As anyone who’s read this blog before already knows: we recently delivered our second child (a daughter – Anouk), and our first child (a rambunctious little boy – Lucas) is currently 21 months old. With 2 kids under 2 now, there’s been a lot of learning, growing, loving, and praying involved these past few weeks, and I’d like to commemorate Anouk’s first month with a quick list of things I’ve learned in this short time.
First: Love Grows
Many women wonder, “how can I love more than I already love,” and worry if they’ll have capacity to care and feel immense warmth and joy over another fully dependent tiny human on top of their existing feelings for their co-parent and/or firstborn. I’ve seen many articles and blogs from mothers wondering if they will be able to give each member of their growing family the love and care they deserve. I am here to proclaim that these thoughts are not worth the anxiety. Somehow, when you are served up a second helping on the kid train, it comes with a double portion of love too. Maybe it’s partly the changing hormones, but watching my husband father our 2 kids fills me with such a generous extra serving of love and admiration it seems almost surreal at times. Introducing Anouk to Lucas, and seeing how he strokes her head and names the different parts of her face whilst gently pointing at each (“nose…eyes…”), makes my heart soar with such wonder and warmth I feel I might burst. Seeing the way we all fit together and love one another in similar but different ways brings added color and dimension to my life: a life I already found plenty interesting before this point. Note that I am not a “feeler” – on the Meyers Briggs scale, I am more an INTJ, so to have so much happy love hormone coursing through my veins is not a default setting for me. I believe when God gifts one with more to be responsible for (like another human life), He also arms you with the affinity, grace, and love to live out that responsibility to the fullest.
Second: Yes, it is easier in many ways the second time (even if it feels like you’re overdue for a refresher course in: “how not break this tiny human”)
I don’t know about you, but my mom (and aunts…grandmas…and every veteran mother I’ve known) has told me over and over that the second child is always easier than the first. Not only are you more confident (having gone through all this before), but you’re also less prone to anxiety. You are more likely to have built up a “feel” and “instinct” for things from Baby #1, whether you thought you did a good job there or not. As such, you are likelier to take things a little bit easier the second time around – to worry less, and act quicker; to doubt yourself less, and to trust yourself and your co-parent more. Especially with the “standard” things – like diaper changes, feeding, and so on. Breastfeeding, for example, tends to be easier. Your milk comes in faster, and this was my biggest stressor the first 3 weeks with my 1st baby so it was a huge benefit. With this 2nd baby, my milk came in on the day and has so far proved reliable.
Third: HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean everything is easier. In fact, some things – especially the new things, are hard. And there are still plenty of those to go around
Although a lot of the “starter responsibilities” of parenthood come more naturally the second time around (see above), with a 2nd baby come new and different challenges as well. As such, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge those too. In our home, here are some examples of these new challenges:
- Newborn’s needs alongside toddler’s needs. My newborn needs my undivided attention, but my toddler needs to continue to feel loved, wanted, and prioritized
- Children’s demands aside spousal demands. My children need more of me at this time – between breastfeeding the littlest, feeding the firstborn, and the million other little tasks both of us as parents need to do together. However, my husband still needs an adult partner in life to share his day with, and vice versa
- Discipline vs grace for our toddler. My toddler needs to feel affirmed, safe, and valued at this time of great change in his life, but we also need to be clear on boundaries and train his mind and heart against bad behaviors like sleep regression, or playing too rough. Particularly now that there is a tiny human in the house, his bad behaviors could potentially hurt her, and teaching him the right ways to do things is important. A perfect example of this is how Lucas is in a throwing phase and the other day he threw a cellphone he’d picked up off a table right at my husband. At the time, Jay was holding our newborn, and the phone hit her on the forehead. It was not Lucas’ intention to hurt anyone, but because of a bad behavior, he did so accidentally. This required disciplining across 2 areas: 1) a time out for doing something he knows he isn’t allowed to do, 2) a small “lecture” to explain what it is to accidentally hurt someone with destructive behavior
- Lack of sleep occurring simultaneously with inflated responsibilities that require more time and energy. The lack of sleep is harder this time around. Perhaps it’s a combination of hormones, existing responsibilities with a toddler in tow, and age (haha), but whatever it is, it’s made for more crankiness and exhaustion than I had expected given our first experience with a newborn. This has force-stretched my character in ways that are good, no doubt, but admittedly frustrating in the moment
- Expectations (planning and preparing for things 1 way) vs reality (the inevitability of the unpredictable nature of life in a growing home). We had planned for Lucas to start play group while Jay and I were simultaneously on parenting leave, but as Jay took only a few weeks to start, this little task kept getting put on the back burner and it’s looking like we’ll just wait until his 2nd birthday to start this process. Jay was just too tired dealing with the lack of sleep, and as well too busy working on paperwork like birth certificates and passport applications; and I was too consumed by my tasks as mommy to 2 babies (not to mention the breast feeding every other hour!). We did manage workarounds, though. For example, whilst on break, Jay took Lucas out several times to have father-son time at the arcade, playground, and so on
- Expectations 2.0 (remembering how things went last time) vs reality (realizing how different the situation is this time). I had Lucas in Manila and spent the first 8 weeks postpartum at my parents’ home in the suburbs. We were a 10 minute drive from my grandma’s house and the country club, and a leisurely walk from a park. We had a garden, and lived on a tree-lined street in an exclusive subdivision. And we had live-in help. This time, we are in an apartment, with no immediate family nearby, construction going on nextdoor making all the outdoor sections of our complex dusty, and generally bad air quality all around. There are no country clubs, parks, or outdoor malls. And we have no live-in help. Until just this past week, I didn’t realize just how much of my sanity that first time around relied on getting more sleep (thanks to live-in help who can burp your baby at 3am when in dire straits), getting more Vitamin D (gardens, and parks!), and not having cabin fever (owed to easy visits to my grandma’s). Keeping my sanity intact (what with getting half the sleep, 1/4 the social interaction, and even less fresh air; on top of the hormone crash) has required more mental and emotional gymnastics this time around than I originally anticipated, but as Jay says: “it builds character.”
- Newborns are similar in a lot of ways, but are also entirely unique. One thing that’s really fun, is noticing all the little personality differences and idiosyncrasies between Lucas and Anouk as early as in the newborn phase. Not just in the way they look, but also in the way they act and the different ways they “need” you. For example, both Lucas and Anouk love to gaze directly into Jay’s eyes and stare intently as he coos at them. As newborns, they also both suffer from gas, and require extended feeds and comfort sucking for relief. However, Anouk has GERD, which means we need to be even more disciplined about burping her, holding her up, and (for me) diet.
Last: Time flies
Just like the first time, one of the biggest things you are reminded of when you take a new baby home is just how quickly the time goes. The first few weeks are a total blur, and the next thing you know, your baby is a month old and cooing, grasping, charging towards milestones. It may not feel essential to do so in the moment, but I encourage you to really cherish every second – even the tough ones. The joy and blessing of parenthood is unique and different at every moment, and every turn. Let’s treat it like the precious gift it is.
*For first-time parents keen to read something similar and relevant: I wrote a similar “learnings” piece 20 days after Lucas was born. You can read that here, if you’re interested.