I distinctly remember when my first baby was about 2 weeks old thinking to myself ‘Gosh, is it the weekend yet?’. The journey from a childless independent female with a successful career to a stay at home new mother is a tough transition for anyone. The shift in focus from managing yourself and possibly your partner, to keeping another small human alive was a huge one. I went from washing and straightening my hair on a strict 3 day loop to forgetting when I last had a shower. Just like most new mums, I didn’t feel much like myself for the first 9 months of being a new mother, but on the whole, I managed to get a second in between the crazy feeding/sleeping/housework duties to find something for myself.
In that first year my daughter Rosie and I walked a lot. That’s how we’d catch up with friends. Our pram walks would start near a café and finish near a café and we lived on coffee and cake. That year wasn’t too bad for me creatively too, heck, I designed our Monochrome Baby Book when my daughter was 5 months old and launched it when she was 10 months old.
We had up’s and down’s as a family too that year. We lost 3 family members within 18 months and we went through the usual transition of learning what our new roles meant. Not unlike most men, my husband, Dave, took a while to really understand what it was like being a full time carer of a little one, and I took a while to learn how to communicate the pressures I was under and that extensive internal list all mum’s have going. Lucky for us, we’d worked out our stress points prior to having children so although this was a challenge, we still had the trust and communication skills established to get through this transition.
Fast forward 18 months and we were ready for number two. We looked at Rosie and thought she was so grown up and we just wanted another little version of her. Rosie was such a chilled baby. She had all the usual baby problems of waking etc, but feeding, eating went really well and it was really obvious to me when she was tired; if she was grumpy, she was hungry, tired, hurt or sick. Other than that, she was a very cheery happy baby.
Basking in that glow of parental success (and I guess naivety of what it means to have more than one child) I fell pregnant as we were planning our move from Australia to New Zealand. We chased our dream, seeking the happiness of our little family, but we moved away from all our extended family and the support and help that offered. I was 15 weeks pregnant with our second baby.
Any mum of multiple children will tell you how much of a shock the jump from one to two is. There’s something in the change from being 100% available to one child and then having to split your time between two (one of which is a now a loud toddler and the other is a helpless desperate newborn). Ladies, let me tell you, that jump was brutal.
A friend described her journey from one to two like swimming in the ocean. Before kids, you’re wading out, knee deep water and having fun, then you have your first baby, get a bit further out and get tumbled by a few waves, but you can find your feet between the sets. By the time you’ve got your second baby you’re our too deep and the waves are rolling in fast; all you can do is try and make it to the surface before you get dumped again. That’s exactly what it was like for me.
Like all parenting experiences, mine was complicated with our second baby. I definitely loved her, and I was so grateful to have a safe healthy bub, but I didn’t get the rush of love and obsession I had with my first. I often question that (usually in the depths of mum guilt) but I think it was for a few reasons. Her birth was traumatic and at home (you can read about it here) and I found I had frequent flashbacks which meant it took me a long time to process her birth. I also suffered from a bladder prolapse which took months of specialist physiotherapy to recover from (and the ongoing management of post-prolapse is still with me). I found the physical reminder of her birth, which I felt every day, another component in the layers of stress on top of sleep deprivation. Also, I had a busy 2 ½ year old to care for as well as a newborn!
My second baby was also a very different baby from her big sister, she was very unsettled, often spending hours every night crying unconsolably. I know that if you’re a mother, you’re reading this cringing because you know what it’s like to have your baby scream and not be able to do anything about it. I spent hours pacing the hallway, bouncing her or cuddling her, trying in vain to settle her or console her, and on some of the worst nights too my toddler would be crying too because I couldn’t be there for her. Those nights we all ended up in a pile crying together.
I found the first 12 months as a mum of two stressful and frankly baffling. I didn’t know her as well as I knew her big sister and I was eaten up by guilt because of it. I know why I felt that way though (not that the knowing helped with the guilt); there was no time to stare at her gorgeous face while she slept because when she was happy, I was chasing around a toddler, doing house work, preparing meals or working. My attention was always diverted so I missed critical cues of tiredness or hunger or just wanting a cuddle and she learnt to make her needs known pretty quickly (hello super loud crying!). I was also bloody exhausted, with no hope of relief.
The first four months of her life were the most stressful of my life. I think it was like that for our whole family, my husband was at home with us full time and he was struggling every day as well. We were both exhausted, he would wake up and settle our two year old whenever she woke, and I would get up and settle our new baby. We were both so exhausted, all we could do was look at each other and kind of nod as we both floundered in the intensity of parenting two small children. In our previous lives, if one of us was going through a rough patch, the other would be there to pick up the pieces and identify if the other wasn’t coping. This time we were both in it together, unable to see our way through or help the other one, other than a brief acknowledgement that we were struggling and we just had to keep going!
The complex thing about being a mum of more than one child, is that you have to jump around so much, trying to find the best solution for your whole family, not just one child. I remember trying to settle our new baby while my toddler was running and screaming and having fun (and just being a happy toddler) and holding onto my frustration as each squeal of delight made the baby stir. Often, I’d just get my toddler just got to sleep after needing to be held for an hour, and the baby would wake up and the whole 3 hour bed time marathon would start again. We also did the divide and conquer thing that lots of parents of kids this age take on; the ‘you handle your kid and I’ll handle mine’ method works, but it left me missing my toddler desperately, my husband didn’t get much time alone with our new baby (because she was so hard to settle, she just stayed with me) and neither one of us got much alone time. Every decision felt like a compromise with no-one coming out happy at the end. It was all so draining.
Now my situation isn’t particularly unique, or dramatic. But I did have the overwhelming feeling that most people thought that I was a mum of two so I knew what I was doing. I did not!
So why am I writing this? If you haven’t got children yet, you’re probably thinking ‘whoa girlfriend, I haven’t even wrapped my head around one child let alone two.’, if you’re pregnant or planning your second baby you’re probably thinking ‘how much harder can one extra child be? Surely only twice as hard?’, and if you’re a mum of three or more you’re probably laughing yourself silly because I have no idea what true chaos is (and you’re definitely right about that!).
I’m writing this down for you, my fellow mum of two. If you’re feeling swamped by the extra responsibility, the extra layers of guilt, and the complicated craziness that comes from having small children and trying to do the best you can for everyone but unable to do it for yourself. I want you to know you are not alone. It is ok to survive one day at a time.
I also want you to know it GETS BETTER!
Your baby will grow up (and yes it feels both fast and slow at the same time), you will get more sleep, you baby will learn to talk and not scream, and your love for your two children will grow into something so intense and so different from the love you had for your first child as an only child. And, rest assured, the love you have for your second babe will grow with them; a friend described it as growing from a flicker to a raging fire. The love you have for your second babe will equal that of the first and the love you have for them both will consume you.
And how did we make it through? I’m embarrassed to say, we just survived when we should have asked for help. As our little family grew, everything slowly got better. We turned a point at 4 months, 8 months, 12 months and again at 18 months. We still have days that are up and down, but these day’s they’re mostly up.
So mama, whatever stage of the crazy life we call #mumlife you’re in, I want you to know that you are amazing. You are strong. You will survive whatever waves come towards and you’ll end up playing in the sea on the other side basking in the love for the amazing little humans you raised.
** Note of reflection**
I’d love to explain why I felt the need to share this with you, my Blueberry tribe. I confess, I’ve been avoiding filling in my girls baby books (crazy I know!), but I just found it too hard looking back at the photos, and writing something positive about each month. However recently I’ve started filling in their books, especially my youngest daughter’s book.
It’s been a really lovely experience, and a surprising one! I haven’t been able to look back at the photos of my first year as a mum of two without feeling slightly nauseous as all those overwhelming feelings came back. But now, almost 20 months down the road as a mum of two our world is changing. My girls are thriving and everything is less desperate. We are getting more sleep, eating better and just dealing with life better!
I’ve been able to start on my youngest girls book and start to all the feelings I’ve been searching for all this time, into this book! It’s been so nice to fill out her book with my new intense feelings of love and pride and in the process I’ve realised I’m crazy in love with my daughter. It’s happened, I’ve been waiting for months and it’s finally here. So now her baby book is a reflection of the crazy year we survived as a family of four, but it’s also a place where I’ve recorded all her amazing milestones and her sweet baby face.
Have you had the same experience? I’d love to hear about it!