The reality of life when your second child arrives
The saying goes: If your first child eats dirt, you call the doctor, if your second child eats dirt, you wipe his mouth, if your third child eats dirt, you wonder whether he really needs tea as well. It always generates a wry smile from knowing mothers and I think pretty well sums up the how your attitude changes as you have more children. As a founder of The Bump Class, I prepare women for the arrival of their first babies on a daily basis. One of the key pieces of information I impress on them is to focus on enjoying motherhood and having fun with your child, rather than obsessing about doing everything perfectly. But try as I do, there’s no better stimulus for this, than when the second baby arrives.
Parents often spend weeks researching how to introduce the new sibling to their child. Having behaved like indentured servants to their feudal lord, pandering to their child’s every whim, parents are understandably worried about how the apple of their eye will react to having to relinquish absolute power. And with good reason. Put yourself in their shoes. They’re delighted with the status quo, and then suddenly it all changes. A friend of mine put this into perfect perspective when I was pregnant with my second. “Can you imagine your reaction if Ben came home one day and said, ‘My darling, you know I love you very, very much. In fact I love you so much that I’m going to get another wife so that we can all be one happy family. Isn’t it exciting?’ ”
The reality is that as second time parents, we probably overthink it. While an emotionally over indulged toddler will certainly put her concerned parents through a few tantrums, they generally adapt to the change far more easily than their exhausted and fearful parents. Because, while nothing can prepare you for the shock of having one baby, not many parents realise that for some extraordinary reason, two children is more than double the work.
Without a doubt, the older child understands immediately that their mother’s life has taken on a different dimension and possesses a sixth sense, knowing exactly when the very worst time to have a tantrum is. When Iona arrived, Ludo suddenly decided that he would not eat, unless he was watching Peppa Pig. Latching a resistant Iona on to my breast was hard enough and I simply couldn’t face another battle. My seventeen month old son instinctively knew this, and exploited this window of opportunity to indulge ipad watching that we would never previously have allowed.
But it’s the tiredness that’s the hardest to deal with. As every mother will attest to, the toughest thing to cope with is sleep deprivation. By the time most mothers become pregnant with their second, lie-ins are a distant memory of a past life and somehow, they’ve managed to work out how to exist on half the amount of sleep they previously needed. But add a new baby into the mix and you’re not back at square one, you’re way further back, in a sleep deprived nightmare of proportions you’d never imagined existed. With two small children in the mix, you’re now no longer able to snooze as your baby snoozes. These small windows of opportunity are now precious time with your toddler.
Seventeen months apart, I remember the first year of Iona’s life as hell. Not because she was an especially difficult baby, but because having two children under two is really, really hard. You feel like you’re on a constant treadmill of nappy changing, feeding, pureeing and sterilising bottles. By the time they had miraculously both fallen asleep I barely mustered the energy to haul myself into bed, let alone have time for anything else.
But I also learnt that contrary to my belief, I could exist on very little sleep. The night before my nephew’s christening, Iona didn’t sleep for one minute, until 6:30am, fifteen minutes before her brother woke up. Deranged with fatigue, Ben and I knocked back a dangerous amount of coffee and drove to the country, not understanding how we could possibly survive a day of socialising while looking after our children. But it was actually great fun. A rare, glorious summer’s day, Iona slept while Ludo played in the garden, and aided by a glass of wine, we relished the first opportunity to have an interesting conversation, our first emergence from the two-children-under-two-fog. Speaking to girls in shock after their births, I frequently remind them that the fear of severe fatigue is often far worse than the reality. I urge these new mothers not to think about it too much, but rather get on with it.
As a couple, that year of hell, made us stronger. A typically over-protective mother who preferred to ‘get it done myself’, I had no choice but to leave Ben in charge and I realised that he was a highly capable, enthusiastic father, who, unburdened by his overbearing wife, thrived on the day to day responsibilities of caring for his children.
And because I had to, I stopped indulging my children. In her book, French Children Don’t Throw Food, Pamela Drukerman explains how the French pause before rushing to their babies. A cry, she explains, does not always mean that a baby is unhappy or in pain and often going to them and picking them up will stimulate them and disturb what some believe is a natural white noise or way of expelling energy before going to sleep. But as every mother knows, hearing your baby cry is torture and often ‘pausing’ is easier said than done. But when you’ve got two, you simply can’t always get to the crying baby immediately. I lost count of the number of times when by the time I could get to Iona, she had stopped crying and she started self-soothing far sooner than Ludo had.
In fact the chaos, while dreaded by house-proud mothers, is an environment that babies and children thrive in. While Ludo’s threshold for sitting in his bouncy chair extended to a maximum of five minutes, I remember Iona sitting for hours, intently observing the mayhem of tea time, as Ludo and his cousin Otto devoured, smeared and dropped their food, shrieking with laughter as the dogs licked yoghurt off the walls and my sister and I enjoyed being actually able to finish a cup of tea, realising that the chaos didn’t really matter as long as all our children were happy.
And before long that year was up, and my two children have become the best of friends. The other day, as I went up to check them, as I always do, last thing at night, panic surged through me as I saw Iona’s empty bed. Frantically I climbed up onto Ludo’s top bunk, and there they were, entwined in a bed full of their cuddly toys, their breathing a rhythmic duet of contentment. And I realised that in spite of the hardship of that first year, the lack of sleep, the utter chaos, the simultaneous vomiting bugs and fights over the same toy in a roomful of toys, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
First time around, Second time around; how it changes
First time around: You spend hours creating a unique baby book, noting the day the umbilical stump fell off, documenting the first smile and carefully preserving the lock of hair from the first hair cut.
Second time around: Not only does a baby book never get bought, but the entries in your first child’s book stop abruptly on the birthday of the second.
First time around: In the run up to the birth, you spend four months contemplating the best layout of the nursery, carefully selecting tasteful, baby appropriate fabrics and spend a week researching cot mattresses.
Second time around: When you can no longer ignore the Braxton Hicks contractions, while on the loo for the third time in an hour, you decide that it is perfectly reasonable for your new baby to sleep in the travel cot until your toddler has advanced to a bed.
First time around: At four months you’ll start researching how and when to wean. You’ll buy the entire Annabel Karmel collection and a dedicated mini blender complete with its own travelling case and spend weeks planning puree menus, cooking them in advance and freezing them in dedicated ice trays.
Second time around: Your baby’s first taste of solid food is a rice cake given to him by his sibling. You’d rather sleep than spend your evenings pureeing, and realise that Ella’s Kitchen do a perfectly good job.
First time around: You spend three weeks deliberating whether your one year old would prefer a tractor or a fire engine birthday cake and then spend three days, adapting an Honestly Healthy recipe, creating a masterpiece using organic dried fruit, almond butter and a topping with raw cacao flakes.
Second time around: By the time your second child reaches the milestone of their first birthday, you give them a Kit Kat and open a bottle of champagne.
If you’ve got this far, I suspect you’re expecting another child. A bit nervous? Well why don’t you sign up to The Next Bump Class, a three hour session dedicated to the adjustment of welcoming another child into your family. Taught by midwife and mother of three, Johanna Hooper and Psychologist and mother of two, Dr Fran Smith, this class prepares you for the reality of another child, the physical juggle of more than one child and the emotional adjustment that will be felt by your entire family.