A CRANIAL HEMORAGE!! (I still have to use that line and each of them takes at least one kick to the head a day. Maybe I was a little too encouraging of their relationship?) So try to relax. Gentle redirection is sufficient interference 99.9% of the time. (Meaning, you still have to, you know, supervise, and jump in if your eldest emerges from the hall closet wearing a gold Lamé unitard and carrying a folding chair.) Your first won’t hurt the baby on purpose. And the baby won’t break.
DON’T Be Surprised if You Have All of the Same Relationship Spats All Over Again
You might be new, better people, but you probably have the same habits. If your partner didn’t close cabinet doors before 2.0, it isn’t going to magically start happening now. The same applies to you leaving empty Starbucks cups in the car, both of you forgetting trash day, trying to see who can outlast the other at pretending to sleep through the baby crying, etc. Remember how right around 6 months after you had 1.0 some sort of bomb went off in your relationship? (If you skipped this with number 1.0, congratulations! You’re the exception.) You reached the horrible intersection of exhaustion, hormones, the realization that you are new people, feelings of being taken for granted, jealousy, sex life being thppppt, etc. Yeaaahhhh, that happens again. You will FIGHT. And I mean FIGHT. You will say things you never thought you were even capable of thinking, let alone saying out loud. Things get really honest. Again. Really fast. Again. You might even throw out the D word and start thinking about how you might do it alone. But you’ll make it through! Again! When you emerge, it’s a new reality. A higher level of partnership and intimacy if you will. (Secret handshakes and matching tracksuits, yo!) Remember that it’s normal! Cliché, even. Hold tight to your partnership. You made it through once. You will again. (And again after that if you’re crazy like me.)
Good luck. Godspeed. You got this!
And may the God of Thunder be ever in your favor.